Irish Language Blog

An Maith Leat __?  (Can you complete the question in Irish?) Posted by on May 21, 2016 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

'An maith leat __?' le Charles Burton Barber (1845-1894). An féidir leat an bhearna sa cheist a líonadh isteach? Freagra sa téacs. Agus cad a tharlódh dá mbeadh Aimseadóir Buí ag an gcailín? Buíocht cheana féin! Grafaic:

‘An maith leat __?’ le Charles Burton Barber (1845-1894). An féidir leat an bhearna sa cheist a líonadh isteach? Freagra sa téacs. Agus cad a tharlódh dá mbeadh Aimseadóir Buí ag an gcailín? Buíocht cheana féin! Grafaic:


Well, usually we try the buttercup question on people, not dogs, ach tá an pictiúr an-ghleoite, nach bhfuil?  In this blogpost, we’ll take another short break from the flower-themed names series, and look specifically at one more flower, the buttercup, generally known as “cam an ime” in Irish.

First let’s look at the word for “butter” itself, then we’ll look at “buttercup,” and finally the question, “Do you like butter?”

A. “BUTTER” i nGaeilge

im, butter

an t-im, the butter

ime, of butter (scian ime, butter knife, lit. knife of, i.e. for, butter)

an ime, of the butter (praghas an ime, the price of the butter)

We may not use it real often in the plural, but the form does exist:

imeanna, butters (but more likely implying “casks” or “containers” of butter)

na himeanna taiscthe, the stored casks of butter.  This could possibly refer to casks of “bog butter” (im portaigh), sealed in wooden containers, sometimes with plant wrappings, and buried in a bog, either for storage or for primitive chemical processing.  One sample found in Ireland during an archeological dig is about 1300 years old; another may be at least a thousand years older.  Like making the folkloric “heather beer,” the process had almost fallen into oblivion, but there has been a recent revival of interest in this method of storing butter, with some results presented at the 2012 Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery (naisc don alt agus don taifeadadh agus don phodchraoladh thíos).

imeanna, of butters

na n-imeanna, of the butters (blas na n-imeanna taiscthe, the taste of the stored butters)

B. “BUTTERCUP” i nGaeilge

And now for “buttercups.”  There are actually a couple of different words for “buttercup,” and globally there are over fifty different types of the flowers, so I imagine the list could go on longer.  But here are the two main choices:

1) cam an ime, buttercup, lit. the cresset of the butter.  And what exactly is a “cresset,” aside from a word you might find in medieval-esque Victorian literature?  It’s a cup-shaped holder for oil or some flammable substance, like rushes dipped in oil, historically used for beacons or early street lighting, and it can also refer to a simple lamp, with the wick burning in a cavity; check out the link below for a Scottish example made of sandstone from ca. 1300.  And while 1916 literature is too late to be considered Victorian, or even Edwardian, I’m struck by the appearance of “cresset” twelve times in H. Bedford-Jones’ serial novel Nuala O’Malley, set in the Cromwell era and published in 1916 in All-Story Weekly.   A quick check for Ivanhoe shows no cressets, but any further insight into cressets will have to wait for a rainy day project.   As for more recent examples than that, I have to admit I’m drawing blanks on cressets, except of course, The Cresset (

Apparently the word “cam” can also mean a melting-pot, which may be a bit more connected to its use in the phrase for “buttercup.”   This word “cam” is completely different from the more widely used “cam,” whose meanings include “bent” or “crooked” (mar aidiacht), a bent or crooked object (mar ainmfhocal), and “bend” or “distort” (mar bhriathar).

2) crobh préacháin, buttercup, crowfoot, lit. foot/talon of crow.  So far, I remain baffled as to why this cute, bright, and cheerful-looking flower would be called “crowfoot.”  Barúil ag duine ar bith agaibh? 

C. An cheist: “An maith leat im?”

And finally, how about the question, “Do you like butter?” which is the English title of Barber’s painting in the illustration above.  In Irish that would be “An maith leat im?”  And the answers?  For “yes,” the answer is “Is maith,” and for “no,” it’s “Ní maith.”  But, come on, who doesn’t like butter?  It seems to me that the custom of holding the buttercup under someone’s chin to see if they like butter is really an exercise in futility.  But, as I recall, it was fun to do as a child.  Níor bhain mé triail as le madra riamh, mar a fheiceann muid sa phictiúr, ach is féidir liom a rá, gan dabht, go bhfuil dúil mhór ag mo mhadraí féin in im.  Táirgí déiríochta ar bith, leis an fhírinne a dhéanamh. 

At the beginning of this blogpost, I mentioned that we’d be taking a short break from the series on names, but I can’t resist closing with a brief note on some famous “Buttercups,” both human (albeit fictitious) and bovine.  They can be found in The Powerpuff Girls, The Princess Bride, HMS Pinafore, and Toy Story.  And double-checking online, I find there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of references to cows named Buttercup, in books, as toys, and as TV or pantomime characters.  Examples range from the current craze of the”Sylvanian Families” miniatures to the vintage “Buttercup the Cow” from The Woodentops, a BBC children’s television series from 1955.  Ironically, buttercups are actually poisonous to cows, yielding a bitter-tasting oil, protoanemonin, when crushed, and this cute flower can also cause contact dermatitis in people.  Nice!

So far, I have to acknowledge that I haven’t found any examples of “Cam an Ime,” as a cow’s name in Irish, let alone as a human character’s name.  Somehow, it just doesn’t seem to lend itself to this use.  But one never knows.  Maybe it’ll turn up.  “Crobh préacháin” seems even less likely.

At any rate, there you have it: im, im portaigh, imeanna, cam an ime, crobh préacháin, and a nod to Pinafore and The Woodentops et al.  Ar ais go dtí na hainmneacha cailíní roimh i bhfad.  Slán go fóill – Róislín

naisc d’im portaigh:




nasc don lampa cam: (National Museums, Scotland)

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