Irish Language Blog

Speaking of ‘galar na bó buile’ (‘mad cow disease’ in Irish) Posted by on Apr 30, 2015 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Bó a bhfuil einceifileapaite spúinseach bhólachta (galar na bó buile) uirthi. Tá sí róthanaí agus tá sí corrach ar a cosa. (grianghraf le hArt Davis, USDA, ag:

Bó a bhfuil einceifileapaite spúinseach bhólachta (galar na bó buile) uirthi. Tá sí róthanaí agus tá sí corrach ar a cosa. (grianghraf le hArt Davis, USDA, ag:

In a recent blog post, we briefly discussed einceifileapaite spúinseach bhólachta, which is also known as ‘galar na bó buile‘ (nasc thíos).  In other words, bovine spongiform encephalopathy aka mad cow disease.  It’s a bit of a mouthful in Irish as it is in English, so why don’t we take a closer look at the Irish terms for the disease, both the “einceifileapaite” term and the “galar” term.”  And along the way, we’ll be practicing some more basic vocabulary, like “cow,” “cows,” “legs,” and “herd.”

Galar na bó buile” is a little more straightforward than einceifileapaite spúinseach bhólachta, so let’s start with that.

The word “galar” has a variety of meanings, such as disease, illness, sickness, and a little more abstractly, misery, distress, trouble or affliction

You may already know “,” since it tends to be taught very early on in most Irish courses.  It’s an interesting word, irregular in its forms and in having so little change when showing possession (an tuiseal ginideach).  It appears as follows:

, a cow

an bhó [un woh OR un voh, depending on dialect], the cow

, of a cow; galar bó, a disease of a cow

na bó, of the cow; note there’s no change to the word ‘‘ itself; ruball na bó, the tail of the cow

ba [bah], cows; Tá ba sa pháirc.

na ba, the cows; Tá na ba sa pháirc.

, of cows, galar bó, a disease of cows.  This looks the same as the singular form, “galar bó” (a disease of a cow), no discernible difference, but does it really matter?  Generally, a disease that one cow might get could be gotten by many cows — unfortunately.

na mbó [nuh moh], of the cows.  Here, the letter “m” tells us clearly that the phrase is plural, so we can distinguish;

cosa na bó, the legs of the cow

cosa na mbó, the legs of the cows

Of course, if we were dealing with the “ruball” (aka eireaball), context would probably tell us if we were talking about one cow or more than one:

ruball na bó, the tail of the cow

rubaill na mbó, the tails of the cows

We probably wouldn’t ever need to say “rubaill na bó” (the tails of the cow) because we would assume each cow has only one tail.  Likewise, we would probably never need to say “ruball na mbó” (the tail of the cows), because, we would hope that each cow has its own tail!  Of course, if we had a “Pin The Tail on the Donkey” kit, which came with a replacement tail in case the kids playing the game lost or destroyed one of the tails, we might have some reason to say, “rubaill an asail” (the tails of the donkey), but even then, I admit, my example is a bit áiféiseach (far-fetched).

Thereby, no doubt, hangs a tale, or in the case of the donkey, a tail, but we’ll save further discussion of rubaill, eireabaill, and fimíní, and related words like glibeanna, moingeanna and pónaithe, for some other future blog post.

Getting back to the basic issue, is “” singular or plural in the phrase, “galar na bó buile,” we know it’s singular because the phrase is “na bó,” not “na mbó.”  The phrasing is singular, indicating one cow, lit. the disease of the mad cow.  This is as it is in English–we don’t say “mad cows disease.”

The final keyword of our phrase is “buile,” which you might know from the popular song, “An Poc ar Buile” (The Mad Billy-Goat).  It’s a fun song to sing, and many people especially like singing it because in one line, the word “pocán” (basically the same as “poc,” a buck-goat, puck-goat, or billy-goat) gets lenited, meaning it’s spelled “ph,” and sounds like, well, you can imagine what it sounds like.  The line is “Is é dúirt gurbh é an diabhal ba dhóigh leis a ghaibh an treo ar phocán buile.”  You can hear Séamus Ennis singing the song, from a 1965 recording, at: (posted by Gravel Walks)

So that takes care of the everyday name for the disease.  Now, let’s get medical.

einceifileapaite [en-KEF-il-YAHP-itch-uh], encephalopathy.  Note that the “-ph-” of the English becomes “f” in Irish, reflecting the pronunciation.  Also, in English the “c” of the “cephalo-” element is pronounced like an “s,” but in Irish, it’s a “k” sound.

spúinseach [SPOON-shukh] spongy,  spongiform, and occasionally, “sponge” as an adjective.  Often the ending “-chruthach” (lit. -shaped) is used in Irish for English “-iform,” as in “croschruthach,” “fearsaidchruthach,” “fungaschruthach,” and the charming “péistchruthach.”  But, for whatever reason, the Irish for “spongiform” is the same as the Irish for “spongy,” much like “srathach” means  “stratiform” and “drólannach” means “coliform” without having the “-chruthach” ending.

The word “bólacht” brings us back into a more traditional realm of Irish rural life.  It means “cattle” in general.  Grammatically, the word is singular but it refers to the plural idea of “cows” in a herd, much like the archaic English word “kine,” which itself is a cousin of the Scots “kye.”  Recognize “kine”?  How about Deuteronomy 32:14: “butter of kine and milk of sheep.”  Of course, that’s the King James version.  Probably more recent translations have updated the term.

The Irish Bible (An Bíobla Naofa), BTW, uses our same word, “bólacht,” for this line (Deotranaimí 32:14): “gruth ón mbólacht, bainne ón tréad” (lit. curds from the kine/cows, milk from the herd).  Why “gruth” and not “im” (the usual word for “butter”), I wonder.  But that would probably involve going back to the language of the original, Eabhrais, and the intricacies the Hebrew roots of the cow/kine concept, areas which are beyond my ken.

Actually a similar question arises with “tréad” (herd), since it could mean a herd of cows (ba), sheep (caoirigh), pigs (muca), or presumably, also, animals from further afield, like eilifintí and gasailí.  Should it refer specifically to sheep here?  How did the KJV come up with “sheep.”  The original Hebrew?  Regardless of the outcome of those inquiries, readers might find the word “tréidlia” to be some useful vocabulary for today.  Even for those of us who live urban and suburban lives, far from tréada ainmhithe ar bith, we still might visit the tréidlia for our city-dwelling pets, be they madraí, cait, éin, firéid, ioguánaí, or faoileoirí siúcra (that last one’s for you, a Bhicí, if you’re still following the blog)

In our phrase, “bólacht” shows up as “bhólachta” [WOH-lukh-tuh], for “of cattle.”   It’s lenited (“b” becoming “bh”) and in the genitive case (giving us the “-a” ending).

So that’s the breakdown of BSE (Irish “ESB“) in its formal and informal terms.

And what’s up next, while we’re on the subject of galair agus tinnisAn Ghaeilge ar “Pneumono­ultra­microscopic­silico­volcano­coniosis?”  B’fhéidir, or perhaps some more ordinary afflictions like slaghdáin or tinnis chinn de dheasca bia fuar a ithe.  Why the latter term doesn’t specify ice-cream as the culprit, I don’t know.  But it’ll be interesting food for thought, anyway.  As long as I don’t end up with brain freeze.  SGF – Róislín

Nasc: (If ‘brón’ can be ‘orm’ in Irish phrases like ‘TBO,’ what else can be ‘ort’? Posted on 28. Apr, 2015 by in Irish Language)

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  1. Edwin:

    Dear Roislin, great this blog. I’m sending you this message from the Netherlands where I live. I’ve been studying Irish for quite some time alreday. With, to me, satisfying results. Great how your blogs opens-up, discloses, even futher the treasure of Irish language. 20 years ago it was really difficult to find anything on the subject. In fact only around 1985 I discovered the existence of several Gaelic-speaking communities after a visit in Brittany(France). There my slow going search started. Because of lack of time, focus and ofcourse talent, I’m sure. There is one intriguing aspect in irish that I’d like your opinionon. I’m sorry, I’m not a scientist, but nevertheless I’d like to formulate a “thesis”. It’s difficicult to study Irish because the learning books are very much based on phonetics, and local particularities. Because of this very much effort has to be put in pronuciation. This is far less the case in Welsh. In the Netherlands there are villages that lie only two miles apart from each other but the sound and colour of speach are very different, they have there own words. Still there is one mainstream,standard, dutch, taught at schools and therefore accessible to everyone who wants to learn dutch also when one is from abroad. Are there any attempts going on to standardize the Irish language? Well that just abut sums up my question. Hope you find time for a response. Keep up the good work! Nothing is more catching than Irish language. Yours sincerely, Edwin Kempers, Etten-Leur, Netherlands

    • róislín:

      @Edwin A Edwin, a chara,
      First, let me apologize for the long delay in getting back to you. I don’t know how I missed your message the first time around. So, to use a folksy English idiom, I’m writing now “with egg on my face.” But, “is fearr déanach ná riamh.” I really appreciate your positive comments about the blog. Thank you so much for writing in.

      You raise a very interesting question, about the standardization (caighdeánú) of Irish. Yes, there is “An Caighdeán Oifigiúil,” which began, fad m’eolais, in the 1950s. Most schoolbooks and government publications are now written “sa Chaighdeán,” but even “An Caighdeán” allows for a fair amount of variety. One book that’s good for presenting “An Caighdeán” is the classic _Progress in Irish_ by Mairéad Ní Ghráda, ca. 1965. I say “ca.” b/c none of my copies of it have a publication date! Why “copies”? I have two, one almost totally falling apart and very dog-eared, and the other, a newer printing and in fairly good condition, but still “gan dáta.” One place where you can find “rialacha an Chaighdeáin” is “Gramadach na Gaeilge agus Litriú na Gaeilge,” originally published in 1958 and reprinted many times since then. At any rate, thanks again for writing in, and keep up the good work yourself, studying Irish.

      Are you actually learning Breton (Brezhoneg) also? You mentioned your visit to Brittany. I studied it for a while and would love to go back to it. The class I took was taught through the medium of Welsh and the textbook was written in French and not available in English at the time. So it was very challenging. It’s mostly very rusty now, but I hope that one of these days I’ll be able to renew my study of it. Meanwhile, beir bua agus beannacht, – Róislín

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