Archive for September 19th, 2015

September 19, 2015

Irish Bull

Berra by Seymour Chwast

An Irish bull is a ludicrous, incongruent or logically absurd statement, generally unrecognized as such by its author. The addition of the epithet Irish is a late addition. 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.

Although, strictly speaking, Irish bulls are so structured grammatically as to be logically meaningless, their actual effect upon listeners is usually to give vivid illustrations to obvious truths. Hence, as John Pentland Mahaffy, Provost of Trinity College, Dublin, famously observed, ‘an Irish bull is always pregnant,’ i.e. with truthful meaning.

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