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Compiling references to the Ocracoke "brogue", I wondered about the origins of the word. The Wikipedia entry confirms the possibilities that I recall:

Multiple etymologies have been proposed: it may derive from the Irish bróg ("shoe"), the type of shoe traditionally worn by the people of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands, and hence possibly originally meant "the speech of those who call a shoe a 'brogue'". It is also possible that the term comes from the Irish word barróg, meaning "a hold (on the tongue)", thus "accent" or "speech impediment". A famous false etymology states that the word stems from the supposed perception that the Irish spoke English so peculiarly that it was as if they did so "with a shoe in their mouths".

The OED (entry from 1888) has the shoe story:

Derivation unknown: from the frequent mention of ‘Irish brogue’, it has been conjectured that this may be the same word as the brogue n.2, as if ‘the speech of those who wear brogues’, or ‘who call their shoes brogues’; but of this there is no evidence.

Wikipedia cites McCrum, Robert et al. (1986),The Story of English, for the assertion that brogue in this sense was first recorded in 1689. This antedates the OED's citation:

1705 London Gaz. No. 4123/4 Charles Morgan..having much of the Irish Brogue in his Speech.

I don't have a copy of the McCrum book, and a quick Hathi Trust search didn't turn up the 1689 source, but it did find one from 1692

The STATE of the Protestants of IRELAND Under the Late King James's Government: IN WHICH Their Carriage towards him is justified, and the absolute Necessity of their endeavouring to be freed from his Government, and of submitting to Their present Majesties is demonstrated.

This volume is said to be "The Third Edition, with Additions", so maybe the first edition was in 1689. Anyhow, on p. 68 we find

Next to Chancery, is the Kings Bench, where Subjects are tried for their Lives and Fortunes: Upon this was set Mr. Thomas Nugent (made after Baron of Riverstown) the Son of one who had been Earl of Westmeath, but had lost his Honour and Estate for being an Actor in the late Rebellion begun in 1641. This Mr. Nugent who had never been taken notice of at the Bar, but for a more than ordinary Brogue on his Tongue (as they call it) and ignorance in the Law, was pitched on by King James, to judge whether the Outlawries against his Father and his fellow Rebels should be reversed, and whether the Settlement of Ireland, founded on those Outlawries, should stand good.

The parenthetical "(as they call it)" suggests that brogue was a novel usage at the time of writing, at least in England.



  1. Bloix said,

    November 10, 2019 @ 5:41 pm

    The etymology "the speech of those who wear brogues" goes back at least to 1736.
    That's almost contemporaneous as old etymologies go.

  2. Stephen Goranson said,

    November 11, 2019 @ 5:27 am

    In some additional early uses it is (as above) not a compliment by outsiders (unlike much current use). Here's a text from 1690, Teagueland Jests or Bogg-Witticisms…[including] sayings of some of the natives of Teagueland, till the year 1688…(London) p. 152. "…The Widow smiling to find so much of the Brogue upon his Tongue, directed him to an English Scrivener hard by…."
    For context, see:

  3. Phil Jennings said,

    November 11, 2019 @ 5:34 am

    What does it mean for something to be "hard by?" Close? Just around the corner?

  4. Stephen Goranson said,

    November 11, 2019 @ 5:40 am

    The Irish Hudibras, or, Fingallian prince taken from the sixth book of Virgil's Æneids, and adapted to the present times.
    Alternate title: Aeneis. Liber 6.
    Farewell, James. [8], 156, [4] p. London: Printed, and are to be sold by Richard Baldwin .., 1689. {from Early English Books Online] Second unnumbered page of "To the Reader" [italics omitted here]:
    That the young Princes Aenaeas, and Priamides, i. e. Nees, and Bryan oge, should gabble such down-right Fingallian; Shela, and the Father, such tolerable English, (besides for the Ease of the Reader,) there are other Reasons to be offer'd; as, that Shela being a Nun, and Anchyses a Low-Country Soldier, had both their Education at the English Court, which something Refin'd their Gibberish; yet not so much, but that there is still a Brogue discernable on their Tongue; Words and Bulls drop∣ing out so naturally, as very often betray their Country and Extraction.

  5. Philip Taylor said,

    November 11, 2019 @ 5:46 am

    "Hard by" — very close. I would imagine nautical origins, but haven't checked.

  6. Stephen Goranson said,

    November 11, 2019 @ 10:27 am

    According to Merriam-Webster online, brogue noun 2, is defined as "a dialect or regional pronunciation especially: an Irish accent"; with the first known use, 1677; and in the view there, on the the history and etymology: "Irish barróg accent, speech impediment, literally, wrestling hold, tight grip."

  7. Philip Taylor said,

    November 11, 2019 @ 11:27 am

    Onions (1966) favours the shoe etymology and dismisses the barróg version, saying "Improbably connected by some with Ir. barróg hold, grip (barróg teangan), 'grip of the tongue', lisp)".

  8. DaveK said,

    November 11, 2019 @ 2:13 pm

    @Philip Taylor:
    In support of the “hold on the tongue” theory, it is interesting that all three of the early citations above use the phrasing “a brogue on the tongue”.
    Was this an idiom for any kind of accent?

  9. Philip Anderson said,

    November 11, 2019 @ 4:25 pm

    It’s probably significant that the early usage was “a brogue upon the tongue”, but it always referred to speakers from Ireland (and generally still does, at least in Britain).

    “Teague” or Taig, from Irish Tadhg, is still an offensive nickname for a Catholic.

  10. Rodger C said,

    November 12, 2019 @ 7:48 am

    "A brogue upon the tongue" might suggest a tongue actually encased in leather.

  11. Suzanne Valkemirer said,

    November 12, 2019 @ 12:52 pm

    Students of Irish and of Irish English have not reached a consensus on the origin of brogue in the linguistic sense of the word. The two suggested etymologies are summarized in Terence Patrick Dolan's A Dictionary of Hiberno-English: The Irish Use of English (2006), pp. 35-36, available here:

  12. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 12, 2019 @ 1:35 pm

    I think I vaguely recall some prior LL posts complaining about the vagueness and inconsistency with which words like "drawl" or "twang" were used as labels for particular regional accents. Is there more of a core sense of brogueness, where "brogue" is only used to describe accents that have some specified set of features and is or at least can be used to describe all accents with those features? At a minimum can we be confident that an accent described as a "brogue" is definitely not a drawl or a twang?

  13. Suzanne Valkemirer said,

    November 12, 2019 @ 5:10 pm

    @ J. W. Brewer

    I would think that the brogue is in the ear of the listener. Someone who has more of an Irish accent than ego has a brogue.

  14. Stephen Goranson said,

    November 13, 2019 @ 5:20 am

    Thanks for the Dolan Dictionary link, Suzanne Valkemirer. That, reportedly, Irish has no usage equivalent to the English characterization of the accent may strengthen the guess that it originally arose as an outsider description, and, early on, apparently was mostly and intentionally pejorative, though many, Irish and not, find the accent pleasant.

  15. George said,

    November 13, 2019 @ 6:43 am

    As an Irish person, I simply can't help finding the term offensive, even if I know that it is often used with no pejorative intent.

  16. Stephen Goranson said,

    November 14, 2019 @ 6:07 am

    "Tongue" has many senses. Here's a usage of "upon his tongue" that may or may not be worth considering, given that it is from a 1674 reprint of William Camden's "Remains Concerning Britain: Their Languages…" p. 52.
    He moves from English words that French and Italians "neither of them can utter" eventually to the Biblical shibboleth.
    "So that a stranger, though never so long conversant among us, carrieth evermore a watchword upon his tongue to descry him by…"
    Context here:

  17. Geoff McL said,

    November 14, 2019 @ 8:58 am

    The McCrum book is a delight: I was lucky to grow up with a copy at home. The entire PBS series to which it is a companion, hosted by Robert MacNeil, is available in several parts on YouTube.

  18. Steve said,

    November 14, 2019 @ 2:52 pm

    FWIW, I, a USian, associate the term “brogue” with both Irish and Scottish accents, and googling confirms that this isn’t unique to me. It is perhaps just a coincidence, but it is interesting to me that the “shoe” in question was worn in the Scottish Highlands (though I’m not sure if those in the Highlands called it a brogue).

    Is the use of the term to refer to Scottish accents confined to the US?

  19. Philip Anderson said,

    November 15, 2019 @ 8:21 am

    @Stephen Goranson
    Are you thinking that “a brogue upon the tongue” could be analogous to wearing brogues being a giveaway for an Irishman?

    It’s an attractive idea, but although “a brogue upon the tongue” implied Irishness in the C17th, did brogues on the feet (even though the word came from Irish)? Shakespeare mentions them in Cymbeline (Cym IV.ii.214) as rough shoes, with no Irish connotation (perhaps a Welsh one).

  20. Stephen Goranson said,

    November 15, 2019 @ 9:44 am

    @Philip Anderson
    I am not sure about the etymology of brogue, so far neither settled on nor pushing for any. I just thought that looking at "upon the tongue" might narrow down possibilities compared to mere "tongue."
    Another uncertain imperfect analogy: imagined (as ~rough) "leather-lunged"?

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