Irish Language Blog

“Sweet Nothings” as Gaeilge Posted by on Oct 12, 2011 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Baothbhriathra mealltacha” – a curious phrase, especially since, as mentioned last time, it contains neither the word “sweet” nor the word “nothing.”  First let’s discus the two words that aren’t in the Irish phrase (nothing like the roundabout route!).

“Sweet” is most typically the adjective “milis” [MIL-ish], although there are other possiblities (cumhra, for scent, and binn for music).

There are many ways to say “nothing” (the word “nothing,” that is) in Irish.  They include tada, faic, aon rud, rud ar bith, a dhath (or a dhath ar bith) and aon ní (that’s “,” the noun, meaning “thing”).  The latter four (aon rud, rud ar bith, a dhath, and aon ní) can also mean “anything,” so the sentence or context has to be negative for them to have the meaning of “nothing.”  We can also say “neamhní” for “nothing,” but that is not as colloquial, used more philosophically, existentially, or in arithmetic.

So what does “baothbhriathra mealltacha” literally mean?

baoth, normally means “silly,” also “vain” or “giddy;” with reasonable frequency it’s actually a variation of “maoth,” which means, among other things “soppy” or “sentimental.”

briathar, pl. briathra, usually “verb,” but sometimes, as here, “word”

mealltach, beguiling, coaxing, but, and here’s the caveat, also deceptive or deceitful

Now, how “nothing-ish” any whisperers’ “sweet nothings” are is up to the individual.  A lot of people see the term “sweet nothings” as implying complete insincerity.  Others see it as simply using the standard terms of endearment, presumably for the standard effect.  So giving all the “baothbhriathra” whisperers out there the benefit of the doubt, and assuming a little more “macántacht chainte” and a little less of the “baothántacht,” here are some terms you can use.

All of these “téarmaí ceana” are in direct address (i.e. ready to whisper!).  Please note that as part of being in direct address (sa tuiseal gairmeach), these phrases all start with “a” in Irish, not with “mo” (my).  But it’s fairly standard practice to translate them as “my”-phrases since English would tend to use the possessive adjective with terms of endearment.  So the literal meaning of “A stór!” is closer to “O sweetheart!” but it’s often translated as “My sweetheart!”  The single letter “a” here is the vocative particle, and it causes the sound change you see at the beginning of the words croí, cuisle, grá, muirnín, searc, and taisce

The translations provided are guidelines.  I think it’s pretty hard to distinguish between “my darling” and “my dear” in English, so some of these are fairly interchangeable.

a stór!, my sweetheart!

a stóirín!, my darling!, lit. my little sweetheart, but the “little” part is more endearing than diminutive

a chroí! [uh khree], my dear! (lit. heart)

a chuisle!, my dear! (lit. pulse)

a chuisle mo chroí!, my heart’s beloved! (lit. pulse of my heart)

a shearc mo chroí!, love of my heart!

a mhuirnín!, my darling!, my beloved!, my sweetheart!, my dear!

a rún!, my dear!

a ansa!, my dear!, dearest one (not to mistaken for the homonym, “ansa” meaning “difficult;” hmm, well, come to think of it …)

a ghrá!, my love!

a ghrá geal!, my beloved!, lit. my bright love

a chumann!, my darling!

a thaisce! [uh HASH-kyuh], my darling!, which you now may find texted as “a #” – so I guess we’re no longer simply whispering ár mbaothbhriathra mealltacha.  Just keeping up with the times!  Nóta do Mheiriceánaigh: the symbol # has to be read as “hash key,” not as “pound sign,” for the proper effect here.  The symbol is also called “hash tag,” but that wouldn’t give us the bilingual wordplay.

Bhuel, sin é don bhlag seo.  Aon téarma eile ag éinne?  Ní shílim go bhfuil aon Ghaeilge ar “snookums.”  “A *shnucuim!”?  Ar ndóigh, ní “a snook” (ordóg le srón) atá i gceist agam anseo ach an téarma ceana Béarla.  SGF, Róislín

Gluais: caint, speech, speaking (cainte, of speech, of speaking); cion, affection (ceana, of affection); éinne, anyone; macántacht, honesty


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