On a wet weekend, while recovering from a perfectly ordinary but nonetheless annoying cold, I was catching up on some language and linguistics blogs I rarely read, possibly because those bloggers are far less active these days than previously. One of those is David Crystal. One of his posts relates the story of Gerard Manley Hopkins contributing Irish words and phrases for the English Dialect Dictionary, published between 1898 and 1905. Some of the items don’t sound dialectal at all, some are amply attested elsewhere, and some were new to me.

My eye was caught by

bodach, sb, an old man; a churl

Ireland. GMH [no example]

I immediately flashed back 40 years to my last year or two of primary school in country Victoria, when and where the word bodack (however spelled – it was rarely written) was used as a one-word reply to express disbelief or derision at someone else’s statement. (The exact level of disbelief or derision depended on the exact amount of inflection in the pronunciation.) Are the two words connected? It’s impossible to say now.

Wikipedia has a page on bodach, which it explains as

‘the Irish word for a tenant, a serf or peasant … often used affectionately … a trickster or bogeyman figure in Gaelic folklore and mythology’.

It has also been used in fantasy novels, such as the Odd Thomas books by Dean Koontz. A no-doubt related word, bodak, is used in Dungeons & Dragons.

Searching for bodack, I found an entry on the Urban Dictionary:

one who is crazy. Also can be used as an adjective.
You’re as crazy as a bodack, man.
Adjective: Stop being so bodack and stop you’re crying biotch.

Bodack is also a surname, one of whom is German, and the others in the USA and Canada. I remembered the name Peter Bodack (however spelled), but can’t think whether he was a student at my primary school or my sisters’ (and later my) high school, or whether I have half a memory of an English soccer player named Peter Bodak, who enjoyed brief success in the early 1980s, but that is too late for the memories I have. (We moved interstate in 1978, so I can easily date memories to pre-1977 and post-1978.)

So, was the schoolyard slang related to the Gaelic word? Either way, why did people start using it in that way around then? How widespread was it? (It wasn’t used at my second high school in another state, or may have fallen from use as quickly as schoolyard slang often is.) There were another three or four slang words at the time, which I can’t remember.Why can I remember this one this one so clearly?


4 thoughts on “bodack

  1. Do you remember anything about how it came to be used around 1975-6? I was thinking about asking you but didn’t just in case you didn’t remember and thought I was crazy.


  2. As far as I know “bodach” just means “old man” in Gaelic, none of that stuff about a tenant or a bogeyman. I do believe it’s sometimes used affectionately between younger men, though – enough that there’s a theory that the English word “buddy” is derived from it.

    How were you pronouncing it?


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