Irish Language Blog

An Caisearbhán (The Dandelion), Cuid 2: Other Names for ‘Dandelion’ in Irish Posted by on May 27, 2016 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

grianghraf:, le Petr Kratochvil

grianghraf:, le Petr Kratochvil


Last time we looked at the word most typically taught for “dandelion” (caisearbhán [kah-SHAR-uh-vawn]) and checked out its interesting etymology (cos, foot, or maybe gas, stem + searbh, bitter + -án).  Today we’ll look at the different ways this word can be used in sentences or phrases, and then we’ll move on to some other names for the same plant.

Caisearbhán” follows the same pattern as words like “cupán” or “cábán,” and it’s masculine (grammatically):

an caisearbhán, the dandelion

caisearbháin, of a dandelion (bláthcheann caisearbháin, a dandelion flower head)

an chaisearbháin, of the dandelion (blas dhuilleoga an chaisearbháin, the taste of the leaves of the dandelion)

And since we rarely see just one dandelion growing in our lawn:

caisearbháin, dandelions

na caisearbháin, the dandelions

caisearbhán, of dandelions

na gcaisearbhán, of the dandelions

You might like to compare those forms with, for example, cupán: an cupán, cupáin, an chupáin, and pl: cupáin, na cupáin, cupán, na gcupán.  You might have heard the last in that series in the title of the song, “Amhrán na gCupán” (The Cup Song, lit. the song of the cups), for which I have provided a nasc, thíos.

Here are a few more sentences to practice (freagraí agus aistriúcháin thíos):

1) Tá blas searbh ar dhuilleoga an _____.

2) Is féidir fíon a dhéanamh as _________.

3) Is féidir duilleoga an _________ a úsáid i sailéad.

4) Ná hith duilleoga na ­­­­­­­­­­­­______________sin.  Spraeáladh lotnaidicíd orthu.

Having said all of that, there are a few names for dandelions that are based on entirely different concepts:

a) bior na brighde, or in modern spelling, “bior na bríde.” As far as I can tell, this phrase could have two different origins, depending on which “bior” is intended. One set of meanings for “bior” can mean “skewer,” “lance,” “bar,” etc., and the other, a completely different word, means “water,” “well,” or “stream. ”  For the latter, I’d add that “bior” isn’t the most typical word for any of these; the more typical choices would be “uisce,” “tobar,” and ‘sruthán.”

The word “brighde” or “bríde” here looks like it comes from “brighid,” meaning “a maiden” or “a fair lady.”  The possessive form is “brighde” or, in modern spelling, “bríde.”  There’s probably a connection here to St. Bridget (Brighid or Bríd, but the exact nature isn’t clear.  A generalization from the saint’s name?  A saint’s name based on the general term?

In theory, “bior na bríde” could mean the “lance/skewer of the maiden.”  Hmm.  Sounds more like “Brynhildr” than “Bridget” to me!

Bior,” referring to water, is used in the name of several plants but usually as a prefix and usually with plants clearly connected to water: bior-shlánlus (water plantain) and biorchopóg (water dockleaf), mar shampla.   If this is our origin, then the phrase should mean something like “the water of the maiden” or “the well of the maiden.”  Hmmmm.

I’ve seen a few spellings of this which capitalize the “b” of “brighde / bríde,” making it look as if the word had to do with “Naomh Bríd / Naomh Brighid (St. Bridget), but then why would we have the word “na” in the middle of the phrase (bior na bríde)?  Normally there would never be a “na” in that position in the sentence.

I also wonder if the “brighde” part could somehow be related to “brí,” meaning “a hill” or “a brae.”   That word used to have a “-gh” in the form “breagh” (of a hill, of a brae) and also in its old dative form, “brígh.”  In that case, we might have “the lance of the hill.”  That seems like a good plant name, but where would the “-de” come from?  Níl a fhios agam.  BTW, probably the most familiar use of “brí” today is in the place name “Brí Cualann” (Bray, in Co. Wicklow).

Bhuel, admittedly, that’s not very conclusive, and I don’t find any quick answers online.  But at least we’ve planted the idea as food for thought.  And now for three more, which fortunately aren’t as ambiguous:

b) fiacail leomhain (leoin), which actually matches the original French “dent de leon

c) beárnán beárnaigh or beárnán beárnach, lit. “gapped little gap” or “indented little gap,” or “little gap of the gapped one” or “little gap of the indented one.” Uh, got me there!  BTW, “beárnán” is usually “bearnán” these days.  From “bearna” (a gap, as in Barna, Co. Galway).

d) bearnán brighde, “little gap of … whatever “brighde” means here. Curiously, this phrase can also be used for “juniper.” A luibheolaithe, we really need you here!

Scottish Gaelic has some interesting similar phrases: bearnan brìde, bior nam brìde, and fiacal leomhain

For some pan-Celtic comparison and intriguingly, here are some Welsh versions: dant y llew (the tooth of the lion), which is the most basic, and also “dant y ci” (the tooth of the dog), dail clais (leaves of a bruise, not, apparently, “of a ditch,” another meaning of “clais,” similar to the Irish), blodyn faint ‘dy’r gloch (lit. “what-time-is-it” flower), blodyn crafu (itchy flower), blodyn crach (scab flower), blodyn piso’n y gwely, blodyn pisho’n gwely, and blodyn pi-pi gwely.   The last three are probably fairly self-explanatory.

Bhuel, sin a lán ainmneacha ar an “dandelion.”  Oh, and I almost forgot, its ainm déthéarmach is “Taraxacum officinale.”  “Taraxacum” may either come from the Arabic “Tharakhchakon” or the Greek “Tarraxos.”  Slán go fóill – Róislín

Freagraí agus Aistriúcháin:

1) Tá blas searbh ar dhuilleoga an chaisearbháin.  There is a bitter taste on the leaves of the dandelion.

2) Is féidir fíon a dhéanamh as caisearbháin.  It’s possible to make wine from dandelions.

3) Is féidir duilleoga an chaisearbháin a úsáid i sailéad.  It’s possible to use the leaves of the dandelion in a salad.

4) Ná hith duilleoga na g­­­­­­­­­­­­caisearbhán sin.  Spraeáladh lotnaidicíd orthu.  Don’t eat those dandelions.  A pesticide was sprayed on them.

Nasc d’Amhrán na gCupán: (le focail an amhráin scríofa amach)

Nasc ginearálta:

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  1. Suibhne:

    Very interesting article. Have you ever heard of “garblus” which is frequently mentioned in Lady Gregorys Visions and Beliefs? Apparently it is another name for Dandelion, but it’s the only place I’ve heard mention of that word.

    Not sure if it’s just a regional/folk word or if she made a mistake and it wasn’t Dandelion after all.

    Be curious to hear your opinion on it.

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