Irish Language Blog

Lámha Leitean (An Cúigiú Díochlaonadh, ar l.) Posted by on Jun 14, 2011 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)


“Dropped it?  Lámha leitean!”

Where English invokes the slipperiness of butter to describe someone who can’t catch a ball, Irish invokes, yes, you guessed it, porridge!

Lámha leitean” is a useful phrase for the clós súgartha (playground), and it’s also useful for demonstrating yet another 5th-declension noun in Irish.  The “leitean” part (meaning “of porridge”) works somewhat like other words we’ve practiced (comharsa, comharsan; pearsa, pearsan, srl.), but, at least according to most sources, the word “porridge” has no plural in Irish.  A purveyor of porridge might disagree, but for practical purposes, if we want to talk about multiple types of porridge, we tend to use a phrase like “cineálacha leitean” (types of porridge).  For a little more porridge-meandering, please see below in the notes, but for now, we’ll get back to the declension.  Since “leite” is not considered to have a plural in Irish, there is no form to correspond to “comharsana” and “pearsana,” which as you probably recall, mean “neighbors” and “persons.”

You may have just noticed that our basic word for “porridge” is “leite.”  You’d use that form when “leite” is the subject, object or object of a preposition in the sentence, as in following:

Tá an leite seo róthe.  This porridge is too hot.

Ithim leite le him agus le siúcra.  I eat porridge with butter and sugar.

Tá drochbhlas ar an leite sin, agus tá sí cnapánach leis.  There is a bad taste on that porridge and it’s lumpy, to boot.

And, although it might be an unlikely scenario, the word remains as “leite” in direct address (if you’re speaking directly to the porridge), perhaps if waxing poetic, as in:

A leite mo chroí: O, darling porridge (for when you really like the porridge)


A leite chnapánach, údar millte mo shaoil thú: O lumpy porridge, thou art the bane of my existence

For the tuiseal ginideach, you add “-an,” as you would with “comharsa” and “pearsa” to make phrases like “bean do chomharsan” (your neighbor’s wife) and “ainm na pearsan sin” (that character’s name).  So “lámha leitean” means “porridge-hands,” or quite literally “hands of porridge.”

Actually, I’ve just been Googling around to see to what extent, if any, the phrase “porridge-hands” is used in English.  Most of the results for “porridge hands,” as such, seem to be irrelevant to our particular topic today.  One is about a 7-month-old who dipped her hands in her porridge (ní nach ionadh!).  Another is a piece of ficsean móidíneach based on Harry Potter, where young Sirius, has to wipe porridge off his face and consequently has, according to the fanfic author, “porridge-hands.”.  Of the other results, quite a few restate someone’s review that “Tim Horton’s oatmeal porridge beats Starbuck’s oatmeal porridge hands down.”  Or they talk about other favorite types of bia bricfeasta or cineálacha leitean in general, and express their enthusiasm with the phrase “hands down” directly following the word “porridge.”  Of course, in these cases, “hands down” is entirely separate but Google doesn’t distinguish “porridge-hands down” from “porridge, hands down” in this type of search.  Finally, one charming reference describes “people with cold-pease-porridge faces and cold-pease porridge hands walking down cold-pease-porridge streets.”  Any guesses where that appetizing quote is from?  No?  Freagra thíos.

So I think we can safely advise sticking to “butterfingers” for the English language equivalent to “lámha leitean.”  To the extent that one might find the phrase “porridge hands” on the Internet, it mostly seems to be a chance circumstance of word order, or a literal reference to someone’s hands being covered with porridge.

By the way, it may be more common in the U.S. to refer to leite as “oatmeal,” even though technically oatmeal is really the raw ingredient and there are many types of porridge besides oat.  Restaurants in the U.S. will typically offer “oatmeal,” not “porridge,” on the menu, that is if they serve it at all.  Although I haven’t exhaustively studied the terminology, it seems to be fairly consistently “oatmeal” for the hot dish and for the raw material in the US.  In contrast, in Ireland and the UK, the terms are generally “oatmeal” for the ingredient and “porridge” for the hot dish.  Double-checking a couple of Irish dictionaries for their entry on “oatmeal” shows, as I expected, consistent use of “min choirce” (meal of oats, i.e. the grain ground into meal, as opposed to “whole”).  In other words, looking up “oatmeal” will not normally take you to any of the words for “porridge,” let alone “porridge-hands.”

All this actually suggests another interesting arena of terminological research for one or more future blogs  – oat- and cereal-related terms.  Calóga arbhair has always struck me as somewhat unusual, since “arbhar” is generally understood as “corn” in the Irish/British English sense of the word (edible grain), not the American, where it is more specific (maize, or the so-called “sweet corn”).  In my experience, the term “sweet corn” is almost never used in American menus, unless it’s meant to be deliberately enticing.  But “cornflakes” are made from milled corn (by which Americans mean milled maize or  sweet corn), not from milled “arbhar,” which could include wheat, oats, etc.   Such a research project should prove interesting, labor-intensive and detail-oriented, but not, um, grueling.  And of course, in the final analysis, my selection for bia bricfeasta would be to use steel-cut oats (like McCann’s) to make my porridge, hands down!  Ha!  Just confounded my search once again!

We’re almost through, now, with the “-an” sub-set of 5th-declension nouns.  I promised “ionga” and “ionga” you will get, and with it the epiphany that even sub-sets can have sub-sets.  But that’s arbhar, úúps, ábhar blag eile.  If you happen to actually be “ag ithe leitean” right now, bain sult as do bhéile.  And if you’re a glutton for punishment, please keep reading, for more fascinating details on porridge and its sister pottages and puddings.  SGF ó Róislín

Nóta faoi chineálacha leitean: The possible types of porridge that come to mind are oatmeal porridge, Indian-meal (maize) porridge and pease-porridge (as discussed above and as celebrated in the nursery rhyme).  Looking online, I see there are many types of porridge I’ve never tasted, including some made with cruithneacht, cuineo, muiléad, rís, eorna, seimilín, and sorgum.  Actually I’ve had cream of rice and semolina but never thought of them as porridge.  As for the Indian-meal type, that’d likely be called “corn meal mush” in the U.S., but I don’t think the word “mush” translates very well back into Irish.

If you expand “porridge” to its companion word, “pottage,” sometimes considered interchangeable, we’d never finish this blog, since pottage opens up the wide world of soup (anraith, or, in the North, ) in general.  In Irish, “pottage” is generally translated as “anraith” (soup), which makes the difference between soup and porridge clearer than it is in English.

And if we expand the “porridge/pottage/pudding” continuum even further, we’d definitely never finish this blog since we’d be talking about pottage in general, Dr. Who (specifically Melanie Jane Bush of Pease Pottage, East Sussex), the TV show Porridge, prison slang (“doing porridge”), maróga, putóga, milseoga, Christmas pudding, plum pudding, non-pudding puddings (Yorkshire), and non-vegetable puddings treated as vegetables.  That last item comes from personal experience, noting that  chocolate pudding may listed as a vegetable choice for a side-dish, at least in some (occasional?) restaurants in the American South.  Shades of citseap as a “vegetable” for school lunch nutrition purposes?   Some of you may remember that early 1980s controversy as part of budget cuts in the U.S.

Trying to do all of those topics in aon bhlag amháin would probably result in me making a “praiseach,” “brachán,” “hash,” or “mess” of it, if rushed, so maybe we’ll just revisit this topic from time to time in the future.  And, of course, our original intention here was simply to practice one more 5th-declension noun, with its “-an” ending (leite, leitean).  A second goal was to discuss the term “porridge-hands” as such, and an incidental goal was to clarify the differences in American English vs. Irish/British English, since the words “porridge” and “oatmeal” may have different meanings and/or contexts.

As for na Ceanadaigh, cad a deir sibhse?  Cén sórt leitean a itheann sibhse chun fuacht an gheimhridh a chur ar gcúl?  Min choirce?  Min bhuí?  Meascán de chruithneacht, de sheagal, agus de líon (ar nós Sunny Boy)? 

Freagra: foinse an athfhriotail faoi na daoine a raibh aghaidheanna maróg phise fhuar agus lámha maróg phise fhuar acu agus a bhí ag siúl síos na sráideanna maróg phise fhuar?  Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell  (2004).  Ach fainic, ní as coirce a ndéantar maróg phise (pease-porridge), ach as piseanna.  Is ionann “pease-porridge” agus “pease-pudding” (maróg phise).  Sin meascán de phiseanna, uisce, spíosraí agus salann, amanna le bagún.   So, is de thaisme a thagann an focal “porridge” go díreach roimh an bhfocal “hands” sa sliocht seo ach ní bhaineann sé le “porridge-hands” mar théarma. 

Gluais: athfhriotal, quotation; brachán, porridge, mess; calóg, flake (also used in phrases like calóga sneachta, etc.); cruithneacht, wheat; cuineo, quinoa; eorna, barley; foinse, source; fuacht, coldness, chill; min, meal, includes min choirce, min bhuí, etc.; muiléad, millet; praiseach, another word for porridge, but also widely used for “mess,” more so than “brachán,” in my experience; rís, rice; seimilín, semolina; sliocht, extract; sorgum, sorghum

Foinse an fhicsin mhóidínigh:, le DolphinDreamer24-7

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