Word of the Week

NENUFAR

NENUFAR 'water-lily'. When water-lilies first came to the attention of the Irish, around the fourteenth or fifteenth century, they were known either by a version of the Latin name, NENUFAR, or by the phrase BLÁTH UISCE, meaning 'water-blossom'. More recently, of course, the preferred term has been DUILLEOG BHÁITE, which translates literally as 'drowned leaf'!

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10/01/2021
SOINMIGE

SOINMIGE means 'prosperity, affluence, happiness'. Like many other Irish words beginning with s-, its opposite begins with d-. DOINMIGE, then, is 'adversity, misfortune, misery'. The two occur together in a quote which seems especially fitting as we move into 2021: CUINGID TECHTA A DOINMIGI HI SOINMIGI 'seeking to pass from adversity to prosperity' (Ml. 102c5) Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh! Happy New Year!

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01/01/2021
FUIDLECH

FUIDLECH meant 'remainder' or 'remnant' in medieval Irish. It could refer to leftover food and it could also be used of the latter part of winter. Saint Cóemgen, founder of the monastery of Glendalough, Co. Wicklow, was acclaimed for finding berries for the sick at that time of the year and for being able to pick apples from willow trees.

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27/12/2020
SPIDEÓG

SPIDEÓG has been in use as a word for a robin since medieval times; in Modern Irish it is usually written SPIDEOG. Amongst the earliest references are notes written by a scribe of the 15th-century manuscript known as Leabhar Breac or the Speckled Book. This scribe sometimes mentions a young robin which seems to keep him company while he works. In one note, he says that the bird has acquired its red breast; in another, he comments that the cat has run off but the robin has stayed!

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20/12/2020
DATH

DATH 'colour' crops up in medieval Irish accounts of the colours of the winds. According to the Psalter of Quatrains, which seems to have been composed in the 10th century, each of the four chief winds has its own particular colour: purple from the east, white from the south, black from the north and dun from the west. Between these points are eight other winds of various hues. Such texts probably inspired the description of wind-watching in Flann O'Brien's 1939 comic novel 'The Third Policeman': 'People in the old days had the power of perceiving these colours and could spend a day sitting quietly on a hillside watching the beauty of the winds, their fall and rise and changing hues, the magic of neighbouring winds when they are inter-weaved like ribbons at a wedding'.

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12/12/2020
LETH

LETH can mean 'half' or 'one of two', when referring to things which are thought of as existing in pairs. The uses are poignantly illustrated in a 13th-century poem which Muireadhach Albanach Ó Dálaigh composed on the death of his wife. In an attempt to convey the extent of his loss, he says: LEATH MO SHÚL Í, LEATH MO LÁMH … DOB É CEIRTLEATH M’ANMA Í 'she was one of my eyes, one of my hands ... she was the very half of my soul' 💔

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29/11/2020
LUPAIT

LUPAIT seems to have been a term for a young pig, which some sources say was killed on the Feast of St Martin. According to O’Dovoren’s Glossary, there were eight different names for types of pig in medieval Irish, including also COMLACHTAID 'a piglet', DEIL 'a two-year-old pig' and CRÓ, which must have been a pig kept in a sty. Pig-Ogham, a system for identifying the names of letters in the Ogham alphabet using the names of pigs, gives us also ORC 'a young pig' and FORORC, which the dictionary defines as 'a big pig'!

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11/11/2020
SAMAIN

SAMAIN, the 1st of November, is a word for which medieval Irish scholars had a number of different explanations. The suggestion that it derives from SAM 'summer' and FUIN ‘end’ is well-known, but there was also a tradition that the second part came from the word SÚAN and that the whole meant 'summer-sleep'. One medieval Irish tale says that common people called this time of year FÉIL MOINGFHINNE 'the festival of Moingfhinn'. Moingfhinn was a scheming Otherworld woman who died at Hallowe’en, having drunk poison which she had prepared for her brother.

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01/11/2020
BODAR

BODAR (Modern Irish BODHAR) means ‘deaf’ but the word is used also to describe an indistinct or hollow sound and it is the latter sense which lies behind BODHRÁN, the name of a traditional Irish frame drum generally made of goatskin. What seems to be the earliest mention of the BODHRÁN actually occurs in a late copy of the medical text Rosa Anglica. Here, it is claimed that one of the signs of tympanites (the swelling of the abdomen with air or gas) is that, on being struck, the belly makes a sound ‘mar bhodhrán’ (like a drum)!

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23/10/2020
CRIDE

CRIDE 'heart' indicates the physical heart of a living thing, but it can be used figuratively also to refer to the middle. In the latter sense, CRIDE is often used along with words for other parts of the body. CRIDE LÁIME, for example, is 'the palm of the hand' (the phrase 'heart of the hand' is used in the same way in Hiberno-English) and CRIDE COISE, literally 'the heart of the foot', denotes the centre of the sole.

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18/10/2020