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Seachtain Fhéile Pádraig a hAon: How Many Shades of Green? Posted by on Mar 15, 2010 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

It’s such a festive week, I thought we’d take a break from irregular verbs (an gcloisim “hurá”?) and do a mionsraith Fhéile Pádraig.

Maybe it’s not exactly 40 shades, as in the popular song, but there are two key words for “green” in most dialects of Irish: glas and uaine. And yes, they are used for different things. They’re not usually interchangeable. Here’s the traditional breakdown.

glas: for things in nature (leaves, plants, etc.)

féar glas [fayr glahss], green grass. Please do note the long mark over the “e” in “féar” here – this isn’t “fear” (man). So, no, I’m not talking about “little green men” (though I might if you ask me too!), but simply quite terrestrial green grass.

seamróga glasa, green shamrocks

gort glas, green field (tilled field, that is – Irish has at least three words for “field,” ach scéal na bhfocal sin, sin scéal eile.

And here’s a nice proverbial expression for you, at least as long as you’re accustomed to comparing things to “braird” (more on “braird” thíos): chomh glas le geamhar (as green as braird).

Watch out though, for references to a “bó ghlas.” When this color is applied to cows, sheep, or horses, it’s understood to mean “gray.” Despite all the cow-painting incidents and innuendos I’ve heard of, I’ve yet to see a cow fully painted green, even with all the glasachan that takes place around Lá Fhéile Pádraig. For non-green cow-painting, you might want to check out the Ad Lab blog for August 8, 2005 (http://adverlab.blogspot.com/2005/08/advertising-on-cows.html). I’m not talking “trí mo hata” here, or should I say, “through my caubeen,” just reflecting on the vagaries of human behavior – after all, the cows didn’t initiate the use of their cliatháin as advertising panels.

uaine: for man-made or dyed things

geansaí uaine, a green gansey, jumper, sweater or whatever you care to call it (covering Irish, UK, and US English there). Also, crios uaine, green belt (i Júdó).

Uaine” is also occasionally used for living creatures, such as the ciaróg thíograch uaine, which I’ll leave you to translate (hint: ciaróg = beetle). Perhaps the idea with this word is simply that the green is almost an unnatural shade, not quite like “glas.”

Now, when you come to dyeing rivers green (as in Chicago), you face a dilemma unknown to “na SeanGhaeil,” who presumably started this color differentiation. As a dye, one would think “uaine.” But since the final product is a river, one might think “glas.” Bhuel, we could straddle the “claí” and use the compound, glasuaine (vivid green). As for beoir, most of the references I see online do use “uaine,” but “glas” occasionally shows up. Either way, caith siar í!

Nótaí: claí, dyke, wall, fence; cliathán, side or flank of a person or animal; glasachan, becoming green or making something green

geamhar: definable as “braird” or “springing corn” (corn in the blade). Somehow, with that samhlaíocht ró-aibí, I’ve alluded to previously, and which one dedicated reader, “MiseÁine,” has kindly defended, I’m envisioning the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD, dyed green for Lá Fhéile Pádraig. Yes, I have visited the place – and it’s go hiontach. But chomh glas le geamhar. That’s a stretch, I know. But if I had those green-tinted glasses that they gave visitors to Oz, I’d be all set, or maybe, as they say in Ireland, “sorted.”

Of course, and there’s always a “caveat” with Irish vocabulary, this use of the word “corn” can refer to oats or wheat. Now, I’m thinking of something really “neamúil” (enticing) – leite uaine (green oatmeal/porridge). Even the manufacturers of citseap uaine (remember – sold for a while i mbuidéil Shrek) seemed to have stayed away from that one. But … the ehow site (http://www.ehow.com/how_14302_make-food-green.html) sports an illustration of green eggs and bacon (sorry, Sam, no rím) and a reader comment suggesting green-dyed peanut butter and apple jelly sandwiches for a St. Patrick’s Day school lunch. Hmmm, níl a fhios agam. Just sayin’.  SGF – Róislín

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  1. Luisa:

    Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig!

    Bhí mé ar leathanta saoire agus chaill mé cúpla blag. I will read them later, but if I remember correctly, this blog was started last year around St. Patrick’s Day (and to be honest I confirmed that by looking into the archive) so:

    Lá breithe shona do Transparent Irish Blog!

  2. róislín:

    Go raibh maith agat, a Luisa. Tá brón orm nach raibh mé ábalta scríobh ní ba luaithe ach mí na Márta, sin an mhí is gnóthaigh i rith na bliana mar gheall ar na himeachtaí Gaelacha a bhíonns ar siúl. Bhí tú an-tuisceanach a bheith ag smaoineamh air sin!

    ní ba luaithe = past tense form of “earlier,” with the “is” of “níos” changing to “ní ba”
    tuisceanach – thoughtful

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