Q From Paul Blake, UK: In Ireland the expression to make a hames of something (as in ‘Sure, your one made an awful hames of it’) is used where standard UK English would say ‘to make a mess of’. I’ve often wondered what the etymology of hames was.
A The expression is indeed restricted to Ireland and doesn’t now seem to be so very common even there, at least to judge from the small number of examples I’ve been able to turn up. Here’s one from the Irish Examiner in August 2004, describing a local politician’s chances in a reshuffle: “You know he’d be thrilled with Finance, and it wouldn’t do you any harm to watch him make a hames of it. He could even be the scapegoat for the next election.”
Though the expression isn’t known elsewhere, anyone who has much to do with working horses will know the term, because the hames are the two curved supports attached to the collar of a draft horse to which the traces are fastened. I’m no horseman — I know which end bites and that’s about it — but my carriage-driving consultant tells me it’s all too easy to put the hames on a horse the wrong way up, thus making a complete mess of things and risking adverse comments from bystanders.
Here’s a literary example, from Hugh Leonard’s Out After Dark of 1989: “Instead I made a hames of it, mislaying a verb, marooning a noun on a foreign shore, starting a jerry-built sentence that caved in halfway through”.
Hame, in lots of different spellings, was once common in dialects throughout Britain and Ireland and there are terms in Old Dutch and German that are similar. The best we can say about its origins is that it’s a Germanic word, perhaps imported from Dutch around 1300.
Search World Wide Words
Recently added or updated
Who coined forecast?; Vigintillion; Hingle; Bookaneer; Pig sick; Adimpleate; Deodand; Ilk; Fowler’s Modern English Usage; Skint; Vellichor; Galoot; Crizzling; Caparisoned; Volleyballene; Trove; Smithereens; Worry wart; Punch list; Verbigeration; Heliotrope; Ditty bag; E30; Old fogey.
Support World Wide Words!
Donate via PayPal. Select your currency from the list and click Donate.
Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select your preferred site and click Go!