The Japanese Alphabet Road With Chinese Bellflower’s Sweet Smell

One might not suppose the alphabetical relationship between McDaniels and MacDoogles to be a matter of grave importance, but I assure you, amongst pages, it is of paramount relevance. A discussion of this subject arose over lunch yesterday, when a fellow page inquired after the proper order in which to shelve authors in the fiction section whose names begin with either Mc- or Mac-. The topic is apparently the root of a long-standing feud between the upstairs and downstairs librarians at my library. The upstairs librarians insist that all Mc- authors should be treated as if their name read Mac-, and that the two should be interfiled. Therefore, while an author whose name begins Maa or Mab would head off the M section, they would be followed by McDaniel then MacDoogle (these examples are, of course, fictional.) However, downstairs librarians insist that these authors should be shelved in strict alphabetical order, so that the Mac’s are separated from the Mc’s by all surnames whose first three letters fall after Mac- and before Mc-, so that the order is something like MacDoogle, Mayer, McDaniel. The upstairs and downstairs librarians have been unable to reach a peaceful resolution to this conflict, and so the sections are actually shelved differently depending upon which floor of the library you are shelving.

I was under the further impression that the upstairs fiction and mystery sections were shelved with the Mc’s and Mac’s interfiled in fiction, but then separated in mystery so that all the Mc’s came directly after the Mac’s, but before all other M-titled authors. I was proved wrong on this point, to my great relief, as such a system would be nonsensical and confusing.

Then again, it might have been hilariously funny as well.

The other great debate that arose over the course of our discussion was the entomological origins of Mc- and Mac-. I was under the impression that Mc- was of Irish origin, while Mac- was of Scottish. (My own theory was that this arose from a slight difference between Irish Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic, which are in fact two different languages-or at least different dialects. According to that one report I heard on NPR, Irish Gaelic is pronounced with a long A, and Scottish Gaelic is pronounced with a short A, to rhyme with frolic. Then again, as my source is a program on NPR, the name of which I can’t even remember, and am unable to source, do don’t take my word for this. Also, I have no real knowledge of either of these languages.) My friend, on the other hand, thought that Mc- was a contraction of Mac-, and that both were Scottish, whereas the Irish used O-. I insisted that, at the very least, Mc- was Irish.

Turns out the subject is hard to disentangle, and that we were both sort of right, although I appear to be more right. It appears that O- is the Irish prefix denoting “grandfather of,” while Mac- is the Irish prefix denoting “son of.” Mac- is sometimes shortened to Mc-, but both are Irish in origin. It appears that both are also used in Scotland, although Mac- is more common there than Mc-, whereas the reverse is true in Ireland.

In other words, while she was mostly sure that Mc- and Mac- were not Irish, I was correct in my belief that at least Mc- was. She was correct in Mc- being a contraction of Mac-, while my generalization of Mc’s and Mac’s appears to be mostly right, albeit with plenty of exceptions. We were both wrong in that the origin of both Mc- and Mac- comes from Ireland, and that neither comes from Scotland.

On another note, I accidentally typed “other words” as one word just now. I wonder how long it will take for us to just put them together, or if we ever will. Apparently my mother still separates “alright” into “all right,” even though my spell check no longer gives me grief over the former.

Also, after further reading through the Wikipedia article on Scottish Gaelic, I find I may be more right than I thought I was, and Mac may actually actually come more from Scottish Gaelic, which is why its used more in Scotland than in Ireland. If anyone cares to try and disambiguate all this for me, I would be super-grateful.

7 thoughts on “The Japanese Alphabet Road With Chinese Bellflower’s Sweet Smell

  1. “We were both sort of right, although I appear to be more right.”XD I like your phraseology. And yes, I am now more enlightened as to the origins of the O-,the Mc-, and the Mac- than I ever was before.I am also curious as to your choice of title. While I get the song reference, I am unsure of the topical reference — perhaps simply the confusion of translations?


  2. Oh. It’s just because it had “alphabet” in the title, which sort of whimsically reminded me of shelving. It isn’t as if my song-reference titles always make a lot of sense.


  3. “Mac” should be treated as strictly less than “Mc” in a lexicographic ordering unless you want every computer programmer in the world to hunt you down and beat the tar out of you with your absurd collection of now infinitely harder to algorithmically sort books.Seriously, I can understand the reason for the exception, but exceptions just don’t play well as you move to a more and more computerized system. For this reason alone, the exception should be removed.


  4. I’m a little late to the party on this post, sorry.Yes, ‘Mc’ is predominantly Irish, while “Mac’ is predominantly Scotch (“Mick” and “Mack” are also ethnic slurs for the two elasticities, if you feel like insulting anyone).Your debate is silly. Even if you consider ‘Mc’ to be a contraction of ‘Mac’ originally, in modern usage it’s simply how some people spell their name. Alphabetically, MC should ALWAYS follow MA, with no exceptions.f


  5. Today most Macs in Scotland are of Highland origin, whereas Mcs are of Irish origin (there are vast numbers of people of Irish origin especially in the south of Scotland). But 100 years ago, it was quite normal to write M' for any Mac name in Scotland, as in (famously) Robert Murray M'Cheyne, though I see it both printed and in signatures in books. Today there are some Gaelic-minded people who like to write their name with a space after the Mac, or after the O, for that matter.

    And Lindsey, what you did is (or used to be) a common practise in filing in Scotland.


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