Can't see the wood for the trees

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Feb 26 04:08:30 UTC 2010

At 10:15 PM -0500 2/25/10, Wilson Gray wrote:
>OT, but you may be interested to know that my late father, a native of
>the Deep South born in the early 1900's, referred to his dialect as
>his "Alabama _brogue_." He was the only person that I've ever known to
>use "brogue" as the term for a particular kind of *American* accent,
>instead of as for an Irish accent.
>In an earlier discussion of _brogue_, a few other correspondents noted
>that they, too, were familiar with the use of this word for a
>non-standard, but also non-Irish, American accent.

It's used standardly for "Okracoke brogue" and
(by extension) "Carolina brogue", as in the
documentaries of Walt Wolfram and his associates
in the North Carolina Language and Life Project.
There is clear influence of Irish English on this
dialect, though, so I'm not sure it counts as a
"non-Irish, American accent".


>FWIW, in my own dialect, essentially that of black East Texans, the
>heavy workshoe is known as a _brogan_, pronounced "bro GAN." Cf. Bo
>"Them ain't no shoes. They bro GANS."
>2010/2/25 Eoin C. Bairéad <ebairead at>:
>  > ---------------------- Information from the
>mail header -----------------------
>>  Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>  > Poster:       =?UTF-8?Q?Eoin_C=2E_Bair=C3=A9ad?= <ebairead at GMAIL.COM>
>>  Subject:      Can't see the wood for the trees
>>  Hi
>>  the 17th century humorously whimsical story in Hiberno-English - The
>>  Irish Hudibras or Fingallian Prince, (London, 1689), has the earliest
>>  use of the word "brogue" meaning an Irish accent I know of:
>>  "And wore a Brogue upon his Tongue
>>  For Tongue a Brogue supply'd the Strain"
>>  However it also has the phrases "can't see the wood through the trees"
>>  and "are you a man or a mouse".
>>  I'd love to know if these are the earliest versions of what are now
>>  standard catch phrases in the American and all other dialects of
>>  English.
>>  Any ideas anyone? I'd be particularly interested if the earliest
>>  American usages had any Irish connection - and I don't mean "Gaelic".
>>  The Ulster Scots brought their own dialect across the Atlantic as
>>  well.
>>  Thanks
>>  Eoin
>>  --
>>  --
>>  Eoin C. Bairéad
>>  Dublin, Ireland
>>  Áth Cliath, Éire
>>  ------------------------------------------------------------
>>  The American Dialect Society -
>All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"--a strange complaint to
>come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
>-Mark Twain
>The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list