One of my favourite words in the whole wide world is the Irish word amadán, often written as omadhan and pronounced as it looks – om-a-th-aan. It means fool or idiot (eejit in the vernacular!). Someone who steps straight in front of a bus, while texting – that’s an amadán. The cretin who drives at a steady 70 down the middle lane on the motorway, when there’s absolutely nothing in the slow lane. That’s an amadán. Anyone who does something daft or foolish qualifies. But somehow examples and translations fail to convey the real essence of the word. Maybe you just have to be Irish.
My mother had a desperate amount of great expressions and sayings. Desperate being Irish for terrible which could also mean great. Sometimes it could mean both, as in ‘he had a desperate thirst on him, sure he had.’ If someone messed up she’d say ‘he’s made a hames of it’. For a long time I thought this was something she’d invented – perhaps there’d been some friend of the family called Hames who was always screwing up. But no, I have recently discovered that it’s a genuine Irish expression, sadly falling out of use, with origins that are thought to date back to the days of working horses. A hames, it seems is a support for a part of the harness and if you put the wrong bits in the wrong places you end up in a mess.
‘Chancer’ was another favourite and could apply as equally to that eejit in the middle lane as to someone jaywalking, sailing close to the wind financially or just generally taking risks. Get me behind the wheel of a car and you’ll hear me mutter, or yell, ‘chancer’ whenever some fecker cuts in or overtakes stupidly. There are plenty of other possible examples – all those MPs who fiddled their expenses. They were chancers.
They were also ‘cute hoors’. I’ve only come across this one lately, and I love it. It’s a joy – beautifully illustrating the creativity and wit, as well as the scepticism, of my fellow countrymen and women. The description ‘cute hoors’ is usually applied to politicians. It implies deviousness and crookedness. In Ireland the word ‘cute’ means clever and hoor – well it means what it says on the tin, except with a different spelling.
A cute hoor is a rogue or a charlatan, someone who seems respectable and upright but who never misses a chance to rip you off. It’s no surprise that the phrase is used to describe cowboy builders, corrupt politicians, tax evaders, bankers, senior civil servants and the like. Indeed, currently, the whole lot of them are lumped together as ‘the Cute Hoor Party. The excellent blog, Crooked Timber, has a fascinating article about the sorry lot of them.