Irish Language Blog

Cineálacha Rothaí – Including the “Scottie Pinwheel” Posted by on Jan 26, 2013 in Irish Language

le Róislín

When I first heard about the Scottie Pinwheel (‘sea, sé bhrocaire Albanacha ag siúl timpeall ar mhol, agus cad é atá sa mhol sin ach “babhla bainne gabhair,” a bowl of goat’s milk), I thought “Now there’s a great phrase to translate.”   Perhaps you’ve seen the video?

But, of course, there are lots of other types of wheels that we might talk about, and which might sometimes be more practical, as vocabulary goes, than pinwheels.  So first, we’ll look at the word for “wheel” itself, a few other types of wheels and wheel terms, then pinwheels, and finally, as the pièce de résistance, we’ll check out the components of the phrase “Scottie Pinwheel.”

wheel: roth [say “ruh;” the “t” is silent, so it’s not like the surname “Roth;” the vowel sound is “uh,” as in English “run,” not like the “uh” in German “Huhn,” etc.]

the wheel: an roth

of a wheel: rotha [RUH-huh]: galtán rotha, a paddle steamer (steamboat)

of the wheel: an rotha

wheels: rothaí [RUH-hee]: béilí ar rothaí, meals on wheels

the wheels: na rothaí

of the wheels: na rothaí

And here are a few specific types:

roth deiridh [ruh DJERzh-ee], back wheel

roth tosaigh [ruh TUSS-ee], front wheel

roth stiúrtha [ruh SHTOOR-huh], steering wheel

roth Chaitríona [ruh KHATCH-ree-uh-nuh], Catherine wheel (in fireworks)

And a few phrases or terms using “wheel”

barra rotha, a wheelbarrow (“rotha” presumably since the item has one wheel)

cathaoir rothaí, a wheelchair (“rothaí” because the chair has two wheels)

rothadóir, a wheelwright (if anyone still practices that occupation)

A few words that have “wheel” in English, but not in Irish:

róitifear, a wheel animalcule or rotifer (I know, not much in daily use, but perhaps it could come in handy in a barfight or an epithet-hurling match).

tuirne, a spinning-wheel (apparently an earlier form was “roth tuirne” but that’s not common today)

And the metaphorical wheels:

a bheith ar rothaí an tsaoil [uh veh erzh RUH-hee un teel], to be on top of the world, lit. to be on the wheels of life/of the world/of destiny

roth mór an tsaoil [ruh mor un teel; the “s” is silent], the wheel of destiny/of life.  The phrase was also immortalized in Micí Mac Gabhann’s classic 1959 memoir, Rotha Mór an tSaoil, which, incidentally uses “rotha” as a variant form of “roth” as the subject, singular in number.   Mac Gabhann’s story was made into a film in 1998 and the trailer for it can be seen on YouTube (

And at least one metaphorical situation using “wheel” in English but not in Irish, as in:

modhanna casta an rialtais [KAHSS-tuh un REE-ul-tish], the “wheels” of government, lit. the “complicated ways” of the government, politicians being known for being strange “bed-felloes.”  <och drochimeartas focal>

And back to our main topic, “pinwheel” is “roth pionnaí,” straightforward enough, meaning “wheel of pins.”  I’m actually a little puzzled as to why the plural (pins) is used, instead of the singular (pin), since each pinwheel has just one pin, but so be it.  By the way, “pionna” means “pin,” but it isn’t the most common or basic word for “pin” in Irish; that would be “biorán” and a full discussion of the difference would fill blag eile, so will have to wait for am eile.  But in a nutshell, “pionna” can also mean a “peg,” whereas “biorán” is also used for terms like “safety pin” (biorán dúnta) and “hat-pin” (biorán hata).

And now the Scotties!  “Scottish Terrier” is “brocaire Albanach“(plural: “brocairí Albanacha“). To combine this with “roth pionnaí,” we reverse the English sequence, to suit Irish word order (“Pinwheel of Scotties” instead of “Scottie Pinwheel”), giving us: “roth pionnaí brocairí Albanacha.” To make it “The Scottie Pinwheel,” we add “na” and eclipsis: “Roth Pionnaí na mBrocairí Albanacha” (The Scottie Pinwheel).  Of course, that could mean that the Scotties own a pinwheel (unlikely, in reality).  The Irish name for the video could be a little less figurative, perhaps something more like “Brocairí Albanacha ag Rothlú thart ar a mBabhla” (Scottish Terriers rotating around their bowl) or “Brocairí Albanacha ar Casadh” (spinning Scotties).  “Spinning Scotties,” in English, is, of course, ambiguous, but níl neart agam ar éiginnteachtaí an Bhéarla!  I can just imagine na Brocairí Albanacha ag a gcuid tuirní (“at their spinning wheels” —  works well for a country known for its home-spun goods!).

Or perhaps we could have “Brocairí Albanacha Mar Spócaí Rotha” (Scotties as spokes in a wheel), which, for dramatic effect could be extended to “Brocairí Albanacha Mar Spócaí i Rotha Mór an tSaoil.”  Hmm, that might even lead us to a discussion of the parts of a wheel in general, primarily the mol (hub), the spócaí (spokes), and the fiolla (felloe).   Bhuel, sin ábhar blag eile!

Although “goat’s milk” isn’t part of the video’s title, it’s worth a gander as a nice example of Irish word order and possessive forms:  “babhla bainne gabhair” (a bowl of milk of goat, with “gabhar” in the genitive case).  Recognize “gabhar“?  It’s closely related to Welsh “gafr,” directly related to Scottish Gaelic “gabhar,” and a “cousin” of “goat” in various Romance languages (chèvre, cabra, caper, etc.).

Dare I say I was bowled over by the róghleoiteacht of the físeánAgus, hmm, cén Ghaeilge a bheadh air sin mar chor cainte?  Á, ‘sea, “baineadh biongadh asam” ( I was bowled over, staggered, etc.)

The original “Scottie Pinwheel” video appears to have been “postáilte” by “bggann.”  Go raibh maith agat, a bggann, as ábhar an bhlag seo!  SGF, Róislín

Gluais: brocaire, terrier, lit. “badgerer” (i.e. badger-dog); éiginnteacht, ambiguity; físeán mearscaipthe, viral video, lit. quickly-distributed video (no reference to “viral” or “virus” in the phrase); gleoite, pretty or “cute” in the US sense (i.e. like kittens and puppies, not as in “acuteness”), which paves the way for my new Irish coinage, “róghleoiteacht” (“toocuteness”); imeartas focal, pun; mol, hub

Nóta: please don’t confuse a “roth pionnaí” with a “pionna rotha” — the latter would be a “linchpin,” literally a “wheel-pin” or “pin of wheel,” reflecting the linchpin’s role in fastening a wheel to a “crann fearsaide” (axle-tree).  “Ord na bhfocal” rules!

Nasc (The Scottie Pinwheel, posted by bggan, Jan. 25, 2013)


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  1. Stuart Murdoch:

    I wonder if you can help. I’d like to do a small letter carving in slate (I’m a sculptor in Scotland) for my girlfriend’s parents’ caravan. Their family home is called ‘Tigh an Uillt’ so I quite like the idea of calling the caravan “House of Wheels”. The closest I can get to a gaelic (pref Scots gaelic) translation is ‘Tigh an Rothaí” but I wonder if that would mean “House of THE wheels” rather than just “of wheels”. Any pointers would be greatly appreciated.
    Kind regards

    • róislín:

      @Stuart Murdoch An interesting query, a Stuart. “Rothaí” is Irish Gaelic for “wheels,” but in Scottish Gaelic, it would be “rothan.” _If_ you’re going to say (the) House of the Wheels, it would be “Tigh nan Rothan.” I can see that you might want to just say “House of Wheels” (technically “Tigh Rothan”) but I’d doesn’t sound as natural to me that way in Gaelic. By way of explanation, I can only offer up the idea that the definite article is used in many situations in Irish and in Gaelic when the nouns are not overwhelmingly “definite.” For example, the the house name “Tigh an Uillt,” it literally means “the house of the brook,” (or “of the stream” or “of the rill”). I could easily imagine that the translation might be given as “Brook House,” since the brook doesn’t really “own” the house as such. I’d recommend that you try to find a native Gaelic speaker to help on this distinction. And by the way, do your girlfriend’s parents have a preferred translation for the home’s name?

      Also, in support of keeping “nan” in the phrase, between Ireland and Scotland, there are probably thousands of place names that have the definite article in the middle, whether or not a specific landmark is really intended. In Irish, the definite article could appear as “an” or “na” and in Gaelic it could be “an” or “na” or “nan” or “nam.”

      By the way, I also just wanted to check on the word “Uillt” — I assume this is from “allt,” with two L’s. There is another word, uilt (with one L), which, with apparent contradiction, means “of a valley” “of a leap,” or “of a hill or eminence.” That seems to cover most of the possibilities of terrain! Anyway, HTH!

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