What do you wonder at, asthore?

Dusk, a pearl-grey river, o’er
Hill and vale puts out the day—
What do you wonder at, asthore,
What’s away in yonder grey?

Dark the eyes that linger long—
Dream-fed heart, awake, come in,
Warm the hearth and gay the song:
Love with tender words would win.

Fades the eve in dreamy fire,
But the heart of night is lit:
Ancient beauty, old desire,
By the cabin doorway flit.

from Twilight by the Cabin by George William Russell, aka Æ.

You might have wondered at the word asthore. It’s an Irish English term of endearment, an anglicised form of the Irish a stór /ə’st̪oːr/, meaning “my dear” or “my darling” – literally “treasure”, with the Irish vocative particle a.

I love the sound and appearance of a stór. Google Books has examples of it in literary use, but asthore appears to be the more common form. I’ve also come across m’asthore, a mixed-tongue contraction of mo stór, “my treasure”.

What do you wonder at, a stór?

And did you notice how the verses above look like a face in profile, with a strong nose, a weak chin, and the broad brim of a hat?

[P.S. I shared the first verse on Twitter and then on Google+, which I recently joined. Because I haven’t yet decided how best to balance these accounts, I’m sharing it here too.]

13 Responses to What do you wonder at, asthore?

  1. wisewebwoman says:

    I use the term a bit with my family particularly as my Granny would use it.
    And I am an enormous fan of AE so thanks for today’s gorgeous post, Stan.
    If you close your eyes slightly, the image is a little better.
    XO
    WWW

  2. I love the poem. I hadn’t heard the expression asthore before

  3. If you close your eyes completely, the image is incredible.

  4. As I said to you on Twitter, “a stór” looked familiar to me, and then I realised I’ve seen it in song lyrics.

    In particular: http://chivalry.com/cantaria/lyrics/a-stor-mo-chroi.html

    I have a version of on CD, albeit a much more upbeat version than the audio samples you’ll find on that page and elsewhere. The version I have is actually quite lively (and sung by someone from Brittany).

  5. substuff says:

    I read this in my normal voice, and it was nice, but not special. And then I had a think, and read it again in a crackly male Irish voice (which I will never be performing in public) and it came alive.

    Asthore doesn’t work in Sussexish very well. But I suspect it’s quite beautiful in its natural habitat.

  6. Stan says:

    WWW: Lovely to think of it being spoken across the Atlantic. I don’t hear the expression much among younger people; I suppose it’s most likely to be used between family or intimates, especially native Irish speakers.

    Jams: Russell’s poem has a serene sort of simplicity, I think. Maybe you could try out a stór on the not-wife!

    Edward: Yes indeed. Especially if someone is kind enough to read the poem to you.

    Dragon: Thanks for the link. I wondered what lyrics you knew it from, and guessed that it was a folk song or traditional ballad. It’s a melancholy, mournful song, but I can imagine it working it quite well at a faster tempo.

    Cathy: How marvellous: It sounds as though you’ve invoked the spirit of an old Irish bard. How well asthore works in Sussexish is, I suspect, mostly in the ear of the beholder.

  7. Eimear says:

    “A stór” or especially to children “a stóirín” is the default endearment in my family even in English but certainly it comes from speaking mostly Irish at home when we were growing up. In turn then it’s the most natural for me to use with my nieces.
    The song linked above also has “a rúin”, another endearment from the word “rún”, a secret or mystery.

  8. Elaine says:

    I love this post. I wondered about the use of ‘alanna’ as a similar term of endearment. It’s got to be from ‘a leanbh’ in Irish, but I’ve only heard it in speech as ‘alanna’. My folks use (at least I thought so until I heard it elsewhere) it as a derivative or affectionate version of my first name. The only other people I’ve ever heard use it are older people, and they’re not Irish speakers. I wonder if it’s more common in certain parts of the country?

  9. Stan says:

    Eimear: It seems to be well established in Irish English, as is the diminutive suffix -ín/-een. Given how a stór is used — frequently and ritually between familiars — it’s likely to continue being passed on from one generation to the next. Thanks for pointing out that a rúin appears in the song too. Strange and charming that it’s used to address a loved one.

    Elaine: Yes, alanna comes straight from a leanbh [“child” in the vocative case, for readers without Irish]. I never noticed its similarity to your name before! T. P. Dolan’s dictionary includes a few literary uses of the word, including appearances in works by Sean O’Casey and James Joyce. As to its distribution around the country, I couldn’t say, but I would guess it’s more common in traditionally Irish-speaking areas.

  10. […] phrases are used similarly to Hiberno-English asthore and m’asthore (Irish a stór and mo stór “my treasure”, i.e., my dear/darling), and occasionally they appear […]

  11. […] Asthore again comes from Irish: a stór is a term of endearment literally meaning treasure in the vocative […]

  12. John Cowan says:

    In the 2012 Irish translation of The Hobbit, Gollum’s my preciousss becomes a sstóirín.

    • Stan says:

      Ah, that’s a good use for it. And the sibilance is retained, if repositioned. I must write a post sometime about that Irish suffix -ín.

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