Irish Language Blog

In Irish, should we say “an enchilada fada” or “an t-enchilada fada” or “an enchilada fhada”?   Posted by on Jul 10, 2017 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Since I had so much fun in the last blogpost (nasc thíos) saying “enchilada fada” to myself, I thought you might enjoy playing around with the phrase also.

Actually, there’s a very serious question to be addressed first.  If we say “enchilada” in an Irish language sentence, should we consider the word to be masculine (firinscneach), feminine (baininscneach), or genderless (gan inscne)?  Almost all nouns in Irish have gender, so we should at least address the issue.

If we say “an enchilada” (the enchilada). it could imply that the word is accepted as grammatically feminine.  Why — because we didn’t insert the “t” before the first vowel, which is one of the best ways identify a noun as masculine in Irish (as in “an t-úll,” “an t-uisce,” srl.).

If it’s masculine, we could say “an t-enchilada.”  IF we’re following the rules, agus is mór an “má” é sin!

If we consider the word genderless, because it’s a “focal iasachta,” then our discussion is really moot and I should just move on.  But, to my mind at least, these “loan words” stand out more in Irish when they begin with a vowel than when they begin with a consonant.  For example, to say “an taco” (the taco) or “an burrito” (the burrito) sounds reasonable enough, if we’re talking about mearbhia Meicsiceach.  But my instinct tells me that “an + consan ag tosú le guta” (as in “an enchilada“) means “feminine,” as long as we’re not in the tuiseal ginideach, in which case (no pun intended, or, well, maybe), the rules are reversed.   Samplaí?  Seo cúpla ceann.  We can easily tell that words like “an ubh” and “an uillinn” are feminine because they start with a vowel and have no prefixed “t-” after the “an.” If, somehow, there was a “t-” before “ubh” or “uillinn,” it would mean the word was masculine.

So far, then, our choices are “an enchilada” (dropping all gender considerations),”an enchilada” (implied feminine), “*an t-enchilada” (clearly masculine, if anyone ever actually says this).  All three mean “the enchilada”.

As you can tell from the graphic above, I decided to go the route of least resistance, that is, to just treat “enchilada” as a genderless noun in Irish.  If anyone can find any other precedents, please do let me know.  I have searched online for the word with all possible prefixes (t-, h-, and n-), and have found no hits.

So now that we’ve solved that weighty issue (gan inscne, gan réimíreanna), we can also address what would happen to an adjective, like “fada” (long), coming after “enchilada” in Irish.  If we go with genderlessness, we can simply say “enchilada fada,” which was the original Spanish-Irish end-rhyming phrase that got me started on this whole rigmarole.  If we consider “enchilada” to be masculine, the phrase is still “enchilada fada.”  But, if we consider it feminine, then we should say, “enchilada fhada.”  Remember that the “fh” is silent, so the phrase would sound like “enchilada ‘ada.”

But, lo and behold, when we say “a very long enchilada” or “an altogether very long enchilada,” we don’t have to think about grammar at all (Yay!, some say!).  Why?  Because the “an-” of “an-fhada” (very long) already begins with a vowel and so would not change, whether the noun was masculine or feminine (remember: bóthar fada, a long road, grammatically masculine, but sráid fhada, a long street, grammatically feminine; no change to “aontreo” in the phrases “sráid aontreo” and “bóthar aontreo“).  So it’s easy enough to say “enchilada an-fhada” (a very long enchilada) and “enchilada an-fhada ar fad” (an altogether very long enchilada, i.e. a very very long enchilada).

So far, so good.

But that wasn’t quite the whole … [dare I say it] … enchilada, because I haven’t yet dealt with plurals.  Again, I’ve found no precedents online for this vital element of understanding Irish grammar.  But I’ll simply say that the choice would basically be whether to apply the Irish plural ending (enchiladaí, adding the “-í”) or whether to use the final “s,” as in the English plural (boy, boys, etc.).  Even with the later, there’s still a final consideration — whether to pronounce a final “s” hard like a Spanish “s” (as in English “hiss” or “miss” or the Welsh phrase “bois bach“) or soft, like a “z,” as in many English plurals (boys, girls, dresses, but not books or cooks).  So if we’re talking about enchiladas in Irish, and treating the word as a borrowing, do we use the Spanish sound or the English sound for the plural?  I guess I’ll just to wait for the next time I hear some Irish speakers talking about them.

So what’s the, erm, take-away?  Grammatical gender is very important in Irish.  This is also true of most other European languages (“le” chien but “la” souris in French; “das” Buch but “der” Buchbinder and “die” Buchbinderin in German, etc.).  Native English speakers are often thrown for a loop by all of the details about grammatical gender in Irish, because for them, tables, chairs, cloudiness, and modems have no gender.  Various vehicles for transportation (ships, cars, etc.) or their engines might be considered feminine, especially by mechanics fixing them (“She’s running great now”).  There may also be occasional, usually literary, instances of female gender for country names or for our planet as Mother Earth, as in the following example by Marjorie Wilson (1885-19??) from her poem “To Tony (Aged 3) (In memory T. P. C. W.):

“[There was a man once …] A lover of earth’s forests—of her hills,
And brother to her sunlight—to her rain—
Man, with a boy’s fresh wonder. He was great
With greatness all too simple to explain.

The poem was written in memory of the poet’s brother, Theodore Percival Cameron “Jim” Wilson, 188?-1918.

And for a final bit of grammatical gender in English, why did whalers (sealgairí míolta móra) always seem to say “Thar she blows!” when sighting whales (míolta móra)?  Surely they’re not all female.  Whales, that is, not the whalers — that’d be a different kettle of fish altogether.  An occasional banphíoráid, maybe, but not a whole crew of female whalers!  As for the whales, I don’t think I’ve ever heard “Thar he blows”!  But then, I don’t usually hang around ar dheiceanna bád míolta mara.

But, back to our main point, in Irish, we either need to follow the gender rules for nouns and adjectives, or very occasionally, agree that they don’t apply, for certain loan words.

So, now, that’s basically the whole enchilada, at least for today’s purposes.  Someday maybe we’ll look more at words like “banana,” “bus,” and “wigwam” in an Irish context, and then consider why some definitely non-Irish terms like “igloo” and “Brockengespenst” do undergo some spelling changes when gaelicized (íoglú, scáil an Bhrocain).  SGF  — but please do read the notes below, and if you have any questions or comments, please write in  — Róislín


a)) Why do we sometimes say “the whole enchilada” in English. Here’s an explanation.

b)) You might be interested to know of the saga of my attempt to find a good graphic to use for the illustration above. I combed the Internet fairly thoroughly for public domain images of enchiladas, but they were almost all photographed or drawn in groups of two or three or more. I thought that having too many enchiladas in the picture would weaken the impact of practicing “fada,” “an-fhada,” and “an-fhada ar fad.”  A lot of the pictures were also on a slant, making it harder to use them to illustrate different lengths.  So, your long-suffering blogger (do bhlagálaí fadfhulangach) actually had to go to the store, buy some frozen enchiladas (enchiladaí reoite?  enchiladas reoite?), cook them, and photograph one (resisting the temptation to eat it) till the mission was accomplished.  What we do “ar son na cúise“!  So, should I call this whole escapade “Sága an Enchilada Fhada” (firinscneach), “Sága na hEnchilada Fada (baininscneach) or “Sága an Enchilada Fada” (gan inscne).  Do bharúil?  Agus ní hea, níor scríobh mé é seo ó Champa Granada!

Nasc: Cé chomh fada is atá an tsrón? (How long is the nose?)Posted by  on Jun 30, 2017 in Irish Language

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  1. Violet:

    I once had what was called an enchilada in Ireland. Hate to be Tex Mex Petty–but they really should find a whole new name. The same goes for Irish barbecue and Irish pizza. But oh, well. I ate in the spirit of friendship and love, and how to say love better than enchiladas, barbecue and pizza. An outstanding last meal in any language.

    • róislín:

      @Violet GRMA as scríobh isteach, a Violet (a Shailchuach!). Interesting point. It’s often true that foods outside their natural habitat are don’t seem the same. Philadelphians almost never talk about “Philadelphia Cheesesteaks” or “Philly Cheesesteaks.” In fact, if a menu says “Philly Cheesesteak,” they often feel the taste won’t be quite right and the bread will be soggy. Fuggedaboutit! Philadelphians just eat “cheesesteaks,” not “Philly cheesesteaks.” On that note, I wonder if New Yorkers actually ever say, “I’d like a slice of New York cheesecake.” Or, for that matter, do Dubliners ask for “Dublin Coddle” (Cadal Bhaile Átha Cliath) or just “Coddle” (Cadal)! And did Nellie Melba ever order a “Peach Melba”? Interesting food for thought — literally and figuratively!

  2. Seán Moran:

    GRMA, a Róislín.
    Tá sé an scéal an-bharrúil agus tá sé ceacht an-chuidiúil.
    Tá ocras orm anois.

    • róislín:

      @Seán Moran Tá áthas orm gur thaitin sé leat agus GRMA as scríobh isteach. Tá súil agam go bhfuair tú greim bia le n-ithe. Leis an fhírinne a dhéanamh, ní raibh mé cinnte ar dtús an raibh tú ag scríobh freagra don mblag faoin mamba dubh nó faoin enchilada. Ansin d’amharc mé ar an gcolún “in response to” agus thuig mé cad a bhí i gceist agat! Níl a fhios agam cé chomh blasta is atá feoil an mhamba dhuibh. Nó an bhfuil sé inite. GRMA arís!

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