Irish Language Blog

Deatach Dubh, Deatach Bán … agus Pápa! Posted by on Mar 10, 2013 in Irish Language

An Pápa

(le Róislín)

The selection of a new pope gives us an interesting opportunity to look at some Irish vocabulary, in particular, the words for “smoke,” the colors “black” (dubh) and “white” (bán), and, for good measure, “gray” (liath), and “conclave.”    And of course, the word for “pope,” which is “pápa.”

Let’s start with “deatach dubh” and ‘deatach bán.”  There are two main words for “smoke” in Irish, “deatach” and “toit.”  To some degree, the words are interchangeable, as we see in the two different versions of this proverb:  “An áit a mbíonn toit, bíonn tine,” or, “An áit a mbíonn deatach, bíonn tine.”  Both mean “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

There are some differences in usage between “deatach” and “toit,” though.  For example, fish or meat will be “leasaithe le deatach” or “deataithe” (from the verb “deataigh”), as in “bagún deataithe” or “bradán deataithe.”    “Toit,” on the other hand, is the basis for the word “toitín” (cigarette).  Neither “toit” nor “deatach” is specifically related to the verb “to smoke,” as in smoking cigarettes or pipes or, for that matter, “húcaí.”  That verb is “caith” and it will warrant a bhlag féin some day.

At any rate, “deatach” is the word I found used for describing the smoke signals from an Vatacáin.  That smoke can be “dubh” (black) or “bán” (white).  A curious situation happened in 2005, when the smoke turned out to be “liath” [LEE-uh].  Apparently, the wet straw that was burned together with the paper ballots yielded an inconclusive gray, so the Vatican now includes the following ingredients to ensure the correct color:

don dath dubh: sárchlóráit photaisiam, antraicéin, agus sulfar

don dath bán: clóráit photaisiam, lachtós, agus roisín clórafoirm (NB that that’s “roisín,” resin, not “Róisín,” the girl’s name)

Regarding the colors, “dubh” [duv OR doo] and “bán” [bawn] for “black” and “white,” respectively, are very basic words in Irish, as one might expect.  You may already know related words like the surname “Duffy,” originally written “Ó Dubhthaigh” but now often written as “Ó Dufaigh.”  It means “black-haired person.”  “Bán” you might recognize from “báinín” (bawneen, lit. “little white thing”) , an undyed natural-colored wool, traditionally used for making waistcoats and other garments.  This material is sometimes described as “flannel,” but it’s not the same as “flannel” as generally understood in the U.S., where “flannel” (a very soft fabric) is typically used for babies’ clothes, sheets, nightgowns, and pajamas.   “Liath” [LEE-uh] is the Irish word for “gray” and is used for most purposes (“gruaig liath,” “féasóg liath,” and even “liathábhar na hinchinne”) but, intriguingly, not for gray-colored horses and cows, which are described as “glas,” a word that usually means “green.”

The Irish for “conclave” also presents an interesting situation.  The phrase used is “comhthionól  cairdinéal,” lit. “assembly of cardinals.”  I’d say this is more of an equivalent term than an exact translation.  It doesn’t really capture the innuendo of the word “conclave,” which literally means a “locked place,” from “with key” (con clavis), i.e. locked or secret.

The Irish for “key” is “eochair” and plays no role in the phrase “comhthionól cairdinéal.”  Nor is there any other part of the phrase that implies “rúndacht” or “ceileatas,” which both mean “secrecy.”  In various other languages, though, the word for “conclave” reflects the phrase’s origin:

Portaingéilis: conclave (conclave), chave (key)

Spáinnis: cónclave (conclave), llave, clave (key)

Iodáilis: conclave (conclave), chiave (key)

Fraincis: conclave (conclave), clé, clef (key)

Many other languages simply adapt “conclave” to their spelling system, as in “Konklave,” “conclaf,”  and “conclaaf,” which are Gearmáinis, Breatnais, and Ollainis, respectively.

As for “pope,” it’s well known that it’s based on one of the words for “father” as found in Latin, French, etc.  The Irish word “pápa” is straightforward enough, as are the related terms “pápach” (papal) and “pápacht” (papacy).  However, most official terms designated as “papal” in English use the phrase “de chuid an Phápa” or just “an Phápa” (of the Pope), not the actual adjective.  Examples include:

leagáid an Phápa [LyAG-aw-idj un FAW-puh], papal legate

toscaire an Phápa, papal envoy

Nuintias an Phápa [NWIN-tchee-us un FAW-puh], Papal Nuncio

bulla de chuid an Phápa, a papal bull

Also regarding the word “pápa,” remember that Irish uses the definite article with honorific titles, such as “An Dochtúir Ó Murchú” or “An tUachtarán Ó hUiginn.”  So we have “An Pápa” as in “An Pápa Eoin Pól”  and “An Pápa Pius,” to name just a few.   This definite article is used in all contexts except direct address, so for example we say “Tá an Dochtúir Ó Murchú anseo” (“The” Dr. Murphy is here) but, in direct address, “A Dhochtúir Uí Mhurchú” (just “Dr. Murphy”).  Not that we use the word “pope” in directly addressing the pope, should we find ourselves in that situation.  In that case, the term is “A Naofacht” (Your Holiness, with “a” as the particle indicating direct address).

It actually never occurred to me until now to check if Irish has any word along the lines of “papa” as such, as an affectionate form of “father.”  Apparently not, since I see “papa” sometimes “defined” as “deaide” or “daid,” but mostly “papa,” as such, doesn’t even show up in the Irish context.

All of these can be traced back along the lines of Latin “pater” and Sanskrit “pitar-” and their Indo-European roots, of course, ach sin ábhar blag eile.  Except to note some steppingstones along the way, like padre, babbo, and père.

So, while the connection between the words “pápa” and various words for “father” in different languages is quite well known, it’s interesting to note that “pápa” is not particularly close to any of the usual words for “father” or “dad” in Irish, which include “athair,” “daid,” and various derivatives.  In other words, the Irish word “pápa,” like the Italian “papa” and the English “pope,” is closely aligned to the so-called “pa” family of words for “father.”  Irish “athair,” in fact, is also in this family, but it lost the initial “p” sound (related to “pater” and “pitar-“) somewhere along the way, so the connection is not as obvious.

The other main family of words for “father,” the so-called “atta” or “tata” family, includes the Irish words “Daid,” “Deaide,” and “Daidí,” which are less formal than “athair.”   Other easily recognizable words for “father” in this side of the family are “dad” (Béarla, informal), “tad” (Breatnais), tată (Rómáinis), and “atta,” in the now extinct Gotais.  Even the languages that have the “atta” or “tata” root for “father” seem to use the “pa” root for “Pope,” logically enough.  Examples include “pab” (Breatnais) and “papă” (Rómáinis).

Irish and English both straddle the fence regarding the “pa” and “atta/tata” vocabulary, since they have “athair” and “father” from the “pa” side and “dad” and “daid/deaide/daidí” from their “atta/tata” roots.  Either way, though, they follow the Latin precedent with “pope” and “pápa” both based on the Latin “pāpa.”

Perhaps we’ll follow all this up soon with the Irish for “pontiff, ” “pontifical,” and “pontificate,” but meanwhile, there’s another “naomh”-related event coming up this month, which we will be sure to address.  Cén naomh é sin?  Agus cad í an bhaint idir “naofacht” agus “naomh”?  Stay tuned.  SGF, Róislín

Gluais: clóráit, chlorate; naofacht, holiness; sárchlóráit, perchlorate

Fáisc-ealaín ó


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