Mahaska / Mahoska

It’s always difficult to pin down the exact roots of underworld slang, since by its nature it’s almost as clandestine as the things it describes, it’s passed down orally and it often changes its spelling and usage along the way.  In the case of “mahoska,” however, we have a plausible theory that not only matches the sense of the word, but covers the wide range of meanings “mahoska” can have.  The Irish phrase “mo thosca” means “my business,” a euphemistic term that conveys the proper secrecy (with a hint of menace) of the usage of “mahoska,” and it seems to be the leading candidate among etymologists as the source of “mahoska.”  So “mo thosca” could have been used to mean almost anything that was “private,” i.e., clandestine, from drugs to social associations, and gradually became “mahoska” among non-Irish speakers.  This theory rings true to me, at least in part because it parallels the use of “la cosa nostra” (“this thing of ours”) by the Mafia to refer to their organization.

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5 comments on this post.
  1. M. Terry:

    Dear Word Detective:

    I found your explanation of the word “mahaska” (or “mohashka” as I, who have been a somewhat proficient speaker of Irish Gaelic, prefer to pronounce it) quite interesting, and possibly even true. I, of course, was interested in the meaning of the word because of hearing Sean Connery say it in the movie “The Untouchables,” and indeed suspected it of having an Irish Gaelic origin myself.

    However, I found your superfluous comment concerning your dislike of the movie “The Untouchables,” in which this word occurs, rather annoying, and especially your reason for not liking it. As for myself, I like this movie quite a bit, and think that Kevin Costner was fine in the role, and can only find an explanation of your dislike for the movie in your own comment, as to Kevin Costner being “Mister Warm Vanilla Milkshake” (something I certainly never thought of in relation to this actor, or even of such a thing existing – and see no reason for this interpretation).

    This comment is all-too suggestive to me of the hatred with which so many White People have come to feel towards White People. This is, indeed, a very sad thing, i.e., that so many White People have taken so well to having such a scorn for the very concept of White People, and a hatred for so many individual White People, as well. It is but a further perversion of reality, i.e., that a people should hate themselves, and a perversion that was born in that ever-so perverse era known as “the ‘60s” – and which you, unfortunately, seem to have bought into.

    I may be wrong about my interpretation of your viewpoint, but I see no evidence for it.

  2. admin:

    Some of my best friends are White People. (Am I really supposed to capitalize that?) I must have missed the plague of white self-hatred you describe. Maybe I don’t watch enough Fox News?

    I have always found Kevin Costner both boring and vaguely annoying. Period.

  3. Tannhauser:

    I believe he was referring to Mohaska cannons. As in “why the (hand) cannon”. Just my interpretation. Terry, relax your over sensitivity. You sound rediculous. -T

  4. Liam:

    Interesting. I happen to be working on a new subtitle file for this film, and I came here researching that very term. the subtitles used to read “Mohaska,” but I’m inclined to change it because I simply cannot find a reference to “Mohaska cannons.” On the fence for tonight. I’ll decide in the morning.

  5. Tom B.:

    In the 1937 movie “KID GALAHAD” E.G.R. says to the future Kid Galahad when they first meet, “I bet you’re the mahosker with the dames” Clearly meaning having power over women with his looks. The other great word in that film is when E.G.R. calls McGraw a “kiyoodle”, which is a small dog.

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