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Whisht: Basil McBride's Word of the Week

Updated: Mar 3

Definition: hush (used to demand silence).


I was discussing the etymology of the word “whisht” recently with a source that I believe to be reputable on account of said source being from Co. Mayo. “Whisht,” he said, “is another way of saying ‘Ssh!’” – this, most Irish people know – but its origin, strangely, is less of a linguistic matter than it is a physiological one.


Mayo, Galway, and Clare, as we are aware, are situated on the west coast of Ireland, and with that west coast, there comes a lot of rain, hail, wind, and waves. “The whishing sound of the waves,” he revealed, “has played on the mind and matter of our forefathers for centuries.”


He described, in fine detail, how people from the west are born with a small gap which exists between the top of their brains and their skulls, or “shkulls” as he said. Between the wind and the waves, this “whish” has essentially blown its way into the corpora of most people living in the west of Ireland. It is a phenomenon that has led to a variety of issues, including bad mental health. This is why many Irish, particularly the elderly, have an intense aversion to draughts.


To explain his struggles further, he recited a short poem that he wrote:


Words upon the wind

Whish in from the

Frothy waves –

That waylay Mayo’s

Laymen on these

Cold and solemn days.


I hope you have found this article to be informative. Many thanks to Chris Black of purpleandgoldpoetry for requesting this Word of the Week – stay tuned for more!


B. McBride

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