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People 'make a hames' of things every day, but what is a 'hames' anyway? We investigate

The very Irish phrase is probably not very Irish in origin.

“AH, I’VE MADE a hames of it.” A phrase we use almost every day, without thinking much about what a ‘hames’ actually is.

Earlier this month, the Rubberbandits shed some light on the subject:

Hames? Dutch? Intrigued, asked editor and linguist Stan Carey if he could explain it a little further.

He told us that the word ‘hames’ does indeed come from Middle Dutch – the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as such:

Two curved pieces of iron or wood forming or attached to the collar of a draught horse, to which the traces are attached.

o_steel-hames-for-horse-wagon-halter-bridle-antique-tack-82f28 An actual hames. Source:

Cool, but how did that become Irish shorthand for making a mess of something?

Writing on his website World Wide Words, etymologist Michael Quinion shared an insight from a carriage driver as to how it might fit:

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.

Much closer to the ‘hames’ we know and love, then.

Carey says it’s not completely certain that this is the origin of the Irish English ‘hames’ – Gaeilgeoirs have suggested a number of Irish words it could have sprung from, including ‘seamlas‘, meaning shambles or mess.

He says the word is still in use in the world of horses:

You’ll still find the horse-related sense in a few dictionaries, and if you search for hames and horses in Google Books you’ll see contemporary books using the word.

However, the phrase ‘to make a hames of it’ is uniquely Irish. And what would we do without it, eh?

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More: 13 excellent ways to insult someone as Gaeilge>

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