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So how does ‘#’ mean ‘sweetheart’ in Irish texting? Posted by on May 10, 2015 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

So how does ‘#’ mean ‘sweetheart’ in Irish texting?  Well, it all depends on what you call the ‘#’ sign.  And that may depend on where you live.

In the U.S., it’s usually called the “pound sign” and the corresponding symbol on a telephone keypad is called the “pound key.”  For certain touch-tone applications, the instructions may include, “press the pound key.”  All well and good, but that doesn’t have anything to do with “sweetheart.”

In Europe, especially the UK, where the currency is in pounds, the “pound sign” is a completely different symbol and it has a different meaning.  The symbol is ‘£’, from Latin ‘libra,’ and it’s used for saying how much something costs.  The Irish for this “pound sign” is, quite straightforwardly, “comhartha puint,” from “comhartha” [KOHR-huh, silent t], sign, and “puint” [pwinch], the genitive case of “punt,” pound.

So we need to look at another name for the symbol ‘#.’  And it’s readily available.  The Irish name for this symbol is “haischlib” [hash-hlib], based on the words “hais” [“hash” as in “hash-key”] and “clib,” as in a “shoe-lace tag” or some other small tag.  For the pronunciation of “hais,” like the English word “hash” or “cash,” remember, this is the slender “s,” not the broad “s” of Irish “sórt” or “sona.”  The “ai” is an “æ” sound, as in English “cat” or “bat,” not like the English “ai” we see in “rain” or “tain” (the English word “tain,” that is, not the Irish word “táin“).

As for “clib,” prior to its extended usage in computer terminology, it was primarily limited to some specific arenas like shoe-lace tags, ear tags for animals, and fin clips in fishing.  There are at least six other words for “tag” in Irish, but discussing all of them would be too much for this blog post.  If you’re interested, they are: giobal, liobar, cluaisín, nath, mana, and luinneog, at least for starters, and that’s not counting the “tag” of “rag-tag and bob-tail,” which seems to be lumped together into one word, “an gráscar.”  In the compound word “haischlib,” the “clib” part is lenited, becoming “chlib.”  The “c” is no longer pronounced.  It’s silent, and the remaining initial sound, admittedly not typical of English, is “hl.”  I suppose the pronunciation of the initial “hl” could be compared to that of the Old Norse protectress goddess, Hlín, but I’d like to hear an Old Norse speaker to be sure.  That’s “cainteoir Sean-Lochlainnise,” not “seanchainteoir Lochlainnise”  — nice how the Irish is more specific).  Anyway, the “hl” sound is basically saying “huh” and “luh” at the same time.  Good hluck with it!

The question still remains, what does the “hash-key” have to do with “sweethearts” or other terms of affection?  Now, we need to look a similar-sounding word in Irish, “thaisce” [HASH-kyuh] or, as some say, “thaiscidh” [HASH-kee, the d is silent].  This is the direct-address form of the word “taisce” [TASH-kyuh], which has several meanings in the physical sense (treasure, deposit, hoard) or, in the more abstract sense, “sweetheart.” In direct address, that is, if you want to say, “I love you, sweetheart,” the “t” becomes “th” and the “t” is silent.  To address your sweetheart, you start out with “a,” the vocative particle, as you would with any other name or term of endearment or disparagement (a Sheáin, a Cháit, a ghrá, a cheann cipín).

So some  choices for “I love you, sweetheart,” are “Mo ghrá thú, a thaisce” or “Tá mé i ngrá leat, a thaisce.”

And that brings us full circle, since saying “a thaisce” sounds a lot like saying “hash-key.”  So we can simply type “#” and save ourselves eight characters.

But, hmm, what if you want to hash-tag “sweetheart” as a topic of discussion?  I guess it would be: ##.  Or, for that matter, to hash-tag the term “hash-tag.”  But perhaps we’ll look further into that i mblagiontráil eile.

I first became aware of the coincidence of these sounds around five years ago, but I’m wondering if any readers know of its use any earlier.  Or whether one specific person is known to have used it first. Eolas ar bith ag duine ar bith agaibh?  SGF — Róislín


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