Irish Language Blog

Cúig Fhrása (Béarla) Gan Mhaith (De Réir Fhionntán Uí Thuathail aka Fintan O’Toole) (Cuid 2/4) Posted by on Jan 8, 2012 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Remember what gátar, déine, and tarrtháil have in common?   Hmmm, the first two have related meanings and are nearly interchangeable (beart gátair, austerity measure; cáinaisnéis déine, austerity budget) but “tarrtháil” is completely different in function as well as meaning.  It’s  an ainmfhocal briathartha, not a gnáthainmfhocal (ordinary noun).  We could also note that  “gátar” and “déine,” are “abstract nouns” (ainmfhocail theibí), making them even more different from “tarrtháil,” which is primarily an action.  “Tarrtháil” expresses a fairly physical concept of “saving.”  This could be contrasted to other concepts of saving (anamacha, srl.) for which, please see an nóta below.

So what dogátar,” “déine,” and “tarrtháil” have in common?  It doesn’t have to do with ciall per se; these three words are simply my choice of how to translate two of the five terms that leading Irish journalist Fintan O’Toole thinks should be outlawed in 2012, as he wrote  in [SPOILER ALERT: I encourage you to read O’Toole’s article but you might want to wait until after you finish this blog, or even this mini-series of blogs, since the rest of this article is set up as a challenge to discover what English words O’Toole is thinking of, via Irish.]

The charge against these words, according to O’Toole?  Distortion, concealing reality, etc.  Not that he probably expects that the words will literally be exiled, but he does raise some interesting points, best expressed by O’Toole himself, as you can read in his article.

Why did I offer three Irish words for O’Toole’s two?  The question really is why do I include two words for “austerity”?  Because I think it would be unfair to “gátar” (if a word can sense unfairness) to only list “déine” for “austerity,” and likewise, it would be unfair to “déine” to only list “gátar.”  For “tarrtháil,” I’d say the choice was more straightforward, without so many tempting comhainmneacha.

So that brings us up to focal a trí on O’Toole’s list.  Again, we’ll try the same approach.  I’ll offer a group of Irish synonyms and a variety of Irish equivalents, but I won’t give the translation that completely reveals O’Toole’s third term.  That’s the dúshlán.

3.  Achrannach? Anróiteach? Deacair? Doiciúil? Doiligh? Duaisiúil? 

So, as I said, I’m not going to cut right to the chase and simply offer up one Irish word to correspond to O’Toole’s list.  Instead, we’ll look at some possibilities and their additional meanings.

achrannach: entangled, intricate, quarrelsome, rocky (regarding terrain); cf. achrann, tangled growth

anróiteach: distressing, hard, inclement (of weather), severe, weather-beaten; cf. anró, hardship

deacair: hard, reluctant, troublesome; cf. deacracht, distress, discomfort

doiciúil: hard to manage, impeding; cf. doic, impediment, hesitation, reluctance

doiligh: distressing, hard, hard to bear, hard to deal with, intractable, reluctant; cf. doilíos, affliction, reluctance, sorrow

duaisiúil: distressing, laborious, tedious, troublesome, wearying; cf. duais, dejection, distress, gloom, sorrow (not the perhaps more familiar “duais,” a prize, gift, or reward, which is a different word altogether – comhainmneacha!)

And then there’s always “crua” (hard), which can either describe something physical (clúdach crua, for a book, as opposed to “clúdach bog”) or something more abstract (obair chrua).

What is the key word that could be used to translate all of the above?  “Difficult,” and that’s no. 3 on O’Toole’s list.

Which one probably matches O’Toole’s meaning the best?  “Deacair (or ‘doiligh’) a rá,” I’d say!  “Deacair” appears to be the most widely used, and therefore is probably the best choice.   One point of comparison could be Google hits:

269,000 for “deacair,” by far the most prevalent of the six words for “difficult,” and, as far as I checked through the amais ([AH-mish], hits), “deacair” doesn’t seem to overlap with any words in other languages.  When that overlap does occur, it may give false high results for a search.  Examples of false highs include “nach,” with 2,330,000,000 hits (!), including, among others, 1) Nach, the Spanish rapper (short for Ignacio), ca. 5 million hits, 2) the German “nach” as in “Drang nach Osten,” which itself accounts for about 930,000 of those hits, and finally, the Irish “nach,” which can either be the conjunction, as in “Deir sé nach bhfuil …,” or the verbal particle, as in “Nach bhfuil …?”

18,100 for “doiligh,” which is also more typical of Northern Irish, and therefore somewhat limited in the total amount of use

6,790 for “achrannach,” including several hundred (apparently) for the phrase “achrannach liked this” (interesting in that it shows usage of the word as someone’s screen name, but that’s not our main focus here)

502 for “anróiteach,” narrowed to 165

158 for “duaisiúil,” narrowed to 46

139 for “doiciúil,” narrowed to 26

Not that volume of hits necessarily makes a word the best choice for a particular context, but in this case it seems to point to the word “deacair” covering the idea of “difficult” in the broadest possible sense.  So I’ll nominate “deacair” as most applicable to O’Toole’s focal a tríDo bharúilse?

All that to deal with just the single word “difficult”?  But wait, there’s more!  Dhá nóta thíos.  Which leads me to conclude that this mini-series should be four parts, not three, since this blog has already gotten quite long enough, thank you very much.  So please stay tuned for Cuid a Trí agus Cuid a Ceathair.  SGF, Róislín

Nóta 1 (re: tarrtháil agus focail eile ar “saving”):  Tarrtháil overlaps somewhat with the word “sábháil,” but “sábháil” can mean “save” either in the physical sense (“é a shábháil ar an mbás”) or in the spiritual (“anam a shábháil”).  Other words for “save” or “saving” also tend to be on the abstract, or at least the non-physical side (anam a shlánú, which is another way to say “to save a soul;” é a shlánú air, to indemnify him against it; banc taisce, savings bank).  “Tarrtháil” is more typically “save” in the sense of “rescue” (é a tharrtháil óna bhá / óna bhás, to save him from drowning / death; gléas tarrthála, life-saving apparatus; tuga tarrthála, a salvage-tug; rafta tarrthála, a life-raft; seaicéad tarrthála, life-jacket, etc.).

In summary, then:

Tarrtháil, to save, usually in the physical sense

Sábháil, to save, physically or spiritually

Slánú, to save, usually spiritually (cf. Slánaitheoir, Savior, Redeemer)

Taoscadh, to bail out, pump out, drain, shovel, earth up

I’d have to acknowledge  that using the word “save” (tarrtháil) for “bailout” doesn’t have quite the edgy sense of desperation evoked by the image of the sinking boats.  Not that our budget planners are literally out there in a sinking ship (hmmm?), getting bailed out with buckets (that would be “taoscadh”) but the expression is used figuratively in English.  To appropriate “taoscadh” for “bailout” in the economic sense in Irish would be a really big stretch; at any rate, modern Irish usage gives us “tarrtháil” for this purpose.

[And now for the “fonóta,” which is now beagnach chomh fada le blag féin!]

Fonóta: Speaking of “bailing,” just a reminder here that this is “bail” spelled with an “i.”  As we can see from the abundant commentary on the topic (,, or [Bryan] Garner’s Modern American Usage,, under bail/bale, m. sh.), there’s a lot of confusion on this spelling issue, and considerable leeway as well, depending on if you’re using British or American English.  “Baling” or “to bale” is usually for hay, cotton, or packages (baling wire, etc.).   At any rate, don’t try “baling” the water in the boat, or you might end up with the liquid version of the “súgán sneachta,” as immortalized by Mairéad Ní Ghráda in her 1959 dráma of the same name and by Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin in his amhrán of the same name on his album “Imíonn an tAm” (2004:  Súgán sneachta – now that’s a topic that deserves a bhlag féin!

Nóta 2 (re: fhuaimniú): Isn’t it nice when English homophones generate all kinds of confusion and the corresponding Irish words are nice and straightforward and logically spelled?  I can’t think of any other Irish word that sounds like “taoscadh.”  Hurá!  It’s also interesting to consider how much of the homophone problem in English is caused by that ever-present silent “e” (as in “bale,” bate/bait, cane/Cain, Dane/deign, pane/pain, bore/boar, brake/brake, etc.).  Irish, quite logically, doesn’t have that silent “e” issue; final e’s, while not stressed (aiceanta), are usually articulated, unless the speaker is talking a mile a minute and the final “e” is glommed onto a following word that starts with a vowel (Tá páiste anseo [taw PAWSH-tchun-shuh]).  In that case, it’s not officially “silent;” it’s just swallowed.  There was an old lady who swallowed a guta neamhaiceanta — nah, that would truly be a digression.

Final e’s in Irish also don’t have that perplexing habit we find in English, where they sometimes cause the previous vowel to be pronounced long (can/cane, ban/bane, kit/kite, con/cone) and sometimes not (have, give, one, and the double-agent “live/live”).  What, you ask, what about all those silent letters, and consonant and vowel clusters, in Irish?  Yes, it does have its fair share, as in bhfuil, aghaidh, bhfaighidh, fhadhb, and aoi / aíonna, which was formerly aoighe / aoigheadha (!).  Yeah, I get it, consain chiúin go leor, consain a fhuaimnítear mar ghuta, trí ghuta i gcrobhaing, séimhiú, urú!  Well, to that, I can simply say, each language has its leithleachais, or should I say “À chacun son goût” (or should that be “À chacun songuta’”?).  Ba-dum-bum-ching (and that’s probably the same in any language, at least in any language that has a stand-up comedy tradition)!  “Buille imill,” to be technical about it.

Gluais: ainmfhocal briathartha [AN-yim-OK-ul BREE-uh-hur-huh, with both t’s silent], verbal noun; anam, soul; , drowning; bás, death (ar an mbás [err un mawss], here: “from death”); ciall, meaning; crobhaing, cluster; dúshlán, challenge; imeall, rim, border (genitive form: imill); leithleachas, idiosyncrasy; neamhaiceanta, unstressed; óna, from his (ó, from + a, his)

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