Irish Language Blog

Ó ‘Ghnafu” go “Scúba,” Or Should That Be ’Ó Scúba go Gnafu”? Posted by on Jul 25, 2013 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Among the popular gníomhaíochtaí samhraidh [GNEEV-ee-ukh-tee SOW-ree, remember “sow” sound as in “cow” or “how”] we discussed last time was tumadóireacht scúba (aka scúbthumadh), which you probably picked out as “scuba diving.”  So naturally the question arises–what happens if we take the English word “scuba” back to its source?  Let’s approach this in reverse, for the purpose of this blog, starting with the components of the literal Irish equivalent:

tumadóir scúba

tumadóir scúba

gaireas [GURzh-uss], apparatus, device (as in gaireas frithghadaíochta, gaireas léirithe Dhlí Boyle)

neamhspleách [nyow-splawkh], most typically translated as “independent” (neamh + spleách), but here “self-contained”

análaithe [uh-NAWL-ih-huh], of breathing

faoi, under

uisce [ISH-kyuh, pronounced more or less like “ishke” in ”“], water.   You could also remember the pronunciation for this one by considering the English word whiskey/whisky, derived from Irish “uisce beatha,” but just keep in mind that in the actual Irish word “uisce,” the “s” is slender, pronounced as in “fish” or “Trish.”   For more on uisce, uisce beatha, and fuisce, please see the nóta (thíos).

Now just because this phrase “gaireas neamhspleách análaithe faoi uisce” exists as an official equivalent to “scuba” (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus), it doesn’t mean that a lot of people use it.  “Scúba,” usually with the long mark, is the more common term.   Not that “scúba” or the prefix “scúb-” are all that prevalent online either.  Cé mhéad amas ar Google?  Don téarma “tumadóireacht scúba + Gaeilge,” 290 amas, agus do “scúbthumadh + Gaeilge,” cúig amas (seachas na cinn ag  Chuir mé “+ Gaeilge” ann mar gan é, faighim 15,400 amas.  Most of them have nothing to do with Irish or scuba-diving in Ireland.  It looks like now Google is simply translating my search from Irish into English, and giving me tons of irrelevant results.

And, just in case you were wondered, Irish “gnafu” has nothing to do with English “snafu,” except that they are both acronyms.  As for the entertaining origin of the English word “snafu,” if you’ve reached adulthood without learning the actual background of that acrainm, I’d suggest checking out or (the 1944 animated film by Friz Freleng, Three Brothers, which introduced three soldiers, Snafu, Tarfu, and Fubar).  The acrainm Gaeilge “gnafu” also has nothing to do with the 1986 Dos game “gnafu” in which the player is a caterpillar trapped in a garden surrounded by walls and mushrooms, which it must avoid, and by cherries, which it must eat in order to grow bigger.  To which I say, “à chacun son goût.”  Téigh go, if you want to pursue gnafu!  Why the game was called “gnafu” is unclear to me (eolas ag duine ar bith agaibh?), but I think we can safely say that “gnafu” or gnot, as it were, the bolb bocht in the game is not a likely candidate for “tumadóireacht gnafu” (gaireas neamhspleách análaithe faoi uisce).

Anyway, that also covers the intriguing origin of the English word “scuba,” coined in 1952.  It’s not clear exactly when ” gaireas neamhspleách análaithe faoi uisce” emerged as an Irish equivalent, but I’d guess some time between 2005 and the present.

Next up, or maybe not, the closest Irish equivalent to English “snafu.”  Hmm.  <pondering> SGF, Róislín

Nóta faoin bhfocal uisce agus cúlra na bhfocal “whiskey” agus “whisky”:  Irish has two basic words for “whiskey,” both based on the Irish word “uisce.”  One is “uisce beatha” [ISH-kyuh BA-hun], lit. water of life, and the other is “fuisce [FWISH-kyuh],” which is “uisce” plus the “prosthetic f” (as in Irish “oscail,” Gaelic “fosgail,” etc.).   The “fish/Trish” type of “sh” sound, showing the origin of “whiskey” in “uisce” is sometimes seen in 19th-century or early 20th-century texts depicting a stereotypical Irish character who might “dhrink a sup o’ whishkey,” or worse luck, get “the dickens of a sup of whishkey” from a glass offered by a priest.

English speakers usually give “whiskey” a “broad” s-sound, as in “hiss” or “miss.”  Except perhaps when they’re talking to the “ossifer” and claiming not to be “so think as you drunk I am” (which dates back at least to M*A*S*H, if not earlier).

Gluaisín: acrainm, acronym; bolb [BOL-ub], caterpillar (actually, there’s a whole caterpillar terminology in Irish, including “péist,” which also means ‘worm,’ but that will have to wait for another blog; dlí, law; frith-, against, anti-, gadaíocht, theft

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