Irish Language Blog

Emoji Rua? (Irish for ‘a red-haired emoji’) – ach an bhfuil siad ann? Posted by on May 28, 2015 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

An bhfuil emoji ann dóibh? Cé hiad na daoine seo? Lucht freastail ar Roodharigendag (Lá na nDaoine Rua, Redhead Day i mBéarla) sa chathair Breda san Ísiltír sa bhliain 2008. By Bartr (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons.

An bhfuil emoji ann dóibh? Cé hiad na daoine seo? Lucht freastail ar Roodharigendag (Lá na nDaoine Rua, Redhead Day i mBéarla) sa chathair Breda san Ísiltír sa bhliain 2008. By Bartr (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons.

This spring has seen a flurry of articles about the absence of red-haired emojis, especially now that more diversity than ever is available, with 5 or 6 types of skin tones (toin chnis) and numerous combinations with hair colors (dathanna gruaige).

The 5 vs. 6 aspect is mostly thar scóp an bhlag seo, but if you’re really interested you can read more at  The Fitzpatrick scale has 6 categories of ton cnis but the first two are collapsed together for the emojis, making 5 categories.

Whatever one may think of the divisions and the omission (initially, at least) of a red-haired option, it’s a good opportunity to practice the Irish word for red-haired (rua [ROO-uh]).

One convenient thing about the word “rua” is that it has just one form in most Modern Irish spelling, just “rua,” with no changes for plural, gender, or grammatical case.  So we have:

bean rua, a red-haired woman

fear rua, a red-haired man

bean an fhir rua, the red-haired man’s wife

fear na mná rua, the red-haired woman’s husband

There is, of course, a well-known and beautiful song, “Bean an Fhir Rua,” played instrumentally by the Chieftains on their Water from the Well album and sung by Stéphanie Makem (grand-niece of Tommy Makem) at

If you watch the Stéphanie Makem video, with subtitles, you’ll see that the caption says, “Bean an Fhir Ruaidh” although the host of the session really appears to say, “Bean an Fhir Rua.”  So what’s “ruaidh“?  Remember, I referred to “most Modern Irish spelling.”  The older spelling of “rua” was “ruadh,” with a silent “dh” (as were words like “nuadh, sluadh, etc.).  With that “-dh” ending, the word could take on inflection, with “ruadh” [ROO-uh] becoming “ruaidh” [ROO-ee].

Curiously, a similar pattern still applies to the word “nua,” although the “-dh” is gone.  The added “i” is still present, showing up as an “i-fada” (í), replacing the original “-idhe” and “-idh.”  The form is “nuaí,” used for comparisons (níos nuaí) and for saying “of the new __,” when the noun is feminine and singular, like “dath na culaithe nuaí” or “luach na muince nuaí.”

At any rate, back to “rua,” and some plural examples.  Remember–no change!

gruaig rua (By Sunny Ripert (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

gruaig rua (By Sunny Ripert (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

na mná rua

na fir rua

fir na mban rua

mná na bhfear rua

A few more uses include:

capall rua, a chestnut horse

pingin rua, a “red” cent

An Mhuir Rua, the Red Sea

rua-úll, a russet apple

And a few related words:

ruacht, redness (of hair)

ruadhó, to scorch, lit. to “red-burn”

ruathuile, a strong flood

Of course, all of these are in contrast to the other Irish word for “red,” which is “dearg,” as in “geansaí dearg” or “tiúilip dhearg.” “Rua” is used for hair, fur, and for coppery, rust-colored, and brownish shades of red.  “Dearg” is used for practically everything else.

Anyway, that’s some practice for “red-haired” in Irish and some other related phrases.  As noted above, there is some controversy surrounding the issue of redheadedness and emojis.  And just how controversial has the multiplicity of images become?  The emojipedia article, “The Trouble with Redheads,” describes it as inclusive (uileghabhálach), divisive (siosmach), overdue (thar téarma, i.e. a rabhthas ag tnúth go mór leis), or not even necessary (gan riachtanas ar bith) (  Not that the original emojipedia article provided the Irish vocabulary in parentheses.  I did that, just for a little more dúshlán stór focal.  Céard é do bharúil féin faoin gconspóid?  Nó an síleann tú gur conspóid atá ann?  Cad a dhéanfá dá mbeifeá i mbun na n-íomhánna emoji?  SGF — Róislín

Gluais: ton cnis [ton knish], skin tone, pl: toin chnis [twin hnish].  Both of these are pronounced with “dental t,” about half way between an English “t” as in “Tom” and a “hard” English “th” as in “thin” or “think.”  Basically like the “t” in a (stereo)typical Irish pronunciation of “I t(h)ink so,” or “Thin Lizzy.”

As for the vowels, the “o” of “ton” changes to more of an “ih” sound (as in “it” or “in”) for the plural (toin), because of the added “i,” like the “oi” sound of “pointe” or “foinse.” So I’ve added the superscript “w” in the transcription, but it’s not a perfect solution since Irish “toin” doesn’t sound exactly like English, “twin,” just a little bit.  The vowel combination “oi” rarely sounds anything like the English words “coin” or “boy,” although a relatively small number of words, like “oighear” or “oigheann” tend in that direction, because of the “-gh-.”

But the big caveat for this phrase is “NO SÍNEADH FADA“!  If we had the word “tóin” (with o-fada) we’d be looking at the word for “butt” or “backside,” as in “Póg mo thóin.”  That’s just one backside–the plural would be “tóineanna.” If we had the very hypothetical phrase “*tóin chnis,” it would mean something like “butt of skin,” in other words, a butt consisting of “skin,” as opposed to, hmmm, well, I guess, whatever other material you could imagine. Actually I’d probably want to use “craiceann” for that, so, “tóin chraicinn,” but we are getting an-hipitéiseach here, aren’t we?  At any rate, note the different ways the plurals are formed, for “ton” and “tóin“:

ton, pl: toin

tóin, pl: tóineanna

By the way, I’m sure it’s obvious, but that wasn’t “butt” as in “cask” or “barrel.”  That would be “buta,” as in a “butrach” (a buttery), as in the name of the eatery at Trinity College Dublin.

And one last point, making this “gluais” almost as long as a full blog post.  In the pronunciation guide, the “k” of “knish” (for “ton cnis“) is pronounced, unlike similar-looking English words (knee, knight, knock, where the “k” is silent”). The “kn-” sound with the “k” pronounced is like the Danish pronunciation of  the surname “Knudsen,” sort of like “canoe” if the two syllables were collapsed together. As for the “hn” sound of “hnish” as a guide for pronouncing “chnis,” I don’t think there’s anything like it in English.  It’s basically “huh” and “nuh” superimposed on each other.  At any rate, it’s nothing like the “ch” of English “child” or “chew,” not that “ch” in Irish ever is.  It’s either the guttural sound of “loch” or the breathy sound of “oíche.”

So far, all that glossary was just for the one phrase, “ton cnis.”  Here’s a bit more: íomhá, image (one of the relatively few nouns that end with “a-fada“; foinse, source; oigheann, oven; oighear, ice; pointe, point

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