Irish Language Blog

Grins, Grimaces, and Emoticons: Straoiseanna and Straoiseoga in Irish Posted by on May 18, 2015 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Seanstraoiseoga, sula raibh na focail "straoiseog" agus "emoticon" ann, iad ingearach in ionad a bheith cothrománach. Cén Ghaeilge atá ar na mothúcháin seo? (, public domain)

Seanstraoiseoga, sula raibh na focail “straoiseog” agus “emoticon” ann, iad ingearach in ionad a bheith cothrománach. Cá bhfuarthas na straoiseoga seo? An t-irisleabhar Puck, 30 Márta 1881.  Cén Ghaeilge atá ar na mothúcháin seo?  Léigh leat chun an freagra a fháil.  
(, public domain)

I was tickled pink (is there an emoji for that?) when I found out that the Irish language had its own word for “emoticon.”  The word “straoiseog” [STREESH-ohg] isn’t based on either of the two words that make up “emoticon.”  A classic portmanteau word, “emoticon” in English is quite transparently based on “emotion” (mothúchán) and “icon” (íocón).  Clearly “mothúchán” and “íocón” were not combined to create the word “straoiseog.”

The word “straoiseog” is based on … <significant pause while you recall various Irish words for facial expressions, like, hmm, “cár,” which means “grin” or “grimace,” or “pus,” which means “a sulky expression” or “an animal’s snout;” “pus,” by the way, isn’t pronounced like the English word “pus,” as in weeping wounds–it rhymes with “wuss,” with the “u” sound of “put,” not “putt.”> … Anyway, what else did you come up with for Irish words for facial expressions?

Well, the title of this blog post sort of gave it away.  “Straois” [streesh] in Irish means “grin” or “grimace.”  Similar to “cár,” except that “cár” can also mean the teeth themselves, although the more typical words for teeth are “fiacla” (most common) and “déada” (moderately common).  With “grin” or “grimace,” it suggests a mouth with the teeth showing.   Perhaps a threatening grin or an extreme grimace of pain.  Sometime in the future, we can look more at words for smiling, frowning, laughing, grinning, etc., but for now, I’ll just note that the typical Irish word for “smile” is “meangadh gáire,” a phrase, actually, not a single word.  “Meangadh gáire” translates literally to something like “faint laugh” or even “wily laughing expression.”  When we look further at related words, we see some interesting interpretations of smiling.  For example, “meangaire” means a smiling or deceitful person.

The root word behind all of these is “meang,” meaning “wile” or “deceit.”   “Hmmm,” a dúirt sí léi féin agus roic ina héadan.  It’s true that, today, the positive value of a smile is a culturally constructed notion, not always understood in the same way from language to language and nation to nation.  An extreme example is the cartoon figure, “Guy Smiley,” from Sesame Street.   Within American society, he might be recognized as the epitome of extreme smiling.  I’m curious as to how he is interpreted in international versions of Sesame Street.  I do remember that “Guy Smiley” in English was one of the few words I could pick out in episode one of “Fun Fun Elmo,” a Mandarin Language Learning Program (  It made me wonder if they kept his name in English because he was a character, and characters’ name often are not translated, or whether Mandarin didn’t lend itself to the concept of such an aggressively smiling guy.  Cainteoirí Sínise ar bith anseo?  Anyway, back to “straois.”

It’s interesting that both “cár” and “straois” mean both “grin” and “grimace.”  “Straois” also gives us a word for a person, “straoiseachán,” (grinner, grimacer), and a verb for the action, “straoisíl” ([STREE-sheel], grinning, grimacing).   Another related word is “draid,” which also means “grin” or “grimace,” again, with emphasis on the teeth showing.  A “dradaire” is a “grinner” or a “grimacer,” or a “philanderer”, and it has several other interesting meanings as well.  It certainly seems that, traditionally, a grin was something to be wary of.  Today, of course, we have the Hollywood smile, ach sin ábhar blagiontrála eile.

I don’t see “straoiseog,” as such, in any of the older dictionaries, so my hunch is that the “-eog” ending got tacked on to create the word for “emoticon.”   The word could have existed earlier, but I don’t remember seeing it until relatively recently.  Cúig bliana ó shin, b’fhéidir.  If anyone knows of some older, more traditional usage, or pre-emoticon usage, it would be great if you could write in with any further background you have on the word.

Before wrapping up, let’s look at the forms for each of these words, “straois” and “straoiseog“:

an straois, the grin, the grimace

na straoise, of the grin, of the grimace

na straoiseanna [STREESH-uh-nuh], the grins, the grimaces

na straoiseanna (same as above), of the grins, of the grimaces.  Context for that?  Your call!  I’m just trying to be thorough here.

And for “emoticon”:

an straoiseog, the emoticon

na straoiseoige, of the emoticon

na straoiseoga, the emoticons

na straoiseog, of the emoticons

Bhuel, what can I say other than : – ) or should that be:

s( ^ ‿ ^)s


Na mothúcháin sa phictiúr: Since each of the emotions shown in the vintage “emoticons” above has at least 2 words for it in Irish, let’s make a quiz out of it.  Can you match the English word (joy, melancholy–and let’s add melancholia for good measure, indifference, astonishment) with two or more of the following?

  1. lúcháir
  2. meon dubhach
  3. neamhshuim
  4. lionn dubh
  5. dúlionn
  6. iontas
  7. áthas
  8. galar dubhach
  9. alltacht
  10. fuarchúis
  11. galar dúchroíoch
  12. cuma

Na freagraí:

  1. joy: áthas, lúcháir
  2. melancholy: meon dubhach; melancholy, melancholia: lionn dubh, dúlionn, galar dubhach, galar dúchroíoch
  3. indifference: neamhshuim, fuarchúis, cuma
  4. astonishment: iontas, alltacht

Of course, there could be more.  “Brón” is usually translated as “sadness” or “sorrow,” but could fit the 1881 face shown above.  Focail eile?

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Keep learning Irish with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it

Leave a comment: