Irish Language Blog

More Green Ideas, Mostly _Not_ Colorless (Sorry, Chomsky!) Posted by on Mar 31, 2013 in Irish Language

(le Róislín) The color “green” is such an interesting topic, I’m reluctant to stop quite yet, even after having written several blogs on it.  Today we’ll start out with some common and some not-so-common examples of “green” in Irish, and end up, out on a limb (verdant, no doubt) discussing “colorless green.”  If that last bit sounds strange, please be patient, or if you’re really champing at the bit, go ahead and read the relevant Wikipedia article (

fliosca glas? fliosca uaine?

So, aside from rivers, bagels, and beer, as recently discussed, here are a few more ways in which the two basic words for “green” (uaine, glas) are used:

1) glas, plural: glasa

féar glas [fayr glahss], green grass (remember, this isn’t “fear glas,” which means “green man” — for whatever purposes you wish to apply that concept, presumably discussing “sásair eitilte,” srl.)

geilleagar glas, green economy

An Comhaontas Glas, The Green Party [say: KOH-AYN-tus, the ‘-mh-‘ is silent]

breosla glas, green fuel

glasraí, vegetables

2) uaine, plural: uaine (no change)

cóta uaine, a green coat

páipéar uaine, a green paper, as in a “Green Paper” on Education, Communications, Health, etc.  Of course, “páipéar uaine” could also refer to “páipéar orágamaí,” “páipéar ealaíne,” srl.  Only “comhthéacs” will provide the clarification.

Na Tailte Uaine, The Green Lands, referring to Currach Chill Dara, (the Curragh of Kildare, the geographic area); this use of “uaine” comes from the green used in mapping the area and contrasts with “Na Tailte Gorma” (The Blue Lands), marked in blue on the map.

And to wrap up (sort of), here are a few other  interesting points regarding “green,” divided into situations where a) English “green” isn’t “green” in Irish, b) English may be translated as “green” in Irish or may not, and c) English “green” is simply Gaelicized in spelling.  And we’ll end with “colorless green,” as promised.

a) Here are some English words or phrases that contain “green” where the Irish doesn’t:

greenhouse, teach gloine, lit. house of glass (logically enough); of course, if an ordinary house were painted green, we could have “teach uaine” (or “teach glas,” but that would seem less likely)

village green: faiche an bhaile (“faiche” is also used for “St. Stephen’s Green,” which is “Faiche Stiabhna

putting green: plásóg amais — how interesting that the word for a “hit” in Internet searching, amas, is also used in golf terminology.  “To putt” is “amas a dhéanamh” (lit. to do a putt) and a good putter (person) is “amasaí maith.

And one of my favorites, “Do you see any green in my eye?”  No, that’s not really discussing dathanna súl.  And it’s not that famous monster, “éad” (jealousy), speaking.  This “green” turns out to be “bog” (soft, tender, foolish) in Irish, in the phrase, “Nach bog a mheasfá mé a bheith?” (i.e. You must think I’m soft in the head, lit. Isn’t it soft that you would think me to be?).  In other words, no, I’m not buying that droichead that you’re offering for sale i mBruiclín.

As for Shakespeare’s “alltán glas-súileach,” the closest basic equivalent in Irish to being “green with envy” uses the word “ite” (eaten), not “green,” as in “Tá Iago ite ag an éad” (i.e. Tá éad mór ar Iago le hOthello agus le Cassio).  Poking around the Internet, I see that at least some other languages also actually say a person is “green” with envy (vert de jalousie, verde di invidia, grön av avund, etc.), but it’s not ringing any bells for me for Irish. Which green would it be?  Alltáin ghlas-súileacha éadmhara ar bith amuigh ansin — an bhfuil a fhios agaibh?  Mínígí sibh féin, mura mhiste libh!

BTW, “glas-súileach” (here “green-eyed”) can also mean “gray-eyed” or “blue-eyed,” or “grayish-blue-eyed.”  I’ve also see “green” eyes described as “uaine,” not surprisingly.  And if you cast a “liathshúil” (gray eye) at someone, it means you’re looking at them enviously.  Is that true, then, no matter cén dath your eyes actually are?  I don’t think the idea that “gray eyes” mean “envy” is as solidly entrenched in the Irish language as being “green with envy” is in English, de réir mo thaithí féin, ar a laghad.  I haven’t heard it much, anyway.  Mh’anam!  A leithéid de cheisteanna ag baint leis seo!  I guess I’d have to be more specific if I were a “déantóir súl gloine” (as featured in, but for now dathanna súl will remain ábhar blag eile.

b) Secondly, here are some cases where a word that actually means “green” may or may not be used:

green room: seomra sosa, lit. break-room OR seomra scíthe, lit. relax-room OR seomra glas, lit. green room (even though it’s péinteáilte)

greenhorn: cábóg (also means a “clodhopper”) OR glas-stócach, lit. “green-lad”

c) And finally, “Greenland” simply has the sound “green” adapted to Irish spelling as “Graon“:

Graonlannach, a Greenlander

An Ghraonlainn, lit. (the) Greenland, with “the” triggering lenition (g -> gh), which means we need the voiced velar fricative for correct pronunciation (for tips, see: (subtitled “and minding your voiced velar fricatives”) or .

And there we have it, or at least an “achoimre” {AKH-im-ruh] of the situation.

Well, actually, not quite.  How about “colorless green,” from linguist Noam Chomsky’s semantically perplexing but syntactically accurate catchphrase, “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.”  So which “green” would that be?   Here are a few translations that I’ve come up with, using “idéanna” instead of the somewhat more common “smaoinimh,” since we’re waxing a bit philosophical here:

Codlaíonn idéanna glasa gan dath go fíochmhar.

Codlaíonn idéanna uaine gan dath go fíochmhar.

Codlaíonn idéanna glasa neamhdhathacha go fíochmhar.

Codlaíonn idéanna uaine neamhdhathacha go fíochmhar.

Which “green” is more appropriate if the idea is “colorless”?  Diabhal a fhios agam!  Sibhse?

Actually there are about a half-dozen more ways to say “furiously,” never mind the “colorless green” concept, but I’m going with what I think would be most straightforward, based on “fíochmhar” (furious).  Some of the others imply a furious pace of movement (de luas mire) or that the colorless green ideas would have legs (!), like horsemen, “ar stealladh chosa in airde.”  That one would really be going out on a limb!

Of course, “colorless” could also mean “dull,” “lackluster,” or “uninteresting,” as in a writing style, in which case we’d have “idéanna glasa leamha,” but I think we should quit while we’re ahead.  Or else revisit the topic lá éigin eile.

I hope that today’s blog was “neamhleamh” (non-lackluster), and that it provided some useful  expressions as well as some more that aren’t on the “bealach buailte” (beaten track).

To sum up, we’ve seen the two basic words for green (glas, uaine) and issued the perennial caveat that not every phrase that includes “green” in English will include “green,” as such, in Irish.  And that we even have to choose between “glas” and “uaine” if the topic is colorlessly green.   Not that I actually chose — I’m still “i mo shuí scartha” (on the fence) regarding that issue.  SGF, Róislín

Gluais: alltán, monster; cosa in airde, galloping; éad, jealousy, envy;  stealladh, outpouring; suí scartha, straddling

Blaganna eile faoi na dathanna “glas” agus “uaine”:

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