Irish Language Blog

How To Say ‘Bridge’ and ‘Gate’ in Irish Posted by on Jan 14, 2014 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Whatever you might think of the latest “-gate,” this time “Bridgegate,” it never hurts to look at the Irish vocabulary surrounding an issue.  So in this blog, we’ll look at the Irish words for “bridge” and “gate.”

Not that Irish actually uses “-gate” (geata) to indicate a controversy or scandal.  For about 40 years, now, the suffix “-gate” has been used in English to create “back formations” (i.e. to create new words ending in “-gate” to indicate controversy), such as “Nannygate,” “Biscuitgate,” or “Doublebillingsgate”.  A similar thing has happened with the “-henge.” of “Stonehenge.”  Originally used to indicate that the stones look as if they’ve been “hung,” we now have “henge” on its own, plus sites like “Woodhenge,” and, i bhficsean eolaíoch, Icehenge by Kim Stanley Robinson (set mostly on Mars, Pluto, and Saturn, ach sin scéal eile do bhlag eile).  Other examples of “back formations” in English are “to burgle” (“burglar,” as a word, came centuries earlier!) and “mafficking” (from the Siege of Mafeking).

In Irish, I can’t say that dozens of examples of back formation come to mind, but one is “chuig” (to) from “chuige” (to him).  “Chuige” was originally considered part of the preposition “chun” (to) and, presumably, at one time the preposition “chuig,” as such, didn’t exist.   Creating “chuige” made the series of words seem more systematic (chun: chugam, chugat, chuige, chuici, srl.)   Today, both “chun” and “chuig” exist as prepositions meaning “to” and “chuige” is part of both of their paradigms.

Anyway, that’s a little background on the concept of “back formations” in language.  In the US, the use of “-gate”  started with an office complex and hotel that happened to be named “Watergate.”  Now we’ve got the phrase, at least in journalism, “to give it the ‘gate'” and various other “-gates” as well.

Needless to say, the Irish word “geata” (gate) isn’t used like the English back formation.  But, still, the recent controversy gives us a good reason to add it to our vocabulary.

Why don’t we start with the actual Irish word for a “water gate” or “sluice gate”?  The traditional “water gate” was a small gate toward the back of a castle or fort that overlooked a river.  Warwick Castle, for example, has a “Watergate Tower.”  In Irish, logically enough, a “water gate” would be “geata uisce.”  Here, “uisce” (water) is defining the nature or purpose of the gate.

It is interesting to note that the name of the Watergate complex in Washington DC echoes this function, with steps leading down to the Potomac River, originally intended for guests arriving by water taxi, as a sort of ceremonial reception area.

A “sluice gate” (sluice-valve or water-gate) gives us a different word in Irish, “bualchomhla,” from “bual” (a rather archaic word for water) and “comhla” (flap, or the leaf of a door).  “Bual” is found today in some compound words, but not, in my experience as a replacement for the basic word, “uisce.”  Some of the compounds are “bual-lile” (water lily), bualghlas (a lock on a watercourse), and “roth buaile” (waterwheel as found on a water-mill).  Here, clearly, we’re not really using “geata” at all, but “comhla.”

So what about basic “gate”?

an geata, the gate

an gheata [un YAT-uh], of the gate; dath an gheata, the color of the gate

na geataí, the gates

na ngeataí [nung-YAT-ee], of the gates; dathanna na ngeataí, the colors of the gates

And few ways to specify types:

geata adhmaid, a wooden gate

geata ticéad, a ticket “gate” (barrier)

geata crochta, portcullis, lit. a “hanging” or “hung” gate — now there’s a word I guess I’ll go out and use maidin amárach with coffee chat friends!

And a few related words:

fear geata, gate-keeper, lit. man of gate; probably not as traditional but I’ll add “bean gheata,” for a female gate-keeper.  Or one could also use the neutral term “geatóir” (“gate-keeper,” not implying man or woman)

And how about the “bridge” part?  Here are the basics:

an droichead [un DRIH-hud — that’s about as close as my rough guide will go, the “-ch-” in the middle is basically breath], the bridge (as in the place name Drogheda in Co. Louth, which in Irish is “Droichead Átha,” the bridge of the ford).

an droichid, of the bridge; fad an droichid, the length of the bridge

na droichid (same spelling as above), the bridges

na ndroichead [nun-RIH-hud], of the bridges; airde na ndroichead, the height of the bridges

And a few additional uses:

droichead crochta, a suspension bridge

droichead loinge, a ship’s bridge

droichead véidhlín, a violin bridge

And last and closer to home, but certainly not least (since it ensures our ability to breathe):

droichead sróine, bridge “of nose” (from “srón,” nose)

Bhuel, make what you will of the words “geata” and “droichead,” give ’em the “gate” or not, at least now you’ve got the terms, and a few other phrases and related words as well.  SGF – Róislín

Nóta: Icehenge, by Kim Stanley Robinson: agus a lán áiteanna eile

Nóta eile: I find myself wondering if there’s such a term as a “front formation,” since I’ve never heard of it in my various years of studying linguistics.  But if we can use it, I’d nominate “Riverdance” as an example, based on James Joyce’s use of “riverrun,” the first word in Finnegans Wake, the avant-garde novel whose first sentence starts, appropriately enough, mid-stream.   For those who haven’t read it, the first part of the first sentence of the book appears on the last page of the book.  Talk about circularity!  The prefix “river-” in a cultural sense now seems to imply “Irish,” at least in this one specific context.  I’ve heard a few references (not many, but a good “glac“) to “riverdancing” as a verb, which I guess we could now consider a back formation from the front formation.  Bhuel, anyway, time to stop!

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