Printable Version
Pronunciation: shê-lay-lee Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: An Irish cudgel made of a knobbed stick of blackthorn, oak, or other hardwood.

Notes: ShillelaghThe shillelagh was once used for settling disputes in a more gentlemanly manner than by using swords or pistols. Look out for the spelling. Remember the middle E is pronounced [ay] and the final syllable is spelled -lagh, though pronounced [-lee].

In Play: Shillelaghs are still occasionally used for combat: "Liam Flannagan was disqualified from play for hitting a member of the other side on the head with his shillelagh." However, they are more likely to be used as walking sticks: "Grandpa uses his shillelagh as a walking cane, with which he, however, once successfully defended himself against an unsuspecting mugger."

Word History: Today's Good Word is a difficult one to trace. It is the name of a village in County Wicklow in Ireland. The forests around this village are supposed to have provided a substantial source of the blackthorn from which shillelaghs are made. The geographic name Shillelagh derives from Sol Éalaigh, or "descendants of Éalach". A better source of the word is that it is an English corruption of Old Irish sail éille "strap cudgel", from sail "heavy stick, cudgel" + éille "thong, strap", since cudgels are often provided with a strap for holding the cudgel on the hand. Old Irish sail started off as spali- "split off, board" from PIE (s)phel-/(s)phol- "to split, cut off; board". We see its remnants in Sanskrit sphara "shield, Persian sipar "shield", German spalten "to split", and English splint.

Dr. Goodword,

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