Irish Language Blog

Speaking of Spangles, Irish, and the American National Anthem Posted by on Jun 30, 2015 in Irish Language

 (le Róislín)

For several years now, I’ve been posting the Irish-language version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” around the American July 4th celebration.  Last year’s July 4th blog post included all four verses in Irish, with pronunciation and vocabulary notes.  It was, needless to say, “an-fhada” mar bhlagmhír.  (Nasc thíos).

This year, I thought I’d look at one word which is iconic in the English original of the song, and noticeably absent from the Irish version: “spangled.”

The Irish words “spaglainn” (spangle) and “spaglainneach” (spangled) are straightforward enough, at least at first glance.  It just doesn’t seem like there are that many applications for them, at least in Irish, and they’re not used in translating the name of the “Star-Spangled Banner.”  And, BTW, do you remember what the title “Star-Spangled Banner” really is in Irish?  Freagra thíos!

Here are the basic forms of the words for “spangle” and “spangled”:

an spaglainn, the spangle

na spaglainne, of the spangle (dath na spaglainne  — that is, if we ever refer to the color of just one spangle!)

na spaglainní, the spangles

na spaglainní, of the spangles (same as above).  An example would be “dathanna na spaglainní” (the colors of the spangles)

For the adjective, if we actually wanted to say something was “spangled,” we could have phrases like:

an bhratach spaglainneach, the spangled flag

na bratacha spaglainneacha, the spangled flags

Or we could say that some fabric was “breactha le spaglainní” (speckled with spangles) .

But does anyone actually use these Irish words very much?  Remember, for the American national anthem, “spangled” doesn’t appear in the Irish translation.  What does the Irish text say instead?  Hint: it’s a little more like saying “brightly starred” than saying “star-spangled” as such (the brightly starred flag).  As a reminder, the answer is in the “freagra” below.

So how can we use “spaglainn” and “spaglainneach” in other contexts?  Good question!

Neither word shows up much in Google searches, except for dictionary entries.  There’s one interesting line in a Scottish Gaelic text: “Agus is mairg a theireadh Domhnull-nam-Prat rium mur teid agam air a’ char a thoirt as an taillear spaglainneach so” (nasc thíos).  Is this really “spangled”– is it saying that the tailor is a bit gaudy or showy?  Or simply that the material his clothes are made of is sort of showy?

Is there a negative connotation to fabrics being spangled?  Hmm, a little further pursuit down the Faclair Gàidhlig line reveals that in Scottish Gaelic, “spaglainneach” can mean ” conceited” and that “spàglainn” means “conceit” or “ostentation.”  Definitely food for thought, since the Scottish Gaelic for “spangle” is slightly different, “spangan” or “spang.”  Hmmmm, is Scottish Gaelic “spaglainneach” even related to “spang“?   And to bring this issue full circle, sort of, in Irish, the word “spang” means “a fit” or “a paroxysm” OR “a whim” or “notion.”  So if your clothes are spangled, does it mean that you have “notions”?  Or is there no connection?

And just to round things out, in Irish, a “spangaire” is a “barren cow.”  Any connection to “spaglainn” or even to “spang?”  Is the barrenness of a cow a sort of “fit” or “notion”?

Well, the “plota” is definitely “ag dul chun castachta,” and I don’t think we can totally resolve the “spag/spang/spaglainn” dilemma here.

Could these possible connotations of ostentation and conceit be one reason why the word “spaglainneach” isn’t used in the Irish version of the song?  Hard to say, and the original translator is long dead, so we can’t really ask him why he chose certain words and not others.  He may have consciously avoided the word.  Or maybe it just didn’t fit the rhythm and rhyme that he wanted.

And one final point regarding the word “spangled,” I mentioned in a previous blag that I was  waiting for the official Irish version of “the great spangled fritillary,” a type of butterfly.  And I’m still waiting.  I assume it would be something like “an t-ollfhritileán spaglainneach,” but one never knows for sure what a newly translated term in Irish might turn out to be.  More recently, I’ve noticed that there are a few other animal and insect species that are “spangled,” like some birds (golden-spangled piculet, beryl-spangled tanager, sapphire-spangled emerald, and the spangled honeyeater, continga, drongo, coquette, and kookaburra), a type of fish (spangled grunter or perch), and another type of butterfly (blue-spangled emperor or blue-spangled charaxes).  I’ve checked “An Vicipéid” for all of these, and don’t find any Irish versions of their names.  In fact, I don’t see any use of “spaglainneachsa Vicipéid.  Or any use of “spaglainn,” for that matter.

Anyway, probably time wrap up this post.  Next time, we’ll talk about some interesting words that actually are found in the Irish text of the American National Anthem.   Go dtí sin, SGF — Róislín


American national anthem, all four verses in Irish:  Posted on 06. Jul, 2014 by róislín in Irish Language

“spaglainneach” i gcomhthéacs Albanach (Celtic Garland):

Freagra: An Bhratach Gheal-réaltach, lit. the bright starred flag

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