Archive | March, 2017

Saint Patty’s Day

8 Mar

Every year in the runup to March 17, Irish people express annoyance when Americans write about “Saint Patty’s Day”. The focus of the ire is the spelling “Patty”: Ireland recognises only “Paddy” as the hypocoristic of “Patrick”, while “Patty” can only be a pet form of “Patricia”. Wikipedia informs me that there are in fact males called “Patty”, allegedly most often in Australia; perusing Wikipedia pages whose titles start with “Patty”, I find males Patty Obasi (Nigeria), Patty Ginnell (Canada), Patty Mills (Australia), and possibly Patty Kane (USA — has a redirect but may not actually be called that).

I have some sympathy for the Americans, many of whom flap intervocalic /t/ (thus pronouncing “Paddy” and “Patty” identically) and can be forgiven for preferring the spelling with T, given that the full form is “Patrick” rather than “Padrick”. Irish people can also flap /t/:

  • “Proddy” is a somewhat derogatory abbreviation of “Protestant”
  • I personally pronounce the first t in “potato” as /d/ and the second as a /t/ (the latter a voiceless alveolar non-sibilant fricative, what Gay Byrne deprecates as a “whistling T”).
  • I suppose “Paddy” itself originates from the same flapping (though Pádraig, the Irish for “Patrick”, is born with a D).

The continuing distinctness of “Patty” from “Paddy” shows flapping is not as systematic or widespread in Ireland as in America.

“Saint Patty’s Day” is sometimes shortened to “Saint Patty’s”, which I suspect grates even more with those Irish who choose to be grated with. The Irish shortening is “Paddy’s Day”, sans “Saint”. Abbreviating “Saint X’s Day” to “Saint X’s” (as opposed to “X’s Day”) strikes me as American. Caveats:

  • like most Euro-anglophones, my default assumption is that anything I’ve only just noticed in English must be recently arrived from America
  • the only values of X that spring to mind are “Patrick” and “Valentine” (Though abbreviating “New Year’s Day” to “New Year’s” rings the same bell).

“Paddy’s Day” may also be spelt “Paddys Day”, signifying “the day of the Paddys” (i.e. “the day of Irish people”, reclaiming the ethnic slur “Paddy”) as opposed to “the day of Paddy” (a rather impious way to refer to the patron saint).

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