Irish Language Blog

“Fuist,” “Whisht,” “Éist,” and “Is Binn Béal ina Thost” Posted by on Nov 6, 2009 in Irish Language

As you may have figured out, based on the one English spelling above, these are all ways to either firmly request or circuitously insinuate that someone should be silent.  We see yet another variation, “whist,” in our Gaelic resource de la semaine, Mary Pat Kelly’s Galway Bay.  In one spelling or another, the word shows up in sources from both Ireland and Scotland, such as:


1) “Whist! your honour, whist!” ejaculated Paddy. “I’m only desaving the beast.” (from “A Knowing Horse,” a 19th-century humorous Irish anecdote; “your honour” here is a passenger in a chaise, not a judge!)


2) “But you can’t just tell Charlie* to hold his whisht,” P. J. Mara, quoted by Gene Kerrigan in Magill magazine.  Kudos to those who know which Charlie is intended.  Freagra thíos.


3) “Michael put his finger on my lips, so gentle.  “Whist, Honora, a stór.  We’ll manage.” Mary Pat Kelly, Galway Bay


4) “Ye need na doubt, I held my whisht,” Robert Burns, The Vision


 5) “… whisht, hinny; whisht, my bonnie man, and let’s hear what they’re doing. Deil’s in ye, will ye whisht?,” Sir Walter Scott, Guy Mannering.


Fuist” is more or less equivalent to “whisht,” but “whisht” seems to get translated as “éist” (lit. listen).  The latter typically shows up in the phrase “éist do bhéal.”  Hmm, that’s literally “listen your mouth.”  If that translation seems a bit awkward, one could think of it more as “silence your mouth” or “make your mouth silent,” which would certainly facilitate listening!  And I can think of at least a few gaotairí (windbags) who might profit from the advice.


As to which came first, “Fuist!” in Irish or “Whisht” in English, I think it’s a bit of a “scéal faoin sicín agus faoin ubh,” since “whisht” also existed in Middle English (ca. 14th century).  Éist,” of course, is a longstanding Irish word and is widely used in its perfectly straightforward sense, “listen.”  One recurring sample, pluralized to “Éistigí,” is notable as the opening invocation of many a Daltaí na Gaeilge meeting.  Those of you who have attended will never forget the athshondas athfhuaimneach as “ár Liam” interjectionally enjoins the group to silence, as Merriam-Webster would have it, or as we might say with modern bluntness, tells everyone to “shaddup.”


Finally, for those who favor “timchaint” as opposed to “giorraisce,” we have the seanfhocal.  Literally, “Is binn béal ina thost,” means “It’s sweet, a mouth in its silence.” A related but more direct command would be “Bí i do thost” (be in your silence).  Some day we’ll have to give the “squeaky wheels” their due and acknowledge that there can also be some value in speaking up and/or getting greased!  But proverbial wisdom is not necessarily consistent, as the “too many cooks” vs. “two heads” dilemma shows us.  How about one two-headed cook, à la Zaphod Beeblebrox?  Not that he was really a cook, as I recall.  Maybe I’ve just been dwelling on this particular blog beagán rófhada?  Am do bheagán scíthe! 


*Freagra: Cén Séarlas?  Which Charles? 

First hint, a shloinne i nGaeilge: Ó hEochaidh.  Leid a Dó:  His surname means “horseman,” which could be simply an accident of ancestry and naming, but this particular Ó hEochaidh was also known as “Irish bloodstock’s great benefactor.”  Comhtharlú nó sna géinte (genes)?


So, the answer is, as you may have figured out, Charles James Haughey (Cathal Séamas Ó hEochaidh, 1925-2006), former Taoiseach of Ireland.  You might be wondering, “Where’s the [word for horse] capall?” if the name means “horseman.”  It’s not part of this name, which is based on “each” [akh], steed, a more literary word for “horse” and also a cognate of “equus.”  Ó hEochaidh is often spelled Ó hEachaidh. 


Nótaí: athshondas athfhuaimneach [AH-HUN-duss AH-OO-im-nyakh], resounding resonance (sorry for the athluaiteachas (tautology, lit. “re-referring”) but I can’t really find two different enough English words to be neamhathluaiteach (non-tautological) here for the translation.





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  1. Sue:

    At school our irish would say,’whist a gee, lead a hul??? This is not the spelling but how it sounded. Anyone know what it meant? The teacher would say it when we were talking so i always assumed it meant be quiet or something similar??

    • róislín:

      @Sue Ceist shuimiúil (an interesting question). Probably “Éistigí, le bhur dtoil!” (listen,please), which would be said to a group. If it were singular (said to one person), it would be “Éist, le do thoil!). In both “dtoil” and “thoil” the “t” is silent. HTH.

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