Irish Language Blog

Irish Pronunciation: Compound Words Like “Croíbhriste” and “Croíbhrúite” Posted by on Feb 8, 2012 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

In addition to some of its inherently long words, like “(go) bhfaighidh” and “(na) haghaidheanna(fuaimniú thíos), Irish has its share of longish words, which are actually compounds, with one or more prefixes, a root (or two), and/or one or more suffixes.  Fortunately, most of these words break down quite nicely, once you know the component parts, and also once you disambiguate the occasional ambiguity caused by our old friend or nemesis (your call!), the homonyms.  Among the red flag alerts I’d post for potential ambiguity are “neamh(-)” [nyow or nyav] and “(-).”  As a prefix, “neamh” has a range of negative meanings (“un-,” “in-“, “non-“, etc.), but it can also be a completely different word, “neamh,” meaning “heaven.”  Among the examples of “neamh-“ as a prefix are “neamhábalta” (incapable, lacking in strength — slightly different from “unable”) and “neamhurraim” and “neamhómós” (disrespect – any possibilities there for a new verb, “to diss”?).  “Neamhaí” [NYAV-ee], on the other hand, means “heavenly.”

” also has several meanings in Irish.  As a prefix, it can mean “royal,” “majestic,” or “kingly,” directly based on the noun “” (king).  A little more generally, it also means “very” or “ultra-.”  There is, however, a completely different word “rí,” meaning “forearm” or, in the plural, “rítheacha” [REE-hukh-uh] the limbs of the body in general.  I’m sure this word is not nearly as widely used as “” (pl: ríthe) [REE-huh] for “king,” but it does have its role (rí chaoireola, mar shampla).  Not that there are likely to be many instances of “forearm” being used as a prefix, but it illustrates the point.   So, here are some examples  first for “” (king) as a prefix and then for “” (forearm):

ríchathaoir [REE-KHAH-heerzh], throne, lit. king-chair

ríshlat [ree-hlot], scepter, lit. king-wand

rítheaghlach [REE-HYOW-lukh], royal household

rídhamhna (aka damhna rí, as a “non-compound’), royal heir, or a person who could be elected king.  And that (the concept of electing a king) also sounds like ábhar blag eile, but if you’re hankering for details before I get to it, you might want to check out the website of Patsaí Dan Mac Ruaidhrí (Patsy Dan Rogers), Rí Thoraigh/ King of Tory Island (  And btw, having checked several sources, it seems clear to me that there is no connection between “Damhna Rí” and the French title “Dauphin,” although the thought had crossed my mind.  “Damhna” [DOW-nuh or DAV-nuh] on its own means “ matter,” “material,” or “substance” (as in the “makings” of a king).  “Dauphin,” as the term for the King of France’s eldest son (in the days of the French monarchy), on the other hand, comes from the dolphins on the coat of arms of the lords of Viennois as part of the agreement whereby the “Dauphiné” region was ceded to France.  Of course, there are also many related words based on “,” not all of which are compound words as such; these include “ríocht” (kingdom) and ríoga (royal, regal).

Although “” (forearm) isn’t as widespread a prefix as “´ (king), it can occur, as in:

Rí-mheas, a cubit, lit. forearm-measure.  Other words for “cubit” are “cnáimhrí” [bone of forearm] and “banlámh” [measure of arm] but that all smacks of blag eilecur síos ar Áirc NaoiTrí fhocal Gaeilge ar “cubit” – who’da thunk it!

And then there’s the ultra-useful (rí-úsáideach!): rí-ramhar, thick-wristed, lit. “fat-forearmed”

Now getting back to what was supposed to be croí scéal an bhlag seo, the pronunciation of some of the ”heart” compounds given in the previous blog.  The key here is lenition (séimhiú), which “softens” the sound of the first consonant after the “croí” prefix (b, c, d, s, t becoming bh, ch, dh, sh, th):

croíbhriste [KREE-VRISH-tchuh], heartbroken, heart-breaking, broken-hearted

croíbhrúite [KREE-VROO-tchuh], contrite, lit. heart-crushed

croíchruthach [KREE-KHRUH-hukh], heart-shaped

And a few we didn’t look at in the recent blog:

croídhícheall [KREE-YEE-hul], best attempt, utmost endeavor

croíshearc [kree-hyerk], heart’s love

croíthailte [KREE-HAL-tchuh], heartlands

And now that we’ve reviewed those, do you remember what the root words mean?  If not, you might want to try matching these up (freagraí thíos):

1. bris [brish] 2. brúigh[broo-ee] 3. cruth [kruh] 4. dícheall [DJEE-hyul] 5. searc [sherk] 6. talamh [TAL-uv]
a. love b. shape c. crush d. land e. break f. best effort

How do we go from “talamh” to “thailte”?  Bunúsach, a Watson chroí!  The word “talamh” has a somewhat irregular plural, “tailte.”  That gets lenited after “croí,” used as a prefix, giving us “croíthailte.”

Briste” and “brúite” are the verbal adjective (past participle) forms of the verbs “bris” and “brúigh,” as given above.  The “-te” endings function similarly to the English suffixes “-ed” (I have crushed it) or “-en” (I have broken it).

Cruth” (shape) gets an “-ach” ending to become “-shaped,” which we also see in words like “ubhchruthach” (oval, egg-shaped) or “piorra-chruthach” (pear-shaped).

Dícheall” and “searc” simply get lenited, becoming “dhícheall” [YEE-hyul] and “shearc” [hyerk] respectively.  That “hy” indication is like the “h” in “human,” “Huw,” or “Hugh” (not like the “hy” of “hyoid bone” or “hyena”).

So, there’s some interesting vocabulary, and some processes you’ll meet at every stage of learning Irish — lenition, sound change, compounding, and sorting out homonyms.   Again, never a dull moment!  SGF, Róislín

Freagraí: 1e. bris, break, 2c. brúigh, crush, 3b. cruth, shape, 4f. dícheall, best effort, 5a. searc, love, 6d. talamh, land

Nóta faoin bhfocal “dícheall”: it’s a curious situation, vocabulary-wise, because “dícheall” means “best effort” and “croídhícheall” also means “best effort,” a sort-of-even-better “best effort,” literally a “heart-best-effort.”  One’s utmost ultimate better-than-best effort, though, would no doubt be your “seacht ndícheall” (“seven-fold best effort”), as in “Rinne tú do sheacht ndícheall leis an obair sin” (You did the very best you could with it).  And for anyone who’s counting, “Rinne tú do mhíle dícheall” is “You did your level best” (lit. your thousand-fold best).  Is there really much distinction between “croí-,” “seacht,” and “mile” in this context?  Ní dóigh liom é (I doubt it)!

Nótaí Fuaimnithe: “ai” here is as in “high,” “my,” or “eye”

bhfaighidh [wee OR wai, depending on dialect], will get (future, dependant form of “faigh” [fai, sounds like “fie” in  “fie on you”]

aghaidheanna [AI-uh-nuh], faces (plural of “aghaidh” [ai-ee, all consonants silent])

Gluais: caoireoil, mutton, lit. sheep-meat.  A “rí chaoireola” is probably more widely known today as “cos chaoireola” (also “leg of mutton”).  At least it doesn’t look quite so much like a “king of mutton” that way!  Interested in mutton terminology?  Oh, good, yes, you say?  So I can add a little more.  Another way to say “leg of mutton” is “ceathrú chaoireola,” which more literally is “a quarter of mutton.”  And then there is “ceathrú caorach” (sheep’s haunch, lit. a quarter of a sheep).  Guess I need to go study an bhúistéaracht to really master all these carving distinctions.  But whatever variation of “cos chaoireola” one chooses, those Irish phrases don’t traditionally apply to the two other arenas (fashion and sailing) in which we find the phrase “leg of mutton” in English.  “Leg-of-mutton sleeves” are “bolgmhuinchillí” (lit. bag/bulge/stomach-sleeves!) and “leg-of-mutton sail” is “seol trí ghob” (lit. a three-pointed/triangular sail).  So there ye are now!

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