What are ‘pishogues’?

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Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: pishogues….

I always enjoy reading books by authors from different countries. Almost inevitably, their language or expressions are quite different from my own, and I end up learning new words.

This was certainly true of the marvellous novel This is Happiness by Niall Williams. The Irish author has a firm grasp of the Irish way of speaking and has filled his book with words like percipence and tantara and, now, pishogues.

Here is how he used the latter:

She had an iron cauldron of remedies and pishogues inside her.

From context, I failed to discern the meaning, so I had to look it up. Pishogues, it turns out, refers to a wise saw or aphorism (as in the photo at the top of this post, “Don’t waste your talent.”) It also carries overtones of sorcery, witchcraft, incantations or spells.

The etymology of the word is Irish, of course, coming from piseog which means witchcraft.” This, in turn, comes from Middle Irish piseócpisóc, meaning the same thing.

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