Irish Language Blog

Is Éan É! Is Eitleán É! Ní Hea — Dreige Atá Ann! (Sorry, Clark!) Posted by on Feb 16, 2013 in Irish Language

rian na dreige

(le Róislín)

Or should that be “dreigít“?  Or “dreigeoideach“?  Bhuel, all three really, I guess, depending on what stage of the event you’re talking about.

I thought I had learned all that téarmaíocht réalteolaíoch, at least the buntéarmaí, years ago, but when the news reports start coming in about the Chelyabinsk event, I realized I was a little “meirgeach” on the terminology, especially “meteoroid.”  The “-oid” bit didn’t ring any bells.  I decided to brush up on the details and naturally I figured I’d look into the Irish as well.

Once again, the situation is a little more “casta” than I originally thought.  “Dreige” (plural: dreigí) is a reasonably widely used word for “meteor,” and seems to be the basis for many compound words or related terms having to do with meteors, as in:

saithe dreigí, a meteor swarm [SAH-hyuh DRzhEG-yee]

deannach dreigeach, meteoric dust

dreigechith, meteor shower [DRzhEG-yuh-HYIH, where the transcript shows “hy,” it’s like the “h” in English “human” or “humid;” the “t” in the final “-th” is silent].  And there’s the delightful plural: dreigecheathanna [DRzhEG-yuh-HYA-huh-nuh].  Piece o’ cake if you’ve already internalized “cith” (shower) and its plural “ceathanna.”

And then, of course, there are the two related words pertaining to the “saol-ré” of the meteor.

dreigeoideach, meteoroid [DRzhEG-yoh-djukh] This is the phase before being a meteor as such and this is the word I was so rusty on.  I wonder if I really did learn it in school.

dreigít, meteorite (the piece that makes it to earth, sometimes very small, sometimes huge)

So there’s a full complement of “meteor” words, certainly enough for the everyday purposes.

Ach fan!  There’s more.

As it turns out, there are two words for “meteor” in Irish, the second being “meitéar.”  “Meitéar,” like its cognates “meteor” (Béarla), “meteoro” (Spáinnis, Portaingéilis) and mèteora” (Iodáilis), and no doubt many others, is derived from the Greek words for “beyond” (meta-) and “lifted” (aoros).  It’s always convenient for learning Irish when we have an easily recognizable vocabulary word, like “meitéar” (or, looking more broadly, “móideim” or “aip,” etc.), but personally, I’m always curious about Irish words like “dreige” that come from completely different roots than many of their European counterparts.

And now the plot seems to be ag dul chun castachta (“thickening”).  How about the “-oid” and the “-ite” forms of the word if we’re using “meitéar” as the base?  I’ve looked in every dictionary I can get a-hold of, including the Foclóir Eolaíochta, and I don’t see any sign of these forms.   I’ve also tried searching online with the endings as I assume they would be (“-eoideach” or “-óideach” and “-aít” or “-ít”), with adjustments for vowel harmony, and I get no results.  So I can simply assume that only “dreige” is used to create the full range of vocabulary used to describe meteors.  Suimiúil, but then nothing about language really surprises me (Féach ar an nóta thíos le léamh faoi chuid de na hiontais shuimiúla eile faoi theanga).

I tried poking around ar an Idirlíon to see if I could get a good sense of which word is used more often, “dreige” or “meitéar,” at least in the online context.  The results aren’t really conclusive but they do shed at least a little insight onto the topic.

For “meitéar,” my online search yielded less than a handful of real examples of the word being used in context (i.e. not including glossary entries or other word lists that are “hits” without context).   One was a very short article about the Chelyabinsk incident, and, interestingly, it used both “meitéar” and “dreige“!  But mostly it used “meitéar,” which was in the headline and which appeared four more times in the article.  “Dreige” only showed up once in that article, in a phrase that acknowledged the existence of both terms: “mar thoradh ar mheitéar nó dreige mar a thugtar air freisin” (angl. “as a result of a ‘meitéar” or a “dreige” as it is also called,” from  Another usage was thanks to our friend Áine of “MiseÁine” (  One more hit was in a “liosta Vicipéide” of events for 27 Mí na Samhna (“Thuirling meitéar mór i Loch Michigan i Meiriceá” [1919]).  I skimmed the other hits and included searches for “meitéir,” “mheitéar,” and “mheitéir,” but virtually nothing else meaningful came up.

As for “dreige,” I limited that search with “Gaeilge,” since the spelling “d-r-e-i-g-e” appears to be a word in various other languages and I was getting way too many results (ca. 58,000 hits) for a quick analysis.  “Dreige” + “Gaeilge” initially got about 700 hits.  Google automatically narrowed that down to 91, eliminating duplicates, etc., as it usually does.  I went through the 91 and found, again, about a handful of instances of “dreige” that were actually used in context.  The remaining 80-odd words were mostly glossary entries, including many in a wide assortment of languages, so I suspect these hits are from programs that simply combine or merge glossaries and dictionaries, not word lists that even show a topical or thematic interest in meteors.

So the results are close to neck and neck.  “Meitéar” is easy for English-speakers to remember but “dreige” seems to be the more traditional Gaelic word.  Scottish Gaelic uses “dreag” or “driùg” and Manx Gaelic has “dreigey.”  So Gaeilge, Gàidhlig, and Gaelg all stand out in contrast to the widely used Greek root of “meta-” + “aoros” and its derivatives (meteor, meteoro, etc.).  In Irish, “dreige” is also the word from which most compound words and related terms are developed.

Some day I’ll follow this up with a closer examination of the Irish words for “comet” (at least five choices there!) and “asteroid.”  And then there are eight words in Welsh for “meteorite” to revel in but perhaps that is beyond the scope of an blag seo.

As for the title of this blog, I think it’s memeishness is fairly, um, transparent.  But the structure of the phrases is worth noting:

Is éan é!  It’s a bird!.  This sentence uses the linking verb “is” to join the pronoun subject “é” (it) with “éan” (bird).

Is eitleán é!  It’s a plane!.  Same structure as above.

Ní hea! No!.  I know this isn’t in the by-now iconic phrase, but without the characteristic intonation of the string of exclamations, the print version seems to want another short phrase for the contradiction.

Dreige atá ann!  It’s a meteor!.  Here I varied the structure, for a little emphasis, fronting the subject (“dreige“) so it appears first.  More literally, this means “A meteor is there” or “A meteor is in existence.”  So, on that nostalgic note, SGF, Róislín

Nóta: As for some of the linguistic surprises not related to meteors, when I took “History of the English Language” as a university freshman, I was tickled pink to find out how “went” ended up as the past tense of “go” in English.  I guess that got me hooked on etymology.  Another major linguistic epiphany came about while doing some historical linguistics, when I learned that Irish “bean” (woman) actually is predictably kin to its fellow Indo-European words like “gyné,” “cwene,” or “quena” (“woman” in SeanGhréigis, SeanBhéarla, and Sean-ArdGhearmáinis, respectively).  The English word “woman” is really the, errmm, odd man out there, since it comes from “wifman,” ach maidir leis sin uilig, is ábhar blag eile é.   And that’s just the tip of the linguistic iceberg, a never-ending source of intrigue and revelation, domsa ar a laghad, and hopefully daoibhse as well.

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: