Irish Language Blog

Cialla an Fhocail “Log” (hollow, place, hollow place, etc.) Posted by on Aug 28, 2012 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

In the last blog, we looked at terms for various types of horses (stail, láir, bromach, cliobóg, searrach, srl.) and at different ways to describe them, including the Irish for “sway-backed horse” (capall a bhfuil log sa droim aige / aici).  The word “log” in that phrase actually has many other interesting applications, none of which have to do with “swaying” as such.

The basic meaning of “log” is a “hollow” or a “hollow place.”  It has the connotation of a low-lying area, not necessarily something that is hollow as opposed to being solid.  For that differentiation, I’d use “cuasach” or “folamh,” for “hollow,” as opposed to “tathagach” (solid, substantial), “daingean” (solid, strong), or “cruánach (solid, hard), depending on context.  A typical expression with “log” would be “thíos sa log” (down in the hollow).  Or you could be “i log na hamharclainne” (in the pit of the theater).

Log” can also be used abstractly, as in “log na hoíche” (the depths of the night).   A comparable phrase is “coim na hóiche” (the middle of the night, lit. the “waist” of the night).

As for the pronunciation of this basically simple word, just a reminder that it isn’t pronounced like the English word “log” (as in wood cut from a tree), and it has nothing to do with such logs, any more than other chance lookalikes in two different languages are connected.   As an example of “chance lookalikes,” most learners of Irish quickly realize the Irish word “fear” has nothing to do with English “fear” and “fir” has nothing to do with English “fir.”  Nor do the Irish words “fear” and “fir” sound like the English words “fear” or “fir.”  These pairs of words just happen to be spelled the same.

There are various ways to describe the sound of the Irish short “o” including comparisons to German “Gott” and Scottish English “hot” (not the widely used “haht” pronunciation), with the implication that the Irish short “o” sound does not have an exact equivalent in “standard English” (whatever standard English is — I doubt there really is one, but sin ábhar eile).    Some sources simply equate the Irish short “o” to the short “u” (uh) sound of English words like “son” or “tough,” but I hear a slight difference.   In fact, I hear a slight difference in the short “o” in the Irish words “sona” and “pota,” but let’s not split hairs here (I’ll happily split them “eile-swhere”).  The key thing here is not to let English pronunciation sway you when you see a lookalike word like “log / log.”  Irish “log” is pronounced closer to English “lug,” but rounder.

Log” can also mean “place” in general, though that is usually expressed by “áit,” or sometimes by “láthair.”  Some examples where the “log” isn’t necessarily low-lying or depressed (physically) are “log  margaidh [MAHR-uh-gee]” (a market-place, which could also be “áit mhargaidh“) and “log catha” (a battle-site, which could also be “láthair chatha“).

So, getting back to the sway-backs, we say that the horse that has a “log” (depression) in its “droim” (back).  The “has” part of that is expressed by “ag” in one of its various forms (aige, at him; aici, at her, for a female horse, etc.).  Examples:

Seo capall a bhfuil log sa droim aige.  This is a horse that has a hollow (depressed) space in his back.

Seo láir a bhfuil log sa droim aici.  This is a mare that has a hollow (depressed) space in her back.

Fortunately, there are places where such creatures can live out their days in relative comfort, in some cases together with horses who have specifically suffered abuse or neglect, as opposed to becoming sway-backed from age.  These include the Ryerss Farm for Aged Equines, in Pennsylvania (, established in 1888 under a slightly different name), the Home of Rest for Old Horses on the Isle of Man (, established 1950),  and the Irish Horse Welfare Trust (, established in 1999)

It’s interesting to note that if we’re talking about the “small of the back,” at least for humans, the Irish word doesn’t use “log,” but rather “caol” (narrow, narrow part).  So we can say “an caoldroim” or “caol an droma.”  Come to think of it, now I’m curious what a “tréidlia” would say if discussing the condition of horse’s back.  Would they refer to the “log” or the “caol,” or, perhaps even the “cuas” (a hollow place, but usually more specifically cup-shaped)?  Would they simply say the “lordóis” (lordosis) was mild or extreme?  I’m not sure exactly what one would say i mBéarla for that matter.  Does a horse has a “small of his/her back” or is some other term used?   Marcach nó banmharcach nó eachaí nó eachlach nó baneachlach nó eachmharcach nó tréidlia ar bith ar an liosta?

The actual medical term “lordosis” is based on the Greek “lordos” (curving forward).  It’s also used regarding humans, and, we may as well include, for good measure, that it’s used for the mating posture of female rats.  Which I’ve been champing at the bit to know for years –not!

I’m a bit puzzled by not finding a succinct, literally one-word, word for “a sway-backed horse” in Irish,  since the language is typically so rich in that type of vocabulary.  I’ve looked for all sorts of possibilities, based on “log” and even “cuas,” with a variety of endings, but to no avail.  If anyone on the list knows of such a word, I’m sure many readers would be interested.  Please send it in in the comments!

As for the ordinary Irish word for “sway,” as a noun, it’s “svae.”  Not very widely used, IMThF, but like all words, it has its “am” agus “áit.”  “Svae” usually has the connotation of “victory” (“bua“) and could be used in a sentence like “Thug ár bhfoireann an svae leo” (Our team carried the day, lit. Our team took the sway/victory with them).   The word “svae” is not used for expressions like “swaying back and forth” or “to sway him from his course / direction,” fad m’eolais, ar a laghad.  Those would be “luascadh anonn is anall” (lit. swinging back and forth) and “é a chur dá (de + a) threoir” (putting him from his direction) respectively.  The latter phrase can be modified for gender and number: í a chur dá treoir, iad a chur dá dtreoir, srl. 

Hmm, this blog has reminded me that I never did get around to writing about donkey sanctuaries in Ireland, as I mentioned many blogs ago, and perhaps that would provide an opportunity to discuss asail, láracha asail, and miúileanna in general as well.  And perhaps to answer the question, do hinnies hinny?  None of the more extreme hinnies intended here, by the way, only the ones related to feirmeoireacht ainmhithe (animal husbandry).   On that note, slán go fóill, Róislín

PS (13 Meán Fómhair 2016): Looking into this further, I see there is a congenital condition in lambs which may be referred to as “swayback” in English, but it’s really quite different from what happens to aged equines.  The Irish for it is “galar an díodáin,” which can also be translated as “giddiness” or “megrim.”  However, what I read about “swayback” in lambs sounds more like a type of paralysis than what I would consider “giddiness” as such.  Not that I’m a, ermm, *uaineolaí (?) nó *caoireolaí (?), two possiblilities for “ovinologist”.  Any thoughts from readers on why “swayback” is used for these two different situations?  Or what the condition of the lambs actually looks like?  It seems very sad from what I’ve read about it.

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