Irish Language Blog

Ainteanna nó Aintíní? (Aunts or Aunties?) Posted by on May 14, 2013 in Irish Language

 (le Róislín)

We’ve recently mentioned Mother’s Day (Lá na Máithreacha) and Father’s Day (Lá na nAithreacha), and we’ve looked at various mother/father expressions (e.g. máthair na mballach, lus gan athair gan mháthair).  For the next couple of blogs, we’ll check out na hainteanna (or should we say “na haintíní“?) and na huncailí (or the occasionally used “uncailíní“).

As it happens, there is now an official “Auntie’s Day ® ” founded five years ago by Melanie Notkin, author of Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers and All Women Who Love Kids (  I don’t know to what extent it is celebrated outside the US, but this year’s date is July 28th.  So how would we say “Auntie’s Day” in Irish?  Following the same pattern as “Lá na Máithreacha / na nAithreacha,” it would be either “Lá na nAintíní” or “Lá na nAinteanna.”   I don’t yet recall seeing any cártaí beannachta Gaeilge for “Auntie’s Day”–maybe this blog will provide some moltaí!

Before we proceed further, let’s look at the “ai” sound of “aint” and “aintín.”  It’s like the “a” sound most American speakers use for “aunt” itself, as in “ant” (the insect).  The typical exceptions, for the US, are New England and eastern Virginia, where “ahnt” prevails.  Maidir le Ceanada, I’m not really sure which pronunciation dominates, and Britain itself presents a pretty mixed picture.  For those who want to pursue the ant/ahnt aspect, there are plenty of websites to check out (over 6000 hit for “pronunciation of aunt,” in quotes, in my recent search).  I bring this up here mainly to prevent any confusion with the slang English word “ain’t,” which is, of course, completely different in sound and completely unrelated in meaning.  I mention it simply because of the coincidental spelling similarity.  BTW, for the English spelling, both “auntie” and “aunty” are accepted; I’ll be sticking to “auntie” here.

Choosing between “Lá na nAintíní” and “Lá na nAinteanna” actually brings up a really interesting point about the aint/aintín vocabulary.  The word “aintín,” a diminutive form closer to “auntie,” seems to largely be replacing “aint” (aunt), at least in instructional materials.  In Irish, the terms seems to have leveled off, so most of the time, we simply see “aintín.”  That’s what’s given in most textbooks and dictionaries these days, especially the mionfhoclóirí.

I rarely hear the word “aint” used in Irish conversation.  It’s almost always “aintín.”  I checked out a few famous literary/show-biz aunts to see how their names turn out in Irish.  The Brandon Thomas play, Charley’s Aunt, has been translated into Irish as Aintín Shéarlais (aintín, technically the diminutive, being used for “aunt”).  I actually looked a bit online for “Auntie Mame” but can’t find any translation of it into Irish, not too surprisingly.  But if it were to be translated, I assume that it would also be “aintín,” since the original is “auntie.”  In fact, I’d assume any use of “auntie” would be translated as “aintín.”  It’s really the translation of “aunt” or the use of “aint,” as such, that’s the wild card these days.

I also checked out two famous aunts of the Muggle world, Petunia Dursley and her sister-in-law, Marge Eileen Dursley.  How Marge got an Irish middle name “Eileen” might be an interesting query in and of itself, but for current purposes, suffice it to say that she’s usually known as “Aunt Marge.”  However, early in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (English version), when Dudley Dursley is counting up his birthday presents, his mother refers to the gift from “Auntie Marge,” using the more childish form given the child-oriented situation.  But the Irish translation (Harry Potter agus an Órchloch) uses “Aint Marge” for both “Auntie Marge” and “Aunt Marge,” with no use of “aintín” to suggest the more childish nature of the word “auntie.”  In this case, then, the translator, Máire Nic Mhaoláin, breaks from the trend, having “aint” serve for both “auntie” and “aunt,” instead of using “aintín” as the all-purpose word for a parent’s sibling.

So to wrap up this part of the discussion, Irish has both “aint” and “aintín,” and they loosely approximate the difference between “aunt” and “auntie,” but “aintín” seems to be gaining ground, gradually replacing “aint.”  Now let’s look at some of the forms of these words, starting with “aintín,” since it seems to be more widely used.

an aintín, the aunt, the auntie (although a few sources consider this a masculine noun, with the “-ín” ending, typically masculine, as in “cailín,” the masculine noun meaning “girl,” in which case we’d have “an t-aintín” for “the aunt”)

From here on, I’ll just translate “aintín” as “aunt,” since it doesn’t always have the “auntie” implication.  Probably more typical than actually saying “the aunt” would be “my aunt,” “your aunt,” etc.  Those forms would be:

singular: m’aintín, d’aintín, a aintín (his aunt), a haintín (her aunt)

plural: ár n-aintín (our aunt), bhur n-aintín (your aunt), a n-aintín (their aunt)

na haintín, of the aunt (hata dearg na haintín, the aunt’s red hat); admittedly, we’d probably be more likely to say “hata dearg m’aintín” (my aunt’s red hat)

aintíní, aunts; na haintíní, the aunts

aintíní, of aunts (geáitsí meargánta aintíní meargánta, madcap antics of madcap aunts — a popular theme in movies and plays, it seems)

na n-aintíní, of the aunts (geáitsí meargánta na n-aintíní meargánta, the madcap antics of the madcap aunts)

And here’s “aint“:

an aint, the aunt; also: m’aint, my aunt; d’aint (or “t’aint“), a aint, a haint, ár n-aint, bhur n-aint, a n-aint

ainte, of an aunt (grá ainte, an aunt’s love)

na hainte, of the aunt (hata dearg na hainte, the aunt’s red hat; similarly “hata dearg m’ainte,” my aunt’s red hat)

ainteanna, aunts; na hainteanna, the aunts

ainteanna, of aunts (ról ainteanna i ndinimic an teaghlaigh, role of aunts in the dynamics of the family)

na n-ainteanna, of the aunts (ainmneacha na n-ainteanna, the names of the aunts)

Actually, this is all just the tip of the iceberg for terms having to do with kinship.  The word “aintín” is relatively new in Irish.  The more traditional concept is “deirfiúr athar” (father’s sister), deirfiúr mháthar (mother’s sister), etc.  There are also some fairly archaic terms like “athaireog” and “bráthaireog” (paternal aunt), “máithreán” and “máithrín” (maternal aunt, the second one can also mean “little mother”).

I’m still on the lookout for some traditional Irish expressions about aunts who are “canónaithe” (sainted), à la Katherine Hepburn’s, at least in The Philadelphia Story.   Or perhaps one who is “meadhránach” (giddy), as H.D.A. [sic] wrote in The Avicultural Magazine, 1913, regarding the variety of species of birds, “It bewilders one, and one feels inclined to exclaim ‘My giddy aunt.’ ”  The giddiness of aunts was even further immortalized by the play of the same name, My Giddy Aunt, set a bit mind-bogglingly in India, 1960, in the post-Raj era.   Any parallels in Irish to those English expressions?  As for “materteral” (of or pertaining to an aunt, auntlike), or its variant, “materterine,” I see no trace of this as a vocabulary word in Irish.  Foclóir ar bith agus ní cuimhin liom aon fhocal mar sin a chloisteáil.  While the Oxford English Dictionary does cite a few examples of “materteral” and “materterine,” it basically dismisses the word as “humorously pedantic.”  Oddly, though, while “avuncular” is a more widely used word in English, I don’t see any sign of it in Irish either.   I suppose in both cases, one could improvise with “ar nós aintín” (or “ar nós ainte“) or “ar nós uncail.”  Stay tuned for the next blog and we’ll talk about several ways to say “uncle,” literally, and maybe even dive into some nathanna cainte as well.

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  1. Angus-Michel:

    Anseo i gCeanada, deir an chuid is mó ‘ant’ in áit ‘awnt’, ach dúirt cailín amháin i mo rang i meánscoil ‘awnt’. Nílim cinnte cén fáth.

    • róislín:

      @Angus-Michel Suimiúil, go raibh maith agat. Maidir leis an gcailín sin, b’fhéidir mar gheall ar thír dhúchais a muintire?

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