Irish Language Blog

Lá (an) Altaithe: Cén Téarma i nGaeilge? — Nuashonrúchán (an update) Posted by on Nov 28, 2014 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

A few years ago, as some of you may recall, I compared the usage of five different terms for saying “Thanksgiving Day” in Irish.  This is a phrase that traditionally didn’t show up in Irish dictionaries, since Thanksgiving, North American style, is not celebrated in Ireland, or, in fact, i dtír ar bith eile seachas Meiriceá agus Ceanada.

Even as I write this, I’m mulling over some reports that it’s not just Black Friday that has spread from America to other countries, but perhaps even some elements of American-style Thanksgiving itself.  I don’t think there’s much of that yet and I haven’t heard of it being a national holiday anywhere other than the U.S. and parts of Canada, where it is celebrated much earlier (2nd Monday of October) and therefore doesn’t contribute so much to the build-up of Christmas.

I say “American-style” Thanksgiving here, because, in at least one other country (Grenada, October 25), there is a Thanksgiving Day that has more to do with political independence than Pilgrim history.   There are also some other locations where an America-influenced thanksgiving or thanksgiving service is celebrated, including Liberia (1st Thursday of November); Norfolk Island (last Wednesday of November), and Pieterskerk, Leiden.  And of course, internationally, there are all sorts of harvest festivals, but that is getting further and further away from Pilgrim influence as such.  These include the German “Erntedankfest” (early October) and the Japanese “Labor Thanksgiving Day” (勤労感謝の日 Kinrō Kansha no Hi? on 23 November).  But getting into all sorts of harvest festivals would lead us pretty far away from our original topic.

So let’s revisit the original goal of the blaganna from 18 November 2009 and 23 November 2010.  As a point of comparison, we’ll look first at the hits for the English phrase, Thanksgiving Day: 22,000,000.  Obviously, it’s a rough number and doesn’t include all possible references to “thanksgiving” — mind-bogglingly but not surprisingly, that gives us 223,000,000

So how do this year’s results compare to 2009 and 2010, using Google’s filtering to eliminate duplicates and dubious references

Lá an Altaithe –2014: 41 hits (filtered down from an impressive 1,900); 2010: 99 hits; 2009: 44 hits

Lá Altaithe –  2014: 103/104 hits (filtered down from 2,820); 2010: 115 hits; 2009: 45 hits

Both in the raw numbers (2820 vs. 1900) and the filtered results, “Lá Altaithe” without the definite article in the middle (“an” for “the”) seems to be gaining over “Lá an Altaithe” (with the definite article).  This has also been my gut impression of the trend.

As for the other options, still pretty scant:

Lá Buíochais – 2014: 14 hits (filtered down from 46); 2010: 9 hits; 2009: 5 hits

An Lá Gabhála Buíochais – 2014: 6 hits (filtered from 26); 2010: 4 hits; 2009: just 1 hit, found by “guided browsing,” not by “Google” as such, which I used for all the other searches)

In addition, another term surfaced that I hadn’t searched in 2009, since I wasn’t aware of it at the time:

Féile an Altaithe —  2014: 16 (filtered down from 90); 2010: 5 hits, dating as far back as 2004.  The word “féile” has a somewhat religious context, so it could be that some of these refer to harvest festivals, not Thanksgiving à la Uncail Sam.  Hard to say without a lot more chasing down of references.

Now I see that Google enables some time restraints on searches, but that will have to wait for blag éigin eile.  Meanwhile, I think the trend is clear. Based on this admittedly limited evidence, but also on my informal observations over the years, “Lá Altaithe” is gaining over “Lá an Altaithe.”  The other three options are even less well represented.  But all options are increasing somewhat, suggesting that there is gradually more and more discussion of Thanksgiving Day” in Irish.  Which is a good thing!  Why not?  It lets us practice all kinds of interesting vocabulary: bealaitheoir, bior trusála, cnó peacáin, frithaigéad, mónóg, puimcín, súlach, súmhar, and trusáil, among others.  Bhuel, I’ll revisit the topic again, for sure, maybe once more this year, and of course, next year.

Of course, Google isn’t everything,  What do the dictionaries say?

Well, one reason I undertook all this searching was that I couldn’t find “Thanksgiving Day” in any hard-copy Irish dictionary prior to 1995.  Not surprising, for the reasons previously stated.  It’s not an Irish holiday and dictionaries are hard-pressed just to cover basic vocabulary, their own cultural milieu and the truly international terms.  I found one entry for “Lá an Altaithe” in a major online dictionary (, but nothing in several others, and I find two different phrases in two leading pocket dictionaries, wouldn’t you know it:

Lá an Altaithe, per Collins Gem (mini-dictionary), 1995/1999, not specified as “US/Canada, but that seems to be the implication

Féile an Altaithe, per Oxford Irish minidictionary, 1999

So, na torthaí go dtí seo?  “Lá Altaithe” seems to be the people’s favorite.  “Lá an Altaithe” coming second, though it may have the lexicographical edge.  “Féile an Altaithe” lags behind quite a bit, I’d say, despite the Oxford recognition, and may refer to a more general harvest festival.  “Lá Buíochais” and “An Lá Gabhála Buíochais” don’t seem to be catching on by leaps and bounds.   A positive point to note is that all the hits are up, suggesting both that more and more Irish is being spoken in the U.S. and Canada (yay!) and that there’s more interest in the holiday abroad.  Beyond that, more discussion will have to wait until the topic becomes “tráthúil” again, or maybe sooner, if there’s interest.  Anyway, bain sult as an turcaí, an fuílleach, and of course, now on both sides of the lochán, an tsiopadóireacht ar Aoine Dhubh.  Agus Cibearluan.  SGF – Róislín

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