Irish Language Blog

Cén Ghaeilge Atá ar “Triskaidekaphobia”? Posted by on Aug 14, 2010 in Uncategorized

Since we recently saw a Friday the 13th come and go, I thought I’d write about triskaidekaphobia in Irish.  In fast, triskaidekaphobia recently topped the “trending now” list on, so it seemed like an especially timely topic. 

Hitch is, I can’t find any existing Irish word for “triskaidekaphobia.”  But at least we can discuss the various words for “phobia,” a couple of well known phobias with existing Irish terms, and conclude with how the word might be constructed in Irish, based on the number 13.  

The basic word involved is “fóibe,” a feminine noun with the forms “an fhóibe” [un OH-ib-yeh], the phobia, and “fóibí” (phobias).

To describe specific phobias, it can either be used as a suffix, as in English, or as the first word in a phrase, followed by the noun for the specific topic, like school or animals.

Here are some examples, first with the “-fóibe” suffix and then with “fóibe” as a separate word:

 acrafóibe, acrophobia (fear of heights)

 seineafóibe, xenophobia (fear of strangers)

 fóibe scoile, didaskaleinophobia (school phobia, lit. phobia of school).  As far as I know, this is a newish addition to the list of phobias – it first came to my attention with discussion of the issue in Japan, known as “Hutoukou.”  Sadly, it seems to be a sign of our times.  Note that in the Irish phrase, the word “scoil” (school) is in the genitive case, with the “-e” ending. 

Two other ways to say “phobia” in Irish are “gráin shíoraí” (lit. eternal hatred) and “uamhan” (awe, used in the traditional sense of “fear-inducing”).  “Gráin shíoraí” doesn’t seemed to be used in the technical terms, in fields like Siceolaíocht and Síceatracht.  That’s probably partly due to the fact that it’s already a two-word phrase and adding the specific topic (like spiders or the number thirteen) would make for fairly complicated phrases. 

Uamhan is used reasonably frequently to describe phobias, as in:

 uamhan ainmhí, zoophobia (animal phobia)

In some cases, two terms exist for the same thing:

 uamhan dorchadais, lit. awe of darkness, and aclafóibe, for achluophobia. 

uamhan sráide, lit. awe/terror of street, and agrafóibe, for agoraphobia (fear of open places)

 uamhan clóis and clástrafóibe, for claustrophobia (fear of enclosed places).

Finally, let’s consider “triskaidekaphobia.”  The number thirteen in Irish is “trí déag.”  So one possibility, as I see it, would be:


Oddly, though, this term would seem to me to be a lot more readily understandable than the English term, which is based on rather obscure-looking Greek.  Well, I’m sure if one knows Greek, it’s not obscure looking, but I think for the average English speaker, “triskaidekaphobia” is probably one of those cool long words that one sees in limited contexts and forgets about when the trigger (like an actual Friday the 13th) is past.  

Since some of the Irish terms for phobias seem to be based on Gaelicizing the Greek-based compound, not translating it, we might also have:


The asterisk is used, as I’ve done before, to indicate that as far as I can tell, the word is coined.  In these cases, they leave no lexicographical footprint, at least not that I can find.  Perhaps publishing this blog will trigger some interest and one of the words will catch on. 

If I had my druthers in this situation, I think I’d go for “ *trioscaideiceafóibe” since it really is closer to the technical term and Gaelicization of spelling is quite typical in these situations.  Some of you may remember the “Irish-for-telescope” dilemma as presented in the 1950s.  By that point in time (and that’s pre-Internet, with all the word coinage it has generated), there were about 19 words known in Irish for telescope, including “cianarcán,” “fadradharcán,” “radharghloine,” “telescóp” (Gaelicized but breaking vowel harmony, which is sometimes acceptable) and “teileascóp” (with vowel harmony and which ultimately became the favored term). 

Anyway, I’ll have to check now and see when the next Friday the 13th is coming up and then I’ll “*athGhoogláil” these two terms for “triskaidekaphobia” and see what, if anything, turns up, aside from references to this blog.  Of course, that’s always of interest too!

Oh, and if you just want to say something basic with the number 13, like thirteen tables or thirteen cats, here’s the groundwork:

trí bhord déag, thirteen tables (with the item being counted coming between the two digit words)

trí chat déag, thirteen cats

and, if the noun being counted ends in a vowel (instead of a consonant),

trí mhadra dhéag, thirteen dogs, (note the lenition of “déag” after the vowel).

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  1. Fearn:

    piseog amaidí, b’fhéidir!

    • róislín:

      @Fearn Á, bhuel, ní dúirt mé aon rud faoina bheith ag creidbheáil ann! Ach go raibh maith agat as scríobh. B’fhéidir go ndéanfaidh mé blag eile faoi phisreogaí am éigin sa todhchaí.

  2. Michael Browne:

    that term should not require any translation into Irish,

    It is in English as in Greek

    tris = three

    kai = and

    deka = ten

    phobia = fear.

    Cannot the word if being borrowed from the Greek be so used wihtout having to change.

    We’ve got to simplify Irish not make it more difficult.

    I sent to school with native Irish speakers.

    If they wanted to say bicycle pump they said pump bhycycle rather than teannaire rothar or some such “book Irish” wich they ridiculed.

    If we want to make Irish popular, we have got to simplify it and make it easier for normal speakers, not a discussion vehicle for academics.

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