on many’s the Saturday night

From John Patrick Shanley’s “The Darkness of an Irish Morning”, NYT op-ed piece on the 10th:

I am not Irish. I am Irish-American. Some say I have the gift [of gab] as well. If I do, it is because I listened to my father and my uncles and some of my aunts as they gave as good as they got in my living room in the Bronx. On many’s the Saturday night, they would drink rye and ginger ale, and smoke and talk and sing and dance, and I would sing, too, and dance with my aunts, and listen through the blue air.

The linguistic point is on many’s the Saturday night, with many’s, which has the (apparent) inflectional affix -s not motivated by the structure.There’s a connection to Irish English.

The standard alternative to on many’s a Saturday night would be on many a Saturday  night; where does the -s come from?

I’ve spent some time on -s: see here and here, and especially on “excrescent -shere, From the last:

Another possible source [of exrescent -s] is the contraction of is with WH words, yielding (as in what’s the hell going on above) an apparently unanalyzable unit, which can then combine with following material, giving things like

  how’s about, how’s come, what’s about, what’s if, how’s to, what’s else

(with various spelling variants, like howsabout, howzabout, etc.),

The -s in many’s a seems to have a similar source, as in the frequent many’s the time representing the idiom many is the time. From Tim Finn’s song “Many’s the Time”:

Many’s the time I’d do anything just to belong
Many’s the time what I did I would feel to be wrong
I was only trying too hard
Just to belong
I was only trying too hard

Finn is a Kiwi, but pretty clearly of Irish ancestry. Here many’s the time represents many is the time, with ordinary contraction. But then many’s extends to other uses, especialliy in Irish Americsn usage. So we get Shanley’s usage.

2 Responses to “on many’s the Saturday night”

  1. mollymooly Says:

    Also discussed at http://www.languagehat.com/archives/004935.php

  2. the ridger Says:

    I use both of those – on many a Saturday, many’s the Saturday – but combining them seems wrong, since the ‘s IS the main verb. I never really thought about it before: “many are the Saturdays” now seems like the logical phrasing – like “there are many days…” but then again “there’s many days …” is pretty common. I guess the ‘s form is pretty invariable.

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