Trend Watch

Donnybrook

For once, a colorful etymology is actually true


Lookups for donnybrook spiked on May 16th, the day after the Toronto Blue Jays and the Texas Rangers paused their baseball game to engage in a spirited round of fisticuffs.

Odor shoved Bautista, then slugged him with a right to the mouth that knocked off the outfielder’s helmet and sunglasses, leading to quite the benches-clearing donnybrook.
The Washington Post, 15 May 2016

donnybrook

A view of Donnybrook Fair in 1783. Today, 'donnybrook' means "a brawl" or "a free-for-all."

Generally, when one encounters a word such as donnybrook, and hears that it has an interesting and fanciful etymology, the supposed origins of the word are spurious. However, in this case, we are happy to report that the word does indeed have a picturesque backstory. Donnybrook is the name of a city near Dublin which hosted an annual fair renowned for the quality—and quantity—of its brawls. So renowned, in fact, that the city’s name became a byword for free-for-all melees, beginning in the middle of the 19th century.

Some received severe blows from persons who wielded their sticks with such agility as to do no disgrace to a Donnybrook fair.
Commercial Advertiser [New York], 19 Oct. 1843

The district about Tyldesley and Leigh appears to be a sort of political Donnybrook.
The City Jackdaw [Manchester, Eng.] 22 Dec. 1876

The event was abolished in 1855, but not before its name had become a generic term for a free-for-all.

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