Irish Bits, Bytes and Lenition (Giotáin, Bearta, agus Séimhiú)

Posted on 28. Aug, 2015 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

A náid, a náid, a haon, a náid ... go héigríoch (, CC0 Public Domain)

A náid, a náid, a haon, a náid … go héigríoch (, CC0 Public Domain)

In several recent blogs, we’ve looked at the word “beart” in its many meanings.  Remember the four different basic meanings (freagraí thíos) as they apply to phrases such as:

a) Oifig na mBeart

b) bléinbheart

c) i mbearta crua

d) beart curtha in áireamh

And for a total semantic workout, try:

e) i mbeart. This phrase could have three, possibly four, meanings, depending on which “beart” is “i gceist” but context should tell them apart. Hmm, come to think of it, with blagmhír an lae inniu, it’s really up to five basic strands of meaning.  (Freagra thíos freisin)

So, what constitutes “beart a cúig“?  Sometime, probably about 25 years ago, the Irish word “beart” took on the additional meaning of “byte.”  1995 is the earliest dictionary entry I have for “byte” as “beart” in a general Irish dictionary, so I assume this usage of “beart” started maybe late eighties, early nineties.  If anyone knows of earlier usage, I’m sure we’d all be interested to know–please write in and tell us.  The term in English actually dates to earlier than I thought (O! the fíoróidí one finds out when researching a blog like this–the term “byte” was coined in 1956 by IBM computer scientist Werner Buchholz).  So there’s a 40-ish year stretch in which the Irish term could have evolved, but so far I haven’t found any really early examples of it.

It seems that every time I turn around, there’s a new type of “byte” and a new abbreviation to learn.  Some seem to be reserved for “computers in the future,” even more powerful than what we have today, but at least we’ve got the terminology.  Heads up, a gheocacha ríomhaire, so far I haven’t found “exabyte” (perhaps “eas-” + “beart” with something in between?) or “yottabyte” (mh’anam, níl a fhios agam–an bhfuil rud ar bith mar ” *gheota” ann?).

Anyway, here’s the list, with the English “exabyte” and “yottabyte” entered as placeholders.  Note that all of the compound words involve lenition, changing “beart” to “bheart” (pronounced “vyart” with the “v” like English “view,” not like English “voodoo”).  They’re in size order.  If anyone has any additions or suggestions, please do let me know.

leathbheart – nibble, nybble (in computing; otherwise it’s “gráinseáil” or “miotú” or “piocaireacht a dhéanamh, if we’re talking luchóga agus cáis, or, errmm, maybe cluasa)










These forms of “bearta” (except the “leath-” version, I suppose) are all “decimal.”  So far, I’m not even tackling the binary prefixes (kibi, mebi, gibi, tebi, pebi, exbi, zebi, yobi).  Am éigin eile, b’fhéidir.

As for “bits,” that’ll mostly have to wait for blagmhír éigin eile also, but the nutshell version is:

giotán, bit (based on “giota,” a bit or small piece; totally unrelated to “bridle-bit” which is “béalbhach” or “béalmhír“)

cilighiotán (with lenition, the “gh” sound is now “y,” like “YIT-awn”)

meigighiotán (a “bit” eye-boggling, if I do say so myself), srl.

All of which is sort of making my head swim, that is to say “meadhrán” is entering my brain pan or whatever’s in there, so I’ll wrap up and say “goodby(te)” for now. — Róislín


a) Oifig na mBeart, Parcels’ Office, lit. Office of the Parcels. This “beart” could also be translated “bundle,” etc., but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a “Bundles Office”!

b) bléinbheart, jock strap, lit. groin-garment/groin-covering. This “beart” on its own can mean “garment” or “covering” but in my experience (not with bléinbhearta per se, mind you!), we usually see some version of “éadach” for “garment” (ball éadaigh, mar shampla) and either “cumhdach” or “clúdach” for “covering.” “Beart” in this sense is usually part of a compound word (coisbheart, ceannbheart, dallbheart, srl.)

c) i mbearta crua, in evil plight (technically plural, but that doesn’t work in translation, though we could say “in dire straits,” which, afaik, is never singular in English). This is based on yet another “beart” (move, plan, action, proceeding, etc.).

d) beart curtha in áirithe, a reserved berth (on a boat or ship)

e) i mbeart (five possibilities):

  1. i mbeart: in a package, in a bundle (“package” and “bundle” are within one “strand” of meaning for current purposes)
  2. i mbeart (this is the one that I think is least likely to occur in real life, probably being replaced by “ball éadaigh,” “cumhdach,” or “clúdach“): in a garment, in a covering
  3. i mbeart: in a plan (more typically, “i bplean,” I’d say), in an action (also, “in aicsean” or “i ngníomh, etc.)
  4. i mbeart: berthed (i gcomhthéacs muirí), or simply “in a berth” (also in a nautical context, but generally regarding people, not the vessel itself)
  5. 5. i mbeart (i gcomhthéacs ríomhaireachta, as per today’s blog post): in a byte (as in “Tá ocht ngiotán i mbeart,” There are eight bits in byte.)

Speaking of ‘Na Cóid Phoist,’ How about ‘Letters’ and ‘Parcels’ in Irish

Posted on 25. Aug, 2015 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

This summer saw the launch of the new Irish postal code system, kerfluffle and all, which we discussed in a previous blog.

So let’s get postal now with some other mail-related vocabulary.

  1. a) litir–this word is quite clearly related to “letter,” which is exactly what it means. It can be “letter” as in a portion of the alphabet or a “letter” referring to font type (e.g. litir dhubh or litreacha iodálacha–note the “litir bheag” for “iodálacha,” since here it means “italic,” not “Italian,” as such).  And it can also be a letter as in mail that one sends to someone.

Here are the basic forms:

an litir, the letter

na litreach, of the letter.  Sampla: dath na litreach, more likely referring to dath an dúigh, or these days, dath an tonóra, but I suppose it could also refer to dath an pháipéarachais, perhaps a nice “osbhuí éadrom” or a distinguished shade of “gloine na trá,” as we might see advertised by comhlachtaí stáiseanóireachta, Crane & Co., mar shampla, or by comhlachtaí péinte, Benjamin Moore, mar shampla (if they advertised in Irish, that is).  Cad iad na dathanna sin, ar aon chaoi?  Freagraí thíos.

na litreacha, the letters; Sampla: Ar chuir tú na litreacha sa phost?

na litreach, of the letters.  Sampla: Ní maith liom ciútaí na litreach sin sa chlófhoireann “Palace”.  Tá siad rófhruigiseáilte.

Here are a few combinations:

litir aitheantais, a letter of introduction

litreacha rómhánacha, roman letters

tréadlitir, a pastoral letter

b) Hmm, not much room left for “parcels,” but here’s the bare bones:

an beart, the parcel (also “the bundle”)

an bhirt, of the parcel

na bearta, the parcels

na mbeart, of the parcels

Since “beart” has many other meanings beside “parcel” and “bundle,” you might want to be more specific and use “beartán” (parcel, small bundle), as least when it applies, i.e. not if you’re mailing someone a printéir 3T (tríthoiseach) or a similarly big package.  So what else can “beart” mean, wearing its different semantic hats?  Freagraí thíos.

Bhuel, these days, most of us probably don’t send many litreacha as such, but, if you’re so inclined, a “nóta tráchta” is always appreciated.  Hope you’ve been enjoying the blog. — Róislín

Nasc: Cóid Phoist  – faoi dheireadh  ach cén costas don teanga?  (The New Irish Postal Codes) Posted on 22. Jul, 2015 by róislín in Irish Language (

Gluais: ciúta, flourish; clófhoireann, font, lit. type-team/set; fruigiseáilte, flourishy, affected; rómhánach, roman (traditionally, lower case was used for things not specifically of Rome, like letters or numbers; now you may see upper or lower case; for a “Roman” person, it’s always capitalized, “Rómhánach.”  And remember, in the middle, it’s “-mh-” with a “w” sound, not like the m” in “Roman” itself);

Maidir le “tréad”: herd, flock, congregation.  Can refer to animals, as in tréad caorach or tréadlia, or to people, as in “congregation.”  “Congregation,” however, can also be, and probably more typically is, “pobal.”  In a very figurative use, we can say, “an t-aoire agus a thréad” (the shepherd and his flock).  Sometimes “tréad” can refer to both animals and people, at least by implication, as in imdhíonacht tréada (herd immunity).


osbhuí éadrom, ecru; without the “éadrom” (light), we’d simply have “osbhuí” (fawn-colored).  “Os?”  Think “Oisín,” or, i mBéarla, Ossian.  Anyone remember the meaning of the this name or how it relates to the Fionn Mac Cumhail story?

gloine na trá, beach glass, and yes, that’s a color, and a very distinguished looking one at that, to judge by Crane’s páipéarachas gnó.  Roll over, gnáthliath!


covering, garment (coisbheart, bléinbheart, srl.)

move (in a game), plan, action (Is minic a chuaigh beart thar údar, i.e. Homer sometimes nods)

byte (gigibheart)

and there’s always the coincidentally similarly spelled

beart, a berth in a boat or ship (i mbeart, berthed)

From ‘fleasc’ to ‘fleiscín’ in Irish, or, What does a ‘wreath’ have to do with a ‘hyphen’

Posted on 20. Aug, 2015 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

In the last blog, I made quite a point of saying that certain compound words include a ‘fleiscín‘ in Irish and others do not, all depending on the spelling of the words that happen to be joined together in a ‘comhfhocal.’

What pattern do you see in these examples, all of which are comhfhocail?









The above examples show the prefix ‘droch-‘ used with four words.  The two that include the ‘fleiscín‘ begin with the same two letters that the prefix ends with.  That is to say, since “droch-” ends in “-ch,” we use the fleiscín when the second part of the word begins with “-ch” (cháil, chroí)

Of course, the second “ch” in the pattern is because the prefix causes lenition, changing “c” to “ch.”  If you look up the root words in a dictionary, you’ll find them under “c,” not under “ch.”  So the root words are:

cáil [kawl], which means …? (freagra thíos sa ghluais)

croí (krrree), which means …? (freagra thíos sa ghluais)

Similarly, when “sean-” comes before “fear” or “bean,” we simply apply lenition, but there’s no fleiscín.  So “fear” becomes “fhear” (pronounced “ar” as in “Larry”) and “bean” becomes “bhean” (pronounced “van”) for “seanfhear” and “seanbhean.”  But with “nós,” we need the fleiscín, so both parts of the word are clear (sean + nós).

So what is this word ‘fleiscín‘ that we keep using here?  It means ‘hyphen’.  There are various other forms of the word, like the verb “fleiscíniú” (to hyphenate) and “fleiscínithe” (hyphenated).

Fleiscín‘ is a diminutive of the word ‘fleasc,’ which has a fairly wide range of meanings.  We start with “rod” or “wand.”  Curve it, and we get ‘fleasc‘ meaning “band,” “hoop,” “circlet,” “rim of a wheel,” “wreath” (and there’s our title connection), or “garland.”  In the culinary realm, it can mean a “fillet” or “filet” (a long narrow strip of meat or fish, especially one cut in such a way that it is easy to debone), although these days, that would more likely be “filléad” (filléad sicín, filléad sóil bonne femme–what a name!, or stéig filléid).

Fleasc‘ can be given an anthropomorphic touch and mean a “stripling” or “scion.”  And finally, in language, punctuation, and typography, it can mean a “dash,” or historically speaking, the straight line or stroke used in ancient Irish ogham (ogam) writing.

Curiously, though, if we’re really talking about modern typography, ‘fleasc‘ as ‘dash’ has largely been replaced by ‘dais‘ (pronounced like its English counterpart “dash”).  So we have “eim-daiseanna” and “ein-daiseanna” in the fields of “clófhoirne” and “clóghrafaíocht.”  To pronounce those, remember, no “eim” as in “Heimlich” or “ein” as in “Einstein” sounds here.  Just “eim” like English “hem” and “ein” as in English “pen” or “hen.”   Kudos to anyone who remembers which mark is wider, the “em-dash” or the “en-dash.”

And then, just to add to the mix, we have the “corrfhleasc,” which is another type of “dash” in typography.  Kudos (again) to anyone who can guess which one.  Freagra thíos.  And no, it’s not a “churn dash”–that’d be a “loine.”  And it’s not a “dash of milk” (steall bainne, bolgam bainne).  Nor is it a type of race, like a “ráib céad slat” (hundred-yard dash).

Did you get the meaning of “corrfhleasc“?  If not, tá an freagra thíos, faoin ngluais.  SGF–Róislín

P.S. This ‘fleasc‘ is a completely different word from ‘fleasc,’ a ‘flask’ for drinking.

Gluais: cáil, reputation, so droch-cháil means “bad reputation”; croí, heart, so droch-chroí means “bad heart,” which itself can mean “a weak heart” or “an evil heart/disposition”;  nós [nohss], custom, manner, style, so “sean-nós” means “old custom,” “old manner,” or “old style,” and is primarily used these days to describe music and dance.

Freagra: corrfhleasc [kor-lyask, with the “fh” silent], a swung dash.  That’s the mark that looks like the ’tilde’ we see in Portuguese, for example (São Paolo), but which is used either to indicate similarities or to indicate deliberately omitted parts of words in dictionary entries (sráid, ~e, ~eanna, telling us the additional forms are ‘sráide” and ‘sráideanna‘).