On a walk last week I overheard a woman speak a word (Irish English, chiefly Munster I think) that I hadn’t heard in a long time: cnáimhseáiling, or knawvshawling. The opening c or k* is pronounced distinctly: /’knɔːv’ʃɔːlɪŋ/. Aside from a quick note on Twitter, I was too busy to elaborate until now, but you won’t hear me knawvshawling.
The word means muttering complaints, whingeing, sullen grumbling, finding fault, or — another very Irish idiom — giving out:
Finish your plate now and don’t mind your cnáimhseáiling.
The Anglicised spelling knawvshawling is a loose phonetic approximation, as are knauvshauling and cnawvshawling. There are short entries in online dictionaries of Cork and Irish slang, but the word deserves a longer write-up.
Cnáimhseáiling comes from the Irish root cnáimhseáil, where -(e)áil is a verbal noun ending (one of several in Irish) and cnámh means bone; here, jawbone (cf. the colloquial jaw (v.t.) meaning scold, berate). Cnáimhseáiling could be thought of as jawbone-ing-ing; such deliberate and playful redundancy is common in Hiberno-English. A cnáimhseálaí /’knɔːv’ʃɔːliː/ or knawvshawley, cnawvshawler, etc. is a chronic complainer or tireless whinger.
Although it’s not a very widespread term, knawvshawl appears in all sorts of places, usually Irish and inevitably with an Irish connection. We see it in Irish literature and in Irish (or Irish English) poetry. Cork-born poet Greg Delanty has used the word in several works, including The Leper and Civil Disobedience, Home From Home, and The Lost Way:
Suzanne Vega stereotyped ‘Calypso’
as we knawvshawled about our families
(our begetters and begotten, no worse than the next,
whose umbilical cords we’re still spancelled to)
before we went on to our respective wandering.
The Irish form cnáimhseáil appears on quite a few websites, including several chat rooms. The English spelling shows up too, as in this memorable report of a baby-feeding routine from a ‘Mums & Babies’ discussion forum:
7 [a.m.] – feed – fusses terribly over this one! Yanking at boob and giving out, knauvshauling as my mother would say!
The expression can be found in the posts and among the comments of various blogs, such as the UK/US-usage blog Separated by a Common Language and the blogs of my online friends Sean (in Germany) and Jams (in the UK). It pops up in film reviews — well, one anyway: here’s a line from a critical assessment of Puckoon in the Time Out Film Guide:
The mad world of Spike Milligan’s 1963 novel is inhabited by the eejits, gobshites and cnawvshawling bollixes of the titular small town, northeast of Sligo.
Conn Ó Muíneacháin told me they use cnáimhseáil in his house, where they speak Irish, and remarked on its “wonderful onomatopoeia”. He added that there’s also a lot of geonaíl (whining) and pusaíl (sulking)! The Hiberno-English form of the latter, pussing, is still common — very common in Kerry — and indeed I grew up hearing it in the mid-west of the island. Sometimes it’s combined with another verb, e.g. pussing crying, or shortened to noun form:
Take that puss off you before you get out of the car. [puss = sulky expression]
Cnáimhseáil can even be heard in the Oireachtas (Irish parliament). Last year Jerry Buttimer, a Cork senator, said [PDF]: ‘If the Government really wants co-operation and bipartisanship, let us see it and stop the rhetoric and cnáimhseáil.’ More recently, there has been talk of a mysterious Knauv Shauling contributing to the inimitable satirical journal Speculative Grammarian. It seems that no context is too high or low for a spot of knawvshawling.
Updates: In a post called Knawvshawling, the always interesting Language Hat adds his own linguistic observations. And here is the aforementioned Knauv Shauling, Assistant Chief Hibernolinguistic Paleocurmudgeon of Speculative Grammarian.
* I’ve just noticed how accidentally apt is this arrangement of letters.