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Lá (an) Altaithe: Cén Téarma i nGaeilge? Posted by on Nov 23, 2010 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Last year, as some of you may recall, I compared the usage of four different terms for saying “Thanksgiving Day” in Irish.  The total number of hits, based on Google searching, was about 100, which is, of course, quite small compared to the word “Thanksgiving” in English.  Admittedly, the difference in the number of hits in Irish as opposed to English is pretty much a foregone conclusion.  Thanksgiving Day is not an Irish holiday, so even though it might be discussed by anybody anywhere, it’s not likely to generate a lot of commentary in Irish.

This year’s results for the word “Thanksgiving Day” in English?  Two different searches a few minutes apart, using the exact same search term, gave me 27,700,000 first and then 28,300,000 hits.  Either way, the difference between the results for English and Irish are staggering, but, as I said above, not surprising.  Why there should be a difference of 600,000 hits for the English results, within a few minutes, I can only chalk up to Google analyzing what I had been doing just before the second search before and working that into the search.  Deartháir mór ag breathnú orainn?

A plus or minus difference of 600,000 for the Irish search would be mindboggling, but in the English context it shouldn’t raise any eyebrows.

The total chat about Thanksgiving Day in Irish, for 2010, that I’ve been able to track, is minuscule compared to the hits for English.  About 200 compared to about 28,000,000.  Not even a drop in the bucket, but maybe a móilín of that drop in the bucket.  And of course, this search doesn’t claim to represent the entire picture – it would take many searches on the same topic to even approach that.  It does give a good idea, though, as to which the more popular terms are.  And it also shows, quite nicely, that at least there is more online chat about the topic this year than last.  And a further “of course” is that some of this increase points to last year’s Thanksgiving articles in this Transparent Language blog.  But that’s how the system works!

So how do this year’s results compare to last year’s?

Lá an Altaithe – 99 (2010) as opposed to 44 hits (2009)

Lá Altaithe – 115 (2010) as opposed to 45 hits (2009)

Lá Buíochais – 9 hits (2010) as opposed to 5 hits (2009)

an Lá Gabhála Buíochais – 4 hits (2010, by general Google searching) as opposed to 1 hit (2009, found by “guided browsing,” not by “Google” as such)

In addition, another term surfaced this time that I hadn’t searched last year

Féile an Altaithe 5 hits, dating as far back as 2004

Here’s a quick breakdown of the vocabulary the different phrases are based on:

altaithe, from the verb “altaigh” (give thanks, generally implying to God, as opposed to thanking a person, which is typically, “Go raibh maith agat”),

buíochas [BWEE-uh-khuss], thanks, gratitude.  In the possessive, as used in “Lá Buíochais,” this is pronounced “BWEE-uh-khush”

gabháil, taking, giving, catching, invading, seizing, assuming, and accepting.  A truly multi-purpose verb!  On the surface, adding the word for “giving” could make the phrase an even more accurate rendition of  “Thanksgiving.”  But clearly, to look at the 2009 and 2010 results, this phrase is staying in the minority.  Perhaps just because it’s longer, maybe a bit unwieldy, and requires two nouns to be converted to the genitive case.

féile, festival (féile an altaithe, festival of giving thanks).  The word “féile” is typically used with saints’ feast days, as in “Lá Fhéile Pádraig” and is often shortened to beyond immediate recognition as in “Lá ‘le Pádraig.”   “Féile” can also mean “festival” in general, as in “Féile an Phobail” (i mBéal Feirste Thiar).  If you want to talk about moveable feasts, this is the word you’d use (féile aistritheach), not the other words for “feast” in Irish, such as “féasta” or “fleá” or “coirm.”  That last word, “coirm” is really an “ale-feast” or “drinking-party,” so would be an unlikely candidate to go with “altaithe”!   It’s a great word to know, though, and is a cognate of the Welsh “cwrw,” which can mean “ale” or “beer.”  Now that may sound surprising, depending on whether you think of “beer” as the “umbrella term,” consisting of ale and lager, or whether you think of beer as lager.  Much food for thought there, the liquid variety, of course, but enough to be ábhar blag eile, not crammed into Blag Lá an Altaithe.

By the way, this isn’t meant to imply that one shouldn’t be thankful for ale-feasts, just that trying to come up with a phrase like “an ale-feast of thanks” would seem counterproductive when discussing Thanksgiving as it is generally understood.

By the way, a dó, if I were going to refer to the actual food served at a Thanksgiving dinner as a “feast,” I would use “féasta.”  “Féasta Lá an Altaithe” would refer to the food, not the holiday in general.

Next up, still no “succotash” i nGaeilge but plenty of ways to discuss “pónairí móra” and “arbhar Indiach.”   Please stay tuned!

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