Irish Language Blog

Cén Ghaeilge atá ar “rusticle”? An Ann Di (Dó)? Posted by on Apr 15, 2012 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Rusticles (public domain image:

Amongst the many interesting topics raised by the Titanic centennial, at least one language query emerges.  Cén Ghaeilge atá ar “rusticle?”  First, let’s define “rusticle,” since it’s a fairly new word in the English language.  It was coined by Robert D. Ballard after he discovered the Titanic, draped with strands of rust on its wrought-iron parts.  I’ve yet to find the exact date of the coinage, but I assume it was in 1986, the year of the discovery.  Although I’m no micribhitheolaí, my understanding of the phenomena of rusticles, ó radharc an ghnáthdhuine, is that they consist of the Halomonas titanicae bacterium (named for the ship) and that their distinctive color is due to iron (III) oxide causing the red and goethite crystals causing the orange color.

“Halomonas” itself is an interesting word, but a bit beyond our blog’s-worth topic here.  In a nutshell, it means “halophilic (salt-tolerant) monad/unit (bacterium).  Erm, presumably that would be “monad halaifileach” in Irish, but I can’t say I’ve found any examples of that phrase as such.  But then, mar a dúirt mé thuas, ní micribhitheolaí mé, agus de ghnáth ní bhím ag léamh faoi mhicribhitheolaíocht i nGaeilge.  Or, for that matter, i mBéarla, except, arís mar a dúirt mé thuas, mar ghnáthdhuine.

Anyway, back to “rusticle.”  It’s a focal portmanta, combining “rust” and “icicle.”  So, if we can’t find “rusticle,” as such, i nGaeilge, we can, at least, look at the Irish for “rust” and the Irish for “icicle.”  And that will have some use beyond this blog since “My Irish is rusty” can readily be said in Irish, even if it seems to be an exact match for the English expression.  Hmmm, an ndeirtear sin i dteangacha eile freisin?   Rostig?  Arruginito?  Rhydlyd?  Oxidado (in the original sense)?  Rouillé?

And discussing icicles is no doubt reasonably useful and perhaps more widespread than one might expect in Ireland, since I’ve found so many words for them.

Let’s start with the words for “rust,” “rusty,” etc., all based on “meirg” [MERzh-ig, note the two-syllable pronunciation], a feminine noun.  Like “rust” in English, it has no plural.

an mheirg [un VERzh-ig], the rust; used figuratively, “meirg” can also mean “irritability”

meirge, of rust (as in “coisctheoir meirge,” a rust preventative); not to be mistaken with a completely different word, meirge (a banner), as in “meirge scailleagáin” (a skyscraper banner, in computing)

na meirge, of the rust

And some related words:

meirgeach, rusty (or “irritable”)

meirgeacht, rustiness

meirgstroighin [MERzh-ig-STRY-in], rust cement

As for one’s rusty Irish?  We can say, “Tá meirg ar mo chuid Gaeilge,” lit. “There is rust on my share of Irish.”  Why “my share” (mo chuid) and not just “my Irish”?  Tradition, I suppose.  I’d say, with almost 100% consistency, that I always hear people referring to someone’s “share” of Irish, or their own “share” of Irish, perhaps as if we’re all partaking of an enormous rich language legacy, for which no one has absolutely every bit.

Of course, I wonder if anyone is considered to know every single word of English either.  Certainly not mise.  I keep discovering new English words all the time, some archaic (like “kench”), some newly or fairly coined (like “rusticle”), and some just outside my usual linguistic haunts but interesting nonetheless (like “hackamore,” which I must have heard as a child, on TV, but which I had completely forgotten about until I recently rewatched, erm, shall I say, “An Saoiste Aonarach”).

Anyway, let’s keep “meirg, meirge” in mind for “rusticle.”  Now for “icicle.”  It’s actually fascinating to me how many words there are for “icicle” in Irish, especially since I don’t have that much of a mental image of a traditional Irish cottage with icicles dripping from the eaves.  Hmm, do icicles form on the edge of a thatched roof?  Bhuel, sin ceist do bhlag eile, agus b’fhéidir do thuíodóirí ar bith atá ar an liosta seo.  Anyway, here are some words for icicle in Irish, with their literal meanings where available:

biorán seaca, lit. pin (hook) of frost

birín seaca, lit. little pin (hook) of frost

coinlín oighreoige, lit. little stalk of ice

coinlín reo, lit. little frost-stalk

coinneal bhraonáin, lit. droplet-candle (why not ginideach iolra, which would be “bhraonán” not “bhraonáin”? DAF(h)A!  Is an icicle considered one droplet?)

coinneal reo, lit. frost-candle

oighreog (based on “oighear,” ice)

reodóg (based on “reo,” frost), not to be confused with “reoideog” or “reoiteog” (ice-cream, which is aka “uachtar reoite”)

siocán, more typically “frost” itself or a “frozen person” (based on “sioc,” frost)

spiacán, more typically “sharp spiky object” in general

spincín seaca, lit. little point of frost

Now whether any of these words are really limited to the size of any given icicle (biorán seaca vs. birín seaca) is beyond my ken.  I’d direct that question to a, hmm, what do you call someone who studies snow and ice formations and who also knows Irish?  Well, I guess that question can be backburnered (as long as you don’t melt the icicle on that cúldóire!). Speaking from general experience, I’d say that “coinlín reo” is probably the most commonly used of all these choices.  Bhur mbarúlacha?

Interesting that there are at least those eleven words for icicle.  So now I’ll have to figure out some way to learn how many words there are for icicle in Inuktitut, the language reputed to have 17 (or 50) words for snow.  Actually I understand that it’s not necessarily a full 17 (or 50) words for snow, but 17 (or so) categories of snow, some of which would just be described in phrases as we do in English, by “wet snow,” “light snow,” etc.  But sin blag eile, b’fhéidir do bhlagálaí na teanga sin (agus crostagairt dúinne, b’fhéidir).

Getting back to “rusticle,” it seems that “coinlín meirge” would be a good equivalent, if not quite so portmanteauish.  Arís, bhur mbarúlacha?  Especially since I see no other discussion of this, as Gaeilge, that is.  Slán go fóill — Róislín

Gluais: DAF(h)A, my newly minted abbreviation for “diabhal a fhios agam” (divil if I know), newly minted fad m’eolais, that is, no signs of it online that I can find; –fileach, philic (also –philous, hmm, how much difference is there between –philic and –philous?  Eolas ag duine ar bith?); gnáthdhuine, layperson; halaifileach, halophilic, halophilous; monad, monad (both in biology and in philosophy); saoiste [SEESH-chuh], ranger

P.S. In case you’re wondering about na lúibíní in this blog’s title, I figured we could have both a feminine and a masculine angle (grammatically speaking, that is).  “An ann di?” means “Does it exist?” for a feminine noun (like “an Ghaeilge”).  “An ann dó? means “Does it exist?” for a masculine noun, implying “focal Gaeilge” (“an Irish word”).  Being idir chomhairlí (indecisive) as well as um chomhionannas deiseanna (for equal-opportunity), I decided to use both.

P.P.S.: And if I were actually i mo mhicribhitheolaí, I might have something more to say about qualities of rusticles, which we could perhaps then call “rusticle qualities.”  But, ní micribhitheolaí mise ná baol air, and so I’ll leave such a discussion to whichever “anon.” authored one of my favorite folksongs from childhood, “Risselty Rosselty.”  Perhaps some of you may remember it.  Or if you saw the Hitchcock movie, The Birds, you heard the children sweetly singing it in the schoolhouse of that infamous but real California community Bodega Bay.  That is, until the birds attack!  Remember it?  “Risselty rosselty, hey bombosity, knickety, knackety, rustical quality” and all that?  The Pennsylvania-based “Rustical Quality String Band” has immortalized the phrase, but I don’t know if they make any references to The Birds or, for that matter, to the quality of the Titanic’s rusticles!

Now why Hitchcock chose to relocate a perfectly nice Celtic setting (Cornwall), as it appears in Daphne du Maurier’s original short story, “The Birds,” is to me unfathomable, except perhaps in terms of convenience to Hollywood.  Surely the rugged Cornish coast could have made an equally dramatic backdrop.  And why not leave the story’s original dialect and ambiance intact?  But as with most major films, Hollywood will have its way.  If anyone is interested in the California location of the Hitchcock film, you can read more about it at: and at . I wonder if the local schoolkids still sing “Risselty Rosselty” now, now, now!

The Rustical Quality String Band doesn’t seem to have its own website, but can easily be found on YouTube, or at

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  1. Mise Áine:

    I’d say that “coinlín reo” is probably the most commonly used of all these choices. Bhur mbarúlacha?

    Chuir mé ceist ar chainteoir dúchais as Conamara faoi seo, a Róislín, agus ‘maide seaca’ an nath a tháinig chuici ar an bpointe..:-)

    • róislín:

      @Mise Áine Iontach suimiúil, a Áine! GRMA. Sin uimhir a dó dhéag don liosta. Déanfaidh mé nuashonrúchán am éigin.

      Agus ceist eile ar an ábhar, mura mhiste leat — an bhfuil a fhios agat an mbíonn maidí seaca (coinlíní reo, srl.) ar imeall díon tí sa gheimhreadh. Níl a fhios agam an gcaithfidh dromchla an dín a bheith crua agus mín in ionad luachrach/sifíneach. Ar ndóigh, níl mórán daoine ina gcónaí i dtithe ceann tuí faoi láthair ach is dócha go mbeadh a fhios ag duine éigin faoi sin.

  2. Mise Áine:

    Ní fhaca mise a leithéid riamh, a Róislín, ach cuirfidh mé ceist ar dhuine nó dhó, agus tiocfaidh mé ar ais chugat.

  3. Mise Áine:

    Cé nach bhfaca aon duine ar m’aithne iad, a Róislín, dá mbeadh maidí seaca ar theach ceann tuí, ceaptar gur ar an bun tsop a bheadh siad.

    • róislín:

      @Mise Áine GRMA as d’fhreagra, a Áine, agus as a bheith ag cur na ceiste ar do chairde. Is suimiúil an cheist í. Is dócha go bhfuil rud éigin faoi uigeacht na tuí nach bhfuil foirsteanach do mhaidí seaca. An dóigh is fearr le cás-staidéar a dhéanamh as seo ná teach ceann tuí a thógáil in áit mar Alasca nò tuaisceart Cheanada nó an Iorua. An dtiocfá liom? Ioglú ceann tuí, b’fhéidir?

  4. Mise Áine:

    ‘ar an mbun tsop’..:-)

    • róislín:

      @Mise Áine Á, an diabhal urú sin. Nach minic a bheireann sé amuigh orainn. Leis an fhírinne a dhéanamh, chuir d’fhreaga chun smaointe mé, faoi na focail ar “eaves.” “bun tsop,” cinnte, amanna litrithe “bunsop,” ach chomh maith leis sin bunsileáin agus sceimhleacha. Tobar na bhfocal gan teorainn.

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