Irish Language Blog

How to say ‘Scottish,’ ‘Scotland,’ and ‘Scot’ in Irish (and how about ‘scot-free’?) Posted by on Sep 12, 2014 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Bratach na hAlban, or, in Scottish Gaelic: Bratach na h-Alba (public domain:

Bratach na hAlban, or, in Scottish Gaelic: Bratach na h-Alba (public domain:

As the Scottish Referendum vote comes ever closer, let’s look at some of the basic terms for Scotland itself, the Scottish people, and some specifically Scottish things.  For the latter, I mean things actually labeled Scottish, or as it sometimes occurs, “Scotch.”  I don’t mean things we simply associate with Scotland, like “haggis.”  I don’t think we have to specify that “hagaois” is “Albanach,” since I know of no other country that makes such a delicacy.  (No other?  Bhuel, féach an nóta thíos).  Whatever one thinks of the spelling, the traditional egg dish is usually called “Scotch,” not “Scottish.”  Eggs aren’t “Scottish” unless you’re talking about importing or exporting eggs from hens raised in Scotland or some such context.  And then, of course, there’s the beverage, scotch, but is that ever anything other than “uisce beatha” or “fuisce” in Irish (uisge-beatha anns a’ Ghàidhlig).

Let’s start with the country.  Originally, and sometimes still given as “Alba,” it has mostly settled into “Albain” in modern Irish.  Traditionally, “Albain” was specifically the dative case, used after prepositions, as in “go hAlbain,” “ó Albain,” “in Albain” (or the earlier version, “i nAlbain“).

Like “Éire” and “na hÉireann,” the word “Albain” picks up the word “the” when it’s possessive.  This is fairly unusual.  Most country names in Irish either take the definite article (an t-alt cinnteach) all the time, as in “An Fhrainc” and “An Spáinn” (and in the genitive: muintir na Fraince, muintir na Spáinne) or they don’t take the definite article at all, as in “Cúba” (in the genitive: muintir Chúba).  But “Éire” and “Albain” add the word “the” (as “na“) specifically in the genitive case: Banc na hÉireann, uachtarán na hÉireann, rialtas na hAlban, muintir na hAlban).  Note that there are also changes to the end of each place name (“-ann” for “Éire” and dropping the “i” for “Albain“), but those aren’t the main point here.

So, to say “Scotland,” we have:

Albain [AH-luh-bin, with 3 syllables], Scotland

go hAlbain, ó Albain, in Albain, to / from / in Scotland (the prefixed “h” will have to be ábhar blag eile)

na hAlban, of Scotland; Reifreann ar Neamhspleáchas na hAlban, the Scottish Independence Referendum (lit. the referendum on independence of Scotland)

And the people:

Albanach [AH-luh-buh-nukh, 4 syllables) , a Scotsman, a Scot (“Albanach mná” can be used for “Scotswoman” if the distinction is desired, but in my experience, the “mná” part isn’t used all that often)

an tAlbanach, the Scotsman

Albanaigh, of a Scotsman (filleadh beag Albanaigh, a Scotsman’s kilt)

an Albanaigh, of the Scotsman, (filleadh beag an Albanaigh, the Scotsman’s kilt)

na hAlbanaigh, the Scots (na hAlbanaigh ina bhfillteacha beaga, the Scotsmen in their kilts)

na nAlbanach, of the Scots (fillteacha beaga agus cosa deasa na nAlbanach, the kilts and nice legs of the Scotsmen)

The adjective for “Scottish” is the same as the ethnonym, so we have the following.   Sometimes, as in the third example, a thing will be called “Scotch” or “Scottish” in English, but not in Irish.  Can you translate these?  Freagraí thíos:

brocaire Albanach

ubh Albanach

fraoch fireann

“Scotch tape,” for anyone wondering, is simply a brand name.  In Irish, it’s “seilitéip” (based on the trademark “Sellotape”) or simply “téip ghreamaitheach.

To differentiate Scotch (“whisky,” no “e”) from Irish “whiskey,” we can say “fuisce na hAlban” or “uisce beatha Albanach.”  For the spelling issue (never mind the taste), check out:

The verb, “to scotch,” is not related to anything “Albanach” per se.  In fact, there are several meanings of “to scotch,” but probably the most basic are:

gearradh ([GYAR-uh], also means “to cut”)

lot ([pronounced more like “lut,” with the Irish short “o,” not like the English word “lot,” which is more like “laht”], also means “to hurt” or “to wound”)

ciorrú [KYUR-oo], also means “to cut” or “to hack,” or in references to boats, “to lower (sails)”

As for the traditional phrase, “scot-free,” there’s no linguistic connection to Scotland or things Scottish.  The irony is conspicuous though, isn’t it?  Scot?  Free?

The ‘scot’ in ‘scot-free’ comes from the Middle English ‘scot,’ based on Scandinavian roots, like the Icelandic word “skot.”   In Irish, this word would simply be ‘scot’ or “airgead scoit,” (“-it” ending because it’s really saying “money of scot” or “scot-money,” as it were).

And then there’s “He got away scot-free,” with “getting away” or “getting off” probably the most English typical expression using “scot-free.”  The Irish surprised me the first time I encountered it:

Thug sé na haenna leis slán sábháilte. 

If your Irish is somewhere in the intermediate range, you probably got most of the words there, but maybe not “haenna,” from “ae,” which mostly means, yes, liver (the organ).  Here it’s plural (shades of the two-hearted Dr. Who?), and very literally means, “He took the livers with him safe (and) sound.”  Go figure.  Or as I’ve seen on some Irish t-shirts, “Ná cuir ceist ormsa.  Níl a fhios agam.”

We see this same basic construction in:

Thug sé na haenna leis (He escaped with his life).

The word “ae” is probably worth a blog of its own, around Valentine’s Day, I think.

Why Valentine’s Day?  One of the more surprising greetings in Irish is “a chara na n-ae istigh,” meaning “dear friend,” figuratively “O friend of the(my) innermost heart” and very literally, “O friend of the internal livers,” with “n-ae” as an alternate genitive plural form, the standard being “na n-aenna.”   At some point I’ll have to check how much that phrase is actually used.  All I can say is I’m sure I’ve never been treated to that salutation.  The phrase does make one wonder–are we supposed to postulate “aenna amuigh,” external livers or for that matter, external hearts?  Mh’anam (which hopefully is “istigh” and not “amuigh“)!

On that note, eagerly waiting to see what happens on lá an ReifrinnRóislín

Nóta faoi hagaois: Wikipedia lists 15 similar dishes, from Andouillette to Weckewerk.  The list includes the Pennsylvania German dish, scrapple, but, that is not served very ceremoniously (a mhalairt) and there’s no suggestion of the original “bolg” into which the rest of the “comhábhair” are stuffed.  “Saumagen” really does look pretty similar.  But is it ever piped in and saluted?


brocaire Albanach, Scottish terrier

ubh Albanach, Scotch egg, consisting of an ubh chruabhruite, wrapped in feoil ispín, coated with grabhróga aráin and then served domhainfhriochta  or bácáilte

fraoch fireann, Scotch heather (but literally it means “real heather,” not the more typical meaning of “fireann,” which is “male”).  So what’s “not-real” heather?  Níl a fhios agam ach má fhaighim amach é is ábhar blag eile a bheas ann!

P.S. All that discussion about internal and external hearts and livers makes me wonder if we could establish a connection to the fairy tale “Giant Who Had No Heart in his Body,” but, at best that’ll have to wait for a rainy day.

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