Wednesday, January 19, 2022

"Mother McCree" in John Dos Passos's "Manhattan Transfer" and the song "Mother Machree"

In John Dos Passos's 1925 novel "Manhattan Transfer", the "man behind the counter" at a lunchroom challenges an annoying customer: "Look here Mother McCree I'll trow ye out o here if you raise any more distoirbance." I've only known that name from the jug band Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions, an early incarnation of what later became The Grateful Dead. But "Mother Machree" was a song written in 1910 for a show called "Bally of Barrymore", and the Corpus of Historical American English contains other references to "Mother Machree" that suggest that the expression was used as an exclamation and an insulting term for a woman in the 1920s and 1930s. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 January 2022)

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