Irish Language Blog

Some Irish Words Beginning with the Letter ‘Z’ (zaip go zú) Posted by on Aug 7, 2018 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Téacs agus dearadh le Róislín do Transparent Language, 2018

Recently we looked at some Irish words starting with the letter ‘y,’ which occurs fairly rarely in Irish.  And previously, we’ve looked at some words including the letters ‘v,’ ‘w,’ and ‘x,’ also “neamhchoitianta” in Irish.  Also, we did look at words beginning with ‘z’ earlier.  But every time I check the online dictionaries, it seems there are a few new words to consider, or at least ones that have newly come to my attention.  (naisc thíos do na hiarbhlagmhíreanna).

This is all by way of a reminder that the traditional Irish alphabet had 18 letters, not 26.  The non-traditional letters are: j, k, q, v, w, x, y, z.

So what are some of the ‘Z’ words?  Seo cnuasach samplach:

zaip mar ainmfhocal, a zap, as in ríomheolaíocht (computer science)

Zaip! mar fhocal onamataipéach, “Zap!” mar shampla: “Zaip!  Dhírigh an Marsach a gha-ghunna ar na daoine agus cuireadh as dona gcuid móilíní.” (Zap! The Martian pointed his ray-gun at the people and their molecules were disrupted.”)

zaipeáil, to zap

zaipire (cianrialtán), a zapper (remote control)

zeitibheart, zettabyte

zó-eolaíocht aka míoleolaíocht, which is a fascinating situation in and of itself, since “míol,” with various modifiers can mean anything from “whale” (míol mór) to “head louse” (míol cinn), with four additonal biting types: “horse-biting louse” (míol capaill), “sheep-biting louse” (míol caorach), “dog-biting louse” (míol madra), and “cat-biting louse” (míol cait).  As for the “biting” aspect, you might have noticed that none of those four terms actually refers to the Irish word for “a bite” (greim).  But exploring that further is probably a topic for another blogpost (ábhar blagmhír eile).  Anyway, míoleolaíocht isn’t simply cetology (the study of whales) or “*lousology” (to coin a word, perhaps).  It is the same as “zó-eolaíocht” (zoology), the study of all animals, although it’s worth noting that “zó-eolaíocht” seems to be the preferred term today.  Which leads us back to our main topic, words beginning with “z” in Irish.

Actually, before returning to our “z” words, I have to ponder the question and see if anyone knows – what is the Irish for “cetologist,” or “cetology” for that matter.  “*Céiticeolaí” and “*céiticeolaíocht,” I suppose, but it would be nice to find examples.  So far, tada ar line.  As many of you will probably recognize, the “eolaí” and “eolaíocht” part of the above words mean “scientist“ and “science,” respectively.

And now,  ar ais go dtí an liosta:

zombaí, (pretty self-explanatory) zombie

, (also pretty self-explanatory), zoo

zúm mar ainmfhocal, zoom, zúm mar chuid de cheamara (deirtear “lionsa zúmála” freisin)  

Zúm! mar intriacht, “Zoom!”, mar shampla: Zúm! D’imigh sé go tapaidh. (Zoom!  He went away quickly.)

zúmáil, to zoom (le ceamara, srl.).  Not, in my experience, for cars or space pods or Quidditch players zooming by.  But as an interjection (mar intriacht), it can express the speed of the movement.

So that’s a small handful (dornán), anyway.  There are a few hundred more Irish words starting with “z,” but that’s a small number, considering how many words there are starting with letters like “b,” “c”, or “d” (thousands and thousands).  And most of the “z” words in Irish are foreign or religious terms; a huge number seem to be from the Old Testament, and wouldn’t be part of typical, everyday conversations.

Befpre we wrap up, let’s look at another aspect of this picture.  Even though we have examples like those above, there are numerous situations where an English “Z” changes to an Irish “S,” or in one case, even to an “ST-.”  Can you guess what the following words are in English (freagraí thíos).  Leid: three are place names, and one has “Z” at the end, not at the beginning.

1.. Ságrab

2.. An tSaimbia

3..An tSáír

4.. stoidiaca

5.. Canáil Suaise

And one that just recently came to my attention:

6.. safairleocast

Bhuel, I hope you found this to be a little different from just learning “cat” [kaht] for “cat” and “carr” for “car.”  It always intrigues me to consider how these z-words (and the v, w, x, and y ones) get adopted into Irish and adapted into a new spelling system.

Freagraí (1-5): Zagreb, Zambia, Zaire, zodiac, Suez Canal.  “Zodiac” is especially interesting, I think, since its origin goes all the way back to ancient Greek and the word zôion (animal), referring to the animals that represent most of the zodiac signs.  But why “st-“ instead of just “s-“?  Diabhal a fhios agam – eolas ag duine ar bith amuigh ansin? 

6.. And the last one of my “z”-to-“s” examples is “zafirlukast,” with the Irish “safairleocast” pronounced about the same as the English but abiding by the Irish vowel harmony rules, which would prohibit having a consonant + a + consonant + i + consonant + u combination as in the “zafirlu-“ part of “zafirlukast.”  That amazing-looking word is another name for (cyclopentyl N-[3-[[2-methoxy-4-[(2-methylphenyl)sulfonylcarbamoyl]phenyl]methyl]-1-methylindol-5-yl]carbamate)!  Irish does have a word for “carbamate,” which is “carbamáit,” but the rest is literally all Greek to me.  Some combination of the following, is dócha: carbamóil, ciogl-, feinil, -il, iondóil, meatocsa, meitili, óil, peintil, and sulph-.  “Zafirlukast” is apparently an approved term by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), which itself has an Irish name: Aontas Idirnáisiúnta na Glancheimice agus na Ceimice Feidhmí.  And what is this sesquipedalian chemical compound?  Wikipedia can explain it better than me; it’s “an orally administered leukotriene receptor antagonist (LTRA) used for the chronic treatment of asthma” (


From ‘vacsaín’ to ‘vuinsciú’ and some other Irish words that start with ‘v’ Posted on 05. Sep, 2015 by róislín in Irish Language

Irish Words Starting with ‘w’ (dornán beag ach dornán acu ann!) Posted on 09. Sep, 2015 by róislín in Irish Language

Some Irish Words Starting with the Letter ‘X’ (Part 1 of 2) Posted on 14. Sep, 2015 by róislín in Irish Language

Some Irish Words Starting with the Letter ‘X’ (Part 2 of 2): xileafón agus xifisteirneam Posted on 18. Sep, 2015 by róislín in Irish Language

Some Irish Words Starting with the Letter ‘Y’ (yóyó ina measc) Posted by róislín on Sep 21, 2015 in Irish Language

Catching Some ‘Z-Words’ in Irish: What Are The Others besides ‘Zú’ and ‘Zúnna’? Posted by  on Sep 25, 2015 in Irish Language

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