Irish Language Blog

Cóiriú Gruaige Tírghrách Venus Williams: Dearg, Bán, Gorm Posted by on Jul 30, 2012 in Irish Language

Trilis thírghrách: dearg, bán, agus gorm ó bhratach Mheiriceá (construáil an údair)

(le Róislín)

Here we just finished discussing “dearg, bán, agus gorm” for 4 (An Ceathrú Lá) Iúil (Lá na Saoirse i Meiriceá), when these three colors come swishing through the air again!  This time they aren’t attached to a crann brataí, but to ceann Véineas Nic Liam, or, as she’s usually known, Venus Williams, sna Cluichí Oilimpeacha.

Looking at the photograph (, which has been plastráilte all over an nuacht, I’d say we’re looking at cornrows (though they’re more straightforward than many I’ve seen) and extensions.   So I’ve been pondering those terms (cornrows, extensions) in Irish, and, as sometimes happens, coming to a bit of a ceann caoch (dead end, lit. blind head or end).  But we can still look at the vocabulary for them.

“Extensions” is a bit easier to deal with, as vocabulary, than “cornrows.”  So let’s start there.  “Síneadh” means “to stretch / extend / prolong.”  You might recognize it from the phrase “síneadh fada” (long mark), which is very important in learning Irish, making the difference between words like “lón” (lunch) and “lon” (ouzel, among other meanings).  “Síneadh” is a “verbal noun,” which means it can be used as a noun, which further means that it has a plural form, “síntí.”  So for hair extensions, let’s say “síntí gruaige.”

Let’s backtrack for a minute there, with the word for “hair”:

gruaig [GROO-ig], hair; an ghruaig, the hair

gruaige [GROO-ig-yuh], of hair; na gruaige, of the hair

So “síneadh gruaige” would be a “hair extension” and “síntí gruaige” would be “hair extensions.”

Now for cornrows.  The word “corn” is different in American and British/Irish English.  In the US, it is almost exclusively used for maize (i.e. sweet corn).   In British and Irish English, it means edible grain in general, which can include wheat and oats.  In Irish, “arbhar” [“AR-oor” OR “AR-uh-vur”] means “corn” and the adjective “Indiach” is added (arbhar Indiach) to specify “Indian corn” (maize).  The idea behind the term “cornrows” is that the hair looks like fields of planted corn (maize), but I think that adding “Indiach” to the mix here would make the phrase too complicated.  So “arbhar,” on its own, could be one element of our word.

Next is “row.”  Once we separate out any uses of the word “row” for “rowing” (a boat) or for having a “row” (argument), we’re still left with a number of words that mean “row” as in a “line” of something.  These include the following:

iomaire, also a “ridge,” as in planting, or the surname, Mac an Iomaire [mahk uh NUM-irzh-uh]

líne, also a “line,” as in “ar líne” [erzh LEEN-yuh]

rae, a row as in planting, also for street names, such as “Rae Chaibhindis” (Cavendish Row)

, in computing and statistics, for houses, trees, etc., also in damhsa (dancing)

sraith, for seats, pews, etc., also in knitting; also, a “series” as in “sraith leabhar

So the path of least resistance would appear to be “,” since it can refer to plantings and echoes the Béarla.  “*Arbhar-ró“?  The plural, then, would be “*arbhar-rónna.”

Some little voice in my head is saying “*corn-ró” with the plural as “*corn-rónna.”  Probably the idea of cornrows is widespread enough that people would realize that “*corn-ró” would be a half-English, half-Irish term, especially since the word is constructed as a compound, with the same word order as English.

I did search around online for references to any of this, and found virtually nothing.  There were a few repetitive references to “síntí gruaige” but they all bore the hallmarks of Google translate or some such engine.  None of the sites were Irish or Irish-related, and all had random words in English embedded in Irish text, words that would have been easy enough for a human translator to deal with.  Such sites can be amusing, or distracting, but aren’t useful for finding out how people use words.  For “corn-rónna,” or whatever we end up calling it, there was nothing.  I did find one (and only one) hit for “rónna corn” [sic] on a dating website, in a person’s profile.  Of course, if we really read that as Irish, it means “rows of horns / trophies” (“corn” in Irish means a “horn” or “trophy cup” in sports, music, or similar competitions, as in Corn Uí Riada, for sean-nós singing, or Corn Uí Mhuirí for peil Ghaelach).  The distinctly Irish word “rónna” coming first seems to prompt interpreting “rónna corn” as a fully Irish phrase, since it’s in typical Irish word order.

Maybe it’s best to just say “cornrow” as such in Irish, maybe pluralizing it with “*cornrowanna,” or maybe just as in English, “cornrows.”  At any rate, it’s useful to talk about fairly basic vocabulary words such as “corn” and “row,” no matter what outcome (or rows) we have for “cornrows.”

Maybe by the next time I look into this topic, someone else will have worked it out and the Irish dictionaries will include “cornrow,” but so far, like I said, there’s no useful cybertrail for “cornrows” as Gaeilge.   Or maybe, before much longer, some gruagaire sa Ghaeltacht will write in and say, right, we do them all the time and call them a leithéid seo d’ainm (such and such a name).   Gruagaire ar bith amuigh ansin, ag léamh an bhlag seo?   After all, the style is not limited to people of African descent (with whom it originated), not since an scannán 10.

But the colors in the picture of Venus aren’t static.  Part of the appeal of the picture and the concept is how the colors move as Venus moves.  Swishing, now how would one say that in Irish?  Or flashing?  Or swinging?  Or waving?  Well, that gives us some vocabulary food for thought.  I guess I’d describe gruaig Venus Williams as “ag lascadh” (whipping) or “ag luascadh” (swinging ), tríd an aer, that is, as she played, leadóg, of course.  And you might have sensed where this was going.  Watching Venus, I couldn’t help but semi-think, semi-translate the refrain “fuipeáil mo chuid gruaige, fuipeáil mo chuid gruaige, anonn is anall.”  But that discussion, with leithscéalta do Willow, Jimmy Fallon, Bruce Springsteen, agus Neil Young, will have to be ábhar blag eile.

As for the artwork for this blog, it is, as the foscríbhinn says, my interpretation of trilse trilseacha trilsithe ildathacha tírghrácha Venus, since I wasn’t able an grianghraf féin a uaslódáil, hence an nasc dó, thuas.  And I’m wondering, will this hair tour de force be repeated some time by others for Trídhathach na hÉireann (uaine, bán agus flannbhuí) or any other group of trí dhath?

Gluais: cóiriú gruaige, hairdo; construáil, construction, interpretation; crann brataí, flagpole; cuid, share, portion (not just used for “do chuid pióige” but also routinely used to describe one’s hair, money, or knowledge of the Irish language — ábhar blag eile, más mian libh); gruagaire, hairdresser; ildathach, multicolored; leadóg, tennis; leithscéal, apology, excuse; pióg, pie (pióige, of pie); tírghrách, patriotic; trilis, tress (pl: trilse); trilsithe, braided, plaited; trilseach, braided / plaited OR bright / glittering (an interesting double set of meanings!)

Agus an bolgam siollaí leathuamach sin “trilse trilseacha trilsithe ildathacha tírghrácha Venus,” that means “Venus’s bright braided multicolored patriotic tresses.”

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