In Brief

Lotus Eaters employs far more slang than Calypso, no doubt reflecting the fact that Bloom has left his home and is walking the streets of Dublin. Many of the chapter's idioms are distinctively Hiberno-English, the result of people either adapting Irish words to a foreign medium ("foostering" and possibly "spreeish") or putting English words to new uses ("How's the body," "I'd like my job," "pimping," "don't you know," "pickeystone," "the rere," "What's the best news?," "scut," and possibly "on the nod"). Other expressions ("lobbing," "halfseasover," "bends," "Having a wet," "catch me napping," "in the same boat," "Give you the needle," "juggins," "her roses," "Damn all," "crawthumpers," "on hands") either clearly originated in England or are used in both countries.

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On the sunny west side of Westland Row, before crossing the street to enter the post office, Bloom thinks of "Those Cinghalese lobbing about in the sun in dolce far niente, not doing a hand's turn all day." Slote cites a meaning of "lob" recorded in Eric Partridge's Dictionary of Slang: "to droop; sprawl." (Dolce far niente is not English slang, but it does require a gloss. Literally "sweet do-nothing," the Italian phrase expresses the joy of indolence.)

In the post office, a recruiting poster for the British army prompts more lotus thoughts: "overseas or halfseasover empire. Half baked they look: hypnotised like." "Half seas over" is an English expression meaning "considerably drunk." It may derive from the image of a ship so heavily laden that small waves are washing over its decks.

Emerging from the post office, Bloom runs into M'Coy on the east side of the street. "How's the body?" M'Coy asks him, employing a very Irish version of "How are you?" According to one website, it is especially popular in Kilkenny. "How's the form?" is also heard in Ireland.

M'Coy tells Bloom that Bob Doran is "on one of his periodical bends," a variant of the more familiar word "bender" commonly used to denote a multi-day drinking spree. Visualizing the scene of M'Coy, Doran, Bantam Lyons, and Hoppy Holohan "Just down there in Conway's pub" at the south end of Westland Row, Bloom thinks, "Having a wet." Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable defines "wet" as "Slang for a drink; hence to have a wet is to have a drink." 

Gazing back across the street at the Grosvenor Hotel, Bloom sees the man who is hiring a cab rummaging through his pockets for change: "What is he foostering over that change for?" "Fooster" (pronounced "foosther") is a common Anglicization of the Irish fústar, a noun or verb for bustling about, fiddling or fidgeting, doing something in an agitated way. Stan Carey's Irish blog on the English language, Sentence first, notes that it can imply criticism, but is "often emotionally neutral." All editions before Gabler's have "fostering" here, an error that crept in during the production of the first edition.

A concentrated burst of slang occurs as Bloom thinks about M'Coy's history of borrowing suitcases and never returning them: "Didn't catch me napping that wheeze. The quick touch. Soft mark. I'd like my job." "To be caught napping" means to let down one's guard and pay for it. Brewer's Dictionary notes that "Pheasants, hares, and other animals" are sometimes "caught napping." According to the OED, "wheeze" can mean "a trick or dodge frequently used." So Bloom's alertness has kept him from falling for M'Coy's often-used valise scam. To "touch," the OED reports, can mean "To take in the hand, take, receive, draw (money); sometimes, to get by underhand means; hence (Thieves' cant), to steal." A "soft mark," according to Partridge's dictionary, is someone who is easily swindled, and Brewer's Dictionary offers a similar meaning for "soft touch": "One who is soft-hearted and easily imposed upon, especially one easy to 'touch' for money."

As for "I'd like my job," it is a purely Irish expression meaning "I won't be had." On James Joyce Online Notes Eamonn Finn observes that a book by Paddie Crosbie, Your Dinner's Poured Out (1981), includes it in his appendix of "Phrases from the Markets Area and a Short Glossary of Dublin Slang Words." Finn quotes also from Lady Gregory's play The Workhouse Ward (1909): "I'd like my job! Is it queer in the head you are grown asking me to bring in a stranger off the road?" The expression appears also in the Irish Monthly of September 1908: "The carpenter agreed, and it was arranged that Thady should go to work every morning at six o'clock. For three mornings Thady arose reluctantly at his mother's call, but on the fourth he stoutly refused to get up. 'Arrah, for what?' said he, adding as he settled himself snugly, 'I'd like me job!'" (484). Clearly, the phrase does not mean "I'd like to work"!

Another distinctively Irish phrase enters in the next paragraph when Bloom thinks of M'Coy's attempt to build intimacy by insinuating an equivalence between his wife and Molly: "You and me, don't you know: in the same boat. Softsoaping. Give you the needle that would." Slote quotes from P. W. Joyce's English as We Speak It in Ireland: "We have in Ireland an inveterate habit—from the highest to the lowest—educated and uneducated—of constantly interjecting the words 'you know' into our conversation as a mere expletive, without any particular meaning" (135). The other expressions in these sentences are more widely known. Being "in the same boat" as someone means being subject to the same circumstances. "Softsoaping" is flattery. To needle someone is to annoy them, and Partridge's dictionary documents the phrase "give the needle."

Walking away from M'Coy toward Great Brunswick Street on the north end of Westland Row, Bloom thinks, "Wonder is he pimping after me?" The word "pimp" is not used here in its familiar sense of procuring customers for prostitutes. Slote cites the OED's testimony that it can also mean "To mock, insult; to cheat, deceive; to take advantage of," and also, in Hiberno-English usage, "To spy on lovers; to engage in voyeurism." He concludes that "Both senses are appropriate here."

Turning the corner onto Great Brunswick and passing the cabstand there, Bloom sees the horses crunching away contentedly on oats and thinks, "Their Eldorado. Poor jugginses! Damn all they know or care about anything with their long noses stuck in nosebags. Too full for words." A "juggins," according to countless sources, is a fool, a simpleton, a dull-witted credulous dupe. The OED speculates that it may have begun life "As a surname of plebeian origin." Ole Bønnerup points out in a personal communication that "Damn all" is one of several such expressions heard on men's lips in Britain and Ireland: damn all, sod all, fuck all, bugger all. They mean "nothing at all." 

As he passes over a hopscotch court at the intersection with South Cumberland Street Bloom sees that the children playing there have left behind their "pickeystone." The word "pickey" may be English in origin, but it has long been used in Ireland for hopscotch and the flat stones that children playing that game throw into squares (American kids instead called them "laggers"). Other street games too have been called pickey or piggy. Dolan's Dictionary of Hiberno-English documents Cork references, including Seán Beecher's A Dictionary of Cork Slang, to a game of pickey "where a flat stone was kicked from square to square using one foot." The OED documents two late 19th century uses of "piggy" either for an English street game called "tip-cat" or for the piece of wood called the "cat" used in that game. One of these sources says that tip-cat appears to be "called 'piggie' in the north."

Pondering Martha's bad headache Bloom thinks, "Has her roses probably. Or sitting all day typing." Having one's roses, documented in Partridge's dictionary, means having begun menstruating. Slote calls the usage of this expression both English and Irish.

Having turned down South Cumberland Street, Bloom enters St. Andrew's church through the "open backdoor": "He trod the worn steps, pushed the swingdoor and entered softly by the rere." This usage cannot be called slang, but the odd spelling is distinctively Irish. Stan Carey observes in another blog on Sentence first that it probably derives from the original Old French spelling: instead of being supplanted by "rear" as happened in England, "rere" remained a recognized variant in Ireland. Carey quotes from many Irish texts of the last two centuries: "the rere of the house" (1832), "At the rere was a massive stone wall" (1883), "the rere of dwellings" (Irish Statute Book), "There is rere service access" (contemporary website), and so forth.

Inside the church, Bloom thinks that after Catholics receive Communion they "come out a bit spreeish. Let off steam." Gifford comments that this is a "Common Protestant prejudice about the behavior of Catholics right after mass," and Slote seconds his view. Both assume that "spreeish" has the meaning given in the OED: "given to indulgence in sprees; slightly intoxicated." Declan Kiberd takes a different view, speculating that the word may instead be an Anglicization of the Irish "spraoi, high spirits." If so, then there is no insinuation of alcoholic indulgence; the churchgoers' high spirits owe entirely to their pleasure at being close to God and close to one another, "like one family party." But this reading has the disadvantage of not explaining how they plan to "Let off steam."

After reflecting that James Carey was a regular churchgoer as well as a plotter of political murder, Bloom thinks, "Those crawthumpers, now that's a good name for them, there's always something shiftylooking about them. They're not straight men of business either." The word pretty clearly refers to people who are ostentatiously pious, but its derivation is not certain. Slote cites the OED: "one who beats his breast (at confession); applied derisively to Roman Catholics." Terence Dolan's Dictionary of Hiberno-English too identifies the "craw" that is thumped as an English word, though he notes that in Middle English crawe meant "stomach." Gifford, relying on P. W. Joyce's English As We Speak It in Ireland, imagines a completely different origin in the Irish crawtha, meaning "mortified, pained."

After exiting the church and walking south on Westland Row to Sweny's pharmacy, Bloom is plagued by the scrofulous Bantam Lyons: "Hello, Bloom. What's the best news? Is that today's? Show us a minute." Lyons wants to look at Bloom's newspaper, but his questions sounds like a variation on the omnipresent Irish inquiry, "What's the craic?" It was clearly a current expression in Joyce's time, as both Corny Kelleher and Simon Dedalus ask "What's the best news?" in Wandering Rocks. As Lyons finally leaves, excitedly running off to take advantage of Bloom's supposed racing tip, Bloom thinks, "God speed scut." "Scut" is another English word that has become a staple of Hiberno-English speech. It originally referred to the short tail of a hare or rabbit, or to the hare or rabbit itself, but it has come to mean a worthless human being. Dolan's dictionary defines it as "a contemptible person; a person of bad character (sometimes found as a nickname, e.g. 'Paddy the Scut'." Bloom's sentence, then, means something like "On your way, you little shit."

At the end of Lotus Eaters, as he passes by the gate to Trinity's College Park, Bloom imagines another possible conversation and still more slang pops up: "There's Hornblower standing at the porter's lodge. Keep him on hands: might take a turn in there on the nod. How do you do, Mr Hornblower? How do you do, sir?" To keep someone "on hands," Gifford and Slote both note, is to maintain a speaking acquaintance with them. For "on the nod" Slote quotes the definition of the OED, "on credit," but Gifford takes the much more intuitively persuasive view that "Hornblower might nod Bloom through the college gates and give him the privileges of the grounds, as he has done before." (In Penelope, Molly recalls that Hornblower once let the two of them, with Milly, into the Trinity grounds to see the prestigious College Races "by the back way.") It seems possible, though I have not yet found any evidence for it, that this sense of "on the nod" may be an Irish adaptation of another commonly attested English usage: "by general agreement and without discussion."

JH 2021