Mothie slang

My girlfriend’s mother (Mothie) has a great line of expressions. She has such a very colourful and memorable way of phrasing things that I thought it worthwhile to pass some of them on.

It’s in a bull’s wool

This means, for Mothie, it’s in a great mess. Example: “This room is in a bull’s wool”.

Where is it from? I don’t know for sure, but there’s even a reference to bull’s wool in a Dail debate from 1962 in a defence/finance debate. A deputy Tully refers to uniforms as being made from bull’s wool: “The ordinary battle dress, the uniform they wear during the day, is the one I want to refer to particularly. I understand we are now the only civilised nation which has still held on to what is vulgarly known as the bull’s wool uniform. The bull’s wool uniform should be abolished. Perhaps the Minister would endeavour to do something about that also.”

In an altogether different context, on a rhyming slang site, “bull’s wool” is said to refer to stolen clothes. This is backed up on The Probert Encyclopedia, which says it is Black-American slang for stolen clothes. In Australia, apparently, bullswool means: “bullswool – 1. nonsense; exaggerated, unreliable talk. 2. exclamation of disbelief, disgust, scorn, etc.”.

None of these, sadly, matches Mothie’s unique usage.

A rip

A disreputable woman, untrustworthy, scandalous, impossibly demanding, irritating. Examples: “That one’s a rip”; “She’s a rip!”. Usage: whenever you meet an annoying woman, just lambast them with, “You’re a rip”.
I only came across one on-line definition of “a rip” that gets close to this meaning and it said it had two definitons, a dissolute person or an old or worthless horse. Hmmm…not exactly the same, but close. And apparently, it is of Flemish extraction. And one version of it in French is “debauche”. As to whether this is the origin of Mothie’s usage is anybody’s guess.

There’ll be wigs on the green

This is, apparently, a well-known old Irish expression, but I had never heard of it until I met Mothie. It refers to the habits of old gentlemen who wanted a good fight or scrap. They’d proceed down to the green (possibly even St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin), take off their wigs, and proceed to biff and throttle each other. Biff, bang, take that you rotter! A great definition is available on-line: “It’s an intriguing expression that’s still to be heard from time to time, though it’s seriously out of fashion, just like the wigs it mentions. Wigs on the green refers to a fight, brawl or fracas, or to a difference of opinion that could lead to fisticuffs. It often appears as “there’ll be wigs on the green”, as a warning (or a prediction) that an altercation is likely to occur. It’s originally Irish, dating from the eighteenth century, when men usually wore wigs. If a fight started, the first thing that happened was that the wigs of those involved would be knocked off and would roll incongruously about on the grass, to the amusement of bystanders and the embarrassment of participants. I can’t leave an Irish expression without quoting James Joyce. From Chapter 13 of Ulysses: “But Tommy said he wanted the ball and Edy told him no that baby was playing with the ball and if he took it there’d be wigs on the green but Tommy said it was his ball and he wanted his ball and he pranced on the ground, if you please”.”

Nine to ninety

This is my favourite Mothie expression. It is a shortening of the (quite possibly true) theory that all men between the ages of nine to ninety cannot be trusted to keep their eyes (or more) off a pretty young girl. Example: An attractive waitress asks if we are ready to order a meal, and after departing there is the muttered “Nine to ninety” with an air of satisfied superiority and a knowing raising of the eyebrows. Protesting your innocence is both useless and ignored, but mandatory.

Bad cat!

This began as a direct warning to the actual cat to, variously, stay off the couch, stop scratching the carpet with her nails, or stop begging for food. But it has been usefully extended by Mothie to include any warning to any person about just about anything. Usage: “Bad cat, don’t pay for that meal!”, “Bad cat, don’t sit there” etc. Infinite uses really.

And one that S. reminded me about last night…Up the hill of my noddy

This means “I don’t know and I don’t care” when asked where something is. Usage: “Where is the bad cat?”, the answer is invariably, “Up the hill of my noddy”. I don’t know what “the hill of my noddy” refers to, but S. reckons it means “up my arse for all I care”.  Brilliant!



  1. July 25, 2007 at 5:46 pm

    In Jonathon Green’s Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang (second edition), he gives this relevant definition: “[late 18C+] a worthless person, a rake; usu. used of a (young) man but occas. (Irish) of a woman.””

  2. David Levine said,

    July 26, 2007 at 3:02 am

    Oh my god I LOVE it! Thanks so much.

    Wigs on the green is effing brilliant! And is “Mothie” a sort of slangified form of Mother? That’s pretty precious too.

    Your mum has a rich inner world, doesn’t she Susan?

    I’ve got a 17 year old boy working with me this summer. We’re making him install Microsoft Office 2007 on about 200 computers. He’s a smart cookie though and he utters some lovely terms when I send him off to a computer lab to perform the tedium.

    Gnar! he says.



    He does appreciate a clear-cut job of work, mind you. He’s saying thanks for the assignment, I’ll get right on it, and with enthusiasm. Gotta love that.

  3. shazgood said,

    July 26, 2007 at 10:26 am

    “Mothie” is indeed Susan’s expression for her mum.
    Susan has inherited Mothie’s genius for coining new words and phrases. On the night we met, I remember being greatly amused by her description of some guy as having “cow eyes”. Kind of gormless and wide-eyed. She claims that “bad cat!” is hers; but the origin is lost in the mists of time now, they all use it.

  4. shazgood said,

    July 26, 2007 at 10:32 am

    thanks so much for the definition of “a rip”. That must be the origin I guess.
    Is Mothie the living embodiment of an 18th century woman? It looks increasingly like I am dealing with a bodily possession by an 18th century ghost! 🙂

  5. David said,

    July 27, 2007 at 4:39 am

    Lucky you! You’re wise to find entertainment there.

    Cow eyes, yes! Gormless! Yay, another great word. I think that’s got to be where our American term “gomer” must derive.

    I tried explaining “wigs on the green” to some folks at our lunch table today. Think their laughter was merely polite.

  6. shazgood said,

    July 27, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    Does gormless mean one lacks a quality called “gorm”? What is gorm? And why don’t we say gormful, or gormy, to describe someone blessed with lots of gorm? I dunno…

  7. David Levine said,

    July 29, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    Looks like a few interesting hits for “gorm”.

    Gorm the Old – Danish king

    Geeky Open Source Crap

    Shredder Twit

    My money’s on the Danish king.

  8. shazgood said,

    July 30, 2007 at 12:00 am

    Gorm for King! All those old Anglo-Saxon and Norse names were great. Haggard, and Eldred, and Halfblood, and Redbeard, and Ehtelbert. And his son was Harold Bluetooth, simply great. Why they’ve gone out of fashion is a mystery to me..

    Also, a good answer available here:

    A Gorm is a small bug type thing, but not the listening device kind, it looks a bit like a ladybird but it’s blue with purple spots and it sits inside your head, and if you’re clever and stay clever, it’s because your Gorm loves you and wants to stay with you all the time, however sometimes you might have been too mean and nasty or maybe lacking intelligence more than usual, then your Gorm will leave you and go into someone elses head, usually people only have one Gorm in their heads, but people with a high IQ, errrrm say about IQ of 130 have about 3 of these bugs in their heads, about the same as 130 PE teachers, I think.

  9. David said,

    July 30, 2007 at 3:06 am

    OK that Yahoo page is just a few reverberations too many. Don’t want that gorm.

    But at least now we know where our Bluetooth is coming from.

    And did you edit your post to add up the hill of my noddy or did I fail in my original reading to get to that wonderful coinage? I must admit that my attention tends to be a little deficit.

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