Irish Language Blog

An Éan É? An Reiptíl É? An Dineasár É? Bhuel, Ní Hea, ‘Sea, agus Ní Hea Posted by on Jun 27, 2013 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

An "teireadachtalach" nó "tearanódón" mé?

So, no sooner do I finish ploughing through examples of the word for “teireadachtalach” (pterodactyl) in umpteen languages, as reported in the last blog (nasc 1 thíos) than I come across the following statement on (nasc 2 thíos):

“There’s no such thing as a pterodactyl.”

So doing a little more taighde online, I find that the situation is much more casta than I had imagined.  Although I’m far from being a pailé-ointeolaí, I did come away with a few takeaway points.

1. Níl a leithéid is “teireadachtalach” ann ach is ainm é sin atá i mbéal na ndaoine

2. Go minic, is é an “tearanódón” atá i gceist nuair a deir daoine “teireadachtalach,” ach tá a lán cineálacha eile de theireasáir ann freisin

3. Níl cleití ag an tearanódón agus mar sin ní éan é.

4. Ní dineasár é an tearanódón; is teireasár é agus is reiptíl é. 

Ultimately, my main goal here is to present some of the Irish terms used in discussing these winged creatures, not to have the last word on what creature is akin to what, which sometimes not even the pailé-ointeolaithe iad féin agree on.  And, as noted in the last blog, another goal is to see how various words get adapted into Irish, especially when they already come loaded with silent letters, given that Irish is a language renowned for its own generous share of litreacha ciúine.

The point that surprised me the most was No. 1: Níl a leithéid is “teireadachtalach” ann ach is ainm é sin atá i mbéal na ndaoine. 

I suppose that if I had ever paid more attention when watching Dinosaur Train, one of my favorite PBS kids’ TV shows, I would have noticed more specifically that they don’t refer to pterodactyls but to pteranodons.  I guess I was so busy enjoying the show, and especially the very memorable line from its theme-song, “What am I doin’ in a pteranodon nest?,” that I didn’t pay that much attention to the mionrudaí.  If you haven’t seen the show, that line is sung by a baby Tyrannosaurus Rex (“Buddy”), who, like the original lachín ghránna, is raised by ucht-tuismitheoirí.   Buddy fares much better than Andersen’s “Ugly Duckling,” though.  He’s warmly welcomed into his pteranodon family and is really the star of the show.   And yes, for you grammar hawks, the noun “lachín” (duckling) is feminine even with the “-ín” ending, so “gránna” (ugly) is lenited.

As Traein na nDineasár, this show has an Irish website ( , but you can’t watch the videos directly on it (go to for the shows).   Be advised, though, that you can’t always get TG4 shows outside Ireland.  But you can at least hear the téamamhrán and play the cluichí“Cad tá a dhéana’ ‘gam i nead tearanódón?”  Mh’anam!

So all that effort in the last blog to write about something “nach bhfuil ann“!  Bhuel, at least all the other languages I looked into also have a word for pterodactyls, even if they (pterodacytls, not the languages!) don’t exist.  And, at any rate, I take some comfort in harkening back to a comment that poet Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill wrote back in her now-classic essay “Why I Choose to Write in Irish: The Corpse That Sits Up and Talks Back” (New York Times, 8 Eanáir 1995).  She described doing some research in the Department of Folklore at University College, Dublin, where she found an index entitled “Neacha Neamhbheo agus Nithe Nach Bhfuil Ann” (Unalive beings and things that don’t exist).  So if the Department of Folklore and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s voluminous body of work can deal with “Nithe Nach Bhfuil Ann,” I guess we can have at least one blog on the subject as well, even if the “non-existence ” aspect of it has more to due with béarlagair na bpailé-ointeolaithe vs. an téarma atá i mbéal na ndaoine, and less to do with the real/surreal/magically real  trichotomy presented by Ní Dhomhnaill’s work.

To wrap up, here’s a little practice using the word “tearanódón.”  It’s a first-declension noun, so it’s masculine and follows the same pattern as works like “bád” and “cupán” (an bád, an bháid, na báid, na mbád; an cupán, an chupáin, na cupáin, na gcupán).  But watch out though–it doesn’t follow the exact same pattern as “rón” (seal)  or “lón” (lunch) which also happen to be first-declension masculine and which would appear to have the same ending.

an tearanódón, the pteranodon

ceann an tearanódóin, the head of the pteranodon

na tearanódóin, the pteranodons

nead na dtearanódón, the nest of the pteranodons (NB: this is definite, a specific nest)

NB (the indefinite forms): nead tearanódóin, a pteranodon’s nest (singular); nead tearanódón, a pteranodons’ nest (plural); I’m not quite sure which the theme-song implies so I made it plural in the quote earlier in this blog.  Bhur mbarúlacha?  Or does anyone have the official written lyrics in Irish?  Uatha nó Iolra?  Another plug for the careful use of the uaschama, at least for the foirmeacha sealbhacha in English!

How do the forms for “tearanódón” differ from “rón” and “lón“?  They have completely different plurals: an rón, the seal; na rónta, the seals; an lón, the lunch; na lónta, the lunches

As you can see, the plural ending for “rón” and “lón” is formed by adding a “-ta” suffix instead of inserting the letter “-i-.”  So, don’t be misled by the apparent similarity of the endings in the root form.  Perhaps this is a situation where we could say, “Ní aithníonn iarmhír iarmhír eile” (“One suffix doesn’t recognize another suffix,” to paraphrase and contradict the well-known seanfhocal, “Aithníonn ciaróg ciaróg eile”).  On that paremiological note, slán go fóill and don’t blanketly assume that a pteranodon is a dinosaur, according to the saineolaithe, even if almost every dinosaur book, display, and TV program includes them.  – Róislín                                  

1) Nasc don bhlag eile faoin teireadachtalach:;

2) Nasc don alt ar

Focal Scoir: Ní teireadachtalach mé mar níl a leithéid ann. Ní nach bhfuil ann atá sa teirea-dachtalach. Mar sin, le réasúnaí-ocht dhéaducht-ach, is tearan-ódón mé. Ní éan mé & ní dineasár mé ach is teirea-sár & reiptíl mé.


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