Irish Language Blog

Irish Phrases and Idioms Using ‘Red,’ ‘White,’ and ‘Blue’ (Dearg, Bán, Gorm), Pt. 1 Posted by on Jun 24, 2016 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Around this time of year, we go from Flag Day in the US to Canada Day (July 1), Independence Day (US, July 4th) and Bastille Day.  So it seems like a good time to check out some Irish phrases using the color terms, “dearg” (red), “bán” (white), and “gorm” (blue).  The French and American flags, of course, have those three colors, and the Canadian flag has two of them.  No doubt there are some other flags out there that have those combinations, so hopefully these colors will resonate with readers from other countries as well.

ocht riabh dhéag, trí dhath; cé mhéad frása bunaithe ar na dathanna seo? grafaic:

ocht riabh dhéag, trí dhath; cé mhéad frása bunaithe ar na dathanna seo? grafaic:

In previous blog entries, we’ve looked more specifically at the flags themselves, and at the American national anthem, as translated into Irish back in … who remembers?  Freagra thíos.  The webliography below lists some links to those posts, including all four verses of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in Irish, with a pronunciation guide and glossary.  Not that many people actually sing all four verses, but still, it’s fun to know.

So meanwhile, for today’s blogpost, we’ll start with the color “dearg,” look at some of the different forms of the word itself, and then some phrases and expressions.  Then we’ll do the same for “bán” and “gorm,” perhaps continuing this for another blogpost or two.

In case any of you are wondering, I still am planning to get back to the girls’ names blogposts, but somehow, one ábhar after another keeps cropping up.    Hmm, I just looked at couple of ways to say “to crop up” in Irish (bheith ann, tarlú, teacht chun cinn), but none of them seem to fit this context here.  To me, it seems like “gobadh aníos” really captures the situation more.  I guess word definitions are, in a pleasant way, somewhat like weeds, the more you think you’ve dealt with them, the more they, well, crop up.

Anyway, on to “red.”  First the basics:

dearg [DJAR-ug, remember the “uh” sound between the “r” and the “g;” an example of “epenthesis,” for those of you who like such terminology], red.  Can also sometimes be translated as “rosy,” “bloody,” “bloodshot,” or even “raw,” depending on the context.

cóta dearg, a red coat

Clóicín Dearg, Little Red Riding-Hood (for a link to a translation into Irish, please see below).  Even though she’s a girl, “clóicín” is a masculine noun so there are no changes to the word “dearg.”

dhearg [YAR-ug], red, used in phrases like:

cneá dhearg, a raw (red) wound

léine dhearg, a red shirt (as opposed to “cóta dearg,” a red coat, which just keeps the regular “d”)

Why the change in spelling and pronunciation (from “dearg” to “dhearg“)?  Irish, like French, Spanish, Italian, Latin and many other languages, requires the adjective to match the gender of the noun it describes.  That’s “inscne” (grammatical gender), not “gnéas,” which wouldn’t apply to words for non-living things, like “boird” and “cathaoireacha.”  I hope.  English, on the other hand, has virtually given up this language features, barely retaining grammatical gender, except for pronouns (where it has become very controversial) and a few language details, mostly from borrowed words (fiancé vs. fiancée, blond vs. blonde, etc.).


Go minic nuair a bhreathnaím ar fhíseáin Animal Aid, India (, feicim cneá dhearg ar mhadra.  Is iontach an dóigh a gcuidíonn lucht na heagraíochta sin leis na madraí.  Tá scéal Kalu ar cheann de na scéaltaí is iontaí ar domhan, i mo bharúil, ar a laghad  (

Má théann duine d’fhoireann an Enterprise ar Star Trek a bhfuil léine dhearg air nó uirthi síos go pláinéad eile sa chruinne, ‘chuile sheans go bhfaighidh seisean nó sise bás.  Tagann Kirk, Spock, Scotty, Bones, Sulu, Uhura, agus Chekov ar ais slán sábháilte ach go minic ní thagann an “léine dhearg” ar ais.  Iarsmaoineamh: bhuel, leis an fhírinne a dhéanamh, fir is mó a bhíonns i gceist anseo.  Má théann bean ann, ní léine dhearg a bhíonns uirthi ach gúna (gúna gairid!) dearg, mar éide, ar ndóigh!

dearga [DJAR-ug-uh], red (plural).

Samplaí:  léinte dearga, red shirts; cótaí dearga, red coats; cneácha dearga, raw wounds

And a few other combinations:

cuiríní dearga, red currants

ollscoil na mbrící dearga, a red-brick university, lit. the university of the red bricks

béchuileanna dearga móra, large red damselflies

daracha dearga, red oaks

súile dearga, bloodshot eyes, red eyes

péisteoga dearga, bloodworms

soilse dearga, red lights

dhearga: for certain plural nouns, “dearga” changes to “dhearga,” as in:

báid dhearga (but “bádaí dearga“), red boats

cupáin dhearga (but “cupaí dearga“), red cups

leabhair dhearga (but “leabhartha dearga“), red books

What pattern was kicking in there?  The plurals of “bád,” “cupán,” and “leabhar” are all formed by inserting an “i” before the final consonant (d, n, and r in these examples).  When alternate plural forms are used, like “bádaí,” as seen in parentheses, this rule doesn’t apply.

Now for some more abstract phrases.  Here’s one that actually matches the English usage:

dearg te, red hot.  So, hmm, how is that different from “bánte” (white hot)?

Sampla: piobair shillí dearga teo, red hot chilli peppers

And a few where “dearg” is used as an intensifier:

ar deargmheisce, mad drunk, lit. on red drunkenness

ar deargbhuile, raging mad

ar deargmhire, stark mad

deargnocht, stark naked

deargnáire, an utter shame

Well, I guess you’ve read plenty about “red” by now.  I suppose the key points are watching for when the various forms are needed (dearg, dhearg, dearga, dhearga) and determining if the use of “red” is literal (léine dhearg) or abstract (deargnáire).  And dála an scéil, any major treatment of “an tuiseal ginideach” will have to waited for another blogpost.

Having said all that, it looks like the “white” and “blue” parts of this blogpost will also have to wait for the next entries.  SGF — Róislín

Freagra: 1898

Nasc don leabhar Clóicín Dearg: (Aims International Books), and widely available from other online book dealers.


Amhrán Náisiúnta agus Bratach Stáit Aontaithe Mheiriceá agus Brateolaíocht Go Ginearálta: The American National Anthem and Flag, and Vexillology in General Posted by róislín on Jul 2, 2009 in Irish Language

Ceiliúradh Lá na Saoirse sna Stáit Aontaithe (Independence Day) Posted by on Jul 7, 2009 in Irish Language 

 Dhá Bhratach: Bratach na hÉireann agus Bratach Mheiriceá Posted by róislín on Jul 2, 2011 in Irish Language

 Cóiriú Gruaige Tírghrách Venus Williams: Dearg, Bán, Gorm Posted by róislín on Jul 30, 2012 in Irish Language

An Dearg, An Bán, agus An Gorm (The Red, White, and Blue)Posted by on Jun 17, 2013 in Irish Language

The Star-Spangled Banner: Vocabulary, Pronunciation, etc.

Four Ways to Say ‘Star-Spangled’ in Irish (plus ‘star’ in general — réalta) Posted by róislín on Jul 4, 2014 in Irish Language

Amhrán Náisiúnta na Stát Aontaithe: All Four Verses of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in Irish with a glossary, literal translation, and pronunciation guide Posted by róislín on Jul 6, 2014 in Irish Language  

From ‘Spaglainní’ to ‘Spéartha’: More Irish Vocab from ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ Posted by róislín on Jul 4, 2015 in Irish Language

Dhá fhocal shuimiúla eile ón leagan Gaeilge den “Star-Spangled Banner” Posted by róislín on Jul 8, 2015 in Irish Language

The Four Verses of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as individual blogposts: 18 Meitheamh 2012) (21 Meitheamh 2012) (24 Meitheamh 2012) (27 Meitheamh 2012)

Tags: , , , , ,
Keep learning Irish with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it

Leave a comment: