Irish Language Blog

Cén fáth a dtugtar ‘corned beef’ ar mhairteoil shaillte muna bhfuil ‘corn’ ar bith i gceist? Agus cad a itheann tusa i gcomhair ‘St. Patrick’s Day’? Posted by on Mar 7, 2018 in Irish Language

(le Róislín); “Irish Dinner,” By A1stopshop (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; Téacs Gaeilge le Róislín, 2018

Ever wonder why “corned beef” is called “corned beef” in English?  And since the English word “corned” is a bit obscure these days, what’s the Irish for “corned”?  Nothing to do with “arbhar” (corn, maize) or “grán” (corn, edible grain). Apparently, there are two possible origins for saying “corned.”

1). The salt (salann) used for curing and preserving used to be sold in coarse grains called “corns”.  I checked for this use of “corns” in Irish, and I did find that “gráinne” (a grain or small particle) is considered an equivalent.  It can refer to oats (gráinne coirce), wheat (gráinne cruithneachta), and barley (gráinne eorna, of course … “John Barleycorn” — I never really thought about what the “corn” part meant!  Fiosrach?  Nóta thíos.).  And of course, it’s still quite popular to buy pepper in its unground state, as “peppercorns” (gráinne piobair OR piobarchaor, a peppercorn). “Gráinne” is usually translated as “a grain” but in certain limited contexts, it can be translated as “a corn.” So apparently there were once “corns” of salt, although today we mostly just talk about “peppercorns.”

2). The second possibility still considers “corns” to be “coarse grains,” but instead of actual salt, the substance was saltpeter (sailpítear, scientifically, potassium nitrate, níotráit photaisiam, KNO3).  Apparently saltpeter is naturally transparent, so a pink color is added to it to distinguish it from table salt and giving the meat the distinctive pink color; tuilleadh eolais faoi shailpítear ag “The Truth about Saltpetre” sa Jamaica Gleaner, nasc thíos).

In fact, the Irish terms are much clearer than “corned” from a modern perspective, since they simply mean “salted” or “cured.”  There are two terms in use:

1). mairteoil shaillte, lit. salted beef, from the verb “sailleadh” (to salt, and also, btw, to grossly overcharge someone for a purchase). As a noun, “saill,” on its own, can mean “salted meat.”  Curiously, though, when you’re talking about the texture of the meat itself, “saill” means “fat” (not “salt” or “salted meat”) and is completely different from the ordinary adjective for “fat,” which is “ramhar.” “Saill mhairt,” as opposed to “mairteoil shaillte,” means “beef fat,” not “salted beef”!

2). mairteoil leasaithe, lit. cured beef.  Depending on the food involved or object treated, “leasaithe” can have a few other translations as well:

salted: im leasaithe, salted butter

preserved: toradh leasaithe, preserved fruit

fertilized with manure: talamh leasaithe, fertilized land

kippered: scadán leasaithe, kippered herring, or just “a kipper.”  The origin of the word “kipper” is interesting in and of itself but the full saga is too long to include here.  Suffice it to say that “kypre” meant “salmon” in Middle English, and apparently the process of “kippering” was originally or traditionally done with salmon (called “bradán” in Irish, so no relation).  “Scadán” is “herring.”

dressed (cured with salt, i.e. dried to prepare for tanning), leathar leasaithe.  By the way, after pondering the question, I did finally confirm that the salt used for curing leather is the same as the table salt we use today (sodium chloride, clóiríd sóidiam NaCl), according to (nasc thíos).  I kept reading about “salts,” so I started to wonder  — why “salts,” and not just “salt”!

flavored with bacon: cabáiste leasaithe, cabbage flavored with bacon. Hmm, was this a harbinger of the bacon-mania to come, with the early 21st century boasting baconnaise, bacon-infused vodka, bacon-flavored cookies and ice-cream, and chocolate-covered bacon!  Bacon-mania, btw, has its own Wikipedia entry (nasc thíos), in English, French “Engouement pour le lard” — !)   and Japanese (ベーコン・マニア, ベーコン, bacon + マニア, mania).  So far, I haven’t found an Irish word for “bacon-mania,” but I assume we could use ” *bagúnmháine,” based on “cleipteamáine,” “meigleamáine” and “féinmháine.”

Needless to say, and perish the thought, none of this has anything to do with “fadharcáin,” which join buinneáin, carbuncail, carrmhogail, faithní, liopaí craicinn, meallta gorma, and pochaillí in plaguing our skin, especially feet.

Most of this post has been dedicated to the meat (feoil) on the plate (pláta) in the photograph above.  But, just as a quick reminder, for the rest of the famed “Corned Beef and Cabbage Dinner” of St. Patrick’s Day, at least in the US, we also have “cabáiste” (cabbage) and “prátaí” (potatoes).  Of  course, there are other words for potatoes as well, but that would be way too much for one post (naisc thíos for some previous entries).  But, ar an ábhar sin, what do you like to eat on St. Patrick’s Day?  Mairteoil Shaillte?  Stobhach Gaelach? Cadal Bhaile Átha Cliath?  We’d love to hear about your St.Patrick’s Day foodways.  Hope you enjoyed, anyway.  SGF — Róislín

Gluaisín; buinneán, bunion; carbuncal, carbuncle; carrmhogal, carbuncle, faithne, wart (unless it’s on a plant or animal, in which case, it’s once again a “fadharcán“), fadharcán, corn (on skin); liopa craicinn, skin tag, meall gorm, carbuncle; pochaille, bunion;

Naisc:  prátaí: A Práta by Any Other Name: Téarmaí Bia agus Cócaireachta (Food and Cooking Terms) Posted by róislín on Jun 23, 2009 in Irish Language

Nite, Bruite, is Ite — Na Prátaí (aka Fataí), That Is! Posted by róislín on Nov 5, 2013 in Irish Language

faoi shailpítear  “Healthy Lifestyle: The Truth about Saltpetre,” by Heather Little-White, Ph.D., January 15, 2011

faoi leathar:

faoi bhagún:

faoi bheoir:, “A beer lover by any other name …”, Beer Break, Vol. 3, No. 25, April 23, 2003

Nóta: As for “John Barleycorn,” aside from the fact that he must be sacrificed in order to wet the gaping gullets of the world’s beer-fanciers, what else do we know about “him” (as it were)?  Well, there are the renditions of the song by Traffic and by Fairport Convention and before that, there was the 1913 autobiographical novel by Jack London (simply called “John Barleycorn”). But the song itself goes back to at least 1725, and Robert Burns notably created version in 1782.  The basic theme (killing the plant to make the beer, then drinking its “blood”) may in fact go back to ancient religious practices of “na hAngla-Shacsanaigh,” involving a “dia réamh-Chríostaí.”

Regarding the term “beer-fancier,” a 2003 article in Beer Break gave the results of a survey of what the beer-fanciers would like to call themselves.  Suggestions included the following: enthusiast, aficionado, snob (!), fans, guys and gals, mavens, and, I love ’em, cervisaphile and “the Barley Literati.”  Alliteration claimed its popular place with “beer buff,” “slops surveyor,” “ale addict,” and” hops handler.”  But I was also intrigued by “beeroisseurs,” as contributor Tony Randall suggested to the survey (nasc thuas, NB: “thuas” this time instead of “thíos,” since this is already a footnote, and just to keep your on your directionally-oriented toes).

Anois, cén Ghaeilge a bheadh air sin go léir — ábhar blag eile?  And how about for enthusiasts of other related beverages?  I’ll add my own alliterative suggestions to the English list: *lager lovers, *Guinness guzzlers, *poteen potateurs, *porter poetasters, *brew buveurs, *IPA imbibers, and *ale alimentators (apparently “alimentator” is the Romanian for a “feeding device,” which seems reasonable).  So, maybe coming up soon, we’ll have a survey of Irish words for fans and fanciers, enthusiasts and aficionados of, let’s say, anything — it’s all good vocabulary practice.  And it’ll give me a chance to revive the most head-scratchingest, brain-bustingest, fun-soundingest phrase I’ve been able to come with for Irish, so far — “An móidín Doctor Who thú?” (Are you a Doctor Who fan?).   It took me a long time to work around the fact that the Doctor’s name isn’t “Who,” so you can’t logically say “An Doctor Who …” followed by “… thú?”  And if we get really grammatical, you couldn’t say that anyway, because the question should be, “An tú an Doctor Who?” and you would lose the immediate echo effect.  But like I said, his name’s not “Who,” so it doesn’t work, anyway.

Naisc faoin “gceist Doctor Who”:

Is (X) mé — An (X) thusa?  — Saying ‘I am a (X)’ — ‘Are you a (X)?’ in Irish Posted by  on Oct 27, 2017 in Irish Language

Vocabulary Roundup for the Blogpost ”Is (X) mé — An (X) tusa?  — Saying “I am a (X)” — “Are you a (X)?” in Irish” (Cuid/Pt. 2)Posted by  on Oct 31, 2017 in Irish Language

‘I am not an ‘uimhir’ ‘ and Other Indefinite Predicate Nominatives — Let’s Say Them in IrishPosted by  on Jan 23, 2015 in Irish Language

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