Irish Language Blog

A Little More on “Croch” (hang) and “Crochtacht” (steepness) in Irish Posted by on Apr 25, 2015 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Some of you may have read the recent blog on the mysterious and apparently misprinted word in some recent editions of An Béal Bocht (The Poor Mouth), a hilarious satirical novel by “Myles na gCopaleen” (aka Flann O’Brien aka Brian Ó Nualláin aka Brian O’Nolan).  So what was that word again–“*corchtacht” [sic]?  You may remember that I said that I had searched high and low for that word, for about 20 years, and never could find “corchtacht,” as such, in any dictionary, printed work, or online source.

When I finally had a chance to look a much earlier edition of the book, from 1942, which is pretty hard to come by, I found the answer to the dilemma.  It was actually what I had expected.  The phrase in the original book was actually “ó chrochtacht,” based on “crochtacht.”  Somehow, the “r” and the “o” got transposed in the later printing, giving us the phrase “ó chorchtacht,” based on a hypothetical “*corchtacht” [sic].

So that mistéir is solved, and I hope that that tidbit of information will be useful to other readers of the úrscéal, which is hilarious in Irish or English, but especially so in Irish.  Sin mo bharúil, pé scéal é.

But what about this word “crochtacht,” aside from the fact that it’s fun to say, with two voiceless velar fricatives (the “ch’s”) followed directly by stops (the “t’s”).

The basic meaning of “crochtacht” is “steepness,” and, rather delightfully, it can also mean an “affectation in speech” or “a state of being tongue-tied.”    It’s a feminine noun, so to say “the steepness” or “the affectation in speech” or “the state of being tongue-tied,” we use (… oh, I love it … ):

an chrochtacht [un KHROKH-tukht], with three voiceless velar fricatives in a row.

The basic word from which “crochtacht” is derived is “croch,” which can mean “hang,” “raise up,” “lift,” “interrupt,” “stop,” or “crucify,” amongst other possibilities.  Here are some more places where we see forms of this word:

crochtín, a hammock

crochadóir, a hangman, also someone with a villainous look on their face (ní nach ionadh)

crochóga, suspenders for socks, as opposed to “gealasacha” which are for trousers

aill chrochta, an overhanging cliff

coir chrochta, a hanging offence (punishable by hanging)

cosán crochta, a steep path

gleann crochta, a hanging valley

Those examples just showed us two versions of “crochta” as an adjective.  So why do we have “crochta” for “gleann” and “cosán,” and “chrochta” for “aill” and “coir“?  Freagra (1) thíos.

And here’s one more example with “chrochta” as the adjective: caint chrochta.  And that would mean … (freagra 2 thíos).

On a more positive note, there’s the phrase “Croch suas é!” which might surprise learners the first time they encounter it, because it means … (freagra 3 thíos).

And yes, we can even use “croch” as in the English phrase “to hang about.”  So “hanging about” would be “ag crochadh timpeall” or “ag crochadh thart.”

“Hang in,” though, which implies patience, or not giving up, jumps to different semantics.  Using “coinnigh” (keep), we can say “Coinnigh leis!” (keep at it, lit. keep with it) or “Bíodh foighne agat!” (be patient, lit. let there be patience at you).

So if the twists and turns of the Irish language sometimes seem baffling, “coinnigh leis.”  De réir a chéile a thógtar na caisleáin, mar a deir an seanfhocal.  SGF — Róislín


1) Tá gleann agus cosán firinscneach agus mar sin níl séimhiú ann.  Go díreach mar na frásaí, “gleann mór” agus “cosán mór.”  Tá “aill” agus “coir” baininscneach agus mar sin tá séimhiú ann.  Go díreach mar na frásaí “aill mhór” agus “coir mhór.”

2) “affected speech,” although, in theory at least, it could also mean “tongue-tied speech.”

3) “Sing up!” or “Sing out!,” said to encourage singers.

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  1. Bryan:

    Chuala mé úsáid eile ar an raidio an tráthnóna seo : “parlaimint crochtacht” (or something close), maidir leis an toghchán atá at teacht sa Bhreatain.

    • róislín:

      @Bryan Suimiúil. B’fhéidir “Parlaimint chrochta / chrochtacha.” De ghnáth, i mo thaithí féin, cloistear “Parlaimint gan tromlach,” hung parliament, (agus “Dáil gan tromlach,” hung Dáil) má tá duine ag caint faoin pholaitíocht, ach is dócha go mbeadh an chiall chéanna i gceist. “Without a majority” is ciall le “gan tromlach.”

      Of course, it’s also interesting to ponder the possibility of “Parliament chrochtacha” meaning a “parliament of affected speech,” especially since “parliament” originally comes from a verb meaning “to speak,” anyway. And “crochtacht” can mean “an affectation in speech.” Hmmm!

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