In Brief

In Lotus Eaters Bloom rounds the corner of Westland Row and Great Brunswick Street and passes by "the drooping nags of the hazard" on the big thoroughfare. In Hades, coming up Great Brunswick in the funeral carriage, he sees "The hazard" once more and thinks, "Only two there now. Nodding. Full as a tick. Too much bone in their skulls. The other trotting round with a fare. An hour ago I was passing there." Hazard was the Dublin term for a cabstand or cab rank, and the horses hitched to these vehicles prompt Bloom's sympathetic reveries.

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§ Although there is no doubt about the word's denotation in this context, its origins and connotations are mysterious. The OED defines hazard as "A cab-stand (in Ireland)," citing no example before 1882. It seems possible that the usage arose from the threats posed by cabs constantly pulling out of street traffic and into it, attracting passengers from all directions, and disgorging passengers from both sides. The sense of peril carried by normal uses of the word appears to be picked up in Hades, where Joyce contrives to associate it with Fenian violence by placing it just after "Meade's yard." In a section of town where Fenians seem to be lurking everywhere, simply using the sidewalks may feel hazardous.

Another, more etymological explanation has to do with chance. The word came into English from the Spanish azar, an unlucky throw of the dice, which itself came from Arabic words for dice games. This root meaning appears to have had some currency in Ireland, perhaps because of its geographical and historical closeness to Spain. In Ithaca, Bloom thinks of children playing "games of hazard." Might this meaning have been adapted to the crapshoot chances of finding an unengaged cab? The other use cited in the OED, in the 5 December 1884 issue of the Freeman's Journal, lends some support: "What about providing a hazard at each arrival platform? . . . the public would then know that it was beyond the power of a cab or cabman to refuse the first call." In his Dictionary of Hiberno-English, Terence Dolan opts for this explanation, albeit with the difference that he sees the uncertainty lying with the cabmen eager for employment: the usage, he writes, "owes its name, doubtless, to the element of luck in the prospects of obtaining a fare."

The polyglot nature of Hiberno-English may suggest still other possibilities. In a personal communication, Senan Molony wonders whether the Irish word for donkey—asal, pronounced "azzal" and aspirated in the plural to na hasail—might have slipped over into English at a time when many cabs were still being pulled by donkeys. Searching for the nearest English sound, might Irish speakers accustomed to carrying on their business in the dominant colonial language have taken "hazard" as an acceptable substitute for "hazzal," the place where the donkeys meet? 

JH 2021
"The hazard" on Great Brunswick (now Pearse) Street, still operating across the street from parked automobiles in the 1950s. Source: Tindall, The Joyce Country.