Irish Language Blog

Cineálacha Sneachta: Kinds of Snow Posted by on Feb 8, 2010 in Irish Language

 (le Róislín)

As a tribute to the amount of snow that fell over the weekend ar chósta thoir na Stát Aontaithe, and, I suppose, as a belated tribute to the amount that fell in Éirinn i mí Eanáir, let’s talk about some of the ways it can fall or accumulate.

The most basic statement would be:


Tá sé ag cur sneachta.  It’s snowing, lit. It is “putting” snow. 


That verb “cur” (putting) is used for other forms of precipitation as well, as in “Tá sé ag cur fearthainne” or “Tá sé ag cur báistí” (both meaning “It’s raining”) and “Tá sé ag cur seaca” (It’s freezing).   


Other forms of snow are:


caidhleadh sneachta [KAL-yeh …] , a blizzard, from the verb “cadhail” (“pile” or “twist” in general, “drive” regarding “snow”)


flichshneachta [FLIH-HNAKH-tuh, the first “c” and the “s” are silent], sleet, from “fliuch” (wet) + “sneachta


greallach sneachta, slush, from “greallach” (mire, puddle)


One of my favorite phrases in Irish is “muc shneachta.”  For those of you who know your domestic animals in Irish, yes, you read that right.  It means a “snow drift” but literally it is “pig of snow.”  For the plural, muca sneachta, you lose the first “h” in “shneachta,” following the standard pattern for feminine plural nouns (cf. fuinneog mhór, a big window, but fuinneoga móra, big windows)


I just learned a new term in English, thundersnow, for which I can’t find any Irish equivalent.  But, múineann gá seift, and we could always improvise with a beautifully long word like *toirneachshneachta [TIR-nukh-HNAKH-tuh] with no fleiscín (hyphen), as per the current trends in modern Irish punctuation.  Or we could go for the genitive and say “sneachta toirní” (lit. snow of thunder, on analogy with “stoirm thoirní,” thunderstorm, using “toirní,” the genitive case of “toirneach”).  Apparently that’s what some areas received this weekend. 


Beautiful as the tírdhreach sneachtúil may be, it can always present the danger of dó seaca (frostbite).  “” literally means “burning” and is a completely different word here from “,” the number “two.”  There are two ways to say the adjective form, frostbitten, “dóite ag an sioc” and “siocdhóite.”  So, in Irish, the frost “burns” instead of “bites.” 


How many of these snow-related phrases can you figure out: daille shneachta, plúirín sneachta, liopard sneachta, fear sneachta, and liathróid shneachta?  If, as you work through them, you wonder why some say “shneachta” and others say “sneachta,” it’s because some are grammatically feminine.  “Daille,” blindness, follows many abstract nouns in being feminine (like áille, gile, etc.).  As for why “liathróid” (ball) is feminine, there’s no apparent reason.  It’s just a feature of Irish, like most Indo-European languages except English, that nouns have grammatical gender.  Every noun is either masculine or feminine, except for a handful of genderless nouns referred to in Irish grammar as “substantives.”  Most of these are limited to use in set or fixed phrases today, like “féidir” in “Is féidir liom” (I can).  So, from the group above, the “snowdrop” (flower), “snow leopard,” and (logically enough) “snowman” are all masculine.  Now that you have all five translations, you can probably match which one goes with which Irish phrase. Slán go fóill — Róislín


Nótaí: gá [gaw] need, necessity; seift [sheft] plan (here “invention,” which should help you translate this phrase into the familiar proverb).  “Seaca” [SHAK-uh] is the possessive (genitive) form of “sioc” ([shuk] frost).  Even though phrases like “ag cur seaca” or “dó seaca” don’t involve possession in the sense of ownership, they are still required, in Irish, to be in the genitive case, which typically marks possession.  So you can think of these, very literally, as “at frost’s putting” (at the putting of frost) and “frost’s burning.” 




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  1. Gary:

    I captured this on Jan 12th 2011, if you’d like to see what thundersnow like. You rarely see the lightning itself, only the flash.

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