Irish Language Blog

9/11: 11 Meán Fómhair Posted by on Sep 3, 2011 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

September will always be remembered, at least for lucht labhartha na Gaeilge i Meiriceá, as the “9/11” month.  While there could be a solid month of blogs on the topic of “ionsaithe 11 Meán Fómhair,” this blog will look just at the terms for the day itself.  Perhaps some upcoming blogs can address other aspects of the tragedy.

For American English-speakers, it’s quite natural to refer to the event as “9/11” (“nine-eleven”).  One reason is that the American system for writing dates as numerals is “month-day-year,” so 9/11 is September 11th.  In Britain and Ireland, and probably other countries (do thírse?), the system is “day-month-year.”  So saying “9/11” as “nine-eleven” to mean “September 11th” isn’t really logical from the international viewpoint; “9/11” would be “November 9th.”  A second reason is simply that American English is especially likely to seek out the shortest way to say anything, as seen in the infamous and humorous  “Y’up yet?” dialogue (the answer is “M’up” and so it continues) or the penchant for company slogans like “Gotta hava Wawa” or company names like “Shop n Bag” (no apostrophes even, and that’s official – I just checked their website).

So the most frequently encountered ways to say “9/11” in Irish are not like the typical English, which is simply with the digits, but with the full name of the month, which is “Meán Fómhair.”  This also has a more traditional ring in Irish, which, as a language, I don’t find to be as abbreviation- and acronym-laden as English is – ní fós, ar a laghad.  What one typically sees in Irish is either:

11 Meán Fómhair (11 September), or

an 11ú Meán Fómhair (the 11th of September, with “ú” standing for the word “aonú” as used in phrases like “an t-aonú lá déag” or “an t-aonú capall déag”, meaning “the 11th day” or the “11th horse,” respectively).  The “-ú” is basically like the English “th” (the ordinal number suffix)  .

Is there any other day of the year that is commemorated so specifically in a numeric fashion?  July 4th is firmly entrenched as an American holiday, but it’s not generally called 7/4, at least afaik.  I also don’t recall the date of John F. Kennedy’s assassination being referred to as 11/22.  “Where were you on 11/22?” doesn’t sound familiar although I see a limited application of it online, usually including “/63” at the end, for the year.  Likewise for 12/7 (Pearl Harbor).  Or, trasna an locháin, could one say “ar 17/3” (which for Americans would be “ar 3/17”) in discussing Lá Fhéile Pádraig?

I think the prevalence of “9/11” over “September 11th” in English has to do with the 24/7- OMG-L8R culture in which we’re living today.  Sometimes it seems we go for giorrúcháin and acrainmneacha for their own sake rather than for any major savings of linguistic effort (“oh-em-gee” has just as many syllables as “Oh My God,” though admittedly it’s more logo-like, when used for a TV show).

At any rate, whatever the exact reasons, Americans tends to refer to the event most commonly as “9/11.”  The numbers have become a noun in their own right.  So we can say sentences like “9/11 was …” or “on 9/11.”

Certainly there are times when one might say, “September 11th” or “on the 11th day of September” in English, but they tend to be in a more formal register.  Or, they could be less specific, refering to any “September 11th.”  “9/11” as a frása is inextricably linked to 2001.  “9/11” is also very eye-catching as a graphic for headlines, TV program titles, and so on, and so seems to dominate the media, at least the print side of it.

In Irish, on the other hand, most references I see do specify the month (Meán Fómhair), perhaps to avoid any seeming ambiguity with “9/11” being interpreted as “November 9th” (the 9th day of the 11th month, i.e. 9 Mí na Samhna).

When one says in English “nine eleven,” it’s simply eerie how the date echoes the phone number Americans are trained to call in emergencies, 911 (“nine one one”).  Perhaps not a comhtharlú at all.  At any rate, in my recollection the two number patterns (9/11, 9-1-1) sorted themselves quite quickly.  I recall once, a little under ten years ago, referring to the NY event as “nine-one-one” (i mBéarla) and quickly realizing that it just didn’t sit right on the tongue that way.

Of course, if one literally wants to say “nine-eleven” in Irish, one can.  It’s “a naoi a haon déag.”  But when I Googled that, the only result I got was the score for a sports game.  Separating the phrase to “a naoi” and “a haon déag” brings up a hopelessly large number of websites about uimhreacha in Irish in general, and so was completely inconclusive.

And conversely, I’m sure the phrase “9/11” could be heard among Irish speakers as “a naoi a haon déag,” especially those i Meiriceá, since “nine-eleven” is what’s heard on the media so often.  And it wouldn’t surprise me to hear a nearly full-fledged Irish sentence with the English pronunciation of “9/11” embedded in it, since Ireland, like most bilingual cultures, is full of code-switching (like “Cá raibh tú ar nine-eleven?”).  Given that I’ve heard English words or phrases like “hit” (“an chéad hit a bhí acu,” describing a band) and “guilt complex” peppering the Irish of some of the cainteoirí Gaeilge is líofa, nothing really surprises me as far as blending languages.

While there’s much more that could be said about 9/11 (aka 11 Meán Fómhair aka an 11ú Meán Fómhair), this is at least the tip of the iceberg.  More thoughts to follow.  SGF, ó Róislín

Gluais: do thírse, your country; ionsaí, attack (pl: ionsaithe, attacks); líofa, fluent

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Keep learning Irish with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it


  1. Mary Dooley:

    As a side note- 9-1-1 also refers to the phone number to call incase of an emergency, which could be a reason that we use 9/11 for September 11. I would also like to thank all those kind people who took in stranded American vacationers when the airplanes were grounded on 9/11.

    • róislín:

      @Mary Dooley ‘Sea, a Mháire. Agus aontaím leat maidir leis na daoine cineálta sin, go mór mór in áiteanna mar Gander, Talamh an Éisc (i gCeanada). Bhí mé féin i mo chónaí i dTalamh an Éisc tráth agus is féidir liom a rá cé chomh cineálta is atá na daoine ansin, fiú nuair nach mbionn éigeandáil mar 9/11 ann. Ní comhtharlú é, bfhéidir, go bhfuil an focal “flahoolach” (generous) i mBéarla Thalamh an Éisc, focal a thagann go díreach ón Ghaeilge a bhí ag a sinsir. An bhfuil a fhios agat cad é an bunfhocal (i nGaeilge)? Nó an bhfuil an t-eolas sin ag duine ar bith eile? Beidh an freagra i mblag éigin eile. Go raibh maith agat as scríobh isteach, a Mháire.

      Níl a fhios agam cé chomh minic is a labhraíonn tú Gaeilge agus mar sin, seo gluaisín do m’fhreagra:
      cineálta, kind (adj)
      comhtharlú, coincidence
      éigeandáil, crisis
      fiú, even (as adverb, not as in “an even surface”)
      maidir le, regarding
      Talamh an Éisc, Newfoundland, lit. Land of the Fish (fish as a singular noun, which is noteworthy considering the former abundance of fish in the waters around cósta Thalamh an Éisc. Presumably, here it’s “fish singular” symbolically representing “fish plural.” Cineál sineicdicé, is dócha. “Land of the Fish” (plural) would be “Talamh na nIasc.”
      tráth, at one time

Leave a comment: