Irish Language Blog

Of Mice, Of Men, Of Newt, Of Frog (A Prose Ode to “An Tuiseal Ginideach”) Posted by on Apr 2, 2011 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Now that we’ve started this mionsraith on an tuiseal ginideach, we may as well dul go bun an angair.  That latter phrase is an Irish idiom that literally means “to go to the end (top) of the want,” and is roughly equivalent to “to go whole hog” or “to the bitter end.”  Why Béarlóirí ever started the expression “to go whole hog” is ábhar blag eile, probably best left to the same folks who will explain phrases like “hogs on ice” and “in a pig’s eye.”  But maybe we’ll have an Irish addendum to that some day, given that Irish has some catchy pig idioms as well.  Can you think of any, offhand? (Freagra amháin thíos)

Anyway, back to the topic at hand, an tuiseal ginideach.  And I can already see that this will take i bhfad níos mó ná blag amháin, so settle in for workout over the next few weeks.

First let’s consider the English word “of,” often used to show possession or ownership, although it has other meanings as well, like “about” or “from.”  To show possession in Irish, we change the noun involved from its basic (dictionary-entry) form to “an tuiseal ginideach” (the genitive case).  Other languages that work this way include German (das Buch des Mannes, the book of the man) and Latin (liber pueri, the book of the boy).  In Irish, German, and Latin, we don’t use the preposition “of” to show possession; instead, we change the ending (Mannes instead of Mann, pueri instead of puer).

Now that we’ve established that the word “of” will not be involved in these phrases in Irish, let’s check out some samplaí.  For right now, we’ll leave off the adjectives, even though we had gotten started with them a few blogs back; we’ll get back to those níos moille (later).

ruball (tail) + luchóg (mouse):

ruball luchóige: a tail of a mouse, a mouse’s tail

rubaill luchóg: tails of mice, mice’s tails

And for a specific mouse, or specific mice:

ruball na luchóige: the tail of the mouse, the mouse’s tail

rubaill na luchóg: the tails of the mice, the mice’s tails (back to “square one,” since “luchóg” is also genitive plural, meaning “of mice” as a possessive)

That would be especially useful if we’re discussing Reepicheep in C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series.

And here’s a more practical example:

hata (hat) + fear (man):

hata fir: a man’s hat, a hat of a man

hataí fear: men’s hats, hats of men

hata an fhir: the man’s hat, the hat of the man

hataí na bhfear: the men’s hats, the hats of the men

Likewise we could have: bróga fir, bróga fear, bróga an fhir, and bróga na bhfear, which would mean: a man’s shoes, men’s shoes, the man’s shoes, and the men’s shoes.

How’s that for praiticiúil?

But, as you might have guessed from teideal an bhlag seo, thinking of catchy phrases that use the possessive with “of” in English, I thought it would be fun to translate the memorable lines “eye of newt” and “toe of frog,” so here goes:

súil (eye) + niút (newt)

súil niúit: eye of newt, a newt’s eye

And, even though it doesn’t have the literary resonance:

súile niút: eyes of newts

A little more than Shakespeare ever bargained for, is dócha!  To continue:

ladhar (toe) + loscán (frog, could also use “frog” as is, with “froig” as the genitive singular and “froganna” for the plural, but that doesn’t offer quite as much dúshlán, or the alliteration we see below)

ladhar loscáin: toe of frog, a frog’s toe

ladhracha loscán: toes of frogs, frogs’ toes

Hmmm, I wonder, an bhfuil blas sicín ar na ladhracha chomh maith?  That’s what they always say about cosa loscán (aka cosa froganna or even, for more variation, cosa loscann, where “loscann” is a variant of “loscán,” ábhar blag eile, it’s safe to say).  Bhuel, ar an nóta blasta sin (on that tasty (?) note), sgf, ó Róislín

Freagra: frása traidisiúnta leis an bhfocal “muc” (pig, hog): a bheith ar m(h)uin na muice, lit. to be on the (upper) back of the pig, which is understood to mean “to be in luck.”  Some versions have the “h” (mhuin) and some have no “h” (muin).  The second way gives for alliteration, which is always fun.

Gluais: chomh maith, as well; blas, taste, accent; dúshlán, challenge; i bhfad, far (used adverbially); mionsraith, mini-series; níos mó, more

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