Don't be talking!
Don't be talking!
When Bloom runs into an old friend of Molly's in whom he once
took a romantic interest, a little whirlwind of Irish
expressions erupts from Josie, most of them still current in
Dublin speech: "Go away," "grand," "on the
baker's list," "don't be talking," "heartscalded."
Bloom's own idiomatic contributions to the conversation are
drawn from more standard English: "in the pink," "like
a house on fire." Still another expression, Josie's "a
caution to rattlesnakes," may possibly derive from
Hiberno-English roots, but its sense is hard to construe.
Read MoreIn a personal communication, Senan Molony observes that Josie's reaction to the news of Milly's employment in Mullingar, "Go away!," is "pure Irish idiom." Pronounced G’way, like the Australian G’day, it expresses "amused amazement" and means pretty much the opposite of what it says. Similarly, he observes that “Don’t be talking!” does not mean "do not be talking," but something more like "My goodness!" or "Do tell!" Terence Dolan cites its appearance in Lestrygonians as an example of the Hiberno-English habit of putting "be" in front of progressive verbs. ("Be starting your tea, otherwise it'll get cold.") When Josie, after saying "Go away!," exclaims, "Isn't that grand for her?," she again sounds a distinctively Irish tone. Dolan gives the synonyms "fine; splendid. 'That's a grand day!'"
Saying that people are "on the baker's list," as Josie says of her children, means that they are well. Gifford attributes the expression to the ability to eat solid food, and Slote quotes from P. W. Joyce's English As We Speak It in Ireland: "I am well and have recovered my appetite" (109). When Bloom remarks that Molly is "in the pink," he is saying much the same thing in a more standard English way. Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable defines it as meaning "In excellent health" but does not give the derivation that one might expect: a rosy complexion. Instead, the saying seems to have boiled down longer ones like Shakespeare's "the very pink of courtesy," Goldsmith's "the very pink of perfection," and Burns' "the pink o' womankind." The OED defines this sense of "pink" as "The 'flower', or finest example of excellence; the embodied perfection (of some good quality)."
Bloom's description of Milly "Getting on like a house on fire" at her photographer's shop in Mullingar is not particularly Irish, and its sense is clear: "very quickly." Brewer's dictionary, however, supplies a particularly concrete context for the expression's likely origin in medieval or early modern times: "The old houses of timber and thatch burned very swiftly." (Considering the number of thatch-roofed peasant homes that were burned in Ireland during uprisings and evictions, it would be interesting to know if this English expression gained a particular currency across the Irish Sea.)
Of Josie's declaration that Dennis Breen "has me heartscalded," Gifford notes that this is "A still-current Dublinism." Slote too identifies it as a Hiberno-English expression, and cites P. W. Joyce's comment that it means "to experience 'a great vexation or mortification'." Alphie McCourt, the younger brother of Frank McCourt, calls one of his memoirs Heartscald.
The vivid language that Josie uses of her husband two sentences earlier, "He's a caution to rattlesnakes," seems to vary a common saying, but the provenance and intention are unclear. Molony notes that in Ireland "He's a caution" means "He's very funny," like "He's a scream" in American usage. But would a loyal wife, even one very tired of her marriage, proclaim that her husband deserves to be the butt of jokes (as opposed to saying that she is heartscalded)? Saying that even snakes laugh out loud at Dennis would be odder still. Alternatively, Brewer writes that "So-and-so's a caution" can mean that "he is odd in his ways, likely to do something unexpected, often with a quaint twist to it. The phrase is originally American." It is easier to imagine Josie saying this about her husband, though saying that Dennis' odd behavior would astonish rattlesnakes, as Gifford does, seems as unlikely as saying that he would give them a good laugh. Starting from the reptilian end of the sentence, the meaning may be that not even deadly snakes are safe from Dennis Breen. But even if "He's a caution" can mean "He's a danger" (a use which does not seem to have been documented), applying it to the man would still be strange, since Joyce only suggests that he is eccentric, not dangerous.