Irish Language Blog

Díth Ingne (An Cúigiú Díochlaonadh, ar l. arís) Posted by on Jun 17, 2011 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

So, what do you see in the title of this blog that exemplifies the pattern for a 5th-declension noun?  That’s right, nothing really.

Remember the various patterns we’ve seen so far (athair, athar, aithreacha; cathair, cathrach, cathracha; cathaoir, cathaoireach, cathaoireacha)?  And more recently, the pattern where you add “-an,” as in:

pearsa, pearsan, pearsana,

monarcha, monarchan, monarchana,

dearna, dearnan, dearnana,

leite, leitean, (gan iolra, cgl, an eisceacht a dhéanann an riail)

Our word of the day for today follows the expected pattern for the genitive singular, like this

ionga, iongan,

but then we have:

ingne, yes, that’s right, ingne, for the plural forms.

So our full set of forms for “ionga” (fingernail, toenail, claw, talon, or hoof) is:

an ionga, the fingernail, etc.

iongan, of a fingernail, etc.

na hiongan, of the fingernail, etc.

ingne, fingernails, etc,

na hingne, the fingernails, etc.

na n-ingne, of the fingernails, etc.

Some sample sentences are:

Níl an vearnais iongan ar an ionga seo tirim fós.

Ní raibh béim iongan air.

Tá scuab ingne agus raspa ingne de dhíth orm.

And finally, the infamous curse (one of the many traditional mallachtaí in the Irish language) and the source of the title of this blog:

Tochas, agus díth ingne ort!

“Tochas” means “an itch” and “díth” means “a lack of” or “a need of”

So, put it together, and the phrase means “An itch and a lack of fingernails on you,” or to paraphrase it, “May you itch and not have any fingernails to scratch yourself.”

In this phrase, “ingne” would be considered genitive plural, since we’re saying a “lack of fingernails.”The curse is also sometimes expressed as “Tochas gan ingne” (an itch without fingernails).  Same sentiment.  In this case, the word “ingne” looks exactly the same as in the earlier phrase but here it’s simply the object of the preposition “gan.”  That’s one mild concession with this word, and most (but not all) of the 5th-declension nouns – usually the plural forms have the same ending for “gach tuiseal” (every case, that is, the nominative/subject form, the genitive/possessive form, etc.).  As you may recall that was not the situation for many nouns from other declensions (na fir, na bhfear; na súile, na súl, etc.)

I first heard this curse as “eascaine Chromail” (i.e. mallacht Chromail), that is “Cromwell’s curse,” but, curiously, all the online examples I see either give this curse with no connection to Cromwell or mention “Cromwell’s curse” as a general phenomenon, relating to the massacres and destruction of his era, but not specifying anything about tochais or ingne.  Hmmm.

Years ago, when I learned this, it didn’t occur to me to hope that that, minimally, the “tochas” wouldn’t be on someone’s “tukhus,” since that would be mixing two languages, both rich in cursing traditions.  “Tukhus” might look more familiar with its slightly more anglicized spelling, “tuchus” (still keeping that guttural “kh” sound, as is typical i nGiúdais, in the middle).  But now, years later, with all kinds of phonological flukes from various languages rolling around in my head, just waiting for the opportunity to be sprung, I can at least wish that no one has a “tochas sa tukhus,” or if they do, that they have “ingne go leor’ with which to scratch it.

If “ionga, iongan, ingne” seems like a strangely-declined specimen, even for Irish, it may help to consider the nice familiar cognate we have in the Latin word unguis (fingernail, toenail, claw, talon, hoof) and its cohorts, ungula (hoof, talon, claw) and unguiculus.  “Unguiculus” is actually, a “little” finger- or toenail, perhaps belonging, back in Roman days, to a homunculus (firín) or a matercula (máithrín), or, it we can extend the meaning to a little animal’s little hoof, to an ovicula (caoirín). 

We also have some fairly technical adjectives in English that are related to the Latin “unguis”:

ungulate, hoofed.  The Irish for “hoofed,” “crúbach,” gets straight to the point (crúb, hoof, sometimes also claw or talon) and at least avoids any ambiguity with human finger- or toenails.  In theory, “crúbach” could also mean “clawed” or “taloned,” but any potential ambiguity with “crúbach” can be disambiguated by the following:

unguiferous or unguiculate (having nails, claws, or talons), clearly connected to the Irish, iongach or ingneach, which also mean “having nails, claws, talons” (as opposed to having hoofs). 

Perhaps these related English and Latin words may help in remembering the unusual “ingne” plural And, hopefully, they’ll also keep anyone from being tempted to use “tairne” (nail for carpentry and construction), when talking about anatamaíocht, be it of daoine or airpeanna.  In this era of machine-translation, where I’ve seen “slacán” used for “bat” (the flying mammal) and where English comhainmneacha, or more specifically homagraif, like “can,” “back,” “rack,” and “mine,” are potential minefields, one can’t be too careful regarding vocabulary.

And, for closers, one final spinoff word based on “ionga/ingne”:

ingneadóireacht, picking at something with nails, claws, or talons

So, to end on a cheery note, who can fill in the following sentence (freagra thíos, faoin ngluais):

Bhíodh _________ ag ingneadóireacht ar ______________ Phroiméitéis mar a fheiceann muid sa phictiúr “Proiméitéas _____ Chuibhreach” a rinne Rubens. 

Banc focal (tá cúpla focal breise ann, le haghaidh an dúshláin): ae, duán, faoi, i, iolar, seabhac,

Gluais: ae, liver; béim iongan, a fingernail’s mark (referring to someone being scratched); cuibhreach, binding, fetter; dearna, palm of one’s hand (more typically “bos“, also, a thump with the palm; de dhíth orm, wanted by me, lit. of need on me; duán, kidney; iolar, eagle, Proiméitéas, Prometheus; raspa, file, rasp; scuab, brush; seabhac, hawk; slacán, a bat (in cricket, baseball, etc., NOT the mammal); tirim, dry; vearnais, polish, varnish

Freagra: Bhíodh iolar ag ingneadóireacht ar ae Phroiméitéis mar a fheiceann muid sa phictiúr “Proiméitéas faoi Chuibhreach” a rinne Rubens. 

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