You might remember a passing reference in the last blog to “dromanna muc” (backs of pigs) in the discussion of caint mheafarach (fhíortha) in general. The only real reason I pluralized it was to emphasize the point that lots of people use lots of figurative speech in lots of situations. So over the years, lots of dromanna (backs) of lots of figurative pigs have been alluded to. In any actual instance of use, the phrase would probably be in the singular, as in: Tá mé ar dhroim na muice, I’m on the pig’s back, lit. on (the) back of the pig, with “ar muin na muice” as another version.
Why exactly being “on the back of the pig” should mean that things are going quite well for you is still a bit of a mystery. There are lots of positive associations with pigs though, aside from their general intelligence, and according to various news clips I’ve seen, their ability to save their owners from fire or drowning. Why is the “piggy bank” the most stereotypical image of a child’s savings bank? Why is pork and sauerkraut the most popular meal amongst the Pennsylvania Germans (and perhaps other groups as well) for New Year’s Day? Apparently both of these symbolize the pig’s impressive ability to put on weight, to literally swell from swill. We hope our pennies will grow in value in the savings bank (not that toy banks offer interest, although come to think of it, with microchips these days, maybe there could be a cyber-tally and …). The New Year’s pork dish symbolizes the prosperity and growth we hope to experience in the coming year.
Now, personally, I applaud the porcine hero of Judy B. Goodenough’s song, “Tails and Trotters,” about the “Little Piggy” who struck out on his on and escaped the foodie fate of his siblings. You might remember the Mama pig in the song, who mourned “all my sons and all my daughters, are hocks and hams and tails and trotters.” Although I’m not a feoilseántóir as such, I feel bad hearing how quickly and cost-effectively pigs put on weight, so we’re all the more likely to slaughter them for consumption. Doesn’t quite seem féaráilte!
Anyway, it wouldn’t hurt to look a little more closely at the different forms of our keywords for “ar dhroim na muice” and its alternate version, “ar muin na muice.”
droim, back (n, as in back of the human body, etc., also ridge, as in many place names, like Drumcondra)
an droim, the back
droma, of a back (eite droma, dorsal fin, lit. fin of back)
na droma, of the back (caol an droma, the small of the back, aka an caoldroim, btw)
na dromanna, the backs
na ndromanna, of the backs
Another word for “back” is “muin,” so we have:
an mhuin, the back (usually upper; usually for animals, not people)
muine, of a back; na muine, of the back
muiní, backs; na muiní, the backs, na muiní, of the backs
And for “muc” (pig) we have:
an mhuc, the pig
muice, of a pig (bolgach muice, swine-pox)
na muice, of the pig (Claí na Muice Duibhe, the Black Pig’s Dyke)
muca, pigs (muca ar dhath seachas bán uile chun críocha síolrúcháin, pigs of a color other than all white for breeding purposes)
na muca, the pigs (na muca mara, the porpoises)
muc, of pigs (An Coimisiún Muc is Bagúin, Pigs and Bacon Commission, and almost as intriguingly as the former “Welsh Plant Breeding Station,” which has since been renamed, there is “Stáisiún Tástála Pór Muc,” Pig Progeny Station, lit. station of testing of breeds of pigs; “plant” btw is the Welsh word for “children” so, when read hybridly, the Welsh agricultural research center was eye-catching, to say the least! As for this Irish station, “tástáil” can also mean “tasting” … food for thought)
na muc, of the pigs (NB: the final “-a” of “muca” gets dropped; cuid na muc, swill)
One caveat about this phrase. The first two results of my Google search brought up examples with some pretty glaring grammatical errors. I’ll not name names, but I’ll give you a heads up about the mistakes, so you don’t fall into the same trap. If you try Googling the incorrect phrases, you’ll probably find the source. Unless someone corrects those postings, in which case, this will be a mere, but hopefully useful, exercise.
First (so apparently a popular hit), I saw “ar dhroim ná muice.” Over-fadaization (if such a word exists)! It’s just “na” here, not “ná.” Not “ná,” nope, naw, no way! “Ná,” with a long “a” has several meanings in Irish (such as “than,” “but,” “nor/or,” and various uses as a verbal particle) but none of those fit here. All those, ”ná-anna,” by the way, are not ranges of meaning for one “ná” but completely different words, homophones, words that happen to look and sound alike.
For our phrase, we need “na muice,” which means “of the pig.” Not that “na” actually means “of.” No way! It’s a form of the definite article (“the”) which incorporates the idea of “of” when used with the tuiseal ginideach (muice instead of just muc).
To top things off, a commenter writing in to the “ná muice” perp asked another misleading question, “Cá bhfuil na muice?” <osna, osna, osna> (those are my sighs, not those of duine scríofa na nótaí tráchta). Well-intended, no doubt, but one rule of thumb for Irish, and any other inflected language, is that one typically can’t pluck an element out of one sentence and plump it down in the middle another sentence as is. The very nature of inflection (in grammar) is that endings change, all the time. Ábhar ollbhlag eile! I assume the commenter wanted to ask, “Where is the pig?” That would be “Cá bhfuil an mhuc?” [say “un wook,” with the “wook” part more or less as in Wookie]. That “Wookie” comparisons doesn’t apply if you’re a Munster Irish speaker, since they’d likely pronounce “the pig” as “un vook” and, fad m’eolais, “wookie” never has an initial “v” sound, even when Munster Irish speakers discuss Star Wars.
The commenter might possibly have intended to ask “Where are the pigs?” since that would retain the “na” (now simply to go with a plural subject, na muca). That would be, “Cá bhfuil na muca?” But I doubt they meant plural, since the “pig’s back” phrase seems to refer to one perpetually lucky, everlasting pig, with space for all on its generous back.
Bhuel sin sin, but there’s more. Next Google hit?
Please keep in mind that I’m glad to see people using the phrase “ar dhroim na muice” and commenting on it. I just wish the grammar was a little more spot-on, especially since the population of Irish language learners far outnumbers those who are actually fluent in the language.
One of the curious features of Google searches is that even when you type in the grammatically correct phrase, you may get grammatically incorrect phrases as the result. Hmm. The whys and wherefores of that are definitely out of my bailiwick.
So the second disconcerting example was, hmmm, I’m going to split it up so it’s not quite so jarring. First “ar an dhroim.” Two problems here. First, “d” resists lenition after “an” (the so-called DNTLS rule). Second, the “an” is actually superfluous, as we’ll see from the rest of the phrase, which is “na muice.” That part is correct, but the definite article “na” in that part of the phrase negates the need for a definite article in the first part of the phrase. Remember phrases like “cóta an chailín” (the coat of the girl) or “hata na girsí (the hat of the girl) or “ruball na muice” (the tail of the pig). One definite article serves to make the whole phrase definite. You noticed how the English translation used the word “the” twice” for each phrase, right? This usage extends to prepositional phrases like “ar chóta an chailín,” “ar hata na girsí,” and “i ruball na muice,” as in the following: “Tá dath oráiste ar chóta an chailín,” “Tá ribín ar hata na girsí,” and “Tá caisirnín (cor) i ruball na muice.”
While the typically American phrase “high on the hog” may seem to be related to “ar dhroim na muice,” it’s really somewhat different in meaning. “High on the hog” means really affluent or living luxuriously, almost or actually beyond one’s means. “On the pig’s back” implies more that things are going well, as opposed to poorly, but doesn’t suggest extreme wealth, at least as I understand it. One well-established “phrase origin” site, http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/high-on-the-hog.html, soundly knocks the “high hog/pig’s back” connection theory. Still, one wonders!
Anyway, here’s hoping all of today’s readers are either “ar muin na muice” or “ar dhroim na muice.” And hoping the poor pig isn’t too worn out! SGF, Róislín
P.S. In case you have some need of the word “swill,” there are a couple of choices. Straightforwardly, we have “cuid na muc” (the share of the pigs). Lovely to the ear, but a bit obscurely, we have “scudalach,” a word almost evokes the sound of the grunting of happy pigs. It’s probably related to “scodal” (thin porridge). And, although it’s a semantic stretch, there is “swill” in terms of brewing, which is “grúdarlach,” neatly connected to the slew of other brew words, “grúdaire,” “grúdlann,” etc. It can also mean “slops” and “inferior ale.”