Irish Language Blog

An Focal “aimsir” Posted by on Apr 23, 2012 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

A little while ago, there was a query in our Facebook site about the word “aimsir” (, on 8 Aibreán).  And truly, I think it is surprising when one finds out that “aimsir” not only means “weather,” but also “time” (including “tide” for holiday times) and, regarding verbs, “tense.”

Actually, it’s less surprising when one reflects that in French and Spanish, at least, the basic words for “weather” and “time” are the same (Fr: temps, Sp: tiempo), and perhaps this is true in other languages as well.  While Irish does have the word “aimsir,” (weather, time, tide, tense), it also has many other words for time, including, “am” (probably the most basic) and “uair” (also “hour,” etc.) and “tráth” (also “occasion,” etc.) and another few for more specialized purposes (ré, linn, saol, seal, tréimhse, srl.).  I would estimate that about 90% of the time, if you see the word “aimsir,” it refers to the weather, but if it’s used in reference to holidays, grammar, or certain stretches of time (in aimsir na bhFiann), it’s time-related (time, tide, tense).

So if we go back to (the blog of 4 Aibreán ), we can understand the word “aimsir” as “tide,” in the calendrical sense.  “Laethanta Aimsir na Cásca” would mean “the days of Eastertide.”  An bhfuil Gearmáinis agat?  Má tá, tá “leg up” agat leis seo mar tá “tide” (mar “time”) agusZeit” (mar shampla sa bhfocalZeitgeist”) gaolta mar fhocail.  Not all holidays seem to have “tides” in English, and all the English “-tide” phrases seem a bit dated to me, albeit charmingly so, but nevertheless, here are all the most common ones using “aimsir” that I’ve been able to round up, in English and Irish.

aimsir na Cásca, Eastertide

aimsir na Cincíse, Whitsuntide (beginning the seventh Sunday after Easter)

aimsir na Nollag, Christmastide

Less typically, we have “aimsir na Páise” (Passiontide, the last two weeks of Lent), but a caveat re: usage, I only found two examples of this, total, both of which were online.  Each had a few copies of itself, generating a few more hits, but sin é.  Not very widespread.  Terms for this time period do exist in other languages (Tempo di Passione, Passionszeit, etc.), but it doesn’t seem all that applicable in Irish.

For “All-Hallowtide” or “Hallowtide” (more commonly called “Hallowe’en”), the words “oiche Shamhna” and “Samhain” seems to suffice, without “aimsir (na)” as a preceding phrase.  Perhaps this is because this holiday predates Christianity in Ireland and also predates the formal notion of a liturgical calendar with specially designated weeks.  And how about “Hollantide” (i.e. Old Hallowe’en, Nov. 11)?  Well, there is Nos Calan Gwaf  in Cornish for Hollantide (aka Allantide), though this is quite entangled with Hallowe’en itself, etc.).  In fact, Allantide, Hollantide, Hallowtide, and All-Hallowtide probably deserve a mblag féin (their own blog)!

Bringing up Hallowe’en actually opens a Pandora’s box of “péisteanna” (worms) here, because we can say “um Shamhain” for “at Hallowtide.”  The preposition “um” will be described further below.  So is Hallowe’en simply an evening, or is it the beginning of a “tide”?  And what was Samhain, back in aimsir na bhFiann, when most people didn’t have access to calendars as such?  Well, we might never know, so let’s move on.

But just one more note.  I know that that Pandora bit was a double metaphor but let’s just consider it Celticly intertwined, just like the calligraphic knotwork.  You learned the word for “worms” from it, right (if you didn’t know it before).

As noted above, there’s another way to indicate the time period connected to a holiday, that is to use the preposition “um.”  This “um” is not pronounced like “um,” the American English pause word or “rum” or “drum,” but more like the “um” in “Kumbaya” or “Tumbalalaika” (at least as I know them).  In other words, it’s like the “u” of “put,” not like the “u” of “putt.”

Actually all this “um” business is getting me more “trína chéile” than when I started out, because now I’m wondering what exactly the parameters of phrases like “at Easter” or “at Christmas” are, and how did I live to adulthood without having a firmer understanding of these.  That’s when we’re contrasting them to “on Easter” or “on Christmas,” which would refer to a single day.  Hmm, errmm, or just good ole ‘um.” That’s the “schwa um” (/əm/), not the “/um/ um” of “um Cháisc,” etc.

At any rate, we can say the following, “um Inid,” “um Cháisc,”  “um Chincís,” “um Shamhain,” and “um Nollaig” for “at Shrove,” “at Easter,” “at Whit (Pentecost),” “at Hallowtide,” and “at Christmas.”

With “um,” we get to ditch the genitive case.  You did notice that above, right?  Like keeping “Nollaig” (instead of “Nollag” in “aimsir na Nollag”) and “Cháisc” instead of “Cásca” (lenition after “um” explains the “h”).

How did “Shrove” (Inid) get in there?  Well, we don’t seem to need “aimsir” for “Inid,” since “Inid” (from “initium’) already means a three-day time period, hence a “tide.”  I didn’t mean to give it short shrift, of course, it’s just that “Inid” works separately from the holidays that take “aimsir.”

Generally speaking, of this selection, from an English perspective, I think Shrovetide, Eastertide, Whitsuntide, and Christmastide would be somewhat more widely used than Passiontide or Hallowtide/Hollantide.  In summary, here are the “tides” I’ve found in English, chronologically: Shrovetide, Passiontide, Eastertide, Whitsuntide, Hallowtide/Hollantide, Christmastide.  And here are the ones that seem to be able to take the word “aimsir” in front of them: aimsir na Cásca, aimsir na Cincíse, aimsir na Nollag, and occasionally, “aimsir na Páise.”  Beyond that, this whole topic is probably the bailiwick of some sort of theological calendarian.

As for “aimsir” as “tense (of verb),” you may well have already seen it: an aimsir chaite (past), an aimsir láithreach (present), etc.

And one final thought, how would one say, “O Tempora, O Mores!” in Irish?  I’ll have to ponder/hunt for that.  Fáilte roimh mholtaí!  Hmmm, now what I need is an Irish-Latin, Latin-Irish dictionary.  An ann dó?

Getting back to ceist Ghráinne (about the phrase “laethanta aimsir na Cásca”), hope that helped!  SGF, Róislín

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