Ó ‘Uncail Oscar’ go garmhac Fhionn Mhic Cumhaill: The Irish Roots of the Name ‘Oscar’

Posted on 27. Feb, 2015 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Fionn Mac Cumhaill, seanathair Oscair (By Stephen Reid (AllPosters.com) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Fionn Mac Cumhaill, seanathair Oscair (By Stephen Reid (AllPosters.com) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Hmm, I was going to continue writing about “bombogenesis” and the guairneáin associated with aimsir gheimhriúil, but the timely topic of the Oscars was too tempting!  The last blog (nasc thíos) addressed that subject, and we’ll return to it in another blog or two.

So, “Oscar” was the grandson of Fionn Mac Cumhaill and “Oscar” was also the name of Margaret Herrick’s uncle.  Who was Fionn Mac Cumhaill and who was Margaret Herrick?  Well, they’re a world apart in terms of biography, not to mention the fact that Fionn is fictitious while Margaret Herrick was a very real person.   So let’s take a gander at their respective backgrounds, and then look at the various forms of the name “Oscar” in Irish (vocative, genitive, etc.).

And let’s keep in mind the question–what do the two Oscars have in common around this time of year?  As we all know, the “Oscar” is the name of the figurine given to Academy Award winners.   But why don’t we just say “Academy Award” or “Award of Merit” and leave it at that?

A popular and widely held account of the origin of the Academy Award’s nickname attributes it to Margaret Herrick, who was, at the time, a librarian working at the Academy of Motion Pictures Library.  Later she became its Executive Director and eventually the library was named after her.  In 1931, she is believed to have said that the Academy Award statuette “looks just like my Uncle Oscar,” and the phrase has lived on.

That segues nicely into the name “Oscar” itself.  Although widely considered to be Scandinavian or Germanic, the name has clear Irish roots.

One of Ireland’s major heroic epics concerns Fionn Mac Cumhaill, his son “Oisín” (little deer or fawn), and his grandson Oscar.  Oisín’s name means “little deer” or “little fawn” and the name “Oscar” is related, being based on “os,” which today is a somewhat literary word for “deer” or “fawn.”  These days, the ordinary word for “deer” is “fia,” and “oisín,” the diminutive of “os,” is usually specifically “fawn.”  Starting in 1760, hundreds of years, maybe a thousand, after the origin of these tales in oral storytelling, the Scottish writer James Macpherson created a literary version of the tales.  The cast of characters included “Fingal” (Fionn), Ossian (Oisín), and Oscar, as well as many others whose names may be familiar but which Macpherson spelled differently,  such as Dermid, Connel, Fergus, and Cathba.

How does all this relate to the probable reason why Margaret Herrick’s uncle was named “Oscar”?  Macpherson’s works were translated into many languages in the late 18th century, including Danish (1790) and Swedish (1794-1800).  The rest is, as they say, history.  King Oscar I of Sweden and Norway (1799-1859) was named after the Oscar in Macpherson’s works, and the name has continued in popularity in that area ever since then, including Oscar II (1829-1907), Prince Oscar Bernadotte (1859-1953), Count Carl Oscar Bernadotte of Wisborg (1890-1977), and more recently, Fredrik Oscar Bernadotte of Wisborg and  Count Bertil Oscar Bernadotte of Wisborg.

Aside from the royalty connection, there are countless other Oscars, including the original Oscar Mayer (1859-1955), Oskar Schindler (1908-74, of Schindler’s List), and Oscar Brand (the folksinger, born 1920).  As a fictitious character, we have Oscar the Grouch (Sesame Street, born, as it were in 1969, and presumably timeless).  And there are at least three famous cats named Oscar, each of whom has a full and fascinating story of his own, one being a “cat bitheonach,” one allegedly able to predict básanna othar, and one a cat loinge ón Dara Cogadh Domhanda (WW II), who was allegedly “unsinkable” (further references below).

There is a somewhat contradictory belief that the name Oscar was introduced by the Vikings to Ireland, where it gained popularity.  How this might possibly dovetail with the original being based on the Fionn Mac Cumhaill legends is fairly problematic, since oral versions of the Fionn – Oisín – Oscar stories may predate the Viking raids on Ireland.  Bhuel, that will have to be another puzzle for some rainy day research.   For right now, suffice it to say that the name “Oscar” is well known in Irish language circles because of his role in the Fenian (Fionn) epics and its international popularity is probably due to its prominence in Sweden and Norway.

Having said that, I can’t say I’ve really met that many men from Ireland named Oscar, let alone Gaeilgeoirí a bhfuil an t-ainm ‘Oscar’ orthu, but I’m sure they’re out there.  Duine ar bith acu ar an liosta seo?  Of course, Lady Jane Francesca Agnes and Sir William Wilde paid tribute to the name by using it for their son, Oscar, one of Ireland’s leading writers.   And his second name, of his four forenames (!), appropriately enough, was … an cuimhin leat or can you guess?  Freagra thíos.

So one way or another, the name “Oscar” owes its general popularity to Irish legend, albeit through a somewhat convoluted path, from Fionn Mac Cumhaill to James Macpherson to Oscar I and II of Sweden and Norway.  Presumably some stage of that chain influenced the parents of Margaret Herrick’s uncle to name him “Oscar,” and so today we not only have “Oscar” as the name of the figurine but also “Oscar” as a reasonably popular name in general circulation.

And how about the actual usage of this name in the Irish language?  “Oscar” is a fairly straightforward word.  If you’re talking directly to an Oscar, the name predictably becomes “Oscair,” as in “Dia dhuit, a Oscair.”  And if you’re talking about something that belongs to Oscar, the spelling is the same as with direct address, as in “ascaill Oscair” (Oscar’s armpit).

The word “oscar” (lower-case) also has a more generic meaning in Irish, “warrior” or “hero,” although this is mostly in literary usage.  “Laoch” and “gaiscíoch,” and to perhaps a slightly lesser extent, “curadh,” are the more typical words for “hero” and “warrior”.  It’s hard to say, at this point in time, whether “oscar” became a generic noun because of “Oscar” the hero, or whether Oisín’s son was named “Oscar” because the word “oscar” as “hero” already existed, adding some word play or symbolism to the derivation from “os” (deer).

Curiously, there’s another word “oscar” in Irish which is completely different, meaning “leap,” “bound” or, in swimming, “a stroke.”  But for “leap” and “bound,” at any rate, there is some more basic vocabulary:

a leap: léim, preab, troslóg, bocléim,

a bound: léim, preab, abhóg, bocléim

Is there really much difference between a “leap” and a “bound”?  Ábhar blag eile!  Irish uses “as cuimse” or “as miosúr” for “by leaps and bounds,” so there, at any rate, we don’t really have anything to base a comparison on.  Further thoughts, am éigin sa todhchaí.

Instead of “oscar” for a “stroke” in swimming, current usage seems to favor either “béim,” as in “béim bhrollaigh” and “béim bhrollaigh béal in airde,” or the word “snámh” itself, whose basic meaning is simply “swim.”  For example, “crawl stroke” is “crágshnámh” and “butterfly stroke” is, quite logically, “snámh féileacáin.”  “Bang” is also used for a swimming stroke, but as with some other words we’ve discussed in this blog, I don’t recall hearing it used much.

As an adjective, we have “oscartha,” which has the following meanings: heroic, strong, powerful, lithe, agile, loud

And there’s yet a third word “oscar” in Irish, but I think this one has really fallen out of contemporary usage:

oscar, now usually spelled “uscar,” a jewel or ornament, but with either spelling, I’d say it’s not common today.  “Jewel” is usually “seoid” and “ornament,” at least in the sense of “decoration,” is usually “maisiúchán” or “ornáidíocht.”

Agus na mná?  Apparently, some languages have a feminine form of the name (Oscarina, Oscarine) but I don’t recall a feminine form in Irish.  Can’t say I’ve ever met anyone with these names, but here are a few interesting examples of feminine forms:

Oscarine, a toy rabbit (Lapin Oscarine) at http://www.doudouperdu.ch/recherche-jumeau/lapin-oscarine)

“Oscarina …,” a cartoon series by Carolita Johnson (http://oscarinaland.com/)

Oscarina, an orphan orangutan featured at an animal sanctuary ((http://redapes.org/oscarina/);  she was originally believed to be male, and was named “Oscar” by her rescuers, but it turned out she is female.

So now, like me, every time the Academy Awards roll around, and people start talking “Oscar,” you’ll be thinking not only of the latest heart-throbs, but also of Oscar Mac Oisín, Oisín Mac Finn, Fionn Mac Cumhaill, Cumhall Mac Trénmhóir, but the genealogy goes on for too long for aon bhlag amháin. SGF– Róislín

Freagra: “Fingal.”  Seo an t-ainm iomlán: Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde.  Mh’anam!

Leabhair faoi chait a bhfuil/raibh an t-ainm “Oscar” orthu:

Oscar: The Bionic Cat: A Heart-Warming Tale of Feline Bravery , by Kate Allen, 2013

Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat, by David Dosa, M.D., 2010

Ships’ Cats in War and Peace, by Val Lewis, 2001 (Oscar aka Oskar aka Unsinkable Sam, i measc a lán cat eile)

Nasc don bhlag faoi “bhuamaigineas” (bombogenesis):
http://blogs.transparent.com/irish/an-bhfuil-gaeilge-ar-an-bhfocal-bombogenesis-is-there-an-irish-word-for-bombogenesis/ (An bhfuil Gaeilge ar an bhfocal ‘bombogenesis’? (Is there an Irish word for ‘bombogenesis’?) Posted on 21. Feb, 2015 by róislín in Irish Language

An bhfuil Gaeilge ar an bhfocal ‘bombogenesis’? (Is there an Irish word for ‘bombogenesis’?)

Posted on 21. Feb, 2015 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Tá mo charr, á, á, á faoin tsneachta.  Bhuel, ní mo charr féin atá i gceist, buíochas le Dia (public domain:  By National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA (Originally uploaded on en.wikipedia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Tá mo charr, á, á, á faoin tsneachta. Bhuel, ní mo charr féin atá i gceist, buíochas le Dia (public domain: By National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA (Originally uploaded on en.wikipedia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

As we read about the unusually cold winter weather this year (le deich n-orlaí sneachta in Iarúsailéim, fiú), one word that really caught my attention was “bombogenesis.” And any time a relatively new English word catches my eye, I always wonder about the Irish equivalent.

So I’ve checked the usual channels for ‘bombogenesis” in Irish but with no results.  However, that doesn’t mean we can’t explore the possibilities, looking at the root words involved, “bomb” and “genesis,”

And a little background is always interesting.  Calling certain weather storms “bombs” apparently began in the 1940s and 50s (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Explosive_cyclogenesis). The late professor Frederick Sanders of MIT contributed further to the vocabulary by using such terms as “explosive cyclogenesis” and “meteorological bombs” in publications in the 1970s and 80s.

Technically, “bombogenesis” refers to a rapidly developing storm in which the “córas lagbhrú” (low pressure system) drops “ceithre mhilleabar is fiche” (24 millibars) in “ceithre huaire is fiche” (24 hours).  Milleabar an uair, suimiúil (although the rate might not be that regular).

As for any further “mionrudaí meitéareolaíocha,” I’ll leave that to the “meitéareolaithe” on the list, if they care to add “níos mó tráchtaireachta.”

So now, we’ll just look at the word “bombogenesis” itself, and its relation, if any, to “Genesis” as in “The Book of Genesis.”  By default, that probably tells you that “-genesis” as a scientific suffix and “Genesis,” as such, are not exactly the same in Irish.

a) The “bomb” part is straightforward enough:

an buama, the bomb

an bhuama, of the bomb

na buamaí, the bombs

na mbuamaí, of the bombs

Not that we’ll really need all those forms for today’s purpose, but we may as well be complete.

b) “-genesis” as a suffix

-ghineas (after most consonants): aibithghineas

-gineas (after most vowels): antrapaigineas

Although I’ve yet to find “bombogenesis” or “cyclogenesis” in Irish, there are many scientific terms with this suffix, such as:

biogenesis, bithghineas

oogenesis, úigineas, and

orogenesis (orogeny), oraigineas.

In fact the only scientific term I’ve found so far that doesn’t use “-ghineas” for this context is “diagenesis,” which apparently is “carraig-ghiniúint,” slightly more like saying “rock-generation.”  If that’s really any different from “rock-genesis.”  Food for thought, but for lá éigin eile.

So presumably “bombogenesis” in Irish would be “*buamaigineas.”  I’ve Googled and Yahoo’d it but so far these search engines yield no hits.  Maybe na hamais are waiting in the wings, until someone decides to comment on the intensity of the recent storms in Irish.

c) “-genesis” vs.”Genesis,” as in “Book of”

A third aspect of this question, when approaching any translation issue, is how does the new term relate to other major vocabulary for the concept.  In Irish, “The Book of Genesis” is “Leabhar Geineasas.”  The word “geineasas” is longer by one syllable and spelled slightly differently from the suffix “-g(h)ineas,” although they’re clearly related.  As to exactly why, that’s probably a matter for na diagairí, na heolaithe, and na teangeolaithe, but for our purposes, it’s sufficient to say that “Geineasas,” as such, isn’t used to create these scientific compound-words.

Next up, I guess I’ll have to look into why we have both “cuilithí” and “guairneáin” when discussing … hmm, can you name it?  And which word do we use for the “polach” and “impholach” types, as opposed to the types which are “ceangailte” or “tosaithe.”  Or the “crú capaill,” type, which should be a nice segue back into some rural Ireland, pastoral life topic.  Why?  Check out the “gluais” below and stay tuned for more.  SGF – Róislín

Gluais: *buamaigineas, bombogenesis (asterisked here because as far as I can tell, I’ve coined it); ceangailte, bound; crú chapaill, horseshoe; impholach, circumpolar; polach, polar; tosaithe, usually “(having been) begun, started” but here “(having been) cast off”

Champing at the bit for “cuilithí” and “guairneáin“?  OK, they mean “vortices.”

Chinese New Year in Irish: Cén tAinmhí (which animal) do 2015?

Posted on 18. Feb, 2015 by in Irish Language

Reithe? Caora? Gabhar? Leathreithe?  Leathchaora? Leathghabhar?  Leathdhaonnaí?  Dealbh i Waikoloa, Haváí (Grianghraf: By Geoffrey.landis (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Reithe? Caora? Gabhar? Leathreithe? Leathchaora? Leathghabhar? Leathdhaonnaí? Dealbh i Waikoloa, Haváí (Grianghraf: By Geoffrey.landis (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

(le Róislín)

Bliain Nua na Síneach agus Parthas na nGramadóirí.  Chinese New Year and this year, 2015, a grammarian’s paradise.

Cén fáth?  Why?

Because unlike previous years, 2015 offers us two, perhaps even three, animals as the symbol for the year.

But choosing between animals would mostly be vocabulary, not grammar, right?  Like “sheep” vs. “goat”?

True, but grammar comes into play when we want to say “of the,” as in “Year of the … .”

Since English doesn’t have grammatical gender, except for pronouns and a handful of inanimate objects (like ships), there’s no difference in the “of the” part of expressions like “the hat of the man” and the “hat of the woman.”

But in Irish, for these Chinese New Year animal symbols, we need to know the grammatical gender of the animal involved.  Biological gender (ermm, sheep vs. ram) isn’t an issue here.

I’ve seen three different translation of this year’s Chinese New Year animal: goat, sheep, ram.

The original Chinese is  (pinyinyáng) which apparently refers to both sheep and goats.  As for why “ram” is sometimes specified, and other times “sheep,”  I don’t know, but if there’s anyone on this list who also knows Sínis, perhaps you could help us out.  A Yu Ming (aka Daniel Wu), cá bhfuil tú (when we need you)?

Anyway, here’s some of the basic vocab for all three animals.  I’m saving the “tuiseal ginideach” as a challenge for the fill-in-the-blank part.

gabhar, a goat

an gabhar, the goat

caora, a sheep

an chaora, the sheep

reithe, a ram

an reithe, the ram

It does seem like this is a real translator’s dilemma.  Which to pick, since the Chinese usage itself seems to vary?

But let’s go ahead and try all three (The Year of the Goat, The Year of the Sheep, The Year of the Ram).   The phrases below include the exact number of letters needed so watch out for any inserted letters or added endings.  Freagraí thíos, mar is gnách.  I’ve also added slightly more space between the words, just to make the layout clearer.

  1. Bliain   __ __    G__ __ __ __ __ __ r  (The Year of the Goat)
  2. Bliain   __ __    C __ __ __ __ __ __   (The Year of the Sheep)
  3. Bliain   __ __    R __ __ __ __ __  (The Year of the Ram)

Now, to go above and beyond the call of duty, and just for practice, let’s put the animals in the plural.  And that will take us to the Irish “tuiseal ginideach, iolra.”  Here we go!

  1. bliain   __ __    __g__ __ __ __ __  (the year of the goats)
  2. bliain   __ __    __c __ __ __ __ __ __ (the year of the sheep, plural sheep, that is, confound English with its lack of a plural form for this word, or for “deer”)
  3. bliain   __ __    r__ __ __ __ __  (the year of the rams)

I’ve lower-cased these last three because they wouldn’t come up in the Chinese calendar as proper nouns, fad m’eolais at any rate.  My understanding of the tradition is that it’s always one animal per year.

Bhuel, tá súil agam gur bhain tú sult as sin.  Tá na freagraí thíos.  SGF agus Bliain Nua na Síneach faoi shéan agus mhaise duit! – Róislín

  1. Bliain an Ghabhair
  2. Bliain na Caorach
  3. Bliain an Reithe
  4. bliain na ngabhar
  5. bliain na gcaorach
  6. bliain na reithí