Irish Language Blog

“Holly,” “Jolly,” “Merry,” agus “Berry” – An nDéanann Siad Rím le Chéile i nGaeilge? Posted by on Nov 30, 2011 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Well, the answer is no, ní dhéanann siad rím le chéile i nGaeilge.  “Athdhúbaltaigh ríme” [pronunciation below] normally don’t when you translate their component parts from language to language.  For example, to attempt to translate a popular English rhyming reduplicative, “easy breezy,” in Irish you could choose from the following:

easy: éasca, furasta, saoráideach, gan stró

breezy: gaofar (windy), feothanach (gusty), scailleagánta (lively, of personality), storrúil (of a welcome); I can’t say that I recall any expression to say “It’s a breeze” (i.e. it’s easy), as such, in Irish, for that matter, so “breezy,” at best, wouldn’t echo the idea of “easy.”

None of these particular combinations really lend themselves to rhyme and catchiness, so even if you used them together, they wouldn’t be considered reduplication.  So, as you can see, we can’t really take any pair of these words and come up with a rhyming combination.  Coincidentally, in this case, Irish actually has a native reduplicative to express “really easy.” It’s “éasca péasca.An-tarraingteach, nach ea (very catchy, isn’t it)? The word “péasca” doesn’t have a specific meaning but the phrase is equivalent to “easy peasy,” where “peasy” isn’t really used on its own either.

So where does this leave us in terms of “Holly Jolly” and “Merry Berry” (or “Berry Merry”), all of which are very catchy in English?  All I can do here is offer up the individual words in Irish.  I’ve toyed with some words in Irish that rhyme with “sona,” the word used in the phrase “Nollaig Shona” (Happy/Merry Christmas).  There aren’t actually very many choices to work with, and unfortunately, the most prevalent of all such rhymes is the word “dona,” which means “bad.”  Not exactly the desired sentiment!  But here’s the inventory, anyway – all nice words to know for the season!

holly: cuileann (since it’s quite a specific word there don’t seem to be any synonyms for this, drastically reducing the possibility of finding a catchy reduplicative!)

jolly: meidhreach (merry), gealgháireach ([GYAL-γAWR-ukh]; radiant, cheerful, jolly, lit. bright-smiling), aerach (airy, gay), súgach (tipsy);

berry: caor, sméar [smayr], (as we’ve recently been discussing in recent blogs!)

merry: meidhreach (jolly), croíúil ([KREE-oo-il]; cheerful, hearty, cordial), súgach (tipsy)

Bottom line — Johnny Marks, the composer of “Have A Holly, Jolly Christmas,” would have had his work cut out for him if he had been writing in Irish.  Good news?  “Nollaig Shona” works just fine to say “Merry Christmas”!  We don’t really need reduplicatives in Irish or in English – they just liven up the language and add to its expressiveness.

So, there’s a great choice of words that mean “holly,” “jolly,” “berry,” and “merry,” but as hinted above, they’re not really conducive to extreme catchiness of phrase when combined together.  C’est la vie!  Some other day we can look at some of the numerous fun reduplicatives that do exist in Irish (rírá, ruaille buaille, and the like), but “holly jolly” will have to remain a specifically English phrase, more or less untranslatable.  Anyone have any other ideas for frásaí somheabhraithe (catchy) don NollaigRothaí fiaclacha ar casadh (cog-wheels spinning)?  SGF, Róislín

Éasca Péasca, btw, is also the name of a 2007 children’s book by Áine Ní Ghlinn, ( and sample chapter (

Nóta faoi fhuaimniú an fhrásaathdhúbaltaigh ríme”: [AH-γOO-bul-tee REE-muh].  That “γ” sign, indicating the pronunciation of the “dh,” is the symbol for a guttural throaty sound, similar to the broad “ch” sound (as in Irish “loch” and German “Buch”), but softer and lower down in the throat.  This sound is also in the word “gealgháireach” above.  Since there’s no symbol for this sound in the Roman alphabet, we use the Greek “gamma” symbol (γ ) instead.

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