Irish Language Blog

Irish “From Head to Toe” but without the “Head” (ceann) or the “Toe” (méar coise)! Posted by on Sep 13, 2009 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

It’s interesting how languages can have similar idioms but with slightly different vocabulary.  In Irish there are two ways to express the idea of “from head to toe,” but neither of them uses the word “head” or the word “toe.”  Both offer some useful vocabulary, although admittedly, none of these keywords has quite the range of meaning that our old friend “ceann” has!  Remember we just hit barr an chnoic oighir for that one in recent blogs, and there are about 200 more related expressions out there using the word “ceann,’ which could fill up this blog until the proverbial cows come home.  Now there’s an expression that one might think would have bovine equivalent, especially in a country like Ireland, where the dairy business has been so prominent.  But the closest Irish expression for “Wait till the cows come home” is surprisingly unbovine, “Fan go malairt saoil,” which more or less means “Wait until life changes” 


So, here are the two head-to-toe type phrases, both of which are interesting in their own right.


1. Ó mhullach go sáil [oh WUL-ukh guh SAW~il], lit. “from top / summit / crown of the head to heel.”


You might recall that we talked about the word for “heel” before, saying it was not in the in the Irish expression for being “head over heels in love.”  Remember the phrase?  I know, it might be odd to talk about remembering a word that wasn’t part of a phrase, but we did talk about it!  That phrase doesn’t use the word “head” or “love” either, but still manages to mean the same thing.  See below for the freagra.   


The very observant might have noticed that in today’s phrase we have just one heel, sáil, whereas before we talked about “heels” in the plural, sálaSáil la vie! (Note to self: include “groan” as a response to bad puns in a future blog). 


2. Ó bhonn go baithis [oh won guh bah~hish], from the sole (of the foot) to the crown of the head.  So, this is the “bottom-up” version, accomplishing the same basic idea.  In my experience, baithis isn’t used nearly as much as mullach, in general, but, the more (synonyms) the merrier, in my view. 


As for “the crown” of the head, in general, you didn’t think I was going to stop there, did you?  There’s at least one more word, bior, which can also be used, but beware of bior, since it can also, and I’d say, much more commonly, mean “a spike, a spit, a point.”  Just like real estate agents say, “Láthair! Láthair! Láthair!,” for language learning, I’d say it’s “Comhthéacs! Comhthéacs! Comhthéacs!” 


But come to think of it, when’s the last time I referred to the crown of someone’s head, even in English?  Not often, except perhaps when reciting “Jack and Jill.”  But that’s no reason not to have three good Irish words for it!


And just to keep you “ar do bharraicíní,” on  your toes, the Irish for “the crown of a hat” doesn’t use any of these words, but rather “tóin,” which some of you will recognize as, to put it politely, “backside.”  So we have “tóin hata.”  Of course, no surprises, the same word (tóin) can be used for the “seat of one’s trousers,” (tóin bríste). 


Next time maybe, “toe”-phrases, with a brief geographic dip in the interestingly named, Toe Head, in Co. Cork, whose Irish name doesn’t involve the word “toe.”  How’s that for a cliff-hanger?  “Toe-ness” and “toelessness” in Irish place names that include the word “toe.”  Slán go fóill – Róislín


Freagra 1: Tá sé splanctha ina diaidh, he is head over heels in love with her..  What we didn’t have before, for reasons of space, was a woman being head of heels in love with a man. That would be: Tá sí splanctha ina dhiaidh.  What’s the diff?  One pronoun (vs. sé) and one added séimhiú (which involves adding the letter “h,” “dhiaidh” vs. “diaidh“). 

Fuaimniú: for both sáil and baithis, I’ve used the tilde to indicate that the word is not quite two syllables, but sort of like two syllables run into each other.  For sáil, that comes as close as this transcription system can get to the sound of the “slender l” in Irish, that is, the “l” next to the letters “e” or “i.”  It’s not as distinct a break as, for example, in the English word “soil” [soy-il].  For “baithis,” there’s a bit of breath in the middle of the word, but the “t” is totally silent, making the two syllables of this word practically meld.  For comhthéacs, remember the “m” and the “t” are silent: KOH-hayks






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