Deir Tusa ‘Slán,’ Deirimse ‘Haló’ (Saying ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’ in Irish, Cuid a hAon: Hello)

Posted on 24. May, 2013 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Ever wonder what to say first in an Irish conversation?  Or how to wrap it up?  In this blog, we’ll look at various greetings in Irish.   The next blog will cover goodbyes, that is, unless there’s another blog in between, with more greetings, or at least direct address forms of names, since you’ll need that “tuiseal gairmeach” to include someone’s name with your goodbye or hello.

Today, one of the first questions is whether to use the traditional greeting, “Dia duit!,” which is also a blessing (beannacht) or whether to follow the new development and use words like “Haló!” or “Heileo!”

So where do we start?  I mostly use the traditional greeting “Dia duit!”  If I know someone well, I might just say “Bhuel” (Well), then the person’s name, in the direct address form if there is one, and then ask how that person is, for which there are at least five variations, beginning with three different question words (Conas …?, Cén chaoi …?, Cad é mar …?).

Like I just said, so where do we start?   Why do the dulcet tones of The Sound of Music run through my mind here, gan stad?   I guess they fit the situation.  “Let’s start at the very beginning — áit mhaith le tosú.”

The traditional greeting, as you saw above is “Dia duit!” and I’d being doing you a disservice if I pretended there was just one form of this phrase.   The second main version is “Dia dhuit!,” which is mostly used in Connacht Irish, that is primarily in Conamara and the Aran Islands.

Dia duit!” is often translated as “Hello!,” but it really means, very literally, “God to you!.”  It’s short for “Go mbeannaí Dia duit!” (May God bless you!) which I don’t really hear many people say these days.  In Irish, the verb “bless” is followed by the preposition “to,” represented here by “duit” (to you).  Some people have reservations about the religious formulaic phrases needed for Irish greetings, but I’ll start with “Dia duit!” anyway because, bhuel, as another famous ceoldráma told us, “Traidisiún, traidisiún, traidisiún!”

Irish greetings traditionally follow a formula.  The first person to speak says “Dia duit!”  The response is “Dia ‘s Muire duit!” (God and Mary bless you!).  The word “agus” (and) is shortened to ” ‘s ” and Muire is the Virgin Mary, as opposed to “Máire,” the latter being used for mortals named “Mary.”

That much is all for if you’re talking to one person.  “Duit” is specifically second-person singular.  Remember, Irish, like most European languages, has a singular and plural form for “you.”  English used to, when it still had “thou” for the singular, but it lost the Thou / Thee / Thine triptych centuries ago, except occasionally in the literary or poetic realm (“My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes,” etc.) and as used by some Quakers up to the late 19th century.   Since we lost our singular/plural you distinction in English, it seems we’ve been busily trying to recreate it with improvised plural forms (youse, yiz, youse guys, y’all, all y’all, etc.).  Ach sin ábhar blag eile.  For practical purposes, right now we need to consider what happens when you’re talking to several people, or a group, in Irish.

It’s quite systematic, really.  “Duit” becomes “daoibh” ([deev] to you, plural): Dia daoibh.  Assuming it was still one person who spoke first, the response would be “Dia ‘s Muire duit.”

So we could have:

A to B: Dia duit!

B to A: Dia ‘s Muire duit!


A to B & C: Dia daoibh!

B or C or B & C together to A: Dia ‘s Muire duit.

If a third person joins the group, the traditional expression they use is “Dia ‘s Muire duit agus Naomh Pádraig!” (God and Mary bless you and St. Patrick!).   But I can’t say I’ve heard a lot of that in real life; I’ve mostly read it.

So that’s one approach, the one most typically taught.

A traditional expression that doesn’t have the religious implication is “Mora duit!” (“Morrow to you!” or “Mór bless you!”).  ”Mór” is/was an elusive Celtic goddess, whose name happens to fit this usage perfectly.  In the plural, this would be “Mora daoibh!”   If used in the morning, “ar maidin” can be added (Mora duit ar maidin!).  This could be interpreted, a bit redundantly, as “Good morrow this morning!”  Actually there could be some religious interpretation there, because of Mór’s divine status, but very little is known about her today.

Finally we do have two words that have mostly come with telephone usage.  There were parts of Ireland where families didn’t have their own teileafóin into the 1970s and 1980s, so this is much more recent than in English.  These are “Haló!” and “Heileo!” (also spelled “Haileo“).

Personally, I don’t tend to use “Haló” or “Heileo” very much.  If I want something less formal than “Dia duit,” it usually means that I already know the person.  In that case, I’d probably go with “Bhuel, a Shéamais!,”  assuming I know that Séamas.   Or “Bhuel, a Mháire!” if I see my friend Máire.   It’s a friendly “well,” and I don’t think there’s an exact equivalent in English, even though “bhuel” is borrowed from English and sounds pretty much the same.  Anyway, we’ll wrap up this intro to greetings with a reminder that if a name follows the greeting, it’ll be in the direct address form (aka the vocative case).  Tuilleadh ainmneacha sa tuiseal gairmeach?  Somewhere within the next few blogs!

Hmmm, I wonder if we could simply get away with “*Bhádap?”  Or would that be “*Mhádap?”  They’d sound the same, since “bhá-” and “mhá-” both are pronounced “waw”!  Actually, the more traditional phrase for that purpose would be “Aon scéal?” (Any story? Anything new?).  That would be limited to use with someone you already know, as, I assume, would “Whaddap?”  I’ve browsed a bit on the Internet to see if any other languages are literally borrowing “Whaddap?” or “Whazzup?” and literally asking “What is up?”  Mostly I just see traditional informal greetings being used, like “¿Que tal?” or “Wie geht’s?”  So I’d highly recommend “Aon scéal?” for people that you know reasonably well.

We’ll do more with “goodbyes” in the next blog.  There’s too much to squeeze in here, since I can think of at least five ways to say goodbye off the top of my head.  And if I put on my “caipín smaoinimh,” there’s a good chance a few more will come to mind.  Sin é, SGF (Slán go fóill), Róislín

PS: By the way, Transparent Language has been running series on “hello” and “goodbye” in the various languages it blogs, so you might want to check out na teangacha eile, ón Araibis go dtí an Urdúis (

PPS: Sea, fuair mé teideal an bhlag seo ó na Ciaróga.  Ach ní shílim go bhfuil/raibh aon Ghaeilge acu cé go raibh dúchas Gaelach ag cuid acu!  Maidir leis an “hela, helloa” sa churfá, d’fhágfainn é mar atá sé!

PPPS: “Na Ciaróga” is fairly popularly used in Irish to refer to the Beatles.  Of course, it really means “beetles,” without the “imeartas focal” we get from “beat/beet.”   Ach cóngarach go leor, de réir cosúlachta. 

How To Say “Uncail” (Uncailín, Amhnair, etc.) i nGaeilge

Posted on 20. May, 2013 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Uncailí i nDubh? (Uncailí agus Cultacha Dubha orthu)

First, let me clarify that in this blog we’ll just be saying “uncle” in a very straightforward way, no implication of “crying uncle” (yielding, giving in).  Even though the Irish language is incredibly rich in idioms and figurative expressions, I haven’t really found much use of the word “uncail” in such expressions.  Perhaps it’s because “uncail” is a relatively recent borrowing into the Irish language and a lot of the “nathanna cainte” are much older.

So “saying uncle” here will deal primarily with the modern word “uncail,” its various forms, and alternate ways to say “father’s brother” and “mother’s brother” in Irish.  At any rate, this blog continues an ad hoc series on kinship terms that began with discussing “Lá na Máithreacha,” “Lá na nAithreacha,” and “Lá na nAintíní (or “na nAinteanna“).

Let’s start with “uncail” itself.  I see no evidence of it before 1900.  Prior to that the typical terms were “dearbhráthair-athar” (lit. brother of father) and “dearbhráthair-máthar” (lit. brother of mother).  In today’s spellings, those would be “deartháir-athar” and “deartháir-máthar.”   To indicate the exact relationship with those phrases, the possessive adjective would be inserted between the two elements “dearbhráthair m’athar” (the brother of my father) and “dearbhráthair mo mháthar” (the brother of my mother), etc.  Even if further searching does produce some examples of “uncail” as such, I think the trend will remain: little or no use of “uncail” before 1900 and increasing displacement of the more traditional kinship terms during the 20th century.   My search included early variant spellings, like “ongcail” and “onncal” but to no avail.

Here are the forms for “uncail“:

an t-uncail, the uncle.  Remember why the “t-” is prefixed?  Masculine singular nouns beginning with the vowel get the “t-” (an t-uisce, an t-úll, srl.).

uncail, same as the root form, also means “of an uncle” (ról uncail sa teaghlach, an uncle’s role in the family)

an uncail, of the uncle (moncaí an uncail, the uncle’s monkey; note that the “t” disappears when the phrase is possessive)

uncailí, uncles; na huncailí, the uncles

uncailí, of uncles, like the singular above, this possessive form is no different from the regular subject form (ról uncailí sna teaghlaigh, uncles’ roles in the families)

na n-uncailí, of the uncles (comhairle na n-uncailí, the advice of the uncles)

An alternate plural form is “uncaileacha,” which would give us forms like “na huncaileacha” and “na n-uncaileacha.”

I can’t say I’ve heard the diminutive form “uncailín” used much in real life.  But it is interesting that many English kinship terms, except “uncle,” i.e. dad, mom/mam/mum, aunt, grandmother, and grandfather have diminutive forms (daddy, mommy/mammy/mummy, aunty, grandma/granny, grandpa/granddad).   But not “uncle.”  I did look into “unky” but I’ve never heard it used myself in a family context, and most uses of it that I find are more Urban Dictionary-ish slang, rather than a meaningful diminutive.  Is it that the spelling of the word “uncle” doesn’t lend itself to having a pet form or suffix?  Or is there something in the relationship that discourages having a diminutive?  At any rate, it seems the situation is sort of similar in Irish, with “uncailín” existing as a word, but not, in my experience, very widely used.    One place it shows up consistently, though often anglicized, is in a stretch of woods west of Galway (Rosshill/Roscam area).  Mostly I see this described as having two sections named “aunteen” (sometimes “auntleen”) and “uncleen” but sometimes the actual Irish spellings are used.  Why these names occur remains a mystery, at least for me, although there are a few suggestions online.  One is that “uncailín” isn’t really related to “uncail” but rather that it comes from “uaimh” (cave).  Suimiúil!  But then, why “aunteen“?  By analogy?  Folk etymology extension?  Ábhar blag eile, b’fhéidir?   Eolas ó dhuine ar bith ón gceantar sin?

As for as expressions with “uncle,” it’s interesting to see the “uncleless” Irish equivalents of some English “uncle” expressions.   As I said before, I haven’t really encountered any traditional Irish expressions with “uncail.”  But if you want to say that your watch is at your “uncle’s” (i.e. “at the pawnbrokers,” in English slang), you’d simply use “Tá m’uaireadóir i ngeall” (lit. My watch is in pawn.).  Of course with uaireadóirí digiteacha a dime a dozen these days, I’m not sure that the typical geallbhróicéir has much interest.  Unless it’s the Chopard 201-Carat (an t-uaireadóir is daoire ar domhan).  An luach?  Thíos, ag deireadh an bhlag.  Actually that might be too much watch for the gnáthgheallbhróicéir.  Not that anyone owning it would probably need to hock anything.  Ach sin scéal eile.

As for “saying uncle,” I’ve found no trace of the expression, as such, in Irish.  So what do you say if you don’t say “uncle”?  One traditional Irish truce term is “Méaram!” (Pax!).  Of course, in schoolyard play, a truce term isn’t necessarily the same as a complete surrender so “Méaram” isn’t necessarily exactly the same as “Uncle!”   ”Trócaire” (lit. mercy) and “Síocháin!” (lit. Peace!) could also be used.  Beyond that, once could always say “géillim” (I yield / surrender).

There are various suggestions regarding the origin of the phrase “say uncle,” including one connected to the Irish word “anacal” (alternate spelling “anacol“) which means “protection” or “deliverance.”  As far as I can tell, this theory was first proposed in 1980 in the journal American Speech, long before it was popularized by the late Daniel Cassidy, author of the highly controversial How The Irish Invented Slang.  But in reviewing this possibility, we should keep in mind that “anacal” is a fairly literary word, not in common use, and it would seem an unlikely choice to be in use among schoolchildren in the late 19th century.  Let alone that it would have traveled with immigrants to America and survived when so much of the Irish that they knew was forgotten.  There is at least one major competing theory, that “saying uncle” is derived (over a 2000-year history) from the Latin “Patrue, mī patruissime! (O uncle, my best of uncles!), used for the same function by Roman schoolboys.  Either explanation is a stretch, if you ask me.

And finally, there are other words for “uncle” in Irish, even beyond the “deartháir m’athar” and “deirfiúr mo mháthar” type combinations discussed above.  One is “amhnair,” a relatively little-used additional Irish word for “maternal uncle,” which has survived best in the Irish of Tory Island.  It links to the Welsh “ewythr” and Breton “eontr” via the Latin “avunculus,” itself a diminutive of Latin “avus” (grandfather).  I always wondered where an unusual-looking word like “ewythr” came from!  A lot of people think most Welsh words, even everyday ones like “cyllell” (knife), “cwrw” (beer), and “sglodion” (chips), look unusual, but once you get immersed in the language, there’s just a smaller number that stand out as not looking typical.  I suppose it’s all a matter of opinion.  In Welsh, there are a few words that I find especially intriguing looking, like “ysgyrnygu” (gnashing the teeth) and “llwyrymwrthodwr” (teetotaler).  Of course, I have my favorites in English too, like “chthonic” and “sesquipedalian,” but all of that must remain, sadly, not just ábhar blag eile, but ábhar do shraith blaganna eile.

Ar an “nóta” sin agus tá súil agam gan aon díoscarnach fiacla (“gnashing of teeth” in Irish), SGF — Róislín

Luach an uaireadóra is daoire ar domhan faoi láthair: $25,000,000 (US).  Hmm, an ndeir muid “25 milliún fionnuar”?    Nó “25 milliún réchúiseach”?  Nó an bhfanfaidh muid just inár staiceanna (dumbstruck)?  Tuilleadh eolais faoi, má tá suim agat ann:

Nóta: both “fionnuar” and “réchúiseach” mean “cool” although I’m not convinced we can use either for mindbogglingly large sums of money.   Come to think of it, “cool” is mostly used for milliún amháin, not increments beyond one, isn’t it?  The phrase “cool million” dates back to at least June 19, 1934, the publication date of the novel of the same name by the tragically short-lived Nathaniel West.  But did he make up the term or was it already in existence?  Bhuel, sin ábhar taighde do lá fearthainne!

Ainteanna nó Aintíní? (Aunts or Aunties?)

Posted on 14. May, 2013 by in Irish Language

 (le Róislín)

We’ve recently mentioned Mother’s Day (Lá na Máithreacha) and Father’s Day (Lá na nAithreacha), and we’ve looked at various mother/father expressions (e.g. máthair na mballach, lus gan athair gan mháthair).  For the next couple of blogs, we’ll check out na hainteanna (or should we say “na haintíní“?) and na huncailí (or the occasionally used “uncailíní“).

As it happens, there is now an official “Auntie’s Day ® ” founded five years ago by Melanie Notkin, author of Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers and All Women Who Love Kids (  I don’t know to what extent it is celebrated outside the US, but this year’s date is July 28th.  So how would we say “Auntie’s Day” in Irish?  Following the same pattern as “Lá na Máithreacha / na nAithreacha,” it would be either “Lá na nAintíní” or “Lá na nAinteanna.”   I don’t yet recall seeing any cártaí beannachta Gaeilge for “Auntie’s Day”–maybe this blog will provide some moltaí!

Before we proceed further, let’s look at the “ai” sound of “aint” and “aintín.”  It’s like the “a” sound most American speakers use for “aunt” itself, as in “ant” (the insect).  The typical exceptions, for the US, are New England and eastern Virginia, where “ahnt” prevails.  Maidir le Ceanada, I’m not really sure which pronunciation dominates, and Britain itself presents a pretty mixed picture.  For those who want to pursue the ant/ahnt aspect, there are plenty of websites to check out (over 6000 for “pronunciation of aunt,” in quotes, in my recent search).  I bring this up here mainly to prevent any confusion with the slang English word “ain’t,” which is, of course, completely different in sound and completely unrelated in meaning.  I mention it simply because of the coincidental spelling similarity.  BTW, for the English spelling, both “auntie” and “aunty” are accepted; I’ll be sticking to “auntie” here.

Choosing between “Lá na nAintíní” and “Lá na nAinteanna” actually brings up a really interesting point about the aint/aintín vocabulary.  The word “aintín,” a diminutive form closer to “auntie,” seems to largely be replacing “aint” (aunt), at least in instructional materials.  In Irish, the terms seems to have leveled off, so most of the time, we simply see “aintín.”  That’s what’s given in most textbooks and dictionaries these days, especially the mionfhoclóirí.

I rarely hear the word “aint” used in Irish conversation.  It’s almost always “aintín.”  I checked out a few famous literary/show-biz aunts to see how their names turn out in Irish.  The Brandon Thomas play, Charley’s Aunt, has been translated into Irish as Aintín Shéarlais (aintín, technically the diminutive, being used for “aunt”).  I actually looked a bit online for “Auntie Mame” but can’t find any translation of it into Irish, not too surprisingly.  But if it were to be translated, I assume that it would also be “aintín,” since the original is “auntie.”  In fact, I’d assume any use of “auntie” would be translated as “aintín.”  It’s really the translation of “aunt” or the use of “aint,” as such, that’s the wild card these days.

I also checked out two famous aunts of the Muggle world, Petunia Dursley and her sister-in-law, Marge Eileen Dursley.  How Marge got an Irish middle name “Eileen” might be an interesting query in and of itself, but for current purposes, suffice it to say that she’s usually known as “Aunt Marge.”  However, early in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (English version), when Dudley Dursley is counting up his birthday presents, his mother refers to the gift from “Auntie Marge,” using the more childish form given the child-oriented situation.  But the Irish translation (Harry Potter agus an Órchloch) uses “Aint Marge” for both “Auntie Marge” and “Aunt Marge,” with no use of “aintín” to suggest the more childish nature of the word “auntie.”  In this case, then, the translator, Máire Nic Mhaoláin, breaks from the trend, having “aint” serve for both “auntie” and “aunt,” instead of using “aintín” as the all-purpose word for a parent’s sibling.

So to wrap up this part of the discussion, Irish has both “aint” and “aintín,” and they loosely approximate the difference between “aunt” and “auntie,” but “aintín” seems to be gaining ground, gradually replacing “aint.”  Now let’s look at some of the forms of these words, starting with “aintín,” since it seems to be more widely used.

an aintín, the aunt, the auntie (although a few sources consider this a masculine noun, with the “-ín” ending, typically masculine, as in “cailín,” the masculine noun meaning “girl,” in which case we’d have “an t-aintín” for “the aunt”)

From here on, I’ll just translate “aintín” as “aunt,” since it doesn’t always have the “auntie” implication.  Probably more typical than actually saying “the aunt” would be “my aunt,” “your aunt,” etc.  Those forms would be:

singular: m’aintín, d’aintín, a aintín (his aunt), a haintín (her aunt)

plural: ár n-aintín (our aunt), bhur n-aintín (your aunt), a n-aintín (their aunt)

na haintín, of the aunt (hata dearg na haintín, the aunt’s red hat); admittedly, we’d probably be more likely to say “hata dearg m’aintín” (my aunt’s red hat)

aintíní, aunts; na haintíní, the aunts

aintíní, of aunts (geáitsí meargánta aintíní meargánta, madcap antics of madcap aunts — a popular theme in movies and plays, it seems)

na n-aintíní, of the aunts (geáitsí meargánta na n-aintíní meargánta, the madcap antics of the madcap aunts)

And here’s “aint“:

an aint, the aunt; also: m’aint, my aunt; d’aint (or “t’aint“), a aint, a haint, ár n-aint, bhur n-aint, a n-aint

ainte, of an aunt (grá ainte, an aunt’s love)

na hainte, of the aunt (hata dearg na hainte, the aunt’s red hat; similarly “hata dearg m’ainte,” my aunt’s red hat)

ainteanna, aunts; na hainteanna, the aunts

ainteanna, of aunts (ról ainteanna i ndinimic an teaghlaigh, role of aunts in the dynamics of the family)

na n-ainteanna, of the aunts (ainmneacha na n-ainteanna, the names of the aunts)

Actually, this is all just the tip of the iceberg for terms having to do with kinship.  The word “aintín” is relatively new in Irish.  The more traditional concept is “deirfiúr athar” (father’s sister), deirfiúr mháthar (mother’s sister), etc.  There are also some fairly archaic terms like “athaireog” and “bráthaireog” (paternal aunt), “máithreán” and “máithrín” (maternal aunt, the second one can also mean “little mother”).

I’m still on the lookout for some traditional Irish expressions about aunts who are “canónaithe” (sainted), à la Katherine Hepburn’s, at least in The Philadelphia Story.   Or perhaps one who is “meadhránach” (giddy), as H.D.A. [sic] wrote in The Avicultural Magazine, 1913, regarding the variety of species of birds, “It bewilders one, and one feels inclined to exclaim “My giddy aunt.”  The giddiness of aunts was even further immortalized by the play of the same name, My Giddy Aunt, set a bit mind-bogglingly in India, 1960, in the post-Raj era.   Any parallels in Irish to those English expressions?  As for “materteral” (of or pertaining to an aunt, auntlike), or its variant, “materterine,” I see no trace of this as a vocabulary word n Irish.  Foclóir ar bith agus ní cuimhin liom aon fhocal mar sin a chloisteáil.  While the Oxford English Dictionary does cite a few examples of “materteral” and “materterine,” it basically dismisses the word as “humorously pedantic.”  Oddly, though, while “avuncular” is a more widely used word in English, I don’t see any sign of it in Irish either.   I suppose in both cases, one could improvise with “ar nós aintín” (or “ar nós ainte“) or “ar nós uncail.”  Stay tuned for the next blog and we’ll talk about several ways to say “uncle,” literally, and maybe even dive into some nathanna cainte as well.