New retroacroetymythostupidnym

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Tue Aug 23 22:46:37 UTC 2005

On Tue, 23 Aug 2005 11:32:53 -0700, Jeff Prucher <wrote:

> Amy West <medievalist at W-STS.COM> wrote:>
>> C'mon...with the mention of the term in another quote " It
>> usu.referred to support personnel holding soft rear-area jobs, like
>> clerk-typist," referring to a posterior position, it's obviously from
>> the Irish word "pogue" meaning "arse". :-) Cf. "poque mahone", The
>> Pogues, etc.
>No no no... "Pogue" is "kiss".  These personnel clearly got their cushy
>jobs by kissing up to their superiors.  If it was about their soft,
>squishy bottoms, they'd be called "mahons," and that would just be silly.
>(I know, I know -- "pogue" is the imperative, and I'm not really sure
>whether "mahon" is "ass" or "my ass" or what, but I really don't have
>time to try to make sense of Irish morphology.)

Here's what Safire had to say about a possible Irish derivation:

New York Times, Jan. 1, 1984, Magazine, p. 6/3

In a recent piece drawn from the dinner-table talk at the home of John and
Annie Glenn, I reported that the Senator had used the word pogue to
describe "a rascally politician"; Lexicographic Irregulars were invited to
suggest derivations.

[snip stuff on "pogey bait", which we've already covered]

That etymology does not come readily to hand, but many Irish Lex Irregs
have pointed out that pogue is a Gaelic word for kiss : "There is an Irish
play called 'Arrah-na-Pogue,'" writes T. J. Moorehead of Norwich, N.Y.,
"by Dion Boucicault, set in County Wicklow in 1798. The heroine is known
as Arrah-na-Pogue (Arrah of the Kiss) because of the ingenious way by
which she smuggled escape plans to a rebel held in Wicklow jail." That is
a charming story, far better than the scatological Gaelic rhyming epithet
put forward by other correspondents, and contains the overtones of
political chicanery alluded to by Senator Glenn.

He also discussed the name of the fish:

Before leaving the etymology of pogue, let us admit to the possibility of
being totally off base. James Anderson of the V F W Magazine tossed in
this disconcerting afterthought: "I think it should be noted that the pogy
is a common fish on the Atlantic seaboard and dictionary references link
it with menhaden. No doubt pogey-bait, hence pogue, arose from the
worthlessness of the fish except as a source of oil or fertilizer. Combine
this with the large number of Marine Corps bases on either coast and you
have its probable origin."

--Ben Zimmer

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