Many English words are imitative of the sounds they describe and are thus onomatopoeic. This is true of a large group of English words ending in -ash, which mimic the sounds they describe and have similar meanings to each other. Words ending in -ash tend to denote forceful collision or its smashed-up after-effects. Hence, after a bash or a crash, what is left may be only a squashed or shattered mash fit for the trash. There is an intrinsic violence and commotion to most of the words which end in the -ash cluster. These actions occur at speed and may well turn out to be slapdash or extremely rash. First, let's look at some of the verbs.
Match the words below to their definitions by hovering your mouse over the question marks or tapping them on your mobile.
1. rescind, repeal; suppress
2. come into violent conflict; appear incompatible, mismatched
3. crush to a pulp
4. grind the teeth together in anger
5. beat soundly and violently; beat easily in a contest; move convulsively about
6. beat with a whip or rope
7. break violently into small pieces
8. hit hard or heavily, often with a blunt instrument
9. shine very brightly, but briefly; move past at great speed
10. collide forcefully with another vehicle or obstruction
11. propel or scatter liquid onto a surface or into the air
12. fling something violently against something else in order to break it; move in a great hurry
13. cut with a forceful, sweeping stroke
14. crush or squeeze something so it becomes smaller, flatter or out of shape
Words with the -ash ending are not usually well-controlled or planned - they are flung together, all mixed up, and form a bit of a mish-mash. As might be expected by such a hurried, bungled approach, you might end up making a hash of whatever you are attempting and the results just won't wash, or stand up to scrutiny. This may cause your hopes to be dashed and because of your rash promises, there could well be a backlash, with your words being described as preposterous or balderdash. Linguists assert that the word balderdash comes from just such a thrown together combination, in this case a jumbled up mix of liquids that was sold cheaply in medieval England. Wine was mixed with beer or water, or else beer was combined with milk or water and the resulting concoction was known as balderdash, possibly through association with Danish balder "noisy clatter" or Swedish bullersten "noisy stone"and the word dash, which is still used when ingredients are tossed into drinks. Balderdash later acquired the meaning of "nonsensical speech or writing", which seems appropriate given the unappealing nature of the drink it first described.
The word mash was masc in Old English and can be traced back to a Proto-Indo-European root *meik- "mix", which is also the source of Old English meox "dung, filth". Masc meant "unfermented malt sap" and was originally used only for brewer's mash before later acquiring the more general meaning of "soft mixture". Many of the other -ash nouns, such as hash, brash and even ash itself also refer to mixtures and soft remains. A related group of words ends in an -ush cluster, but these tend to be mushier and with more of a liquid content, as we wil see in a later post. Mash has cognates in other Indo-European languages with German Maische, Swedish mäsk, Lithuanian misa and Spanish mezcla. The jumbled up, hastily mixed together idea of -ash is also a feature of the Slavic word kaša/каша, which means "porridge" "mash" and "mess" in Serbian, Croatian, Slovak and Bulgarian among others.
Scottish and Northern English dialects seem particularly fond of the -ash cluster, as many -ash words survive here that are no longer used or have never been used in Standard English. These include the verb fash "bother, annoy, trouble", from Old French fascher (Modern French fâcher); pash "head" and also "fight with fists" - in recent years pash has become an abbreviation for "passion" and is used in the UK as a verb meaning "snog"; snash "abuse, insolent speech"; plash "splash through water", "puddle" and stramash "uproar, disturbance, racket". There are probably similar examples, but I waddn't fash to find them. Possibly a grave mistake as such lethargy may have serious consequences as outlined in the County Durham folk song The Lambton Worm, later regaled by my mother to her totally incredulous daughters-in-law.
Bryan Ferry: The Lambton Worm
After your crash course in -ash, here is a quiz to finish. Have a bash!
1. Which of these terms means "nonsense"? brash
A. hogwash B. dogwash C. pigwash D. ratwash
2. And which of these terms also means "nonsense"?
A. mouthwash B. nosewatch C. handwash D. eyewash
3. Which of these is a sudden local flood?
A. a dash flood B. a flash flood C. a plash flood D. a splash flood
4. What is swash?
A. the rush of seawater washed up on a beach B. what is left in the sink after shaving C. water squeezed from a sponge D. the holy water in a church
5. Which -ash is a strong, negative reaction?
A. car crash B. backlash C. goulash D. butternut squash
6. The adjective brash means "over-assertive, rude", but what does the noun brash mean?
A. rubbish, junk B. the chafed skin under a too-tight bra C. leaf litter D. swept-up ash
7. When we reuse old ideas or material and don't make any real improvements, what do we produce?
A. a kurbash B. a splash C. a brainwash D. a rehash
8. Where do revellers go when they intend to have a few drinks?
A. out on the smash B. out on the lash C. out on the gash D. out on the mash
9. If you are disparaging and insulting an opponent or an enemy, what are doing?
A. trash talking B. mash talking C. thrash talking D. clash talking
10. What type of primitive agricultural technique involves cutting down trees and burning plants and forests to create fields?
A. crash-and-burn B. hash-and-burn C. slash-and-burn D. dash-and-burn
11. Which -ash is a secret hiding place?
A. a sash B. a gnash C. a whitewash D. a stash
12. What do we call the type of injury suffered when there is a sudden jerking of the head, as happens as a result of a car crash?
A. eyelash B. bangers and mash C. slapdash D. whiplash
I hope you enjoyed the blog post, but now I'm afraid I must dash! See you next time!