‘segocia’: meaning and origin

The Irish-English noun segocia, also segotia, etc., denotes a pal, a mate, a good friend.

This noun is chiefly used in the phrase me oul segocia (i.e., my old segocia) and variants. For example, Me Oul Segocia is the title of a play about ‘the Troubles’, by the Northern-Irish author Stewart Love (1934-2021), first broadcast on the BBC on Monday 30th July 1979.

The earliest occurrence of this noun that I have found is, as skeowsha [note 1], from Finnegans Wake (London: Faber & Faber Limited, 1939), by the Irish author James Joyce (1882-1941):

Ah, but she was the queer old skeowsha anyhow, Anna Livia, trinkettoes! And sure he was the quare old buntz too, Dear Dirty Dumpling, foostherfather of fingalls and dotthergills.

The noun segocia, also segotia, then occurs in the column Cruiskeen Lawn, by ‘Myles na gCopaleen’ [note 2], published in The Irish Times (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland):

1-: Of Tuesday 19th June 1945:

No, ma’am, pardon me, no man in the British Aisles has, I think I may say without bow-string, done more, striven harder or made more desperate sacrifices for the sake of promoting mutual understanding between Irel& and Engl& than “my” self. […]
But now . . . . now . . . . I wonder. Something has happened. Just quite what I have not yet been able to determine. But something has come to shake my feet, sorry my faith, something has come to shake my simple view of the nature of our inter-relations. […] A note to the effect that the Board of Works, Capitation Section, had taken in hands the rehabilitation of a certain statue on the estate of Lt. Col. Pœnix (Retd.). The full report I do not now propose to quote, contenting myself (if this indeed be contentment) with a restatement of the last sentence therein—
“The sword which was removed from Viscount Gough’s hand on Christmas Eve, has not yet been recovered.”
A moment, please: I have not done. On the (self) same day there also appeared in the papers an account of a ceremony which took place when the distinguished Colonial officer, General Eisenhower, recently received the Freedom of the City of London. […]:
“As the Sword of Honour which is eventually to be presented to General Eisenhower was not completed in time, the sword of the Duke of Wellington was used as a temporary token, and was handed to him by the Lod Mayor . . . .”
Well . . . . what do you think of that? Quite clear, of course, what happened. It is, let me say it at once, it is deplorable. Viscount Gough was, with all his faults, an Irishman. […] It is deplorable that the British Government (so called) should allow itself to be blinded by petty spite as to disarm, in the confusion of the festive season, a gallant and courageous officer who never flinched from danger and whose hand and purse were ever at the disposal of the Irish people. […] Lord Gough’s sword must and shall be restored to him. I name no names, I accuse no individual, I do not wish to stir up trouble, dissension, strife or civil commotion. General Eisenhower is too . . . . big, too . . . fine a man to triumph thus vicariously over the genial Irish rebel chief, whose love of the United States and its robust Constitution informed all his waking hours. To him, on behalf of my friend, my old companion-in- (but now, alas, without) -arms, my old, may I say it, segocia . . . . . I appeal . . . . for Gough’s sake give us back th’ oul’ sword. It will be a service that Ireland will remember. Come, Ike—be a pal!

2-: Of Thursday 26th July 1945:

He recalled old days on the staff of the Irish Cyclist and asked to be remembered to Harvey Ducros and R. J. Macredy. Was Harry Reynolds still to the fore and what had become of Fred Jeffs? How were Tandy, Greenwood and Dillon and was anything nowadays from his old segocia, Nichevo?

3-: Of Wednesday 9th April 1947:

“Ganger: The bould Dan!
Worker: Begob, yourself!
Ganger: How’s all?
Worker: Can’t complain, all on the baker’s list, thank God.
Ganger: And herself, A.1., I trust?
Worker: Oh, game ball, divila-better.
[…]
Ganger: Tod was saying he’d like a couple of tons more out of every man by Saturday […].
Worker: Me oul’ segotia! I’ll give him six!”

The noun segocia, also segotia, then occurs in the following five texts:

1-: In ‘I’m Irish, but only by race’, an interview by Dominic Behan of the Irish comedian Spike Milligan (Terence Alan Milligan – 1918-2002), who came to prominence in the radio programme The Goon Show (1951-59)—interview published in the Evening Herald (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of Friday 2nd May 1986:

He could nearly put a face to every idea the Goons ever had. Major Bloodnok, for example, was an army sergeant as thick as two short planks and twice as evil. And the stories?
“Have ye enough there, me ould segotia?” asked Terence Aloysious [sic] Milligan of Mullaghmor, and I was pleased that although I had lost my rank I had kept my sanity.

2-: In Birthday package for a Smurfit, by James Mulcahy, published in the Irish Independent (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of Tuesday 10th June 1986:

The black clad guests in the 1,000 strong party bash, included the McGrattan Brothers, Robert and Dan, with their spouses Ena and Anne; Vincent Nolan accompanied Jeff, and my old segocia, Eamonn Monaghan, played piano brilliantly.

3-: In Keeping it all in the family, by James Mulcahy, published in the Irish Independent (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of Tuesday 9th December 1986—Jimmy Keaveney (born 1945) is an Irish former Gaelic footballer:

There was a fair sprinkling of stars, politicos, legal eagles, security and sporting guests at yesterday’s northside opening: Kathleen Watkins, Mike and Eileen, Judge Frank Martin, deputy commissioner Eammon Doherty, Frank Feely, the City Manager, Michael McNulty, director general of Bord Failte; me auld segocia, Jimmy Keaveny,e [sic] who could kick a point from Howth to Sutton, and Feargal Quinn.

4-: In the column Hugh Leonard’s Log, published in the Sunday Independent (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of Sunday 14th June 1987:

Bad language? Not Pygmalion likely!
[…]
Wednesday, 3rd:
A joy that lingers from last night was meeting my od segotia, the designer (but not of “Pygmalion”), Pat Murray, for the first time in years.

5-: In Roche returns to more Haughey praises, by Gene McKenna, published in the Irish Independent (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of Wednesday 9th September 1987—Stephen Roche (born 1959) is an Irish cyclist, and Charles Haughey (1925-2006) was then the Taoiseach:

It’s not every day the Taoiseach comes to the front steps to greet a cyclist. “Well done, me oul segocia,” was the warm greeting he had for “the kid from Dundrum” as the Roche roadshow arrived at his doorstep.

The following discussion about the spelling and origin of the noun segocia/segotia appeared in 1958 in the column An Irishman’s Diary, by ‘Quidnunc’ [note 3], published in The Irish Times (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland):

1-: First, ‘Quidnunc’ asked the following questions in the column An Irishman’s Diary, published in The Irish Times (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of Monday 4th August 1958:

Pedantic Point
Can any decent Dubliner tell me whether that great authority on Dublin chat, Myles na Gopaleen, has at last erred? I have always held firmly to the belief that the fine old word, “Segocia,” was spelt as I have just spelled it, and not “Segotia,” as Myles spelled it in last Friday’s Irish Times [note 4]. Apart from that, may I repeat a plea made in this column a good few years ago? Can any etymologist, folklorist, or slang lexicographer tell me whence the word “segocia” derives?

‘Quidnunc’ then published the following responses to his questions, in his column An Irishman’s Diary, published in The Irish Times (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland):

2-: Of Saturday 16th August 1958:

Segotia? Segocia?
My query about the spelling of Segocia or Segotia, and the derivation of the word, has produced a fair crop of abuse, but not much that is really enlightening. Liam O’Briain, a Dubliner, who has been exiled in Galway, writes:
“Dear Quidnunc, Both you and that other Country Gawk, the Copaleen, are wrong. The word is ‘Segocioner.’ The etymology beats me. One might guess ‘secondeur’ (the ‘C’ in that word is pronounced ‘G’). It means a secondeur, supporter, butty (I mean an oul’ butty) or bunser. But it is a mere guess . .”
J. J. M. writes from Dublin: “‘Segocia’ is, to my clear recollection, correct, and is an abbreviation for an Edwardian Dublin Society known as ‘The Old Segocioners,’ the members of which had a weekly symposium in the inn of the late Joe Mills in Merrion row, much on the same lines as ‘The Bohs’ (still happily going strong).
“The Segocioners  appear to have been formed largely by members of the old Dolphin Rowing Club, which had its H.Q. in Ringsend at the time. The late Jack Hurford of Sandymount, who afterwards went to South Africa, was Honorary Secretary. So there you are, me oul’ Segocia.”
Queen Hawks
F. E. Dixon writes: “I’m not sure whether I can claim to be a decent Dubliner, but as a dictionary-owner I feel that I must reply to your appeal regarding ‘Sego-ia.’ I cannot find the word in any dictionary of correct, or slang expressions, and infer that it is of local origin.
“I have no Irish, but I have Myles’s favourite Dineeen, wherein one finds ‘Seaghach’ = ‘sensible’ or ‘hawk-like,’ and I feel that this could give rise to a word such as that you quote, in which case your spelling could be correct, rather than Myles’s version . . .”

3-: Of Wednesday 27th August 1958:

Midland Segocia
Mr. James Bourke, of Mountrath, writes: “Has the ‘ould segocia’ controversy closed? If not I’d like to add a word. I’m a midlander born and reared, and spent most of a not inconsiderable life in this locality, and I’ve been hearing the term ‘ould segocia’ since I was a little boy. Not ‘segocioner’ or anything else, but ‘ould segocia.’
“I heard it from my nurse, an old County Wicklow woman, and have been hearing it ever since from all sorts of people. I know it’s very hard to trust your memory too far and to dogmatise in these matters, but I feel reasonably sure that it’s by no means a Dublin expression solely.
Or Aran?
“I have delayed this letter for over a week,” Mr. Bourke goes on, “trying to find my copy of ‘The Informer’—but in vain. Somewhere in one of the ‘nighttown’ passages, I believe, one of the lady characters finishes a chapter with the words: ‘Come on, my ould son of Goschen.’ Does this get us anywhere?”
Up, Dubliners, and at him! Are you going to concede your very own word to an outlander from the Aran Islands?

4-: In his column Cruiskeen Lawn, published in The Irish Times (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of Tuesday 2nd September 1958, ‘Myles na Gopaleen’ himself reacted as follows to the questions asked by ‘Quidnunc’:

STOTIUS SEGOTIA

MY FRIEND Quidnunc has been organising a to-do about this word segotia, saying that it should be spelt segocia. I am unaware of his qualifications for philological disputation. I think he should stick to his yachts and “helmsmen.” (For the information of the lay reader, the helm has very little to do with the management of a boat; if you want to stand down the road, it is to your sails you must look.)
[…]
ON THIS QUESTION of segotia and segocia, we of the last twenty centuries or so are novi homines, and it would be presumptuous for us to believe that we had invented truly original words and roots. We have in fact shed rather than accumulated language. True, one often uses that word segotia in an ironical sense, the protestation of eternal friendship and affinity being merely a device to get the drunken bowsie out of one’s house.
The word is, of course, Greek. Mr. Quidnunc will have his C instead of a T if he settles for sikchasia (—the ch hard like k) meaning loathing, disgust. It is a wrong derivation, and usually one man hailing another in a pub as his oul segotia means it with all his heart. At closing time one sees them staggering out with arms around each others [sic] shoulders, stout bottles sticking from the starboard pockets, locked in an alcoholic nexus. The original form of the word was zeugotiia, meaning yoked or linked together. That is why my spelling of segotia is right, segocia wrong.
WHAT THEN of stotious?
Our way is not quite so clear here. The L. statius was a common word for a slave, and Cicero’s private slave was personally known as Statius. Then c. A.D. 50 there was a clownish poet named Statius who fed the vain and gross emperor Domitian with verses of bombastic rodomontade and coarsest flattery. It could be inferred that Statius was stotious and a derivation thus argued. But I don’t think so.
There are certain German words which might be relevant—stossig, butting and pushing; stussig, staggered, and statisch, restless. They are unlikely roots and I find that we are again driven back to the Greek. Herodotus has a word stoichos, which has been translated as “a row.” It would be hard to find a more ambiguous English word than “row.” The real word, I find, is staiteios, meaning made of wheaten flour. Readers will recall the pale, puffed up visage of the inebriate, so that here we have imagery of the Homeric order.
A stotious segotia, therefore, is zeugotiia who is staiteios. So what is all the shouting about?

In Ifs and Butties and Old Segotias–An Irishman’s Diary about Dublin words for ‘friend’, published in The Irish Times (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of Friday 4th May 2018, Frank McNally wrote the following about the origins of the noun segocia, or segotia:

The most plausible are in Irish and French. From the former, it could be an anglicised version of Seo Dhuitse (“Here you are”), which is one of those existentially reassuring things Irish people say to each other as greetings. They also include “There you are!” and “Ah, it’s yourself!”.
On the other hand, segotia has just as convincingly been cast as a phonetic rendering of the French Mon cher gosse (“My dear child”). This would fit with a theory once reported by Diarmaid Ó Muirithe [note 5], late of this parish, that segotia was an old Dublin Fusiliers’ term, reserved exclusively for addressing children.

Note 1: In Annotations to Finnegans Wake (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1980), Roland McHugh glossed old skeowsha as old friend.

Note 2: ‘Myles na gCopaleen’ (also ‘Myles na Gopaleen’) was one of the pen names of the Irish novelist, playwright and satirist Brian Ó Nualláin (1911-1966), better known as Flann O’Brien.

Note 3: From 1949 to 1979, ‘Quidnunc’ was Seamus Kelly (1912-1979).

Note 4: ‘Quidnunc’ was quoting the following from the column Cruiskeen Lawn, by ‘Myles na Gopaleen’, published in The Irish Times (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of Friday 1st August 1958:

AN OLD SEGOTIA of my own—the late Arthur Clery—was author of another article on “The Return of the Middle Ages.”

Note 5: Cf. A Glossary of Irish Slang and Unconventional Language (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan Ltd, 2004), by the Irish lexicographer Diarmaid Ó Muirithe (1935-2014).