Irish Language Blog

Deir Tusa ‘Slán,’ Deirimse ‘Haló’ (Saying ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’ in Irish, Cuid a Dó: Goodbye) Posted by on May 27, 2013 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

After some deliberation, I decided to hold off on the blog on “ainmneacha sa tuiseal gairmeach” (names in the vocative case), since I think that will probably also be a blag dhá chuid (two-part blog).   Let’s cut right to the chase here and go over some possibilities for saying “goodbye” in Irish.  That means that our vocative case examples like “A Shéamais,” “A Sheáin,” “A Shinéad,” and “A Shiobhán,” and, well, for good measure, ” A Iób” and “A Nabúcadnazar,” will have to wait tamaillín beag eileAch cén docharDe réir a chéile a thógtar na caisleáin! (aistriúchán an tseanfhocail sin thíos but a hint, you’ve probably heard it already, faoin Róimh).

So let’s look at the actual possibilities for saying “goodbye” (slán agat, slán leat, slán go fóill, etc.).  The core word here, as many of you will recognize, is “slán,” functioning as a noun, related to “sláinte.”  And probably even more of you know “sláinte,” with the basic meaning of “health,” but also used for making toasts, as in “Sláinte!” (Cheers!).  Aside from saying “goodbye,” most of the time when we use “slán” it’s an adjective (m. sh. “a bheith slán sábháilte,” to be safe and sound).  However, as we see here, “slán” can also be a noun.  It can mean “healthy person,” as in “an slán agus an t-easlán.”  Or you might recall it from “dúshlán” [doo-hlawn, “s” is silent], which means “a challenge” or “defiance.” “Slán” (challenge) can also be used without the “-” (black) prefix, as in “slán a chur faoi Iób” (to put a challenge to Job).

And I can’t resist adding that “slán,” as a noun, can also be used in two slightly different ways to refer to Coronopus squamatus or C. didymus, aka “swine’s-cress,” or for that matter, “wart cress,” another name for the same plant.   Hmmm, put them together and we’d almost have “Hogwarts.”  Not exactly the same hogwort plant (Croton capitatus) that may have subconsciously inspired J.K. Rowling’s name for the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in her Harry Potter series, but close enough to be intriguing.  At any rate, the two names for “swine’s cress” are “Slán na muice” and “Slánlus na muc.”  Note the difference between the genitive singular form, “na muice” (of the pig) and the genitive plural form, “na muc” (of the pigs), but actually, please don’t ask me why the terms are slightly different — diabhal a fhios agamsa!

Getting back to our main topic, though, the meaning of “slán” as a noun that we want here is “health” or “soundness.”  How to distinguish “slán” for “health” and “sláinte” for “health”?  Most of the time, you’ll use “sláinte,” for medical issues, health clinics, etc.  “Slán” for “health” is mostly limited to set phrases, which will include our “goodbye” words, and it is also often used where we could say “farewell” in English.  After all, “farewell” originally meant to travel well, safely, soundly, and in such a way that your body was whole and unharmed.  So we can also say “Chuir Laoiseach slán le Liam (Laoiseach bade farewell to Liam) or “D’fhág Agaiméamnón slán ag Agata” (Agamemnon took his leave of Agatha).  Actually it would have been Cliotaeimnéistre, but then we wouldn’t have our handy-dandy alliterative preposition mnemonic, to help us remember to use “ag.”

Most of the time though, at least these days, we simply say “goodbye,” in English; we don’t say “I bid you farewell.”  “You bid farewell, I say ‘Hail fellow well met!'” sung to the Beatles’ tune — I don’t think so!

Here are four possible ways to say “goodbye” in Irish, using “slán” as a noun:

1) Slán agat!, lit. health at you (plural: Slán agaibh!, lit. health at you all)

2) Slán leat!, lit. health with you (plural: Slán libh!, lit. health with you all)

3) Slán go fóill!, lit. health for now.  Hmmm, now that I think of it, that sounds beagáinín macabre.  Oh well, it’s widely used, and avoids having to apply the “agat/leat” formula, which we’ll discuss below.  It’s basically understood as “Goodbye for now!,” benign enough.

4) Slán!, used on its own.  I know it’s not officially approved of, since it’s considered incomplete.  But I hear it constantly these days.  Is it really any different than extracting “bye” from “goodbye” in English?  Technically, that leaves us saying “be with you,” since “goodbye” is also a blessing (God be with you!).

A fifth widely used way to say “goodbye” treats “slán” as a adjective:

5) Slán abhaile!  Of course, this is only used when speaking to someone who really is heading home.  “Abhaile” [uh-WAHL-yuh] comes from “chun an bhaile” (homeward, or more literally, “to the home”).  Theoretically, “chun an bhaile” could also mean “to the town,” but at least in this context, it is interpreted as “home.”  “Baile,” on its own usually does mean “town” and shows up in place names all over Ireland, often anglicized as “bally.” Examples are Baile Átha Cliath (Dublin), Baile Monaidh (Ballymoney), Baile na nGall (Ballygall), and, as we celebrated (How many blogs ago?), Baile Shéamais Dhuibh (Ballyjamesduff).  You might remember the Ballyjamesduff blog from March 4, 2010, which practiced the verb “to go” using characters from the song “Come Back, Paddy Reilly (to Ballyjamesduff)” ( ).

So that’s the five ways.  There are a few more, but that seems like enough for now.  What’s the “agat/leat” formula bit?  In a nutshell, the explanation is:

a) If you’re leaving first, and saying goodbye to someone who’s staying behind, you use “agat.”  The other person says “Slán leat!”  Mar shampla:

E.T.: Slán agat, a Elliott!

Elliott: Slán leat, a E.T.!

b) If the person who’s staying behind speaks first, they use “leat.”  If Elliott speaks before E.T., we’d have:

Elliott: Slán leat, a E.T.!

E.T: Slán agat, a Elliott!

Or if we want to deacronymize it:

Elliott: Slán leat, a Eachtardhomhandaigh!

an t-eachtardhomhandach:  Slán agat, a Elliott.

Pronunciation lifeline?  “A Eachtardhomhandaigh” [uh AKH-tur-γohn-dee].  As a general term, “an t-eachtardhomhandach” [un TAKH-tur-γohn-dukh].  Both versions have the voiced velar fricative sound, indicated by the symbol /γ/ , the “gamma” sign from Greek.  For details on pronouncing it, see and the other blogs cited there.

If saying goodbye to two or more people, the plural forms are used , with “agat” changing to “agaibh” [UG-iv] and “leat” changing to “libh” [liv].  We’d see “libh” in the following:

Gandalf, captured by the Balrog, falling into the lake beneath Moria, to his friends (too many to name here); he is staying behind: Slán libh, a chairde!

Members of the Fellowship; they are leaving: Slán agat, a Ghandalf!

Of course, Gandalf actually starts a journey of his own here, although he may not realize it yet, so we could have a “leat“-“leatsa” situation.”  In which case, we’d have:

Gandalf, plunging into the depth, captured by the Balrog; he’s moving away from the others as he falls toward the lake: Slán libh, a chairde!

The Fellowship; they’re moving away from Gandalf:   Slán leatsa, a Ghandalf!

Of course, there might not be time at Khazad-dûm for such formalities.  What Gandalf really said, hmmm, actually, “Eitligí, a amadáin!” comes across as very literal, as if all the crew sprouted “sciatháin.”  “Rithigí, a amadáin!” would make sense but is it strong enough?  “Imígí, a amadáin!” is similar, adequate, but perhaps not desperate enough.  Other possibilities include “Tógaigí oraibh!” and “Buailigí an bóthar!” — that is más féidir linn “bóthar” a chur ar an mbealach as Moria!  How about “Brostaígí oraibh!”  Now we’re talkin’!  Bhur mbarúlacha, a léitheoirí?

I assume (and hope) the translations of Tolkien by Nicholas Williams and Evertype, the publisher,  will continue.   But so far, we only have An Hobad (2012) and we’ll have to see what Williams decides for Gandalf’s famous and highly memeable “fools” line, which is in the first book of the trilogy, not in The Hobbit.

Signing out, I tend to use “SGF” (Slán go fóill) since it’s short and non-formulaic, so SGF, Róislín


An seanfhocal: De réir a chéile a thógtar na caisleáin, lit. bit after bit the castles are built, i.e. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Maidir leis an ainm “Gandalf” i nGaeilge.  Apparently Williams has decided it will be a 4th-declension noun.  The vocative is “A Ghandalf!” (no inserted “-i-” at the end, which would be characteristic of a 1st-declension noun).   The phrase “i lámha Ghandalf” also shows us that the name is 4th-declension, since again the “-i-” is not inserted.   However we do see that the name gets lenited (“g” becoming “gh”) in the vocative, genitive, and after certain prepositions (ar Ghandalf, ó Ghandalf, srl.).  Tá an t-aistriúchán (An Hobad, ISBN 978-1-904808-90-9) ar fáil ag áiteanna mar:

And one last afterthought, as I find myself wondering, for the sake of completeness in paradigms, what would the plural of Gandalf be in Irish, if, for example, he got cloned?  Gandalfanna?  Gandalfaí?  Presumably not “Gandailf,” since that would bring the name back to the first declension.  I don’t think there’s any reference to plural Gandalfs in The Hobbit, or for that matter, in The Lord of the RingsA NiocláisÁáá!  The things we take for granted in English, like one plural ending for 99.99 percent of the nouns!  Bhuel, it makes saol an Ghaeilgeora interesting!  Móimintí leadránacha ar bith sa teanga seo!

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