Irish Language Blog

Fools on Hills, and Otherwise, with Irish Pronunciation Tips Posted by on Apr 1, 2012 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

On the topic of fools (amadáin), Irish seems to have an endless supply of words.  Probably other languages do as well (Welsh offering up ffŵl, ffwlcyn, hurtyn, lolyn, penbwl, twpsyn, and ynfytyn, just for starters), but our focus here, ar ndóigh, will be on Irish terms.  We’ve recently discussed quite a few (gamal, pleidhce, pleota, and specifically female, óinseach).  Let’s review some of those from previous blogs, plus a few more, this time with a rough guide to pronunciation, both in the basic form and in the vocative (for direct address … direct address at your own risk, that is):

amadán [AH-muh-dawn], fool, fairly straightforward in pronunciation.  In direct address: “A amadáin!” “Fool!”  This is pronounced almost the same, but the “n” at the end is now slender, marking the vocative, so is tenser, almost like an “aw-in” sound, but more flowing.  Rhymes with “Táin,” the famous Cattle Raid of Cooley.

Now if this fool really were on a hill, as suggested by Lennon/McCartney, we’d probably say “An tAmadán ar an gCnoc” for the title of the song (or “ar an Chnoc” for Northern Irish).  I don’t recall that the song actually had any direct address, but if we did want to greet the fool on the hill, we could say “A amadáin ar an gcnoc,” or I’d be tempted to add poetic license to song and say “A amadáin an chnoic!” (O fool of the hill!).  As for the “foolish grin” in the song, that’ll have to wait for blag eile, since there are quite a few ways to say “grin” in Irish, as one might expect (“cár” agus “drannadh” ina measc).

dundarlán [DUN-dur-lawn], dunce, dunderhead, which Severus Snape implies is the intelligence level of his incoming Rang Posóidí (“mura bhfuil sibh in bhur ndundarlán chomh mór is a bhíonn os mo chomhair de ghnáth”).  In the vocative singular, this will be “A dhundarláin!” “Dunderhead!”  Same comments for the pronunciation of “-áin” as above.  There’s also a change from the normal initial “d” to an initial “dh,” bringing us to the voiced velar fricative as discussed in various previous blogs (among them, “Saying ‘I love you’ in Irish and Minding Your Velar Fricatives,” ).  The rough guide to that “dh-“ is a throaty (guttural) gargling sound, best learned by hearing native speakers.

gamal [GAH-mul], fool.  In direct address, “A ghamail!” [uh γAH-mil].  That symbol that looks sort of like a “y” is the phonetic symbol (“gamma”) for the sound I just described, which has no equivalent in the English language.  It comes from the “gamma” letter of the Greek alphabet.

gamalóg, [GAH-mul-ohg], female version of the above.  In direct address: “A ghamalóg!”  Same initial “gh-“ sound as for “gamal,” otherwise, no change.

óinseach [OHN-shukh], female fool.  In direct address: “A óinseach!” [uh OHN-shukh, no change to the main word]

óinsín [OHN-sheen], young or small female fool.  No change in direct address.

pleidhce [PLAI-kyuh, “ai” rhyming with “I,” “aye,” “eye,” and “my”], fool.  In direct address: “A phleidhce!” [uh FLAI-kyuh, with “flai” rhyming with “fly”].

pleota [PLyOH-tuh], fool.  In direct address: “A phleota!” [uh FLyOH-tuh]

And then, of course, words can be paired up to intensify the effect:

pleidhce amadáin, a silly fool.  In direct address: “A phleidhce amadáin!”

stumpa amadáin, an out-an-out fool, as Hagrid calls Mr. Dursley in the Irish version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Guess you can tell what I’ve been reading lately.  Actually re-reading, on the lookout for the stórfhocal is suimiúla‘Sea, sin é, Harry Potter agus an Órchloch, which so far is the only volume from the series to have been translated into Irish : (

Bhuel, tá súil agam nach am amú é seo uaim atá amanna i m’óinseach, is dócha.  SGF, Róislín

P.S.  In case anyone was wondering about “gnáthfhadhbanna,” cited in the last blog,  it breaks down fairly neatly to “gnáth-“ [gnaw] + fhadhb [aib, rhyming with scribe, tribe, etc.] + –anna [uh-nuh, a plural ending].  For that one, I think we can skip the direct address form!  As you may recall, the word is from the line, “Agus tá na gnáthfhadhbanna fós á ciapadh: an Pleota sa bhaile agus Bean Uí Bhatamór ar scoil” (from a “blurba” for the children’s book “Cailitín” by Caitríona Ní Mhurchú,  Got the rest of the sentence?  It’s “And the ordinary problems are still pestering her: the Fool [her silly brother] at home and Bean Uí Bhatamór [lit. Mrs. “Big-stick”] at school.”

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