Irish Language Blog

Ag Cur Cat ar Fhuinneoga (or at least ‘á n-oscailt,’ the windows, that is) Posted by on Mar 4, 2014 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Cé a chuir an cat anseo?  An cat é féin, ag dreapadóireacht!

Cé a chuir an cat anseo? An cat é féin, ag dreapadóireacht!

Recently we’ve gone from discussing bridges, like Droichead na Leathphingine (Baile Átha Cliath) and Droichead na Cónaidhme (Ceanada) to discussing windows (fuinneoga).  Well, one window (fuinneog amháin) anyway, the well-known “Carpenter Gothic” one in Grant Wood’s American Gothic.  So let’s look a little closer at the word “window” itself in its various forms in Irish.

First, we’ll look at the basics of the word, then a few types of windows, and then a couple of phrases about windows, including the somewhat cryptic one in the title of this blog.

Here are the basics.  Since “fuinneog” is a feminine noun, there is lenition (séimhiú) when we say “the window.”

fuinneog [FWIN-yohg], a window

an fhuinneog [un IN-yohg], the window

fuinneoige, of a window

na fuinneoige, of the window

fuinneoga, windows

na fuinneoga, the windows

fuinneog, of windows

na bhfuinneog, of the windows

And a few sample sentences.  Many sample sentences about windows in textbooks seem to be about broken windows so I’ll not break from tradition here:

Tá an fhuinneog briste.  The window is broken.

Tá an fhuinneog bhriste daor.  The broken window is expensive.

Bhris an fear an fhuinneog.  The man broke the window.

Bristear fuinneoga amanna má bhíonn páistí ag imirt stickball sa tsráid.

Briseadh an fhuinneog.  The window was broken.  (that is, an unnamed or unknown person broke the window)

And a few types of windows:

boghfhuinneog [BOH-IN-yohg] or cuasfhuinneog [KOO-uss-IN-yohg], bow-window

fuinneog comhla [… KOH-luh] or just cáisimint on its own, casement-window, both alternately found as “fuinneog chomhla” and “fuinneog cháisiminte

fuinneog fhrancach [… RAHN-kukh], french-window

And parts of windows:

sais fuinneoige, window-sash

pána fuinneoige, window-pane

leac fuinneoige, window-sill

A couple of occupational terms:

niteoir fuinneog,  window-washer

feistitheoir fuinneog or cóiritheoir fuinneog or maisitheoir fuinneog: window-dresser (lit. dresser of windows, note the genitive plural form, “fuinneog,” same as the basic form).  I’ve found four phrases for the activity itself:  feistiú fuinneog, gléasadh fuinneog, maisiú fuinneog, and cóiriú fuinneog.  For some reason, “gléastóir fuinneog” (based on “gléasadh”) doesn’t seem to show up online or in my dictionaries as the occupation itself, perhaps because it would mean more like a “window-fitter” or a “window-mounter.”     

And interestingly, in Irish, neither of the two main terms for “window-dressing” as a disparaging term has the word “window” in it:

Ní ach cur i gcéill a bhí ann.  It wasn’t but make-believe (lit. It isn’t but make-believe that was in it)

A little less severe, but still in the abstract, is “dea-chosúlacht” (lit. “good appearance” for “window-dressing” as a cover-up) as in “oibríochtaí dea-chosúlachta” (window-dressing operations).

So what about the phrase “putting cats on windows” (ag cur cat ar fhuinneoga) as in the title of this blog?  Well, it strikes me as an unusual phrase and I actually find no cybertrail for it, even having tried the infinitive form, past tense, etc.  But it is a traditional expression and probably shows up more in some print resources that haven’t been searchably digitized yet.

There are actually two versions of the phrase:

ag cur cat ar fhuinneoga

ag cur madraí ar fhuinneoga

They both mean “bluffing.”

Now there are some other ways to say “to bluff,” like “(a bheith) ag cluanaíocht” or “dallach dubh a chur air/uirthi, srl.” (to bluff him, her, etc.).  But the “cat” and “dog” phrases are certainly catchy and also intriguing.   Let’s look at them a little more literally:

ag cur [putting] cat [cats, literally “of cats” but we don’t need the “of” in English] ar fhuinneoga [on/at windows].  Note that while “cat” looks like it might be singular (“cat,” a cat), it also means “of cats”.  To say “putting a cat on windows” would be:

ag cur cait ar fhuinneoga, which would probably also mean we were stretching that one cat mightily

So presumably we could just say “ag cur cait ar fhuinneog,” but I can’t say I’ve found any useful examples of that, either.  As far as I can tell, the phrase doesn’t exist with just one cat!  Maybe I should ask the legendary “cat ar an díon stáin te,” probably the closest neighbor to the cat on/at the window(s)!

The phrase becomes all the more interesting when we note that dogs can be used instead of cats:

ag cur madraí ar fhuinneoga, putting dogs on windows

Here it’s clearer that there’s more than one dog, since “madraí” has an obvious plural ending (the “-í“), unlike “cat,” which can be translated as either “a cat” or “of cats.”

Does it matter if the phrase refers to a dog or a cat?  Apparently not!

As for why the phrase says “ar fhuinneoga” (literally “on” windows, could be translated as “at” windows), that remains a bit curious to me.  Are we holding dogs or cats up to windows, like mirrors, so they see their reflection and get confused?  Or do they see the room beyond and get confused because they can’t get behind the glass?  Those seem like reasonable interpretations.   Barúil ar bith eile ag duine ar bith eile?

One final point about windows is that we don’t usually focus on our feline and canine pets’ reactions to them.  Mostly, especially in elementary lessons for any language, we talk about opening and closing them, as was alluded to in this blog’s title.  Here are some examples:

ag oscailt na fuinneoige, opening the window

ag oscailt na bhfuinneog, opening the windows

á hoscailt, opening it (referring to a feminine noun, like “window”)

á n-oscailt, opening them

ag dúnadh na fuinneoige, closing the window

ag dúnadh na bhfuinneog, closing the windows

á dúnadh, closing it (referring to a feminine noun, like “window”)

á ndúnadh, closing them

Well, kits, cats, dogs, windows.   Plenty of food for thought, with both grammar basics and fun, if off-beat, phrases.

Maybe the next Irish text I read will include these cat and dog phrases for “bluffing” and give them more of a context.  Meanwhile, while we’re still on this architecture/engineering kick (droichid agus fuinneoga), what’s up next?  “Tacaí crochta” do dhuine ar bith?  Nó “há-hánna”?

Maybe, or maybe not, since I’ve been hankering to get started on “Naomh Pádraig” (aka “Pádraig Naofa” or “St. Patrick”).  By the way, I see that a flurry of recent articles and comments have finally gotten around to emphasizing that the saint’s nickname isn’t “Patty” though that version is often seen in America, especially at this time of year.  Even “Paddy” is a bit casual for the saint, but “Patty” is beyond beyond.  A “patty,” in Irish, is a “pióigín” or a “pióigín bheag” (a little pie), a cooking term (as it is in English).  So next up, shamrocks or soffits?  We’ll see.  SGF — Róislín   

nasc don phictiúr:

Gluais: cónaidhm, confederation; naofa [NEE-fuh OR NAY-fuh], holy; naomh [neev or nayv], saint;  leathphingin, half-penny; pióigín, a patty, lit. a little pie; pióigín bheag, a patty, lit. a little little pie.  Hmm, so if we want to indicate that the “patty” itself is small, I guess we’d have to say, “pióigín bheag bhídeach.” As for the literal translation, perhaps we could translate this phrase as “wee little tiny pie” (or a “wee tiny little pie”).  Of course, most “patties” are fairly small, so it might not be necessary to clarify!  BTW, this word for “patty” shows up variously as masculine or feminine according to various dictionaries.  If we consider it masculine, we’d use “beag” and “bídeach,” not “bheag” and “bhídeach.”



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  1. G R Ferguson:

    á dúnadh, opening it (referring to a feminine noun, like “window”)

    á ndúnadh, opening them


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