Irish Language Blog

Cats Galore in Irish (Cait, Caitíní, Piscíní, Pisíní, srl.) Posted by on Dec 4, 2013 in Irish Language

Art-Drawing-Animal-Cat-Cat-and-Kittens-American - believed copyright free(le Róislín)

I suppose I should have saved this blog for National Cat Day (29 Deireadh Fómhair 2014; naisc thíos) but coming swift on the heels of the recent “caitín gleoite caillte sa spás amuigh” blog (thanks to Miley Cyrus’s recent CGI imagery), I couldn’t resist taking the plunge.

So how many different ways are there in Irish to say “cat” or to indicate different types of cats?

Let’s start with the basics.  The singular form, “cat,” looks the same in Irish, but is pronounced more like “kaht.”  In other words, it doesn’t rhyme with “bat” or “mat” (at least not the usual US pronunciations of them) but it’s more like “yacht,” with a shortish “ah” sound.

cat, a cat

an cat, the cat

cait [kwitch, the “w” is very slight], of a cat; miontas cait, catmint

an chait [un khitch], of the cat; ruball an chait, the tail of the cat

na cait [nuh kwitch; remember, the “w” is very slight], the cats

cat [same spelling, etc., as the basic form of the word], of cats; allmhairiú cat, the importation of cats

na gcat [nuh gaht], of the cats; bia na gcat, the food of the cats

And then we get into different types or “categories” (couldn’t resist) of cats:

piscín [PISH-keen], kitten, also “pisín” (PISH-een)

caitín [KATCH-een], little cat, also “catkin”

fearchat [syllable by syllable: 1) the “-ea-” of “fear,” the Irish for “man,” is the /æ/ sound of “bat” and “rat;” 2) in the second syllable, “~chat,” the “a” is more like the “a” of “yacht”], tom cat, lit. “man-cat.”  An alternative is “cat fireann,” lit. “male cat.”  Certainly both terms serve their purpose but neither strikes me as quite so intriguingly anthropomorphic as “tom cat.”  Why “tom” anyway (i mBéarla)?  Ábhar blag eile, b’fhéidir?

cat riabhach [REE-uh-vukh] or cat breac, tabby cat.  If the “tabby cat” is simply meant to be a female cat, not a description of its fur, as sometimes occurs in English, it would be “cat baineann” (lit. female cat).

seanchat [shan-khaht], grimalkin, lit. an old cat

Now as for a “kindle” of kittens, I’ve never seen an Irish word that is that specific.  A “litter” in general would be “ál” [awl], but that can be used for many animals (ál banbh, a litter of pigs; ál sicíní, a clutch of chickens; and even children, “ál páistí,” a swarm of children, used mostly for bit of dramatic effect, I’d say, not for “gnáthghrúpaí).  Other possible collective terms for animals include “conairt” for wolves, “cuain” for puppies and “éillín” for ducklings.

And now, getting back to “cats in space,” as inspired by an caitín gleoite caillte i seó Miley, If you haven’t yet watched the Dastoli Digital “Cats in Space” video (nasc thíos), I highly recommend it.  Of course, that video is a “scigaithris” ([SHKIG-AH-hrish] parody), but I can think of at least a couple of relatively famous non-parody cats in space, ironically also part of the same series which Dastoli Digital parodied.  An aithníonn tú iad?  Can you fill in the cats’ names in the chart below?  Agus an bhfuil a fhios agat cén clár teilifíse atá i gceist?  Freagraí thíos.

Ainm an Chait Úinéir / Comhghleacaí Sraith Séasúr / Eipeasóid
1. Korob An tSraith Bhunaidh S2E7 “Cúl Dín,” 1967
2. Data An Chéad Ghlúin Eile S4E11 “Lá Data,” 1991

And then there was Lloyd Alexander’s Time Cat (1963) which as the title suggests, involved a taistealaí ama , or I suppose we could say “amthaistealaí.”  This doesn’t really involve “cait sa spás amuigh,” but the móilíní might be temporarily rearranged as the cat travels through time, so it does sort of qualify as “ficsean eolaíochta.”  Stop-off points for Time Cat include Iron Age Britain and Ireland.  Bhuel, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, or should I say “runga uachtair an chatdréimire.”  Breeds and other features will have to wait for blag éigin eile.  Mí-eadha! – Róislín

Freagraí: 1) Sylvia, comhghleacaí Korob sa tSraith Bhunaidh

2) Spot, úinéir (más féidir ”úinéir” a thabhairt ar dhaonnaí cait!  Aon Ghaeilge ar “ownee”?)

3) an clár teilifíse: RéaltAistear (Star Trek)


1) Náisiúnta na gCat (“náisiúnta” = “Meiriceánach” sa chomhthéacs seo.  Níl a fhios agam an gceiliúrtar an Lá i dtíortha eile seachas S.A.M; alt in The Huffington Post: (sa suíomh seo, tá 536 pictiúr de chait na léitheoirí le feiceáil.  Cúig chéad tríocha a sé!  536!  Mh’anam!  Tá “aighneachtaí” dúnta anois–murach sin, is dócha go mbeadh níos mó ná 536 ann!

2) Agus píosa beag eile faoi Lá Náisiúnta na gCat óThe Fluffington Post,”

3) And straight ”ó bhéal an chapaill,”

4) Cait sa Spás Amuigh [of course, the actual title is in English, “Cats in Space”]

5) an pictiúr thuas

Gluaisín:  cait na léitheoirí, the cats of the readers; cúl dín, catspaw (re: people, not the type of wind, which is “leoithne” or an actual cat’s paw, which is “lapa cait“); daonnaí cait, humans of a cat, i.e. a cat’s humans; gnáth-, ordinary; móilíní, molecules; aighneachtaí, submissions 

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  1. Alison Cassidy:

    Chuala mé “baldúin” mar fearchat, bliana o shin. As Contae Loch Gorman é, shílim …..

    • róislín:

      @Alison Cassidy Go raibh maith agat, a Alison. Tá “baldúin” ann freisin do “fhearchat,” mar a deir tú. Agus é scríofa amanna i mBéarla mar “baldoon.” An meas tú gur leagan den fhocal “Baldwin” é?

  2. Don Knox:

    As with many ‘modern’ Irish words, there are those which have been ‘invented’ and ‘Anglicised’ to fit in with a more relevant time, i.e. ‘tacsaí’. I feel that ‘cait’ is one of these. ‘Pís'(Peesh) and Píscín’ are the older original versions. In fact their very pronunciation imitates the way we call a cat’s attention which would indicate the naturalness of the word, and possibly how it came about.

    • róislín:

      @Don Knox Nóta tráchta suimiúil, a Don, go raibh maith agat. As I’m sure you know, we do have the the word “piscín” still in use today, but specifically for kitten, at least in my experience. And it’s an endless issue with languages in contact — whether “borrowed” words get adapted to the new language (like “móideim”) or left as is, like “Hardanger” as in “fidil Hardanger.” Thanks again for writing in.

  3. róislín:

    @Two cats for Thursday morning « Why Evolution Is True Go raibh maith agat as an nasc — thanks for the link!

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