The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Irish bull

An irish bull is a ludicrous, incongruent or logically absurd statement.

Bull in this sense is not to be confused with the usage of the word in "a Papal Bull", which is a horse of a different colour.

"Irish bull" originated in this use because such expressions often fall between two different statements, as between the horns of a bull. There may also be a connection to "bull" in another derogatory sense. The Irish were supposedly peculiarly prone to such expressions due to their volubility, their taste for colourful metaphors, and their ignornace (or consversely excessive command) of the English language.) Extensive use of Irish Bulls are made of by American Jewish humourists from the period when large numbers of recent Jewish immigrants from Germnay or Eastern Europe were present in American cities, which suggests that a similar effect produced the term "Irish Bull", which is partly contemptuous and partly hommage.

The "Irish Bull" is to the sense of a statement what the dangling participle is to the syntax. A jarring or amusing absurdity is created by hastiness or lack of attention to speech or writing.

Example of a dangling participle: The cat had kittens on the television.

It is ambiguous whether the cat is physically on the television set or part of the television programming at the time of giving birth.

Samuel Goldwyn was a famous American mis-speaker, as was Yogi Berra.

The Irish Bull can be a potent form of self-conscious equivocation and satire in the hands of a wit's sharp tongue. As such, it is associated particularly with new or marginalized populations, such as the Irish in Britain in the Nineteenth Century, or the Jews and Germans in America in the Early Twentieth Century.


"If I could drop dead right now, I'd be the happiest man alive." - Samuel Goldwyn, movie producer (1882-1974)

"Always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't come to yours." - Yogi Berra, baseball player (1925- )

"Back to back, they faced each other" - Anon

See also

Last updated: 08-16-2005 22:39:52