"mort" (woman)

Gerald Cohen gcohen at UMR.EDU
Sat Jan 18 15:57:34 UTC 2003

   My thanks to Jonathon Green for his latest ads-l message on "mort"
and to Daniel Cassidy for a private message he sent to me on the
subject; the latter is reproduced below my signoff.  With a bit of
further questioning/investigating, perhaps we can clarify the matter.

    I'm not wedded to my suggestion advanced yesterday (quoting from
my article in _Studies in Slang_, IV), although the suggestion still
seems plausible to me.  If the Germans (in whatever century) could
view a teenage girl as a fish ("Backfisch"), maybe the English could
too (hence: "mort" = "salmon in its third year" leading to "mort" =
"girl, woman").

    But let's set that aside now and look at Dr. Cassidy's suggestion
(_NY Observer_ article): "Mort: old New York slang for a woman -- Mór
te: fiery passion, high spirits, warm affection."  What's troubling
here is that the development of "mor + te" (passion/etc.) to "mort"
(woman) is assumed to have occurred not in Irish but in English.
English speakers, however, would not be expected to combine two Irish
words meaning "passion/etc." to form the word for "woman."  That
should be done by the Irish themselves.

     Dr. Cassidy's message below introduces new information: Irish
"mot" (woman) deriving from "mort." But unless this "mort" arose
within Irish, we're back to the unlikely assumption that the English
formed the word based on two Irish roots. Bernard Share's _Slanguage:
A Dictionary of Irish Slang_, 1997, has an item "mot" (from "mort")
but makes no claim for a native Irish origin of the term.  How do we
know that the term in his dictionary is a native Irish one rather
than a borrowing from English cant?

    And if "mort" (woman) is in fact a native Irish word, why can't we
simply say that this native Irish term was borrowed into English with
the same meaning?  This would be very straightforward, and we could
leave the ultimate origin of the Irish word to the scholars of Celtic

Gerald Cohen

At 1:41 AM -0500 1/18/03, DanCas1 at aol.com wrote:
>From: DanCas1 at aol.com
>Date: Sat, 18 Jan 2003 01:41:03 EST
>Subject: Re: mort "woman"--article deriving this word from mort
>"salmon" (was: Irish a...
>To: gcohen at umr.edu
>Mort? A German salmon?  Why not? The slang of the crossroad is an
>infinite helix.
>If the Irish word for "ring" (fáinne) can morph into "phony" -- and
>the English word "bad" can mean "good," all things are possible with
>the living language.
>I will not give you the whole kit and caboodle on the Irish word Mór.
>Here's a precis...
>Mór m. 1. Great; much, many. 2. Friendliness. (3) Pride, vanity;
>great person, proud person. An mór a cheansú, to tame the proud.
>Mór a1. (comp Mó). Big, great, large, full-grown; mighty, renowned;
>proud; rich, well-to-do; main, major, chief; friendly (with, le)...
>(O'Donaill, p. 877, Dineen, p. 761)
>There are pages of compounds...Here's a particularly apt one:
>Mórtas, m. (gs. -ais) 1. Pride, haughtiness. 2. High spirits. 3. Friendliness.
>Then we go back to the 6th or 7th century CE if published citations
>are a must for a mort.
>Mór : a woman's name, type of the average woman, esp. the peasant
>woman of proverbs; oft. Englished Martha or Mary...Dineen p. 763
>These two are pre-Christian and prehistoric,
>Mór Mumhan, the beautiful wife of Cathal Mac Fionghaine;
>Mór Cluana, a famous fairy or goddess...Dineen pp. 763-4
>There are many exclamations, proverbs, and sayings involving Mór.
>Mór do beatha, hail!
>Cailín ag Móir is Mór ag iarraidh déirce...
>Mór though a beggar must have her maid, anything to keep up
>appearances. (O'Donaill, p. 877)
>Mór, Muire is Pádraig duit, Mór, Mary and Patrick bless thee.
>Mór is Mairsile i macnas múchta, Mór and Marcella swamped in luxury.
>A Mór te or "Mort" then is a Mór who is te: " hot, warm; zealous,
>passionate, high-spirited, apt to lose one's temper..."
>Mort  morphs into Mot  over time and is very popular  Dublin working
>class and youth slang for "woman or girl"
>See Roddy Doyle's "The Snapper," "The Commitments," etc.
>"Mot"  is not used in Belfast or Derry or the larger towns of Ulster
>TE : a. Hot, warm, ardent, hot-tempered, fiery, affectionate...
>Mort like "Cove" for a man faded out in NYC/Brooklyn.
>Modern "Mot" though can be heard among the jackeens (Dubliners) in
>Sunnyside, the East Side, and the Bronx, as well as out here on the
>left coast in San Francisco.
>Daniel Cassidy

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