Irish Language Blog

Thuas Seal, Thíos Seal, or Ice-cream and Underlings Posted by on Feb 21, 2010 in Irish Language

Before the U.S. completely finishes with (or Seachtain) na nUachtarán, let’s take a brief look at some contrasting terms for up/down and above/below in Irish.  As you might imagine, this will end up treating a wide variety of topics, not just spatial relations.  Ice-cream and underlings, for example.


Let’s start with the core terms:


thuas, above

thíos, below


These can be used quite straightforwardly: thuas staighre, thíos staighre (upstairs, downstairs).  These two terms are used when the subject is stationary, as in “Tá sé thuas ansin” (He is up there). 


The contrast of “ua” and “ío,” which I see as the core of these words, gives us many other pairs: 


suas (up, above, with motion, e.g. ag dul suas)

síos (down, below, with motion, e.g. ag dul síos)


anuas (down, emphasizing the movement from above to below, e.g. ag teacht anuas)

aníos (up, emphasizing the movement from below to above, e.g. ag teacht aníos)


Those are the typical contrasting pairs.  But the parallels continue:


uachtar, upper part, uplands (for sheep, etc.), surface (of water, etc.), cream (ó na laethanta roimh homaiginiú), and the upper of a set of millstones (an bhró uachtair)

íochtar, lower part, bottom, bottom land, skimmed portion (of milk), the lower of a set of millstones (an bhró íochtair), and even the runt of a litter of pigs (which could also be made even more diminutive, as íochtairín)                       


From uachtar we also get uachtar reoite (ice-cream, lit. frozen cream), and the special Irish version thereof, uachtar reoite aráin dhoinn, as well as borróga uachtair (cream buns) and the ultimate Irish culinary specialty, anraith seamróg le huachtar.


From íochtar we also get íochtar oighearshrutha [OY-er-HRUH-huh, silent g, s, and t] (glacier bottom), an Tréimhse Charbónmhar Íochtair (the Lower Carboniferous), and raca íochtair (lower rack, of a miasniteoir).


Add the “-ach” suffix and you get additional adjective forms:


uachtarach, as in Sráid Uí Chonaill Uachtarach, often abbreviated “Uacht.”

íochtarach, as in Sráid Uí Chonaill Íochtarach, often abbreviated “Íocht.”


Finally, for now at least, add the “-án” suffix, and you get the person characterized by the concept:

uachtarán, president, or head (of a school, etc., though other terms for that also exist, such as príomhoide), in pl. the authorities, etc.  Examples: Uachtarán na hÉireann (the President of Ireland). uachtarán slalóim (slalom president; note the genitive case of “slalóm,” which I must confess I’ve had little occasion to use otherwise), and an Leas-Uachtarán (the Vice President).  Preceded by the definite article when used with a person’s name: An tUachtarán Obama.


The American holiday, Presidents’ Day, is Lá na nUachtarán, since it’s plural (two presidents).  Somehow there is now “Seachtain na nUachtarán,” perhaps dreamed up by margóirí, since it enables sales to be prolonged. 


íochtarán, lowly person, subordinate, underling, in pl. the proletariat.  Not that I particularly like thinking of people in this manner, but the concept is traditional. 


So finally we get back to the seanfhocal that I used as teideal an bhlag seo: Thuas seal, thíos seal, up a while, down a while, describing guagaíl an tsaoil (the vagaries of life).  So, no, that’s not a translation of “ice-cream and underlings” as such, but come to think of it, maybe there’s something to that idea.  On that convoluted note, slán go dtí an chéad bhlag eile.     

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  1. Luisa:

    Go raibh maith agat, a Róislín (for the whole blog)
    Is as an nGearmáin mé. Níl mórán Gaeilge agam. D’fhoghlaim mé cúpla focail i nGaillimh.
    (I am trying to continue learning but unfortunately I don’t have anyone to check my sentences.)

    And to get the connection to the blog entry:
    Is as an tSacsain Íochtarach mé. (Which is a stát na Gearmáine )

    Slán go fóill.

  2. Róislín:

    A Luisa,

    Bhí sé ar intinn agam an nóta seo a fhreagairt ní ba luaithe, ach “Is fearr go deireanach ná go brách,” mar a deir an seanfhocal.

    Bhí sé suimiúil a léamh gurb as an tSacsain Íochtarach thú. Go raibh maith agat as scrÍobh faoi (agus an ceangal a dhéanamh leis an mblag). Thug me cuairt ar an nGearmáin sna hochtóidí. Ceantar Leipzig, sa tSacsain. Hmmm, tá an tSacsain, an tSacsain Íochtarach, agus an tSacsain-Anhalt ann. Ach an bhfuil (nó an raibh) at tSacsain Uachtarach ann riamh?

    ScrÍobh tú go han-mhaith. Beagnach gach rud foirfe ach amháin an pointe beag frith-iomasach seo: tar éis an fhocail “cúpla,” bíonn an t-ainmfhocal uatha (mar shampla, cúpla duine, cúpla fear, srl.). Frith-iomasach, mar a dúirt mé, ach cosúil le córas na n-uimhreach i nGaeilge (dhá mhadra, dhá uair, srl.).

    Pé scéal é, fáilte go dtÍ an blag!

    * iomasach, intuitive, cf. imfhiosach

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