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From “Holiday Memory” in Quite Early One Morning by Dylan Thomas

Lolling or larriking that unsoiled, boiling beauty of a common day, great gods with their braces over their vests sang, spat pips, puffed smoke at wasps, gulped and ogled, forgot the rent, embraced, posed for the dicky bird, were coarse, had rainbow-coloured arm-pits, winked, belched, blamed the radishes, looked at Ilfracombe, played hymns on paper and comb, peeled bananas, scratched, found seaweed in their panamas, blew up paper-bags and banged them, wished for nothing.

I searched the word in Google and in the Thesaurus but that didn’t help much. Could anyone provide the meaning and possibly the etymology of the word?

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Dylan Thomas likely made it up. Either that or it was Welsh. – Robusto Oct 25 '12 at 16:16
up vote 7 down vote accepted

A larrikin is an Irish/Australian word for the sort of young man who goes about drinking, getting into scrapes,and perhaps fighting; but it's usually used indulgently, in a 'we've all been young' sort of way. Probably Dylan Thomas adapted it; the meaning is clear enough, even though there may be no recognizable etymology.

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"... no recognisable etymology": unless, as seems logical, it derives from 'lark'. – fortunate1 Oct 25 '12 at 16:45
@fortunate1: Maybe Dylan Thomas saw a connection with "larking tour", but OED doesn't mention that as a possibility (they say the origin is "uncertain", but may come from the name "Larry"). – FumbleFingers Oct 25 '12 at 17:01

The spelling is given as larrikin in On the Air with Dylan Thomas: The Broadcasts rather than larriking of Quite Early One Morning. The former book says:

After its broadcast on the Third Programme on 25 October 1946, 'Holiday Memory' was referred to by N. G. Luker, Assistant Director of Talks, as 'one of the half dozen best talks I have ever heard' (memo to the producer, James Langham). Thomas was asked to re-read it for the BBC Archives on 6 December 1946; that reading survives and has been used to confirm the accuracy of the present text, based on the BBC script and the printing in The Listener (7 November 1946).

The OED says of larrikin:

Etymology: Of uncertain origin; possibly < Larry (a nickname for Lawrence, common in Ireland) + -kin suffix.

The word seems to have originated in Melbourne not long before 1870; but the story that it was evolved by a reporter from an Irish policeman's pronunciation of larking, heard in a Melbourne police-court in 1869, appears to be a figment, no trace of the incident being found in the local papers of the time. (See Morris, Austral Eng., s.v.) A guess that has been proposed is that it is short for English slang leary kinchen. Wright, Suppl. to Eng. Dial. Dict., cites larrikin ‘a mischievous or frolicsome youth’ from informants in Warwickshire and Worcestershire; see also quot. 1882 at sense a. Compare Eng. Dial. Dict., Larack (larack about, to ‘lark’ about), cited from C. C. Robinson's Dial. Leeds & Neighbourhood (1861).

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Very interesting! – mis-n-salem Oct 25 '12 at 19:34
(larack about, to ‘lark’ about), cited from C. C. Robinson's Dial. Leeds & Neighbourhood (1861). (evidently ff/aka larry & I have a different understanding of English etymology ...but of course, more points evidence his credibility, if not this site's.) – fortunate1 Oct 25 '12 at 22:30
@fortunate1: If you think the verb larack about and the noun larrikin are identical, your understanding of etymology is indeed unusual. – TimLymington Oct 28 '12 at 17:03

Just to check, I consulted Warrack's Concise Scots Dictionary. Thus:

Larick, n. the lark, 'laverock'

[and, just because I'm on that page, and because it's fun: Larick's lint, n. the great golden maidenhair, Cf. Laverock's-lint]

So, I assume Thomas's meaning is that the gods are gamboling, playing joyfully about.

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Interesting. Do Scots words turn up in Welsh? The definition certainly seems to fit the context. – JAM Oct 25 '12 at 16:29
If I had a Welsh dictionary, JAMy, I could answer you! – fortunate1 Oct 25 '12 at 16:33
I think it's highly unlikely Thomas's usage owes anything at all to Larick - lark [the bird]. – FumbleFingers Oct 25 '12 at 17:02
... because why; your snide "Larry" remark above is unhelpful. – fortunate1 Oct 25 '12 at 17:10
What's "snide" about quoting OED? I'll also point out that your "lark" definition isn't in OED (they say larick is a mistaken back-formation from Scottish larix = larch, which was always singular anyway). Also note that Thomas definitely isn't talking about "the gods" as such - he's talking about the idle young men of the area, with their braces over their vests, etc. – FumbleFingers Oct 25 '12 at 17:33

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