whence "Herself" as "the Mistress" or "my wife"?

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Thu Nov 24 17:26:54 UTC 2011

My impression is that it is originally an Irishism.  I've seen people on
St. Paddy's Day wearing "'Tis Himself" patches on a teeshirt or cap.
 Searching Google for "'Tis Himself" turns up (among other stuff) the
following, in response to a request for an explanation of the phrase:

It's a direct translation from the Irish (sé féin / é féin).
Often when someone refers to a man as himself, it's understood that the
speaker is talking about either the husband of the woman he or she is
addressing or the speaker's own husband (if the speaker is a woman
herself). When a man refers to a woman as herself, it's understood that
he's talking about his own wife (or someone else's wife), depending on the
context. Again, this is direct translation from the Irish.
In the context Blixt is referring to (an announcent of the unexpected
appearance of someone, usually expressing pleasant surprise), the Irish
would be:
(Ah), is é féin atá ann! = (Ah), 'tis himself!
and by analogy:
(Ah), is tú féin atá ann! = (Ah), 'tis yourself!

This is signed  *Tadhg an Mhargaidh  *Scéalaí Mór

The passage above doesn't address the question of whether in Irish or
authentic Irish-English one would say something like  "I'd have to clear
that with herself" = "I'd have to ask my wife".  But as a quite inauthentic
Irish-American, I'd say it.

On Wed, Nov 23, 2011 at 5:32 PM, Mark Mandel <thnidu at gmail.com> wrote:

> A friend of mine just reported <http://wcg.livejournal.com/888866.html> on
> his blog:
> Herself writes:
> >
> >> I just sent the finished file of the revised* Ivan, His Booke* (almost
> >> certainly to be finally titled *Captain Vorpatril's Alliance*) off to
> >> Baen.
> >>
> >
> To other fans of Lois McMaster Bujold, the quoted text as well as the icon
> that wcg used on the post make it clear that the author is the referent of
> "Herself". But a commenter asked
> umm Im use*[d]* to the irish use of this phrase is your wife Ms B? is it a
> > pen name? am I lost?
> >
> The blogger clarified in the particular case, and I added
> Many of us in her fandom refer to her so, at least occasionally. I think
> > the use for one's wife originated as a joking adoption of the use by the
> > servants to refer to the Lady of the House, but I have no evidence for
> that
> > speculation.
> >
> I checked OED online before finishing that sentence, and I see no mention
> of that particular idiomatic use, which I have the impression that I
> learned of from reading English novels and watching such Masterpiece
> Theatre productions as "Upstairs, Downstairs". Can anyone help?
> Mark Mandel
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much since then.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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