Irish Language Blog

How to Say “Winter Olympics” in Irish: Geimhreadh, Geimhridh, Gheimhridh, Geimhriúil, or Geimhreata? Posted by on Feb 16, 2018 in Irish Language

(le Róislín), By The original uploader was AxG at English Wikipedia [Public domain, Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

One of the tricky features of Irish is figuring out how to use one noun (like “winter”) to describe another noun (like “Olympics”).  There are many examples of this structure in Irish.  One example would be using “cat” (changed to “chait“) to describe “easair” (litter) giving us the phrase “easair chait” (cat litter).  Other examples of this process include “obair tí” (housework, from “obair” +” teach” changed to ““) and “crann Nollag” (a Christmas tree, from “crann” + “Nollaig” changed to “Nollag“).  BTW, if “easair” is a new word, you might want to check out a few more meanings below (Nóta 1)

So what happens with “Winter Olympics” in Irish?  How do we treat the word “winter”?   We can consider five words:

geimhreadh, winter

geimhridh, of winter, sometimes “wintry”

gheimhridh, of winter, sometimes “wintry” following specific categories of nouns (feminine singular nominative or masculine singular genitive)

geimhriúil, wintry

geimhreata, wintry

So, to arrive at our phrase, “The Winter Olympics” in Irish, first, let’s eliminate the last two choices, “geimhriúil” and “geimhreata.”  They really mean “wintry,” not “winter,” and behave like ordinary adjectives, in phrases like “lá geimhriúil” (wintry day) and “tráthnóna geimhreata” (wintry afternoon).  Of course, “winter” itself can be used as an adjective, giving us phrases like “lá geimhridh” (winter day) and “aimsir gheimhridh” (winter weather).  But these are not necessarily the same as “lá geimhriúil“(a wintry day) or “aimsir gheimhriúil” (wintry weather).  “Geimhriúil” and “geimhreata” are just about interchangeable, but it would be interesting to see if the usages show any tendency to prefer the “-iúil” ending or the “-reata” ending — a research project for a rainy, or perhaps snowy day (lá sneachtúil).  Cúpla sampla eile — nóta 2 thíos.

That leaves us with three choices (geimhreadh, geimhridh, gheimhridh).  We can eliminate the first one, since it the subject form, used to say sentences like “Winter is here” or “Winter in tropical countries isn’t usually cold.”  “Geimhreadh,” as such, isn’t usually used to describe another noun.

So that leaves us two choices, “geimhridh” and “gheimhridh.”  And it’s really just a matter of applying the rules for using “attributive nouns” (nouns used to describe another noun).  The “-idh” ending is because we need the genitive case.  And we pick “geimhridh” because there is nothing to trigger the séimhiú we see on “gheimhridh” (the change from “g” to “gh”).  So where do we use “gheimhridh” (with séimhiú)?  With feminine singular nouns (aimsir gheimhridh) or masculine singular nouns in the genitive (gruamacht an lae gheimhridh, the gloominess of the winter day).

Now we’ve narrowed down our choices to one, so we have “Na Cluichí Oilimpeacha Geimhridh” for “The Winter Olympics.”   Not such a big deal — just remember, use “geimhridh” for “winter” as a description (i.e. as an attributive noun).  Oh, one last point.  Most sources I looked at included the word “cluichí” (games), even though the English usage often drops the word “games.”  So I’m just following what I have mostly seen.

One last comment — it’s often a dilemma where to put the word “the” in the Irish for phrases like “The Winter Olympics.”  The dictionaries and credible online sources I checked all used “Na Cluichí Oilimpeacha Geimhridh,” with “na” upfront.  Google Translate offered up “Cluichí Oilimpeacha an Gheimhridh,” with “an” in the middle, but I’m more inclined to trust actual Irish dictionaries and sources that real people write and edit, rather than some faceless algorithm.

So that’s the phrase.  I guess I’ll have to keep all this in mind next time “Na Cluichí Oilimpeacha Samhraidh” roll around again!  SGF — Róislín

Nóta 1: easair — this is an interesting word.  In addition to meaning “bedding” or “litter,” it can also be combined with “cosán” to give us “easair chosáin” meaning “trampled matter” or “trampled corn” (remember “corn” in UK and Irish English is “edible grain in general” so this isn’t specifically or limited to “maize”).  “Cosán” itself has a variety of meanings (footway, track, path, way, pathway, trail, sidewalk, pavement, passage, etc.).  “Easair”  also has a figurative usage, as in “Bhí siad ag troid faoin easair fholamh” (They were fighting over nothing, lit. “over the empty bedding”).  Note that “cosán” has the same changes as we discussed above for Cluichí Oilimpeacha Geimhridh, obair tí, and crann Nollag — changing to the genitive case, since one noun (e.g. cosán) is being used to describe another noun.  Specifically, “cosán” changes to “chosáin,” as “geimhreadh” changed to “geimhridh,” ‘teach” (house) changed to “” (of a house), and “Nollaig” (Christmas) changed to “Nollag” (of Christmas).  One reason why these changes are so important is that Irish doesn’t use a word like “of” to show possession or some aspects of description .  So to show that we are talking about a Christmas tree (i.e. a tree of Christmas), we have to adjust the word “Christmas” so it describescrann” — we want to be clear that we’re not simply talking about Christmas and about some generic tree.  At any rate, back to “easair,” we have “easair chait” and to tie back into our main theme, we use “geimhridh” at the end of “Cluichí Oilimpeacha,” not simply “geimhreadh.”

Nóta 2: Some additional examples of “geimhreata” are “gaoth gheimhreata” and “solas geimhreata.”  The poet Máire Mhac an tSaoi (b. 1922) uses the word in an interesting way in her phrase “geimhreata an gheon,” in her own translation “wintry their wail,” referring to the fairies (síofraí), in her poem “Sunt Lacrimae Rerum: I nDílchuimhne ar Shéamus Ennis.”  Ennis lived from 1919 to 1984.  BTW, Mhac an tSaoi translates the title as “Lament: For Séamus Ennis, late Champion Piper of Ireland  (Slow Air).  Pondering the actual Latin “Sunt Lacrimae Rerum“?  It’s literally (“Here” or “There” – it’s not specific) are (the) tears of things,” from Virgil’s Aeneid (Book 1, line 462)

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