Irish Language Blog

Itsy, Bitsy, “-ín” is “-íní” (AINMFHOCAL + “-ín” = M4, de Ghnáth) Posted by on May 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

(le Róislín)

We’ve recently seen various examples of 4th-declension nouns, both masculine and feminine.  A key feature for an ceathrú díochlaonadh is that its possessive forms are the same as the subject forms, so, fewer endings (hurá)!  It isn’t always possible to tell which gender a word is by looking at it, but there are some patterns within this declension, especially for the masculine nouns.  Typical 4th-declension masculine endings include:

-a, as we’ve seen previously (hata, vodca), and new for this blog, bata (stick), garda, slabhra (chain), urla (forelock, lock of hair)

-aire, especially in occupational terms, like iascaire or bleachtaire (detective), and,

-e, as we saw in duine and domhainlascaine, and now, fáinne, súiste (flail), and uisce.  Watch out, though, for lots of f4 nouns end in “–e” as well, like maise (beauty), cuisle (recognizable from Million Dollar Baby?), and fáilte.

For today, we’ll add the “-ín” ending, which is a diminutive suffix.  Almost all nouns ending in ”-ín” are 4th-declension and masculine, although there are a few exceptions.  The plural ending is “-íní.”  Seo samplaí:

caipín, a cap

an caipín, the cap

dath an chaipín, the color of the cap

na caipíní, the caps

dathanna na gcaipíní, the colors of the caps.

In theory, “caipín” should mean a “little” cap, but there doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut word for a larger cap on which this is based.  It could just be the English “cap.”  There is another Irish word, “caidhp” (coif, lady’s cap, lady’s bonnet, or cap in general), but there’s no special reason to believe that “caidhp” and “caipín” are related in any but the most general of ways.  For pronunciation, remember the “-dh-“ of  “caidhp” is essentially silent but it does affect the way the “-ai-” is pronounced, similar to “my,” “pie,” or “eye” in English.  So “caidhp” more or less rhymes with English “pipe.”  “Coif” came into English via French, originally Latin, “cofea, coifa” (a cap), with West Germanic origins (kupphia, kupfe) and English “cap,” as such, apparently derives from Latin “cappa” (hooded cloak, cape), itself related to “caput” (Latin for “head”).    

More examples with the “-ín” ending include:

éinín (little or baby bird), an t-éinín, (gob) an éinín, na héiníní, (goba) na n-éiníní.  This is a diminutive of “éan” (bird).  You may remember this word from the lullaby in The Secret of Roan Inish, with the recurring line “(a) éiníní, codlaígí” (sleep, little birds).  If not, I highly recommend the movie, partly for the excellent story, but also for the magic realism which results in suspended or almost suspended disbelief, and the flashback scenes in Irish, some bits being noticeably “earthy.”   

capaillín (pony), an capaillín, (bia) an chapaillín, na capaillíní, (bia) na gcapaillíní, which you might recognize from the pen name “Myles na gCopaleen” (or “Myles na Gopaleen),” used by Flann O’Brien (aka Brian O’Nolan or Ó Nualláin).  He wrote, among other great works, An Béal Bocht (The Poor Mouth), in Irish, and The Third Policeman (featured on ABC’s Lost), in English.  Myles aka Flann aka Brian had the Northern dialect of Irish, which is said to account for the plural ending in his pen name (simply “-een,” ignoring the final “-í” of “gcapaillíní”).  At any rate, Myles was simply capitalizing on the long pre-gCopaleenian literary history of the word, in its Boucicaultian, errm, stage (Myles-na-Coppaleen) [sic, just to cover my bases], which may ultimately reference Mil Easpáinne and all his lot, from Spain, wouldn’t you know, as well as the Latin “miles” (soldier), but it’ll take at least blag amháin eile to get all that sorted.  The key point here is that “capaillín” is a diminutive of “capall” (horse) and Myles/Flann/Brian made it very well known through his popularity. 

For more on Myles, particularly the April 1, 2011 celebration of “Mylesday,” check out:  Perhaps Myles himself (RIP) wouldn’t mind if I offered up a word I just coined (fad m’eolais) and which is, perhaps, utterly useless, “*caidhpillíní,” for well-coiffed little horses, well fed on “oat-coiffure,” which means their manes are naturally well combed, braided, teased, and bespangled, without the aid of coiffeurs (*caidhpeoirí?).  Maybe in the spirit of Mylesday, it is better to be “well-quaffed” than “well-coiffed!” 

Anyway, back to real words.  Many of you are already aware of the quirk regarding the Irish noun “cailín” (girl, colleen), which is 4th-declension and masculine.  Yes, the word for “girl” in Irish is a masculine noun!  Remember, grammatical gender has little to do with anatomy, although it true that most words for women, girls, and female animals are grammatically feminine (bean, girseach, cearc, láir, srl.).  The forms for “cailín” are:

cailín, an cailín, (gúna) an chailín, na cailíní, (gúnaí) na gcailíní.  This is a diminutive of a fairly uncommon word, “caile” (girl, wench, country woman).  Curiously, the gender for “caile” is either masculine or feminine, depending on sources and dialects.  Seem odd?  It’s not uncommon for different dialects to treat gender differently for certain nouns, but fortunately, the number of words subject to such ambiguity is fairly small.  Ábhar blag eile

Perhaps it’s some comfort to know that in Scottish Gaelic, a related word, “caileag,” is quite straightforwardly feminine, and a near-equivalent in Manx, “caillin” is also feminine. 

I mentioned above that not every “-ín” noun is masculine.  The exceptions are quite rare, but here are a few that are 4th-declension and feminine. 

lachín (lacha, f + –ín, disregarding the usual vowel harmony), duckling

aintín (aint, f  + –ín), mostly considered feminine today but formerly considered masculine, because of the suffix; originally this was more like “aunty (auntie)” but now is widely used for “aunt.”

So, there you have a smattering words with the “-ín” ending, usually, though not always, diminutives of another well-known word.  This ending also shows up in many Hiberno-English words with “-een,” like poteen (poitín), caubeen (cáibín), and spalpeen (spailpín).  The suffix is sometimes added to an English root (houseen, supeen, etc.).

But, of course, one can also use adjectives to suggest that something is small.  We can always say, quite straightforwardly, “an-bheag” (very little).  For “itsy bitsy” in English, I’d say the nearest Irish phrase with the same feel is “beag bídeach” (tiny wee), as in “buachaill beag bídeach” (a tiny wee lad).  With the uaim involved (the initial “b’s”), it has the feel of the phrase “itsy bitsy,” even though the latter uses end rhyme and reduplication to get the catchy, “cute” feel. 

A few 4th-declension nouns, all borrowed from other languages, end in “-íní” in the singular.  A keynoter is “bicíní,” with “bicínithe” [bik-EEN-ih-huh, silent “t”] as the plural.  While the ending “-íní” is common enough as a plural ending (cailíní, spailpíní, ispíní, etc.), it’s quite rare in Irish as a singular ending.  The handful of similar examples I find include the following: “coinsíní” (consignee), with “coinsínithe” as the plural; painíní (a panini), pl. painíníos, and Móilíní (a Molinist, follower of the theologian Luis de Molina), pl. Móilínithe.  Note that “móilíní” in the lower case means “molecules” (plural), with “móilín” as the singular, completely different, a reminder once again, of the importance of ceannlitreacha

It wouldn’t be typical to add the “-ín” ending to a word that already ends in “-íní,” (like bicíní) but I suppose, if you had to, you could say “*bicíníní,” and thus cover (!) the reduplication (“teeny weeny”) aspect. 

BTW, the word “bikini” is pretty atypical for English.  It’s from the place name “Bikini Atoll,” the 1946 nuclear testing site and one of the Marshall Islands.  The word “bikini” itself, in the original Micronesian language of the area, means “coconut surface.”  Every word that that shares the “–ini” ending in English that I can find is either a borrowing (tortellini, martini, zucchini) or a proper name (Houdini, Puccini, etc.). 

So, getting back to our original theme, the “-ín” suffix usually indicates a 4th-declension masculine noun in Irish, with “lachín” and “aintín” as two prominent exceptions.  In English, “-een” is a parallel suffix, catapulted to greater recognition by the hybridized pen name “Myles na gCopaleen.”  While words like “painíní” and “coinsíní” in Irish may have no intentional suggestion of diminutive size, the “-íní” ending will tend to evoke that in Irish, even in loan words from Italian, French, and Marshallese.  “Bicíní,” through sheer coincidence, may also create the same illusion, whether it’s technically one that’s “beag bídeach” or simply a “*bicíníní” (plural: bicínínithe). 

On that note, I’ll see what other 4th-declension endings I can drum up for the next blog.  And then, the infamous and existentially challenged cúigiú díochlaonadh, and finally the nouns truly considered to be “neamhrialta.”   SGF ó Róislín  

Gluais: ainmfhocal [AN-yim-OK-ul], noun, lit. “name-word”; cuisle, pulse, a term of endearment, as in “a chuisle” (acushla); láir, mare; rialta, regular; uaim, alliteration.  As for “*caidhpeoir,” which seems like it should be the word for a “coiffeur,” I confess to finding no evidence for it and improvising.  Certainly one could use the existing word “gruagaire” (hairdresser), but I don’t think it would have quite the same cultural cachet as being coiffed by a coiffeur.

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: