Irish Language Blog

“Leaplings?” An Téarma As Gaeilge? Posted by on Feb 29, 2012 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Is “leapling” beag mise!  An ‘leapling’ beag tusa?

Just when I thought I had a pretty good handle on the vagaries of stórfhocal an Bhéarla, another word popped up.  Maybe I should I say it entered mo bhandaleithead, or it came isteach i  mo radar, or some other trendier expression.  At any rate, it caught my eye.  Or really, mo chluas, since I heard it ar an raidió.  “Leapling.”  How could I have missed it?

So, first port of call i gcás mar seo.  I checked it on the Internet and found 3,790 hits for “leapling.”  Not bad, but not ginormous.  In contrast, “leap year baby” yielded a whopping 1,970,000.  So at least I must have some company in having used the latter term.  “Leap year baby” is what I’ve always heard.

In Irish, “leap year baby” should translate quite straightforwardly to one of the following, which also give us a run down on most of the Irish words for “baby”:

leanbh bliain bhisigh (lit. child/baby of leap year)

naíonán bliain bhisigh (lit. baby/infant of leap year)

leanbán bliain bhisigh (“leanbán” [LYAN-uh-bawn] is more a term of endearment, like “darling,” than a term used for officially designating babies as such, with “a leanbáin” in direct address, but I figured I should at least check it; Joyce used it, anglicized as “lambabaun,” just for regular darling babies though, not leap year ones)

babaí bliain bhisigh (baby of leap year)

bunóc bhliain bhisigh (very young infant/new-born baby of leap year)

bábán bliain bhisigh (small baby of leap year)

báb bhliain bhisigh (baby of leap year).  “Báb” also means “a maiden.,” Hmm, could it be a prototype of the English “babe”?  That’s as in “You Got Me,” not as in damh gorm Paul Bunyan or an “mhuc chaorach” i scéal Dick King-Smith, although I guess there’s a connection, semantically.

Bábáinín bliain bhisigh (little baby of leap year)

But I can’t say I’ve found a mhacasamhail in use in Irish, partly, perhaps, because the Irish concept of leap year isn’t based on “leaping” or “jumping.”  But “leanbh bliain bhisigh” should do.  That would be my choice of all the options given above.

Oh, and I checked na foirmeacha iolra also.  Tada (nó más mian leat, faic! rud ar bith! amas ar bith!)!

Getting back to “leapling” as a newish word, well, I always welcome new vocabulary into the fold, and I think I’ve heard lots of special terms over the years.  “Chime child,” yes.  (That’s a child born between the strokes of midnight on Christmas Eve (or is that technically Christmas morning, once you get past the first stroke?).  Words made with the suffix of diminution (-ling), yes. Yeanlings and weanlings, inklings and princelings (no princessling, ach sin scéal eile), bantlings and changelings, and ducklings and goslings, yes.  But “leapling” was a new one for me.  So I tracked it down a bit further and found it was coined around 2000.  I feel partly reprieved, at least!  And further by the fact that out of an cúigear mac léinn I asked about “leapling,” none had heard of it.  And now we’re all so much the wiser.

An leanbh bliain bhisigh thú?  If so, care to write in and tell us how (and when) you celebrate your laethanta breithe?

The term “leapling” does offer some interesting possibilities:

Would an only child born on Leap Day be a “leaplingleton”?  Hmm, and the Irish for “singleton” – well, we’d revert to the term for an only child, “páiste aonair”

Would leaplings qualify for lascainí lá breithe on Irish airline tickets if they fly Aer Leaplingus?  (Leaplings Aer Us?  – yes, I know, I’m ducking!)

One leapling’s favorite term of endearment to another, at least sa Ghearmáin?  “Mein liebling!”

And I guess a study of the way leaplings talk would have to be called “Leaplinguistics.”  Hmm, straying very close to the trendy new Jeremy Lin territory here.  Better end this blog now, sula bhfaighidh mé saighead sa ghlúin (before I get an arrow in the knee, or in this case, it might be sa teanga).  SGF — Róislín

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  1. Rick Forbes:

    Hi Róislín,

    Fear Bisigh is also supposed to be the Irish origin of my surname. Forbeses in Mayo spell their name in Irish as Mac Firbhisigh. Descendant of Leap-year man perhaps?


    • róislín:

      @Rick Forbes Dia dhuit, a Rick,
      That’s an interesting idea. Can’t say I’ve heard the connection developed before, but I’d keep in mind that “biseach” can mean many other things as well: increase, profit, prosperity, amendment, improvement, ease, relief (from sickness), and convalescence.

      Here are a few more phrases you might like:
      Tuilleadh bisigh ort! More luck to you! (can be positive or sarcastic!)

      cloch bhisigh, a precious stone (although other words for that “precious” would be “lómhar” and “luachmhar”)

      I imagine you’ve seen this account:

      Thanks again for writing. – Róislín

  2. Mise Áine:

    ..:-) a Róislín!

    • róislín:

      @Mise Áine GRMA as scríobh agus go deas cluinstin uait arís, 🙂 – R

  3. Rick Forbes:

    Hi Róislín,

    Thanks for the other suggestions, I suppose we will never know for sure.

    Yes, I have seen that but I think these sites suffer from supposition stated as fact. I’ve never liked ‘Forba = a field’ with -ais added as an ending. It looks like someone has taken the modern spelling, looked down a modern dictionary and picked the first close match.

    They are also historically inaccurate, the earliest Irish Mac Firbisigh was Amhlaoibh Mór mac Fir Bhisigh, poet, cleric and historian, died 1138 and in Scotland John Forbes born in 1176.

    I really liked the Irish version of ‘Thirty days hath September …’ in your blog and shared it with our learners’ group.

    Keep up the good work, tá do bhlag ar fheabhas.


    • róislín:

      @Rick Forbes A Rick, a chara,

      I’d say you’re right, we’ll probably never know these origins or those of many words and phrases. But it’s always interesting to keep looking.

      I suppose if one were to apply the “closest dictionary match method” (not recommended!), one would then also have to consider the other “forba” (cutting, excision, gash). Not a particularly common word in modern spoken Irish, I’d say. But with either “forba,” I think the word/syllable division would be all wrong, whereas “fear” as an original first syllable makes perfect sense for a surname, the “b” then coming from some form of “biseach.”

      Glad you liked “an leagan Gaeilge” of “30 Days.”

      Go n-éirí le do ghrúpa foghlaimeoirí! Sa Bheatain, an ea? Cén chathair nó cén baile?

  4. Rick Forbes:

    Hi Róislín,

    Tá sé sin, cinnte.

    It’s really helpful for someone who knows their stuff to give an opinion from a linguistic perspective. I see what you mean about the division. That makes perfect sense and adds some logic to my ‘feeling’ that the old Forba-ais just ‘felt’ wrong and when I recently found Fear Bisigh it ‘felt’ like the right jigsaw piece. But who knows for sure.

    Buailim le grúpa foghlaimeoirí i Milton Keynes gach coicís agus tá grúpa agam féin i Northampton freisin. Tá seisear déag againn go léir.


    • róislín:

      @Rick Forbes A Rick, a chara,

      Go raibh maith agat as é sin a rá (go bhfuil mo stuif ar eolas agam). Leis an fhírinne a dhéanamh, déarfainn gur tionscadal fad saoil atá ann, an Ghaeilge a thuiscint go smior, an méid is féidir linn. Ach an rud céanna le Béarla agus teanga ar bith, is dócha. Bím i gcónaí fiosrach faoi fhocail shuimiúla Bhéarla chomh maith. An ceann is deireanaí a tháinig isteach i mo radar ná “kentledge.” Tá an Ghaeilge air i bhfad níos dírí — ballasta iarainn. Is dócha go bhfaca mé “kentledge” nuair a léigh mé Moby-Dick, blianta ó shin, ach bhí dearmad déanta agam air go dtí le déanaí nuair a chonaic mé an Ghaeilge air.

      Go n-éirí le do ghrúpaí Gaeilge! Róislín

  5. Rick Forbes:

    ‘S e do bheatha.
    Is e sin an fhírinne cinnte. Thosaigh mé ag foghlaim Gaidhlig na hAlban fado fado sula mé ag féachaint air Gaeilge na hEireann cho maith. Mar sin, tá mo Gaelic Heinz 57 uaireanta!

    Mise cho maith. Is maith liom ach is mó sé sin phrásaí ná focail.

    Ní fhaca mé an focail sin (kentledge) riamh ach léigh mé Moby Dick nuair a bhí mé ag scoil.

    Go raibh maith agat, déanaimid iarracht air(uirthi?).


    (Corrections to my pidgen Irish always welcome)

  6. John Loughney:

    I just came across this blog, and had a question on “Amhlaoibh Mór mac Fir Bhisigh” – I am a complete novice with Irish, but if I wanted to make a literal translation, I think this could be translated as “Olaf the large son of the man/the men of leaping” – does that make any sense?

    Just to add context, Amhlaoibh Mór mac Fir Bhisigh was said to be the brother of Lachtna (Grey – as in wizened), who founded the O’Lachtna sept, which is now Anglicized as Loughney (among others).


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