Making a Hames of Hames

Following a long Twitter discussion to the etymology of ‘to make a hames of’ with Stan Carey (@stancarey) Gerard Cunningham (@faduda),  Karenwq4 (@Karenwq4) and Ciarán Ferrie (@ccferrie) I compiled a list of Irish words where the phrase could have derived from. The only certainty is that ‘to make a hames of’ something is of Irish origin.

Éamann (n. rapparee)
éamh (vn. of éigh, cry, scream)
éamh (int. Bah!)
éigean (m. violence)
éimear (emery)
éimigh (v.t. refusal, denial, rejection)
féimheach (bankrupt) (v. féimhigh)
géim (v. low, bellow, shout, roar)
séimhigh (v. Thin, attenuate)
séimhní (a. tame Could even be an ironic use of English word ‘tame’)
téamh (vn. of téigh, heating, warming)

This is in no way a definitive list and is only speculative.  As the Irish can be playful with the English language and have been known to use it ironically, I have added these words in.  Honestly, I would have a tough time making a case for all or any of the aforementioned words.

For further information on the etymology of ‘to make a hames of it,’ please read Stan Carey’s blog:

The Twitter thread can be found here.

7 thoughts on “Making a Hames of Hames”

  1. Interesting. Your oral/aural approach is a good idea. Might be a possible older Irish derivation…

    éimdid (variants: féimdid, (f)eimdid, éimdhidh) is generally used in the sence of ‘refuses, rejects’, but a secondary usage is that of ‘fails’. Usuage is attested in Imtheachta Aeniasa, a translation of Vergil’s Aeneid, pre 1400 AD.

    A subsequent corruption of the éim/ (f)eim aural element, especially if a h was involved along the way (h-éim,or fheim?) could possibly have produced a similar sound to modern day ‘hame’.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Vox. You provide an interesting historical perspective. I would love to know if this, or any of our suppositions are true.

      1. No problem. Yeah, very difficult to say or prove either way. For what its worth, I think its the aural element that warrents tracing. I’m more used to working with anglicized Irish placenames, but if I got something spelled like ‘hames’, I’d usually assume its an English aural spelling of an Irish word/expression and try work back from there.

        Its also worth noting that a rake of Old/Middle Irish words dealing with ‘wrong’ and ‘wrongness’ start with ‘ain-‘. Not too far off and may just hint of some underlying cognitive association with similar sounds/meanings.

        Of course, I could just be making a hames of ‘making’ a hames out of a hames.

  2. The two curved pieces of metal, joined by a chain at the bottom, and a clasp at the top, which keep a donkey’s collar in place, are, as far as I know, called a hames, or were when I was growing up in North Cork. This maybe suggests something at once unimportant and unwieldy?

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