Irish Language Blog

An Ráineach ag Seitreach (The Hinny Hinnying) Posted by on Sep 3, 2012 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

We’ve had quite a run of exploring vocabulary related to horses in recent blogs, but, believe me, the topic is far from exhausted.   So today’s take is about “ráinigh” and the sound they make (seitreach).

And while “Tá an ráineach ag seitreach” does have an intriguing ring to it, I have to admit that “hinnies hinnying” does have a certain alliterative “je ne sais quoi” that the voiceless velar fricatives of “ráineach” and “seitreach” don’t quite convey.

At this point, some of you might be wondering what a “hinny” is, in particular, a “hinny” in the context of animal husbandry.    I say that because there are other non-horse-related meanings of “hinny,” such as “hinny” meaning “darling,” especially in northern England and Lowland Scotland (“ma bonny hinny,” etc.).   And then there’s always, which consistently comes up with the edgiest definitions for anything.

A “hinny” is a cross between a female (or “jenny”) donkey and a male horse (a stallion).  They don’t seem to be bred nearly as often as mules, which are a cross between a male (or “jack”) donkey and a female horse (mare).   However, once you start exploring the cyberworld (and I’m sure the real world, but the cyber one is at my fingertips), you’ll find all kinds of discussion of both hinnies and mules.   I had to pull myself away from “Share your mule/hinny story” (on ebay, for some reason I can’t figure out – the hinnies don’t appear to be for sale on that page, but it was:  Anyway, the discussions there range from length of ears (typically shorter than a donkey’s, longer than a horse’s), tail length, foot shape (“dainty little feet, but mule-like”), and of course, as is generally true for mules and hinnies both, sterility.  And of course there are many such pages and discussions all over the Internet.

Depending on what variety of English you speak, you might also refer to a “hinny” as a “jennet.”  However, the more I look for examples of “jennet” in Irish, I find it defined or used as a “capaillín Spáinneach” or some similar phrase (e.g. the Scottish Gaelic “each Spàinteach“).  So “jennet” means completely different things in different contexts, and I’ll have to save that blog for a rainy day.

And what’s the Irish for “hinny”?  As you probably picked out from the title of this blog, it’s “ráineach” [RAWN-yukh, with that guttural/throaty “kh” sound at the end, as in German “Buch,” Yiddish “Chutzpah,” or Welsh “Fach” (or, for that matter “wisgi a chwrw“)].

Curiously, at least, to me, there are far fewer references to “ráineach” online or in dictionaries than to “miúil” (mule).   I guess it parallels their breeding status, maybe in fact, the same would be true for “hinny” vs. “mule.”  “Hinny” doesn’t seem to have generated a lot of related words, and searches for it get a bit bogged down with “hinnies” as “sweethearts” and a surprising number of typos for Ginny Weasley (Hmm, ” ‘A Ginny, ma bonny hinny’ quotha Harry”?).  On the other hand, “mule,” as a word, seems to be very well entrenched in English, even for the non-equestrian among us, so we recognize phrases like “pack-mule,” “mule-driver,” “muleteer,” and “mule-skinner” (also actually a “driver” of mules), as well as the related words like “mulish,” “mulishly,” and “mulishness,” citing the mule’s (and some people’s) behavior.   In Irish, there’s a whole slew (slua!) of words that refer to stubbornness (ceanndánacht, etc.), ní nach ionadh, but, at least IMThF, Irish doesn’t typically base the word for “stubborn” on the actual word for mule, the way English does.  And as Welsh also does, for that matter (mul, a mule; mulaidd, mulish or stubborn).   I’ve found a sort of obscure usage of “múilleach” to mean “mulish” (i.e. stubborn), but it doesn’t seem to have persisted much in Modern Irish.

And I don’t know if hinnies (ráinigh) are actually as notoriously “stobarnáilte” as mules (miúileanna).  If anyone has raised one, I’m sure all of us on the list would be interested to hear about it and any tendencies to be “ceanndána.”

If you do look up “ráineach,” and get the plural “ráinigh,” be sure not to confuse the latter with the chance lookalike “ráinigh” (a verb meaning “arrive,” etc.).  Remember, there are lots and lots of comhainmneacha in Irish, even more so when you get into dialect sources or older texts.

As for the sound that hinnies or other equines make, the most basic word is “seitreach” [SHETCH-rukh, again with the voiceless velar fricative “kh” sound at the end].    It’s rarely conjugated like a ordinary verb these days.  Mostly we say, “tá sé ag seitreach” or “déanann sé seitreach.”   It can mean “hinnying” (which is really just an alternate form of “whinnying”), “neighing,” and “snorting.”  If we really want to get into the donkey sounds, though, we’d use “béiceach”  or “grágaíl” (for braying).  And that may also be a future blog.  But this one is almost fada go leor.

Just one more point though.  I’ve still been looking into “whickering” and “nickering” for horsey sounds, but so far I don’t see any distinctively Irish usage for these, separating them from “whinnying,” “hinnying,” and “neighing.”  It’s often hard to really differentiate between similar terms, especially for animal noises.  For example, “to neigh” as opposed to “to whinny” (or “to hinny”).  Ben Jonson must have had some distinction in the sounds in mind though, when he wrote “He neigheth and hinnieth, all is hinnying sophistry.”  Unless he was just repeating himself, for good measure.

Anyway, to come full circle, the “ráineach” could be “ag seitreach,” or as teideal an bhlag seo suggested, the “hinny” could be “hinnying.”  Or “whinnying.”  Or “neighing.”  But I suppose that depending on how much of the “asal” (donkey) comes through in hinny or mule vocalizations, they could also be “ag béiceach” or “ag grágaíl.”  And I haven’t even had time for “cuachaíl” (whinnying, whining, speaking in a falsetto voice).   More than enough food for thought for an chéad bhlag eile.   But not without one more (hopefully informative) digression.

With “cuachaíl” in our toolbox, then, I’ll attempt a translation of the Ben Jonson line.  Why, one might ask?  Le haghaidh an chraic, and also, of course, as forbairt stór focal.   Here goes:  “Ag seitreach a labhraíonn sé agus is cuachaíl a chuid cainte, níl i gcaint an chuachaire ach cuach-chailicéireacht” (lit. “Neighing he speaks and whinnying is his talk, the speech of the incessant talker is simply whining captiousness”).

Feedback welcome, especially from anyone who might happen to own one of these ceathairchosaigh!  Or live close enough to one to be “i raon na gcluas” (in earshot).  Slán go fóill, Róislín

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  1. Martin:

    A blog on animal noises would be A Good Thing. Without them, what do we teach the children?

    “Mí-amha!” arsa an cat (Dineen)

    “Gog-gog!”, arsa an chearc.

    “Dord!”, arsa an bheach.

    “Bíog!”, arsa an t-éan.

    “Grág!” arsa an loscán.

    “Amh-amh!”, arsa an madra.
    Also abh-abh in Gaelic Names for Beasts (Scots Gaelidh)

    “Gog-a-ghuidhe-ghaoidhe!”, arsa an coileach Albanach.

    “Hí homh!”, arsa an t-asal Albanach.

    “Mé-mé!”, arsa an chaora Albanach.

    “Mó-mó!”, arsa an bhó Albanach.

    “Big big bigean!”, arsa an chearc Albanach.

    “Míabh!”, arsa an cat Albanach.

    “Moig oigean!”, arsa an mhuc Albanach.

    “?”, arsa an capall?

    “Bheac!”, arsa an lacha

    “Cíoc!”, arsa an luch

    “Brú!”, arsa an eilifint.
    I admit I made this one up. It seems so much more onomatopoeic than the “toot” you see in English. “Brú” can mean “pressure” or “crush”. I can see an exasperated (or endangered) elephant saying “Brú!” “Pressure!” and an annoyed one saying “Brúim!”-“(Let me) Crush!”

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