Irish Language Blog

Téarmaí Geimhridh (Winter Terms) Posted by on Jan 30, 2012 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

This winter is proving to be unusually cold (fuar) in some parts of the world (an Eoraip) and unseasonably mild (bog) in others (Meiriceá, b’fhéidir Ceanada).

Before we proceed, let’s look briefly at the pronunciation of the adjectives “fuar” and “bog.” For “fuar,” I’ll simply note that each vowel is pronounced, so it’s “foo-ur.”  That’s noticeably different from most other 2-vowel combinations in Irish, which usually have just one discrete sound (fear, duine, buí, maith, srl.).

The pronunciation of “bog,” might seem to be straightforward, but it is worth noting that it’s not the same as the pronunciation of “bog” in English, although the two words are historically related (a “bog” being a “soft — if squishy — place”).  “Bog” in Irish, is most commonly used as an adjective (soft, tender, lenient, mellow, loose).  As such, the short “o” sound is as in “pota” (not quite the same sound as English “pot”) or “ros.”  I emphasize this because it is easy to assume that two similar-looking words, especially short one-syllable ones with only one vowel, would be pronounced the same, even if they are in two different languages.  It’s almost a gut reaction (and I’ve heard the phenomenon happen many times over the years in teaching Irish).  But chance homographs from two different languages are rarely pronounced alike.  Irish and English share a number of homographs but they are different in pronunciation, meaning, and part of speech.  Examples include as/as, is/is, air/air, and gorm/gorm (the English “gorm” being the nearly defunct root of “gormless”).  And that intriguing situation might actually be ábhar blog eile.

To wrap that up, “bog” in Irish isn’t actually the noun for “a bog” (a place for digging peat, or in the U.S., for growing cranberries); that is generally “portach” (or “criathrach,” although that is more specifically a “pitted” bog; hmm, a “cranberry bog,” I might have to re-think that one since cranberry bogs don’t look anything like an Irish “portach”).  “Bog” in Irish can also be a verb (soften, become soft, loosen), or it can be a noun referring to something soft, as in “bog na cluaise” (the ear lobe).

Anyway, now that we’ve established the basics (geimhreadh iontach fuar vs. geimhreadh bog), let’s look at some other winter-related words:

an geimhreadh [un GYEV-ruh or GYEER-uh], the winter (comparable to Welsh “gaeaf”)

geimhridh, [GYEV-ree], of winter, as in “éadaí geimhridh” or “glaslus geimhridh;” when used with feminine singular nouns, gheimhridh [YEV-ree], as in “aimsir gheimhridh

… an gheimhridh [un YEV-ree], of the winter, as in “ráithe an gheimhridh” (winter-time, lit. the season of the winter)

geimhrí [GYEV-ree] or geimhríocha [GYEV-ree-ukh-uh], winters, and na geimhrí, or na geimhríocha, the winters

geimhreata or geimhriúil, wintry

As for “snow,” the basic word is “sneachta,” with the following forms:

an sneachta, the snow

… an tsneachta, of the snow, as in “doimhne an tsneachta

It doesn’t occur much in the plural, but it can, so, we do have “na sneachtaí,” the snows.  But, for whatever reason, the classic phrase “the snows of yesteryear” (one of the few plural uses even in English) remains in the singular, as “sneachta na bliana anuraidh.”  I would have thought “sneachtaí,” but so be it.  Yossarian did pluralize his “Snowdens of yesteryear” quip (Catch-22), but that, of course, is derivative.  Sneachtaí Kilimanjaro, would be a legitimate example, is dócha, but I see neither hide nor hair of it online.  Don’t tell me no one has translated Hemingway into Irish!   An ndeir tú (tú being Google!) liom?

And now, a little more vocabulary practice.  Can you match these winter terms with their definitions?  Freagraí thíos (A).

1. sneachta 2. flich-shneachta 3. calóga sneachta 4. reodóg 5. síobadh sneachta 6. greallach shneachta
a. snowflakes b. icicle c. snow d. slush e. sleet f. blizzard

And what happens to some of our English phrases that evoke wintriness in a more abstract or metaphoric manner?  As one might guess, their Irish equivalents are a little more literal.  Can you match up these expressions?

1. wintry reception 2. a dead frost 3. slushy sentimentality 4. wintry smile
 a. gáire beag fuar b. truflais mhaoth-chainte c. fuarfháilte d. gan aon mhaith

More wintry terms coming up, in upcoming blogs, since we are i ndúlaíocht an gheimhridh, at least from the North American perspective (winter season = December, January, February, equinoxes notwithstanding).  In the traditional Irish calendar, spring starts on Lá Fhéile Bríde (1 Feabhra)Go dtí sin, agus ag smaoineamh ar an ngrian, SGF, Róislín

Gluaisín: bog, mild (re: winter, not for a “mild personality,” which would use adjectives like “séimh” or “caomh,” or “mild beer,” which would be “séimh”); greallach, loam, mire, trampled ground

Freagraí A: 1c, 2e, 3a, 4b, 5f, 6d; Freagraí B: 1c, 2d (as in “failure,” rather dated slang, I know, but still metaphoric), 3b, 4a

Nóta: sneachta vs. sneachtaí.  Hmm, Rossetti kept the plural in his iconic translation of “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?” but I see a German translation in the singular “Wo ist der Schnee vom vergangenen Jahr?  So, is snow countable or uncountable?  Is Irish different from English in this regard?  Or does it matter, since the “snows” in Villon’s poem are actually women, such as Joan of Arc, Heloise, and “Berte au grant pié” (Bertha of the Big Foot, as per the medieval French spelling).  Looking for “sneachtaí” online, I find very few actual uses in context.  Most of the 63 hits (a pretty small sample, at that) are simply dictionary entries that repeat the existence of a plural form.  An unusual exception is the phrase “dá mbeinn i dTír Bheannaithe na Sneachtaí,” a reference to Tibet, from a poem called “Féinghlacadh” by “TQ” (a Dubliner whose full name isn’t given in his blog,  On the other hand, Irish poet and translator Gabriel Rosenstock treats Issa’s “snows of Shinano” as singular in his phrase “sneachta Shinano” (  And that raises a question that I can’t answer – is “snow” countable or uncountable in Japanese?  Bhuel, bia smaoinimh as seo amach.

Nuashonrúchán (Update): Nóta re: Ceartúchán do na Freagraí (Freagrai A):  Tá siad ceartaithe (corrected) agam anois.  Bhí dhá fhreagra “c” agam.  Brón orm má chuir sé amú thú.

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