Irish Language Blog

Arbhar (Indiach): Toradh, Glasra, nó Grán — or all three? Posted by on Oct 31, 2013 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

We’ve just been discussing whether pumpkins and other edible plants are fruits or vegetables.  Another seasonal item is “arbhar Indiach,” as it is referred to in Irish, or simply “corn” in American English.

arbhar Indiach (ildathach) Grianghraf: Keith Weller, USDA

arbhar Indiach (ildathach)
Grianghraf: Keith Weller, USDA

Let’s look first at the term “arbhar Indiach,” which literally means “Indian corn.”  But “Indian corn” means different things in American and Irish/British English.  As for Béarla Cheanada, hmm, so often it incorporates elements of English from both sides of the “lochán” that I’d have to ask na Ceanadaigh what the usage is in their country.

And curiously, corn is technically a fruit (toradh), treated and cooked as a vegetable (glasra), and when ground, it’s considered a grain (grán).

But getting back to the different meanings of “Indian corn” (arbhar Indiach).

In the US, the general consensus is that Indian corn is a) dried, b) varied in color (ildathach), c) inedible (at least, it’s very bitter), and it’s used for decoration, not for eating.  It’s often hung on doors as a harvest symbol, usually in an arrangement of 3 or 4 cobs, typically one yellow, one a dark brownish red, and one blue, or some variation on that theme.  So if you use the term “arbhar Indiach” in the U.S., be aware that many Meiriceánaigh may not realize that you are talking about a food.

In Irish, the term “arbhar Indiach,” means “maize” or ‘edible sweet corn.’  When ground, it is referred to as “min bhuí,” lit. “yellow meal” and known as “Indian meal.”

As far as I know there’s no tradition in Ireland of hanging multi-colored corn cobs on doors as Fall decorations.  I wouldn’t expect there to be, since maize is a New World plant.  True, there are harvest ornaments called “corn dollies,” in both Ireland and the UK, but these are made of rushes or straw.   In other words, don’t mistake a “corn dolly” for a “corn husk doll”!

In the US, ‘corn” is understood to refer to maize, and it may be eaten as “corn on the cob” or removed from  the cob and cooked in a variety of ways (boiled, creamed, popped, etc.).  It is used to make succotash and corn pudding and may be added to chowder and other soups.  When ground, it is referred to as ‘corn meal” or “corn meal flour,” and used in cornbread, corn fritters, and corn pones, etc.  “Corn meal flour” isn’t the same as “cornstarch,” which in UK English may be called “cornflour.”

If you’re speaking Irish in America, this does present a bit of a dilemma.  Do you say “arbhar Indiach” when you actually mean the edible stuff?  If you include “Indiach,” it doesn’t sound like you’re talking about a food item.  But if you don’t add “Indiach,” you simply have the word “arbhar,” which means “corn” in the UK/Irish sense (edible grain) and can refer to cruithneacht (wheat), coirce (oats), eorna (barley), and seagal (rye).

One suggestion would be to specify to how the ‘corn’ has been prepared.  If you say you’re having “arbhar sa dias” (corn on the cob), I don’t think anyone would think you’re eating wheat fresh after harvesting.  Note that “arbhar sa dias” literally means “corn in the ear,” not “corn on the cob.”  I’ve only occasionally seen another word for “corn cob” used (coba arbhair).  “Dias” can also be used for ears of wheat and barley, but that usage would typically be specified (dias chruithneachta, dias eorna, etc.).  And that’s “ear” strictly for agriculture, not the ear of a human or animal, which would be “cluas.”

Let’s wrap up with the various forms of the phrase “arbhar Indiach“:

arbhar Indiach, Indian corn, maize

an t-arbhar Indiach, the Indian corn, the maize

(blas, etc.) an arbhair Indiaigh, (the taste, etc.) of the Indian corn, of the maize

And, although I doubt it would be used much in the plural, except, perhaps, if discussing different varieties, here are the forms anyway:

arbhair Indiacha, na harbhair Indiacha, na n-arbhar Indiach

What ever you do, don’t mistake the native Irish word ‘corn” for “arbhar Indiach,” since a “corn” in Irish is a horn, metal drinking cup, or a trophy as in “corn Francach” (French horn), “corn comhóil” (a quaich or loving cup, lit. co-drinking horn), and “An Corn Domhanda Rugbaí.”  Well, that’s one more fruit/vegetable down.  Scores more to go! – Róislín

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Keep learning Irish with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it

Leave a comment: