A Bit Irish

irish language and culture

Anonymous said: Do Irish nouns have gender? How does that work?

Irish nouns have gender, male and female he created them. I’m not getting into it on this blog because it’s very complicated for little result. You can just (incorrectly) treat every noun as male and it doesn’t matter.

This may sound like heresy to some native Irish speakers, because it absolutely is, but I’m trying to keep the blog as lo-tech as I can.

The vast majority of people who speak Irish are not native speakers, and will not notice if you treat all nouns as male. Native speakers will notice, but they will be so grateful that anyone is speaking Irish that they will never, ever mention it.

In other words, if noun gender is a salient issue for you, you’ve already graduated beyond this blog. (Congratulations, and please help me.)

Sorry if this sounds defeatist, but I promise you this is the truth as I understand it.

Anonymous said: Can you explain "Ar dheist Dé go raibh a anam dílis" please?

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Pronounced: [ERR YESH DAY GUH REV A ON-um DEE-lish]

Literally: At right-hand-side of-god may be his soul faithful.

In other words: May his faithful soul be at the right hand of God.

I say “his” because a anam means “his soul”. If it was a woman’s soul, you’d say a hanam.

You use this after naming a dead person as a mark of respect, as you might in English with “may his soul rest in peace”. You’ll hear it a lot around ten o’clock in the morning on any local Irish radio station when they’re listing off the recent deaths in the community.

Irish Letters

Remember letters? They’re like emails, but they take longer and they’re on this stuff we used to have called paper.

In Ireland, everyone speaks English, but we like to drop some Irish bombs every now and again to confuse visitors. You might see some of these slices of Celtic whimsy in written letters:

A Chara

Irish letters often start like that. A Chara [A KHHORR-a] is the vocative form of the noun cara [KORRA], which means “friend”.

Mise le meas

Irish letters often end like that, with your name coming afterwards. Mise le meas [MISHA LEH MASS] means “from me with respect”, more or less.

Beannachtaí

Irish letters sometimes have this instead of mise le meas, or in addition to it. Beannachtaí means “blessings”. It’s an old Irish thing and doesn’t really have any contemporary religious connotations.

Go raibh maith agat

You might see this as a matter of course in an Irish letter. Go raibh maith agat [GUH REV MAW a-GUDTH] means “thank you”.

Now you know.

The Magic Letters: Séimhiú

Irish sometimes puts letters into words without your consent for the purposes of grammar. Here is one of them.

Séimhiú

The séimhiú [SHAY-voo] is a H you sometimes have to put after the first letter of a word which affects how you pronounce the first letter. The pronunciation change works like this (phonetically only!):

  • B -> V
  • C -> KH
  • D -> G or Y
  • F -> silent
  • G -> GH
  • M -> V or W
  • P -> F
  • T -> H
  • W -> WH

The initial letters who do not take a séimhiú are H, J, L, N, R, S, V and all the vowels.

The use of the séimhiú is random, but here is an incomplete list:

  1. The vocative a.
  2. Following some (but not all) prepositions, including sa, faoi, ó and roimh.
  3. To indicate something that’s mine or yours or his (but not hers).
  4. After various preverb constructions, including ba, níor, ar, má and .
  5. Past and conditional tenses (but not present or future tenses).
  6. When talking about one, two, three, four, five or six of something (but not seven, eight or nine of them).

There’s lots more, but six is enough for one post, right? Six is enough for the rest of your life, probably. Here they are explained in greater detail:

     1. Here is a post I made about the vocative a.

     2. The Irish for dog is madra [MOD-ra]. I’m not sure what series of events would lead to this, but if you need to refer to something as inside the poor animal, you would say sa mhadra, [SUH VOD-ra] (or [SUH WOD-ra] depending on what part of the country you come from.)

The same change would apply to:

  • faoi [FWEE] = under
  • ó [O] = from
  • roimh [RIV] = before

     3. The Irish for “my” is mo. The Irish for “your” is do. The Irish for “his” and “hers” is a. The only way you can tell if it’s his thing or hers is to look for the séimhiú. If it has a séimhiú  it’s his; if it doesn’t have a séimhiú, it’s hers. Therefore:

  • Póg mo thóin [POGUE MUH HONE] = kiss my arse
  • Póg do thóin [POGUE DUH HONE] = kiss your arse
  • Póg a thóin [POGUE A HONE] = kiss his arse
  • Póg a tóin [POGUE A TONE] = kiss her arse

Of course, it goes without saying that you should never kiss anyone’s arse. First of all, you don’t know where it’s been, and anyway, if that sort of thing becomes an issue, you should make them come to you.

     4. You have to put a séimhiú after the first letter of verbs in certain constructions. The word maith [MAH] means “good” or “like”. Let’s say you’re a five-year old child who wants a dog, but you’re just out of the phase where you say the exact same thing over and over until you’re put up for adoption. So you want to mix it up a bit.

  • Is maith liom an madra [ISS MAH LUM ON MOD-ra] = I like the dog.
  • Ba mhaith liom madra [BUH WAH LUM ON MOD-ra] = I would like a dog.
  • Ar mhaith liom an madra? [ERR WAH LUM ON MOD-ra] = Did I like the dog?
  • Níor mhaith liom an madra [NEE-or WAH LUM ON MOD-ra] = I didn’t like the dog.

Surely now a canine purchase is secured!

     5. There’s no excuse for any of this. Sorry. The Irish root verb for “put” is cuir [KWIRR].

  • Chuir mé [KKHHHWIRR MAY] = I put (in the past)
  • Cuirim [KWIRR-imm] = I put (every day)
  • Cuirfidh mé [KWIRR-hig MAY] = I will put
  • Chuirfinn [KKHHHWIRR-hing] = I would put

     6. When counting things, one to six of something take a séimhiú. When counting seven to ten of something, something else happens. And you better pray that we never get around to that, because if you think this post is ridiculous…

Numbers you use specifically to count things are called cardinal numbers. In English, cardinal numbers are the same as regular numbers, so sentences like “here is the number four” and “I have four dollars” are both coherent with the same word “four”. It doesn’t work like that in Irish, which I will explain later (you’re welcome). For now:

  • Aon bhád [AYN VAWD] = one boat
  • Dhá bháid [GAW VAW-id] = two boats
  • Trí bháid [TREE VAW-id] = three boats
  • Ceithre bháid [KERR-eh VAW-id] = four boats
  • Cúig bháid [KOO-ig VAW-id] = five boats
  • Sé bháid [SHAY VAW-id] = six boats

And so on. Don’t worry about it too much. Seriously. No one’s going to crucify you if you just say the incorrect “sa madra”. I mean, don’t do that, obviously. But if you did, no one would get too upset. Just know that if you hear a word that sounds just like another word you know, but changed at the start, it’s not a mistake; it’s grammar.

Fun fact: Years ago, before all the keyboards went full Latin, a séimhiú was indicated by a dot over the letter instead of a H. This was called a buailte [BOOL-cheh]. You’ll still see them in older books. Wow, “fun fact” was a really bad introduction to this paragraph.

Some more Irish-based humour courtesy of the always-entertaining Irish Things.

Irish people will understand these visual jokes almost immediately, but because I’m trying to explain things, none of this post will be actually funny. Sorry.

The jokes are explained here, individually, in unnecessary detail:

Top left: The phrase buala bos [BOOla BUSS] is very common in Irish, and means a round of applause.

Top right: The word teach means “house”, and therefore this is an ice house, an igloo. Right? However, teach is pronounced more or less as [CHOCK] and the phrase then becomes “choc ice”, a popular summer ice cream treat.

Bottom right: The word “jacks” is slang in Ireland (but not itself an Irish word) for “toilet”. The word “banjax” is an unconnected slang word in Ireland for “break”, mostly heard as “banjaxed”, meaning “broken”. The word bean [BAN] in Irish means “woman”, and therefore a bean-jacks would mean a toilet for ladies (I suppose) and also something broken. You see. You see what they did there, right?

Bottom left: The Irish phrase bun os cionn [BUN OHSS KYUN] means “upside down”, but literally it means “bottom up” or “bottom above”. And there is a picture of a bun above the Irish phrase os cionn. “Bun” os cionn. You see. You see what they did there, right?

I warned you none of this would be funny, but at least now you know.

Anonymous said: Can you tell me what "an domhain dom" means?

Sure. An domhain [ON DOWN] means “the world” and dom [DUM] is one of those tricky personal pronouns, but it’s easy enough to string it all together.

It means “the world to me”. 

Oh.

I see what you did there. 

mo-lochtanna:

Had a conversation about logainmneacha on the train and I couldn’t remember what the Irish for Clonmel meant. The woman in the next seat gave us this.


This is correct. Cluain means “meadow” and meala is the genitive form of mil, meaning “honey”: Meadow of honey. Yay for Clonmel people.

There is a curious strain which has reached something of a conspiracy theory status, however, that Clonmel is in fact named after St. Mel, who was a colleague of St. Patrick’s, and about whom we know little else. These rogue etymologists indicated that cluain instead comes to Irish from the Greek “kleos” meaning “glory”, and that therefore Clonmel would be St. Mel’s glory. The good news for the rest of us is that there is no evidence at all of any connection between Clonmel and St. Mel, apart from in Mel Gibson’s fevered imagination. Feel free to ignore everything in this paragraph.

What I find far more interesting is the uniformity with which English placename transliterations make errors. Wherever cluain [CLOON] (“meadow”) is a placename in Ireland, it is transliterated as “clon”; baile [BOLL-yeh] (“town”) is always transliterated as “bally”, etc. I am tempted to conclude that this is perhaps how Irish people at the time of the transliterations pronounced those words. 

mo-lochtanna:

Had a conversation about logainmneacha on the train and I couldn’t remember what the Irish for Clonmel meant. The woman in the next seat gave us this.

This is correct. Cluain means “meadow” and meala is the genitive form of mil, meaning “honey”: Meadow of honey. Yay for Clonmel people.

There is a curious strain which has reached something of a conspiracy theory status, however, that Clonmel is in fact named after St. Mel, who was a colleague of St. Patrick’s, and about whom we know little else. These rogue etymologists indicated that cluain instead comes to Irish from the Greek “kleos” meaning “glory”, and that therefore Clonmel would be St. Mel’s glory. The good news for the rest of us is that there is no evidence at all of any connection between Clonmel and St. Mel, apart from in Mel Gibson’s fevered imagination. Feel free to ignore everything in this paragraph.

What I find far more interesting is the uniformity with which English placename transliterations make errors. Wherever cluain [CLOON] (“meadow”) is a placename in Ireland, it is transliterated as “clon”; baile [BOLL-yeh] (“town”) is always transliterated as “bally”, etc. I am tempted to conclude that this is perhaps how Irish people at the time of the transliterations pronounced those words. 

Love and Sex

casteelix:

in irish we don’t say “i love you” we say “mo bod é arm gnéasach” which means “i want to hold you until the end.” i think that’s beautiful.

Obviously, giving people the wrong foreign language information (in the hopes that it might get them killed while on holidays) is hilarious, but I am more interested in explaining things accurately, which is not even remotely funny. Sorry, internet.

In this unfunny spirit, “mo bod é arm gnéasach" means "my penis is a sex weapon", which of course it could be, if you wanted things to go that way.

However, if you want to tell someone you love them, you poor deluded sap, say táim in ngrá leat [DTHAW-im IH NGRAW LADTH].

(Source: shotacas)

speakingparts:

“On my gravestone I want it to say, ‘I told you I was sick’”

Well, I love Tom Waits, and this is a lovely idea, but it’s not his. It’s Spike Milligan’s. And when Spike Milligan died, he had it put on his gravestone, except it was in Irish.
The Irish for “I told you I was sick” is: 
Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite [DTHOO-ert MAY LADTH GUH REV MAY BRO-itch-eh] Literally: “said me to-you that-was (this is the subjunctive tense) me sick”
Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

speakingparts:

“On my gravestone I want it to say, ‘I told you I was sick’”

Well, I love Tom Waits, and this is a lovely idea, but it’s not his. It’s Spike Milligan’s. And when Spike Milligan died, he had it put on his gravestone, except it was in Irish.

The Irish for “I told you I was sick” is: 

Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite
[DTHOO-ert MAY LADTH GUH REV MAY BRO-itch-eh]
Literally: “said me to-you that-was (this is the subjunctive tense) me sick”

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Feck Off

"Feck" is a Hiberno-English word unrelated to the more Anglo-Saxon "fuck", a confusion which linguists call a "false cognate".

"Hiberno-English" is the term given to English language words and phrases that are only found in Ireland, and are therefore overwhelmingly (although not necessarily) derived from the Irish language.  A "false cognate" is a word which is understood by many to be related to a similar-looking word, but turns out not to be. For instance, the Korean word "mani" means "many", but they are unrelated. It’s just One Of Those Things.

The Irish word feic [FECK] means “see”. You will not see it used in any other way in written or spoken Irish.

Feicim crann [FECK-im CROWN]: I see a tree.
Feiceann tú crann [FECK-in DTHOO CROWN]: You see a tree.
Feiceann sé/sí crann [FECK-in SHAY/SHEE CROWN]: He/She sees a tree.
Feicimid crann [FECK-im-EEDTH CROWN]: We see a tree.
Feiceann sibh crann [FECK-in SHIV CROWN]: You [guys] see a tree.
Feiceann siad crann [FECK-in SHEE-ud CROWN]: They see a tree.

However! When Irish people use “feck” as an English word, they mean it as an expletive. Although conjugated in the same way as fuck, it is not derived from sexual slang. For instance: “He fecked her” would never be understood as a romantic conquest. If anything, it indicates a kidnapping. 

My father used to say of recidivist larcenists that “he would feck the eye out of your head”, but you can also say “feck off" in frustration with a nosy family member. Or, when faced with one of those childproof caps that they keep putting on my drugs, "I can’t open the fecking thing - find me a child!" My father (the same one from two sentences ago) still regularly refers to me as "a feckin’ eejit", which he intends as a term of endearment. Right? That’s his intention, yeah? 

Lots of otherwise sensible sources on the Irish language credit priest-baiting comedy series Father Ted with the popularisation of the term in England. The writers have stated publicly that they put “feck” in their scripts to circumvent the censors, but it was in regular use in Ireland for as long as I can remember.