Irish Language Blog

Irish Words Starting with ‘w’ (dornán beag ach dornán acu ann!) Posted by on Sep 9, 2015 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Bhuel, let’s start by saying there aren’t many words in Irish that start with “w”, since like “v,” this letter was not traditional in the Irish alphabet.  But times change, languages change, and there are now at least a few words to note.

I’ll also mention in passing that a fair number of words have been borrowed into Irish as “focail iasachta,” with their spelling left as it was in their original language.  While it’s interesting to see what happens to a word like “wok,” the simple fact is that it stays the same in Irish (wok).  Another example is “wadi,” which can either be used as is in Irish (transliterated from Arabic), or “sruthchúrsa” can be used.

A few words that start with “w” in English have been borrowed with a “v” in Irish.  Some are fairly basic, like “vástchóta” (waistcoat), and others are more specialized, like “vaipití” (wapiti) and “valbaí” (wallaby), mostly referring to contexts outside of Ireland.   We’ve recently discussed the letter “v” in Irish, but perhaps we’ll revisit the topic another time, for still more words!

Then we have words like “waighndeáil” (to wind, winding), fully gaelicized in its spelling.  There are, of course, more traditional options for this activity, like “casadh” or “lúbadh,” but “waighndeáil” has come into usage, at least in the music recording context.   For the pronunciation of this word, note that the “-gh-” is silent but does give the “ai” the sound of English “I” or “eye.”  This pronunciation parallels the Irish “faigh” (unless your dialect pronounces the final “g,” as in Cork or Kerry) but it’s not the same not same as the “-aigh” in “ceannaigh” or “críochnaigh,” which have an “ee” or “ig” sound, again, depending on dialect.

It’s also interesting to note what the plural of a loanword is, even when the singular form of the loanword itself keeps its original spelling, usually as transliterated from another language.  For example, ‘wigwamanna‘ and ‘wokanna.’

So how often do we encounter those two words in Irish?  For “wigwamanna,” I haven’t found any actual Irish sentences online that use “wigwamanna” in a real-life context, only a handful of dictionary entries or paradigms of noun forms.  Those interested in this type of vernacular housing, might also be interested to see “típíonna” for English “tipis (tepees aka teepees).”  The Irish form of the word has a fairly typical Irish plural ending (-nna) and a slight modification for Irish spelling, with the síneadh fada of the “i” (típí in the singular) to get the “ee” sound”.

For “wokanna,” I’ve found a grand total of two usages in context.  Seo na naisc agus athfhriotal as ceann acu:, mentions “wokanna” while discussing an “ollmhargadh Áiseach (“uirlisí cócaireachta ó chultúir éagsúla, pacáistí bia, éadaí, frapaí scáthánacha ó bhaile na leanaí (trealamh ón gcistin, scálaí meáchain, taephotaí, síothláin, tráidirí bácála, wokanna, bord agus cathaoireacha, tolg, seantriomadóir gruaige, citeal/ tóstaeir leis an bhfleisc bainte), sparáin, soithigh fholmha bia ar na cineálacha a úsáidtear i mbaile na leanaí“)

So where does this leave us?  Three main points, I guess.  First, no really historic Irish words start with “w” since that letter isn’t traditional in the Irish alphabet.  Second, some borrowed words starting with “w” in English get an initial “v” in Irish (veist, vaipití, valbaí) but that’s really a topic for yet another blog post.  And finally, as we saw today, a handful of borrowed words keep the “w” at the beginning, but may still have an Irish spelling (waighndeáil) or may have plural forms that show that they’ve been fully absorbed into the language (wokanna, wigwamanna)–even if they don’t come up all that often in daily conversation.  By the way, there are some other borrowed words that don’t seem to show any gaelicization at all, like “Weltanschauung,” but then, that word doesn’t show any anglicization in English either.  It’s a distinctively German word and seems to stay that way, however it’s borrowed.

Bhuel, and you may have noticed that the English word “well” got a “bh” at the beginning for the Irish “bhuel,” I guess that wraps up the letter “w” for today’s blog.  And why is there a “w” in “wrap,” anyway?  But once again, that’s a topic for a History of English blog.  SGF – Róislín

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  1. Denis Campbell:

    How about an article on Irish pangrams (please not the one about ‘porker’!).

    Also the Irish words containing the most poncanna seimhithe.

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