Irish Language Blog

In Áit na mBonn: Cúig Bhonn d’Éirinn sna Cluichí Oilimpeacha Posted by on Aug 12, 2012 in Irish Language

Boinn Oilimpeacha

(le Róislín)

We all know the results of the 2012 Olympics by now, and Ireland’s impressive showing.  Let’s try a little Irish vocabulary based on Olympic themes and honoring an cúigéar buaiteoirí boinn ó Éirinn.

First let’s match them with their sport (freagraí thíos, mar is gnách):

Boinn Lúthchleasaithe
1. bonn óir a. Paddy Barnes
2. bonn airgid b. Cian O’Connor
3. bonn cré-umha c. John Joe Nevin
4. bonn cré-umha d. Katie Taylor
5. bonn cré-umha e. Michael Conlan

OK, right, that probably wasn’t all that difficult, since two of Ireland’s three bronzes were in boxing.  But, at least according to what most of my students indicate, every bit of practice helps.

You noticed what happened to the words describing the type of medal (and the type of metal!), right?  An tuiseal ginideach — you can’t escape it!

ór, gold, changed to “óir” (of gold)

airgead, silver, or money, changed to “airgid” (of silver, or, in other contexts, “of money”)

cré-umha, bronze, well, “cré-umha” is a fourth-declension noun, which means it doesn’t change for the genitive case.  So “cré-umha” stays as “cré-umha.”   Unless, of course, it’s the second part of a compound word like “feadán fosfar-chré-umha” (phosphor-bronze tube) or if it follows a feminine singular noun, in which case it gets lenited (miodóg chré-umha, a bronze dagger).

Actually, I’ve never fully understood how “umha” by itself is sometimes used for bronze (umha mangainéise, manganese bronze), and at other times it is used for “copper” (ampaill umha, an ampulla of copper).  There is another word for “copper” (copar, as in “mian chopair” (copper ore). A related word, the actual adjective “umhai,” can mean “of bronze,” “of copper,” or “brazen,” as in “nathair umhaí” (a brazen serpent).  As far as I know, however, it’s not used for “bold brazen articles” like “giddy schoolgirls”!  Those bold creatures would need a separate blog of their own.  BTW, how many of you have been called a “bold brazen article” (if you care to admit it)?  The term comes up over and over again in my Irish classes, when we discuss the word “dána” (bold as in  brazen, but not King-Arthur-type-bold).

Anyway, back to the more metallic aspect of all this.  The second main element of bronze, besides copper, is tin (stán, in Irish).  But, as you’ve just seen, the compound word for “bronze” in Irish is “cré-umha,” nothing to do with “stán.”  “Cré” means “clay,” or “clayey,” “earthy,” or if you like, “argillaceous.”  So, metallurigically,  I’m stumped.  Why “cré“? Does “cré” refer to early brick furnaces (as opposed to today’s metal ones)?  Níl a fhios agam!

At any rate, sin iad, ór (bonn amháin), airgead (bonn amháin), agus cré-umha (trí bhonn).

How about one more matching game, lúthchleasaí agus spórt?  In this case, since four of the medals were for dornálaíocht, the weight categories will be included.  Freagraí thíos.  

Spóirt/Leibhéil Lúthchleasaithe
1. Dornálaíocht (éadrom-mheáchan) a. Paddy Barnes
2. Dornálaíocht (coileachmheáchan) b. Cian O’Connor
3. Dornálaíocht (cuilmheáchan) c. John Joe Nevin
4. Dornálaíocht (cuilmheáchan éadrom) d. Katie Taylor
5. Léimneach Seó (aonair) e. Michael Conlan

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the title of this blog, “In Áit na mBonn,” it’s actually a sort of portmanteau or juxtaposition of two different Irish words, spelled alike and sounding alike, i.e. a pair of Irish comhainmneacha (homonyms).

So far in this blog, we’ve been talking about the word “bonn,” meaning “coin” (bonn airgid, a silver coin; bonn bán, a groat) or “medal “(bonn coisricthe, a consecrated medal; bonn míleata, a military medal).  But there is another word “bonn,” also widely used, whose meanings include “sole” (bonn coise, bonn bróige), “footing” (ar aon bhonn, on equal footing), “foundation” (bonn colúin), and “tire”/”tyre” (bonn aeir).  Based on this latter “sole/footing/foundation” sense, we have the expressions “in áit na mbonn” and “ar áit na mbonn,” which both basically mean the same as “láithreach bonn,” i.e. “immediately.”

If we interpret “In Áit na mBonn” as being based on “bonn” (coin, medal), however, we have a new possible meaning: “in the place of the medals.”  Plausible enough!

Interestingly, both “bonn” (sole, footing, foundation, etc.) and “bonn” (coin, medal) have the same set of plural and possessive forms:

bonn 1) sole, 2) medal, etc.; an bonn 1) the sole  2) the medal

boinn 1) of a sole, 2) of a medal; an bhoinn [un win] 1) of the sole, 2) of the medal

boinn 1) soles, 2) medals; na boinn 1) the soles, 2) the medals

bonn 1) of soles, 2) of medals; na mbonn [nuh mun] 1) of the soles, 2) of the medals

Hmm, maybe I could have used “Cúigear Éireannach: Tagtha Chun Boinn” as a title, with similar effect.  This is based on another “bonn” phrase, “teacht chun boinn” (to come forward, very literally, I suppose, to come “on footing”).  So we could call it a “bonn pun.”  Certainly, though, these sárlúthchleasaithe did indeed come “to medals” and they fulfilled the original meaning of the phrase “to come forward.”  The Olympics have generated their own jargon (“to medal,” “to gold,” in English), so why not i nGaeilge as well?  For more on Olympicspeak, you might like to check out, which also refers to the paroxysms of rage that the newish verb “to medal,” widely used during the Olympics,  has been creating.   Linguistic food for thought — our era’s propensity for “verbifying” nouns (to tase, to Google, to GoDaddify) and “nounifying” verbs (his team’s asks, 300 likes).  On that note, comhghairdeas , comhghairdeachas, maith sibh, maith gach fear, maith an bhean, agus go maire sibh é.  In short, well done (plus your wins gave us a chance to stretch our Irish vocabulary)! SGF, Róislín

Freagraí (Boinn): 1d, Taylor; 2c, Nevin, 3a, Barnes, 4b, O’Connor, 5e, Conlan

Freagraí (Spóirt): 1d (light), 2c (bantam), 3e (fly), 4a (light fly), 5b (individual jumping)

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