Date: Thu, 21 May 1998 10:00:12 -0700
From: "Joseph P. McGowan"
Subject: Re: Paddy wagon query

On Thu, 21 May 1998, Ross Chambers wrote:

> HELP!! I wrote to a journalist on Australian national radio who used the
> expression "paddy wagon" when covering a strike.
> Relying on Partridge I said that the expression was pejorative to Irish
> people.

It is. There may be some backtracking among lexicographers as a result of
revisionist historical work regarding Ireland and Irish emigration (R.F.
Foster and others) -- e.g. that NINA regulations (No Irish Need Apply)
have been mythologized (they were real) and so forth-- that has
dissociated `Paddy wagon' from `Paddy' (pejorative term for an Irishman <
Gaelic form Padraig, like Bridie/Biddie < Bridget/Brigid for an
The usually loquacious & informative (via Regional notes)
_American Heritage Dictionary_ says ``origin unknown''; the _Oxford
Dictionary and Thesaurus_ (1996; American Edition) lists
Paddy = derog. for Irishman
paddy = policeman
paddy wagon = police van
as connected to Padraig > Paddy. The earliest newsprint references in the
U.S. seem to make clear that _paddy wagon_ is a formation analagous to
scores of similar combinations _paddy X_ or _Paddy's X_, most transferred
from the British Isles (a placename like Paddy's milestone, or terms like
_paddy camp_). The combination _paddy X_ is often just a stronger form of
_Irish X_. The second volume of J.E. Lighter's _Random House Historical
Dictionary of American Slang_ (1997) records:

Irish = fighting spirit (as BrE `Paddy' can = temper fit, rage)
Irish ambulance = wheelbarrow
Irish apple = potato
Irish baby buggy = wheelbarrow
Irish banjo = shovel
Irish bouquet = `a stone or rock or any other implement suitable for
cracking skulls'
Irish caviar = meat stew
Irish clubhouse = jail

And so on. Lighter lists another 39 similar constructions (1785-1980s,
many clustered in their first instance in the 1860s). Even more
appear in BrE dialects (usually _paddy X_).

The term _paddy camp_ (Irish ghetto) even made it into a Supreme Court
case: the 1830s Paddy Camps Lands case (deriving from the Lowell, MA,
``Paddy Camps''). I hope to get back to a fuller investigation of these
terms in AmE, which would place `paddy wagon' unequivocally in the same
range as all of the other _paddy X_ formations.

-Joe McGowan

Dr. Joseph McGowan
Department of English
University of San Diego
San Diego, CA 92110-2492