Speaking of Pigeons (Colúir)

Posted on 14. Dec, 2013 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Pigeons in a Piggin! (for which the Irish is not quite so alliterative but is nevertheless informative: Colúir i Mornán.  A 'mornán' or 'piggin' is a type of pail with an upright stave instead of a traditional handle.  An bhfaca tú mornán riamh?

Pigeons in a Piggin! (for which the Irish is not quite so alliterative but is nevertheless informative: Colúir i Mornán. A ‘mornán’ or ‘piggin’ is a type of pail with an upright stave instead of a traditional handle. An bhfaca tú mornán riamh?  I’m not sure what the smaller bird is — barúil ar bith agatsa?

I’ll leave journalists Sean Dunne (IrishCentral) and Liz Alderman (New York Times) to “squabble” over the accuracy of the recent reference in the New York Times to “pigeon-eating” in Ireland.  But it does seem to me like a good opportunity to explore the related Irish vocabulary (naisc do na hailt thíos).  So we’ll look at the Irish words for “pigeon,” “dove,” and yes, “squab.”

The topic is particularly intriguing (domsa, ar a laghad) because of the linguistic distinctions between pigeons and doves … or the lack thereof.

In a nutshell, the Irish word “colm” [say: KOL-um, two syllables, like English "column"] means both “dove” and “pigeon,” but usually implies “dove.”  It is perhaps best known in the Irish context as part of the name of St. Columba (“Colm Cille,” dove of the church, in Irish).  The Irish word “colúr” is usually translated as “pigeon” but is sometimes translated as “dove.”

I suppose the ultimate connection is found in the two Irish words for “rock-dove”: colm aille and colúr aille.   Of course, that’s literally “cliff-dove/pigeon,” apparently named for its practice of nesting in nooks and crannies in cliffs, instead of making traditional nests.  The rock-doves have adapted this practice to skyscrapers as well, and the urban rock-dove figures metaphorically in Marie Jones’s aptly named 2010 play, Rock Doves (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/18/theater/reviews/18rock.html).  Jones may be more familiar from her Broadway/West End hit, Stones in his Pockets, which, btw, is soon to be a movie, starring Boyzone singer Ronan Keating and Game of Thrones‘ Conleth Hill (http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/entertainment/film-tv/news/stones-in-his-pockets-rolling-on-to-a-big-screen-near-you-29562851.html).  That should be interesting — scannán bunaithe ar dhráma atá bunaithe ar scannán bréige atá bunaithe ar bhealach ar dhearbhscannán (.i. The Quiet Man).

The word “colm” is related to the Latin “columba” (dove, pigeon) which provides us with a slew of spin-off words and place names in English and other languages: columbine, columbarium, Columbia, Colombia, Columbus, and Columba, the constellation.  In Irish, related words include:

Colm, a popular name for men (Colm Meany, etc.)

colmán, little dove, little pigeon, also used as a man’s name

colmlann, a dove-cot (aka dove-cote)

lus an choilm, columbine, lit. the plant of the dove

As for “colúr,” it also gives us the word “colúrphost,” (pigeon-post) although I don’t think there’s much call for that anymore, given “téacsáil” and “ríomhphost” (aka “r-phost“).

Cúpla cineál colm agus colúr:

colm imirce, passenger pigeon, lit. “dove/pigeon of migration,” speiceas atá imithe in éag anois (although there is a movement to Jurassic-Parkishly revive the species (http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-07-08/national/40434945_1_passenger-pigeon-woolly-mammoth-de-extinction).  R.I.P. Martha, an colm imirce deireanach ar an tsaol (de réir cosúlachta; fuair sí bás i zú i Cincinnati ar an 1d lá de mhí Mheán Fómhair, 1914).

“Passenger Pigeons” were also known in English as “Wood Pigeons” and “Wild Pigeons.”  If the North American and European meanings are the same, then “colm coille” would also mean “passenger pigeon.”  “Colm coille,” lit. “dove/pigeon of the forest” is also used for “ring-dove” and “wood-pigeon.”  Dove … pigeon … mh’anam.  Bottom line, though — note the importance of the “broad c” and “slender c” pronunciations in distinguishing “colm” of the “church” (Colm Cille) from “colm” of the woods” (colm coille).

colúr frithinge or colm frithinge, homing pigeon.  Some related words are “frithingiú” (reciprocation, especially as used in engineering) and “frithing” in the phrase “i bhfrithing [iv-RIH-hing]” (in the reverse direction).

colúr teachtaireachta, carrier-pigeon, lit. “pigeon of message”

Going farther afield, we also have ”colúr” used for at least one sea-bird, “colúr toinne” (black guillemot, lit. “pigeon of the wave”).

As for “stool-pigeon,” there is an Irish expression that also includes “pigeon,” somewhat unusual when translating idioms.  In Irish a “colúr cluana” is literally a “pigeon of deception” (cf. lacha cluana, decoy-duck)  But the “stool-pigeon” as a person is more typically “maide bréagach” (trap-stick, lit. false stick).

There are two ways to say “clay pigeon,” one with the word “pigeon” embedded (crécholúr) and the other without (créphláta, lit. clay-plate).

“Pigeonhole” (small compartment in a desk, etc.) in Irish doesn’t refer to pigeons at all.  It is simply “poll clóiséidín” (little cabinet hole).

The “turtledove” has a unique name in Irish, “fearán,” with no reference to “coilm” or “colúir,” or for that matter, “turtair.”  But then turtledoves don’t have anything to do with turtles either; they’re simply called that because of onamataipé  since the cooing noise they make that sounds like “turrr-turrr”.  You might remember some discussion of this from the “Dhá Lá Dhéag na Nollag” blogs of 2010 (http://blogs.transparent.com/irish/dha-la-dheag-na-nollag-the-twelve-days-of-christmas/)

And a final item of lexicographical interest.  I’m still pondering the Irish for “pigeon flute,” being fascinated by this musical instrument since I was a teenager, when, at some used book sale, I stumbled upon the an unusual pamphlet published in 1938, “Peking Pigeons and Pigeon-Flutes: A Lecture Delivered at the College of Chinese Studies.” It was written by the intriguingly named “Harned Pettus Hoose.”  I imagine “fliúit cholúir” would do the trick, but would welcome other suggestions.  If it’s considered more a whistle than a flute, it could be a “feadóg cholúir.”  And if pigeon-flutes have really piqued your interest, you might want to check out http://www.windmusik.com/html/pigflut.htm or the English version http://www.windmusik.com/html/pigflut.htm#Carried.  The small clay flutes are fastened to the pigeon (!) and as the pigeon flies, the air goes through the flute and makes a musical or whistling sound.  To which I can only add, who’duh thunk it.

As for “squab,” I’d say the word is more straightforward in Irish than in English.  It’s ”éan coilm” or “éan colúir.”  While “éan” basically means “bird,” it is also used to indicate the young of various bird species, sort of comparable to “chick” in English.  Getting back to the culinary aspect of this blog, it’s interesting that “squab” has that sort of elite-vocabulary gourmet-terminology je ne sais quoi about it and apparently, as dinner, commands high prices in upscale restaurants.  But I don’t personally think seeing “éan coilm” on a biachlár in Irish would appeal to me.  Visions of too much éiníní cuteness.  But eating pigeon, as cited in the New York Times article, certainly raised a ruckus that I believe is still going on.  And so far no one, as far as I can tell, is eating crow about it.  But that idiom will have to wait for blag éigin eile.  Slán go fóill, Róislín

Naisc: http://www.irishcentral.com/news/Irish-outrage-over-NY-Times-pigeon-eating-and-desperate-economic-times-article-235717001.html


Cait: Cúpla Téarma Eile (Mothchat, Baldúin, Crúbálaí)

Posted on 09. Dec, 2013 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

A few more cat terms have recently come to my attention.  Let’s start with the rather eye-catching:

mothchat [muh-khaht] tomcat

Cat ag cur droinne air féin (grianghraf: Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez, nasc thíos)

Cat ag cur droinne air féin (grianghraf: Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez, nasc thíos)

Ar dtús báire, ní peata “Leamhanfhir” é.  Nó “peata Fhear an Leamhain,” más fearr leat mar sin é.  So, no, the Mothman of West Virginia (and of “Prophecies” fame) didn’t suddenly become a Hiberno-Francophone and adopt a (presumably wingéd) “moth-cat,” as it were.  Fad m’eolais, ar a laghad.  Má tá tú ag iarraidh a bheith cinnte, cuir thusa thú féin an cheist air.  Tá beagán faitís orm roimhe.  And if you want to check out the lepidopterological possibilities for “cat,” please see the note which I have put below, since it is just a “beagáinín” tangential.

Why “moth-” then?  It’s used here as a prefix meaning “male” and is not, in my experience, all that widely used.  But nevertheless, it gives us one more possibility for “tomcat.”

A note re: pronunciation.  First, we have the usual coterie of silent consonants (I almost said “cattery” there, but caught myself just in time).  The “t” of “moth-” is completely silent, so this syllable is nothing like English “moth” or “mother.”  Not that there’s any reason why it should be–it’s just the tendency to see words from one’s native language when the same combination of letters shows up in a new language (other Irish/English examples: teach/teach, fear/fear, bean/bean, etc.).  There is still a slight breathy sound in the Irish “moth” because of the “h” so  “moth” sounds slightly different from the Irish “mo” (my).

As for the “ch,” it’s the guttural (throaty) “ch” sound of “chutzpah” and “challah” (the braided bread), aka for the teangeolaíocht-minded, the voiceless velar fricative.  This sound is often transcribed “kh” to distinguish it from English words like “chew” and “church,” and I’ve followed suit.  In IPA, it would, of course, be /x/, but that can set up its own Xerox-ox-xylophone paradox for those who haven’t studied IPA.  If you’re struggling with “chutzpah” or have always pronounced it “hutzpah” (fricativelessly), I can simply recommend the most entertaining explanation of the sound that I know, as sung by Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v3XB4XXYhDs

And for French speakers, please remember that also, yes, French “chat” and Irish “cat” are etymologically related, as are Welsh “cath” and German “Katze” and more, but the Irish “chat” [khaht] is simply the lenited form of “cat,” not the basic form.  You also find the lenition (indicated in spelling by adding the “h”) in phrases like “a chat” (his cat), “do chat” (your cat), “ar chat” (on a cat), etc.

The short “o” sound of “moth” is actually a bit tricky to transcribe.  It’s like the “o” of Irish “mo” and “pota.”  But if I transcribe it as [mo], people tend to pronounce it like the name “Mo” as in Mo Willems or the “mo” of “slow-mo.”  So I’ve settled for a sort of non-descript “uh.”  In the “Irish-modified” IPA system, as used in Foclóir Póca and various other resources, the symbol is simply /o/, which is “official” but maybe not super clear for an English speaker.   For any German speakers out there, please remember this “uh” in the transcription is not like the German “Huhn” or the surname “Kuhn.”

So, all that just for pronunciation!  But then, “mothchat” is a deceptively simple-looking word and it’s good to (cat)nip any English “moth,” French “chat,” or plain ol’ “chat” associations in the bud.  I include “chat” there, as in “online talk” since it has become such an international word, a bhuí leis an Idirlíon.

All of which means, sound-wise, it would be rather fun to say “my tomcat” using “mothchat” as our basic word:

mo mhothchat [muh wuh-khaht], my tomcat.  As if anyone can really own a cat, ach sin scéal eile.

Of course, there are other ways to say “my tomcat,” using the more standard vocabulary:

mo chat fireann [muh khaht FIRzh-un], lit. my male cat

m’fhearchat [mar-khaht, with the "a" of "mar" like "marry," not like "March," i.e. it's the sound transcribed in IPA as /æ/].  Very literally this means “my man-cat” (!).  Remember, with this one, the “fh” is silent, as it is in phrases like “a fhiacail” (uh EE-uk-kil], his tooth,” and “A fheara!” [uh AR-uh], which is “Men!,” in direct address, especially as proclaimed by Fionn Mac Cumhail and similar characters in folktales.

Allsún (léitheoir ar an liosta seo) wrote in with another “tomcat” term (go raibh maith agat, a Allsún):

baldúin, which I see sometimes written in English as “baldoon.”

Which somehow makes me want to sing, “There goes Baldoon … and he’s a solid, errm, cat.”  Apologies to Edward Harrigan there, but him being Irish, I’m sure he would have taken it in stride.

All of which would be more apropos if a cat, possibly Data’s Spot, were being beamed somewhere and temporarily had his móilíní scattered.  But then, come to think of it, Spot turned out not to be a “fearchat” after all, right.? Bhí ál piscíní aici (mar dhea) san Eipeasóid “Geineasas” (An Chéad Ghlúin Eile, Séasúr 7, Eipeasóid 19).

An interesting thing about the word “baldúin,” though — I haven’t yet found it in any Irish language dictionary, hard copy or online.  Maybe there’s a slight spelling variation, but I’ve tried several possibilities.   Given the existing “-in” ending, I’m wondering what the plural and possessive forms would be in Irish.  Heaven forfend that it would turn out to be like “an ghlúin” (the knee, the generation — a scéal féin ag an bpéire focal sin, is dócha), “An Bhurúin” (Burundi), or “An Vallúin” (Wallonia), and be (grammatically), feminine!  Bhuel, if so, it would at least join “stail” (stallion), which is also grammatically feminine in Irish.  “Bandia” (goddess), on the other hand, is grammatically masculine, while “banab” (abbess, lit. “woman-abbot”) is grammatically feminine, so the bottom line, I suppose, is that grammatical gender in Irish is a mixed bag (maybe the one the proverbial cat escaped from).  More like a “bosca Phandóra,” though, if you ask me, the more I think about it.  Smaoineamh ar bith ag duine ar bith agaibh faoi dhíochlaonadh an fhocail “baldúin”?

And finally, a third term, which can apply to male or female cats, young or old, and also, to, um,  people behaving like cats or perhaps other animals:

crúbálaí [kroo-BAWL-ee], a clawer or pawer, from “crúbáil” (to claw or paw, naturally enough).  “Claw” or “paw” — I guess “veilbhit” or “an ionga í féin” makes all the difference.

Hmmm, I thought I’d get to “caterwauling” in this blog, since it would seem fitting, but space is running out so that’ll have to wait for blag éigin eile.  BTW, that’s not “an spás amuigh,” where Miley Cyrus’s cute lost crying cat (caitín gleoite caillte ag caoineadh, as I dubbed it) is probably still safely ensconced.  That is, if anything can be safely ensconced while free-floating sa spás amuigh, gan chulaith spáis.  Spás don bhlag seo atá i gceist.  Ar an nóta sin, SGF — Róislín 

Nóta: If you really want to say “moth-cat,” as in a hypothetical pet of Mothman, presumably you’d say “*leamhanchat,” since “leamhan” [LyOW-un] means “moth.”   Note that this word is “fada-less.”  “*Leamhánchat,” perhaps an even more far-fetched word than “leamhanchat,” would mean “*elm-cat” (!), based on “leamhán” [lyow-awn] “elm.”  And a double fada caveat, “*leámhánchat” would presumably mean something like “a cat made out of flimsy cloth,” perhaps a toy, based on “leámhán” [LyAW-wawn], “flimsy cloth.”  But that, as you may have seen coming, is all made out of whole cloth, although the elements of the compounds are sound and usable in their own way (ite ag na leamhain, moth-eaten; crann leamháin, elm-tree, srl.)

Grianghraf: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gato_enervado_pola_presencia_dun_can.jpg (le Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez)

Cats Galore in Irish (Cait, Caitíní, Piscíní, Pisíní, srl.)

Posted on 04. Dec, 2013 by in Irish Language

Art-Drawing-Animal-Cat-Cat-and-Kittens-American - believed copyright free(le Róislín)

I suppose I should have saved this blog for National Cat Day (29 Deireadh Fómhair 2014; naisc thíos) but coming swift on the heels of the recent “caitín gleoite caillte sa spás amuigh” blog (thanks to Miley Cyrus’s recent CGI imagery), I couldn’t resist taking the plunge.

So how many different ways are there in Irish to say “cat” or to indicate different types of cats?

Let’s start with the basics.  The singular form, “cat,” looks the same in Irish, but is pronounced more like “kaht.”  In other words, it doesn’t rhyme with “bat” or “mat” (at least not the usual US pronunciations of them) but it’s more like “yacht,” with a shortish “ah” sound.

cat, a cat

an cat, the cat

cait [kwitch, the "w" is very slight], of a cat; miontas cait, catmint

an chait [un khitch], of the cat; ruball an chait, the tail of the cat

na cait [nuh kwitch; remember, the "w" is very slight], the cats

cat [same spelling, etc., as the basic form of the word], of cats; allmhairiú cat, the importation of cats

na gcat [nuh gaht], of the cats; bia na gcat, the food of the cats

And then we get into different types or “categories” (couldn’t resist) of cats:

piscín [PISH-keen], kitten, also “pisín” (PISH-een)

caitín [KATCH-een], little cat, also “catkin”

fearchat [syllable by syllable: 1) the "-ea-" of "fear," the Irish for "man," is the /æ/ sound of "bat" and "rat;" 2) in the second syllable, "~chat," the "a" is more like the "a" of "yacht"], tom cat, lit. “man-cat.”  An alternative is “cat fireann,” lit. “male cat.”  Certainly both terms serve their purpose but neither strikes me as quite so intriguingly anthropomorphic as “tom cat.”  Why “tom” anyway (i mBéarla)?  Ábhar blag eile, b’fhéidir?

cat riabhach [REE-uh-vukh] or cat breac, tabby cat.  If the “tabby cat” is simply meant to be a female cat, not a description of its fur, it would be “cat baineann” (lit. female cat).

seanchat [shan-khaht], grimalkin, lit. an old cat

Now as for a “kindle” of kittens, I’ve never seen an Irish word that is that specific.  A “litter” in general would be “ál” [awl], but that can be used for many animals (ál banbh, a litter of pigs; ál sicíní, a clutch of chickens; and even children, “ál páistí,” a swarm of children, used mostly for bit of dramatic effect, I’d say, not for “gnáthghrúpaí).  Other possible collective terms for animals include “conairt” for wolves, “cuain” for puppies and “éillín” for ducklings.

And now, getting back to “cats in space,” as inspired by an caitín gleoite caillte i seó Miley, If you haven’t yet watched the Dastoli Digital “Cats in Space” video (nasc thíos), I highly recommend it.  Of course, that video is a “scigaithris” ([SHKIG-AH-hrish] parody), but I can think of at least a couple of relatively famous non-parody cats in space, ironically also part of the same series which Dastoli Digital parodied.  An aithníonn tú iad?  Can you fill in the cats’ names in the chart below?  Agus an bhfuil a fhios agat cén clár teilifíse atá i gceist?  Freagraí thíos.

Ainm an Chait Úinéir / Comhghleacaí Sraith Séasúr / Eipeasóid
1. Korob An tSraith Bhunaidh S2E7 “Cúl Dín,” 1967
2. Data An Chéad Ghlúin Eile S4E11 “Lá Data,” 1991

And then there was Lloyd Alexander’s Time Cat (1963) which as the title suggests, involved a taistealaí ama , or I suppose we could say “amtaistealaí.”  This doesn’t really involve “cait sa spás amuigh,” but the móilíní might be temporarily rearranged as the cat travels through time, so it does sort of qualify as “ficsean eolaíochta.”  Stop-off points for Time Cat include Iron Age Britain and Ireland.  Bhuel, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, or should I say “runga uachtair an chatdréimire.”  Breeds and other features will have to wait for blag éigin eile.  Mí-eadha! – Róislín

Freagraí: 1) Sylvia, comhghleacaí Korob sa tSraith Bhunaidh

2) Spot, úinéir (más féidir ”úinéir” a thabhairt ar dhaonnaí cait!  Aon Ghaeilge ar “ownee”?)

3) an clár teilifíse: RéaltAistear (Star Trek)


1) Lá Náisiúnta na gCat (“náisiúnta” = “Meiriceánach” sa chomhthéacs seo.  Níl a fhios agam an gceiliúrtar an Lá i dtíortha eile seachas S.A.M; alt in The Huffington Post:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/29/national-cat-day_n_4173471.html (sa suíomh seo, tá 536 pictiúr de chait léitheoirí le feiceáil.  Cúig chéad tríocha a sé!  536!  Mh’anam!  Tá “taiscthí” dúnta anois–murach sin, is dócha go mbeadh níos mó ná 536 ann!

2) Agus píosa beag eile faoi Lá Náisiúnta na gCat óThe Fluffington Post,” http://thefluffingtonpost.com/post/34561700947/national-cat-day

3) And straight ”ó bhéal an chapaill,” http://www.nationalcatday.com/about.htm

4) Cait sa Spás Amuigh [of course, the actual title is in English, "Cats in Space"] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DnQLI1XDzI

5) an pictiúr thuas http://vintageprintable.com/wordpress/vintage-printable-animal/animal-cat-all-kinds/animal-cat-3/art-drawing-animal-cat-cat-and-kittens-american-4/