Irish Language Blog

Téarmaí Muirnéise (Terms of Endearment) do Lá Vailintín Posted by on Feb 9, 2011 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

As Lá Vailintín approaches, it seems appropriate to go over some useful phrases for the holiday.

First, let’s look at the term “endearment” itself, “muirnéis.”  In the title of this blog, the phrase is “of endearment.”  We don’t actually use a word for “of” in a case like this but instead we add the “-e” ending, giving us “muirnéise” (téarmaí muirnéise).  A similar phrase is “téarmaí ceana (cion, affection; ceana, of affection).  

Muirnéis” is based on “muirn,” which means “affection” or “endearment.”  As always, though, we need to keep context in mind.  There are phrases like “muirn an chatha” and “muirn na dtonn.”  You might be wondering how to translate “muirn” in these cases, since “an chatha” means “of the battle” and “na dtonn” means “of the waves.”  Good point, since here we have an older literary meaning of “muirn,” namely, “confused noise.”  I must confess that I enjoy such discoveries, that one of the Irish words for “affection” can also mean “confused noise!”  To paraphrase the real estate agent’s motto, “Location!  Location!  Location!,” with Irish, or any language for that matter, it’s “Comhthéacs!  Comhthéacs!  Comhthéacs!”

What else is based on the word “muirn”?  Well, as we might expect, where there’s a noun, there’s often a related adjective and verb as well:

muirneach: affectionate or beloved, among other meanings; note the contrast in phrases like “leanbh muirneach” (beloved child) and “barróg mhuirneach” (an affectionate hug).  “Barróg” can also mean “a grip in wrestling,” but, like I said, “Comhthéacs!”  A “leanbh muirneach” could, in fact, also be “an affectionate child.”  Well, it’s probably true that the more beloved a child is, the more affectionate he or she will be, in turn.

muirnigh: this is the command form of the verb meaning “cherish,” “caress” or “cuddle.”  It’s probably not used all that often as the actual command form (imperative mood, if you want to be more grammatical), at least not inár mblag teaghlaigh.”  But please do remember that in Irish, the command form is considered the most basic form of a verb, the form to which endings are added to create different tenses and moods.  In this respect, it serves the function that the infinitive does for Romance languages – once you know the infinitive of a verb in French or Spanish, for example, you should be able to create a complete conjugation, with some minor exceptions and a bit of tweaking.

More likely you’ll find the verb “muirnigh” in one of its conjugated forms:

Mhuirnigh sé an leanbh. (He cuddled the child)

Muirníonn an leanbh a béirín go minic. (The child often cuddles her teddy bear).

And there can be more than one noun related to a key concept like this, so we have:

muirnín, darling, sweetheart.  Like many terms of endearment, this one is frequently found in direct address (“O darling!”).  This form, in Irish, is “a mhuirnín,” with the “mh” being pronounced like a “v” or a “w,” depending on dialect.

The v-pronunciation has become immortalized in the terms “avourneen” and “mavourneen,” which show up, in their anglicized spellings, in the works of authors like Synge and Joyce.  “Mavourneen,” of course, is even further immortalized as a song title, (“Kathleen Mavourneen”).  So, no, this isn’t a strange new Irish surname, as some of my students have wondered, but simply a term of endearment following the girl’s name.  In Irish, it would be “mo mhuirnín” (my dear).

On that note, we’ll sign off on this blog and round up another stóirín focal for at least one more blog ag ceiliúradh Lá Vailintín.  Slán go fóill, Róislín

Gluais: cath, battle; ceiliúradh, celebrating; comhthéacs [koh-hayks], context; tonn, a wave (in the ocean); stór focal, vocabulary, lit. word-store, storehouse of words, word-treasure (lots of possibilities there!)

Nóta don ghluais: As for “stóirín focal,” well, I have to admit I’m playing with the phrase a bit.  “Stóirín” is usually understood as “little sweetheart,” “little darling,” or “little treasure.”  So “stóirín focal” could either be “a little storehouse of words” (i.e. a short vocabulary list) or a “little sweetheart of words,” which would presumably mean a sweetheart who is also a focalbhách (logophile).  Sounds good to me – just don’t mistake your focalbhách for “focalbhá” (ellipsis).  Focalbhách, if broken apart, would mean something like “word-affectionate person,” whereas “focalbhá” is “word-drowning,” that is, deliberately removing a word from a phrase or creating a gap before the word appears, usually for emphasis, as in Dracula’s famous line, which I’ll take the liberty of translating here, “Ní ólaim … fíon.”  More on “bách,” and other affectionate terms sa chéad bhlag eile, mar a dúirt mé a couple of digressions ago!

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