Irish Language Blog

Ababú! — Cá as a dtáinig an litir “b” as áit sa bhlag deireanach?  Posted by on Dec 21, 2014 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Bhuel, some of you may have noticed the mysterious “b” in the emailed version of the last blog.  In one case, it replaced the word “oíche” and in another case, it showed up at the end of what should have been “Nollag.”

After staring at those words for a while, when I got my own emailed copy, I realized that it must have happened while I was highlighting the words (ag aibhsiú na bhfocal) to make the print bold (trom), the ‘b” being part of the character string for “bold.”  Bhuel, sin rud nár tharla dom roimhe seo agus tá súil agam nach dtarlóidh sé arís!

Dála an scéil, tá sé ceartaithe anois.  So if you read the blog now, everything should be “ceart.”

But to look on the positive side, being focused on the letter “b” finally gave me a nice chance to use the interjection (an intriacht) which opens the title of this blog — ababú!

Ababú” is loosely translated as “Heavens!,” but remember, this is “Heavens” as an interjection, not the actual plural of “Neamh” (Heaven).  In fact, the plural of “Neamh” is an interesting question.  The word is often considered today not to have a plural, just a genitive case form (Neimhe); historically, one could use “Neamha” for “Heavens.”  Or sometimes “Neamh” itself could be translated as plural, if needed.  And then there’s also “Na Flaithis,” also another word for “Heaven.”  “Na Flaithis”  is inherently plural in Irish, as we can see by the use of “na” (“the” for plural nouns).  “Na Flaithis” is not considered to have a singular form as such; “an flaitheas” (the singular form) means “rule” or “sovereignty,” but not “heaven.”

There are a few other interjections and exclamations that refer to “heaven” in English, but don’t mention “heaven” in Irish, such as:

Thank Heaven! – Buíochas le Dia!, lit. thanks (be) with God

For Heaven’s sake! – De gheall ar Dhia!, lit. for the sake of God

And completely separate from religion:

Good Heavens!  – A thiarcais, which can also be translated as “Dear dear!” or “Dear me!”  As far as I know, the word “thiarcais” only exists in this lenited form, used as an exclamation.  I’ve never been able to track down anything like “tiarcas” or “tiarcais,” but have always been curious about the possibilities.

As for “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” and “Heavens to Betsy!” I have to admit, I’ve got no particular suggestions, since I don’t think these were ever traditional Irish phrases!  How “Murgatroyd” ever even got into the exclamation is a curious tale in and of itself, but with little bearing on Irish.  For the a few more details, including its use by Snagglepuss in the 1960s, in the 1944 movie Meet the people, and the Murgatroyds’ appearance in Ruddigore, you might want to check out The Phrase Finder (   As for the “Betsy” expression, The Phrase Finder concludes that the origin is unknown, although there have been various theories ( and

Anyway, speaking of Snagglepuss, or at least of cartúin na seascaidí, I’ve always wondered if Fred Flintstone’s catchphrase, “Yabba dabba doo,” might have been loosely based on this Irish expression.  Not that there’s any particular Irish heritage to the show, but one never knows.

And there you have it, an explanation of those mysterious b’s, and a chance to check out some fun Irish interjections.  Ababú — cén t-ábhar a sháródh sin?  SGF – Róislín

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