Irish Language Blog

Ag Tarraingt ar Oíche Shamhna (Halloween’s Coming!) Posted by on Oct 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

(le Róislín)

Halloween is, of course, a very Celtic topic, and you may be familiar with some of the basics of its role sa bhféilire Ceilteach.  So in today’s blog, we’ll mostly focus on the phrase itself, its pronunciation and basic meaning.

The word order of the Irish phrase is a reversal of the English.  That’s assuming, of course, that we think of the word “Halloween” in its original sense (Hallow + e’en, with the “e’en” standing for “evening”).  Curious, isn’t it, how we rarely use the apostrophe for “Halloween” anymore, even though the same syncopation process, dropping the “v,” occurs occasionally in “whenever” (“Whene’er you make a promise,” as Girl Scouts will recall).  To the best of my knowledge, that apostrophe remains (the possible spelling “Wheneer” seems atypical).  Hmm, I wonder if the ubiquitous “whatever” that we hear so much of nowadays will ever get apostrophized (“I was, like, whate’er”?)

Anyway, “Hallowe’en” (to fully punctuate the word), is essentially “hallowed evening,” whereas “Oíche Shamhna” is “eve of Samhain,” with the “eve” part first.  This is typical Irish word order, since the word “Samhain” is being used to modify “oíche,” similar to an adjective.

Oíche” [EE-hyuh] is the general word for “night” in Irish, and when used before holiday names, it can also mean “eve,” i.e. the night before, as in “Oíche Nollag” (Christmas Eve, as opposed to “Oíche Lá Nollag,” the night of Christmas Day).  Irish does have a word that is cognate to “night,” “nicht,” “nuit,” “nox/noctis,” et al., which is the “-nocht” part of “anocht” (tonight), but this “-nocht” cognate is limited to set phrases in Irish, and there are only a few of them, at that.  “Oíche” is a feminine noun, as you might recognize from the widely used phrase, “Oíche mhaith” [EE-hyuh wah], where the adjective “maith” becomes “mhaith” to match the feminine noun.  To be thorough in the pronunciation notes, I should add that in the North, instead of the “wah” sound for “mhaith,” it’s more like the English word “why,” but very breathy, like “why” with a puff of breath.

byb (or are we not minimizing “by the by” to “textese” yet? — BYB mostly shows up as “Bihar Yoga Bharati” online!).   Anyway, by the by (maith dom an t-athluaiteachas), that “hyuh” sound I indicated uses the “y” to indicate the specific  “h” sound of “human” or “humid,” not the actual “hy-” sound of “hybrid” or “hydrogen” and not the “h” sound of “hoover.”

Shamhna” [HOW-nuh] comes from Samhain [SOW-in] (1 November), which was the Celtic New Year.  “Shamhna” means “of Samhain” and is lenited here after “oíche.”  In certain other situations, the form “Samhna” (unlenited) is used, for example, in “cultacha Samhna” (Halloween costumes).  And, as I know I’ve explained pre-this-blog, the “sow” of the pronunciation guide for “Samhain” is like English “sow” (the pig), at least in American English.  That’s “sow” as typically rhyming with “now” or “Frau.”  Not as in “sow” (to sow seeds, etc.).

So that’s the basics, word-wise.  Some upcoming blogs may cover more Halloween topics, such as costumes, candies or sweets, decorations, typical “tricks” and supernatural figures.

Other blogs in this series have covered the Halloween season, including “Samhain (1 Mí na Samhna): The First Day of Winter,, and “Cultacha Samhna Móréilimh [best-selling] na Bliana 2010,

Meanwhile, for another view of Halloween, you might like to read “The Japanese Knotweed of Festivals” by Sean Coughlan, from October 31, 2007, ag .   Bhur mbarúlacha?

SGF, Róislín

Gluais: barúil, opinion; féilire, calendar; maith dom, forgive me (for)

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