Word of the Week


RÓSTAID ‘roasts’ and related words such as RÓSTAIGTHE ‘roasted’ and RÓSTAD ‘roast meat’ have been identified only in Irish texts of the fourteenth century and later. These terms seem to derive from Norman French, just like the terms used in medieval Ireland for game birds such as partridge (PERTRIS) and pheasant (PHESAN, UESION). In all, the linguistic evidence suggests that the arrival of the Normans was connected with changes in the types of poultry consumed on the island and in the ways that food was prepared. Nollaig Shona...Nollaig Chridheil... Nollick Ghennal... Merry Christmas... to everyone who has followed, liked and commented throughout the year 🥳

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BÉO usually means ‘living’ in early Irish and MARB usually means ‘dead’. The ninth-century Triads of Ireland brings the two together and proposes to name TRÍ BÍ FOCHERDAT MARBDILI ‘three living things that produce dead stuff’. According to the text, the living things in question are a deer (which sheds its antlers), a tree (which drops its leaves) and cattle (which lose their 'stinking hair')!

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BRETAIN is the early spelling of the word that appears in Modern Irish as BREATAIN ‘Britain’. Today, AN BHREATAIN MHÓR is usually understood as ‘Great Britain’, while AN BHREATAIN BHEAG (‘little Britain’) refers to Wales. In the seventeenth century, however, Geoffrey Keating used BREATAIN to mean ‘Wales’ and AN BHREATAIN BHEAG to refer to Brittany … which he also called BREATAIN NA FRAINGCE ‘Britain in France’!

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CEÓL is often translated as ‘music’, but the Irish word originally referred to a musical instrument and in the Middle Ages it was used in the plural also to refer to individual pieces of music. In the past, as today, the term covered naturally produced sounds, like singing and bird-song, as well as the sounds made by instruments. In the latter sense, it is found in a remarkable Middle-Irish poem in which a father mourns his dead son, describing him as ‘in chuslend cride … cuit mo bél … mo chruit ciúil’ (pulse of my heart … the food in my mouth … my harp of music; LL 18578).

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ADARC generally refers to the horn of an animal or to a vessel or implement made from animal-horn. Seventeenth-century Munster poet Dáibhidh Ó Bruadair, however, left us the extraordinary phrase ADHARCA BRUIC, which seems to mean ‘badger’s horns’. The full line of verse in which the phrase appears is: úirlis uí Dhubhda gan adharca bruic ‘Ó Dubhda’s tools have no badger’s horns’ (Ó Bruad. i 76). It seems possible, then, that the poet is saying that Ó Dubhda’s tools are authentic and practical, and ‘badger’s horns’ is a convenient means of referring to unnecessary or useless things.

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FÁILTE is probably the best-known Irish word throughout the world today. FÁILTE IRELAND is the name of the National Tourism Development Authority of Ireland, and CÉAD MÍLE FÁILTE is familiar to many as a greeting which is often translated into English as ‘a hundred thousand welcomes’. The original meaning of FÁILTE, though, was ‘joy’ or ‘happiness’, and the word passed into the sense ‘welcome’ from the joy that is felt and expressed in encountering old friends and new acquaintances.

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