Irish Language Blog

To “Mí” or not to “Mí” (Using The Word “Month” in Irish) Posted by on Sep 12, 2011 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

The last few blogs have dealt with the names of the months in Irish.  For most of the months’ names, there are at least two choices, one that is simply the basic name of the month, like “Márta” and the other using the word for “month” to make a full phrase (Mí an Mhárta).  Using the word “mí” (month), triggers the possible use of the definite article (as “an” or “na”) and the use of the genitive case, which may or may not be marked by features such as lenition (like Márta becoming Mhárta) or special endings (like Aibreán becoming Aibreáin). 

Two of the twelve months require the use of the word “mí” for reasons we previously discussed.  An cuimhin leat cé hiad?  Agus cén fáth? (Do you remember which ones?  And why?)  Freagraí (A) thíos. 

In fact, we do have this choice in English as well, but as I write this, it seems far more typical to say “in the month of …” in Irish (i mí … ) than in English.  Saying “in the month of …” instead of just “in June,” etc., in English, seems to be either reserved for broad generalizations or for being a bit poetic.

For example, speaking generally, I might say, “In the month of August, many Americans take a vacation.”  But I’d probably be more likely to say, “Many Americans take a vacation in August,” and leave out the word “month,” altogether.

Ever since I started thinking about this blog, the phrase, “in the merry, merry month of May” has been running through my head.  I thought I finally remembered where it’s from, recalling the song “While Strolling Through The Park One Day.”  That turns out to be “All in the merry month of May.”  “Merry, Merry,” as it turns out, occurs in a song by Stephen Collins Foster (a third-generation Irish-American, by the way, not that he probably used the term in his lifetime).  Foster uses the refrain “in the merry, merry month of May” in an 1862 song.

Anyway, that “in the month of” construction is fine for songs and such.  And it’s also typical when we want to add adjectives to describe the month in question, be it “merry” or “merry, merry.”  It sounds intuitively better to apply the adjective(s) to the word “month” than to say “in merry May” or “in merry, merry May.”

“Try to remember that time in September…” – yes.  “Try to remember that time in the month of September …” – not!  Unless you’re a vocal contortionist.

What else?  “Will I see you in September?” – yes.  “Will I see you in the month of September?” – not likely.  (Leithscéalta do Na Happenings, dála an scéal.  Is dócha nár shíl siad go mbeadh a gcnagamhrán in úsáid mar chuid de cheacht gramadaí!  Do Na Tempos, le bheith níos cirte faoi, ach ba mhó an “hit” ag Na Happenings ná ag Na Tempos é).

So where’s this getting us?  English is somewhat averse to using the phrase “month of” unless there’s a broad generalization or a specific purpose (oddly ironic) or, for the songs, rhyme scheme.  Irish, if anything, seems to me more prone to use the construction with “” and accompanying changes (using “an” or “na” and using the genitive ending for the noun).

Here’s a sample of possibilities for when we want to say “on January 1st.”  Of course there’s always the possibility of writing “Tarlóidh sé ar 1 Eanáir,” but this always strikes me as a sort of shorthand style, much as “It will happen on 1 January” would.  Below are the two traditional ways to say, “on the first day of January.” In each case, for the first ten months, the second phrase is actually, “on the first (etc.) day of the month of“ (January, etc.).  For November and December, as previously discussed, the point is inphléite.

Incidentally, as we do this we’ll also see na horduimhreacha in action.  From “3” on, they’re quite recognizable, using the ending “-ú.”  “First” and “second” are idiosyncratic, which is actually true in English as well.  The number “one” becoming “first,” as happens in English, is not a logical transition, at least not unless we dip into Old High German, and that is beyond even being “ábhar blag eile,” at least, sa tsraith seo, unless, of course, readers want to compare why, in so many languages, the word for “one” isn’t at all related to the word for “first.”  Which we actually could do, discussing the Irish “an chéad” (the first) and its variations, like “gcéad” for the phrase “ar an gcéad,” etc.  Ach lá éigin eile!

Seo na samplaí:

1) ar an gcéad lá d’Eanáir; ar an gcéad lá de mhí Eanáir

2) ar an dara lá d’Fheabhra ; ar an dara lá de mhí na Feabhra

3) ar an tríú lá de Mhárta; ar an tríú lá de mhí an Mhárta

4) ar an gceathrú lá d’Aibreán; ar an gceathrú lá de mhí Aibreáin

5) ar an gcúigiú lá de Bhealtaine; ar an gcúigiú lá de mhí na Bealtaine

6) ar an séú lá de Mheitheamh; ar an séú lá de mhí an Mheithimh

7) ar an seachtú lá d’Iúil; ar an seachtú lá de mhí Iúil

8)) ar an ochtú lá de Lúnasa; ar an ochtú lá de mhí Lúnasa

9) ar an naoú lá de Mheán Fómhair; ar an naoú lá de mhí Mheán Fómhair

10) ar an deichiú lá de Dheireadh Fómhair; ar an deichiú lá de mhí Dheireadh Fómhair

11) ar an aonú lá déag de mhí na Samhna

12) ar an dara lá déag de mhí na Nollag (or “ar an dóú lá déag,” which then fits the normal “-ú” ending pattern for ordinal numbers).

As you can see, if the month’s name begins with a vowel or vowel sound, as in “d’Iúil” or “d’Fheabhra [DJOW-ruh, with the “fh” silent],” we use the contraction (“d” with the apostrophe).  If the month’s name begins with a consonant sound, we use the actual preposition “de,” as in “de Lúnasa,” or, for a lenitable example, “de Mhárta.” 

So that’s the first through the twelfth days of the twelve months, with two variations wherever possible.  My own inclination is to use the “” form, but both options work.

Having said that, now what’s the difference between these phrases?  Freagraí (B) thíos.

1) ar an gcéad lá de mhí na Nollag

2) ar an gcéad lá den Nollaig

SGF, ó Róislín

Gluais: cnagamhrán, hit song; inphléite, moot (lit. non-discussable)

Freagraí A: Mí na Samhna, November (to distinguish it from the single day of “Samhain,” November 1), and Mí na Nollag, December (to distinguish it from “An Nollaig,” Christmas)

Freagraí B: 1) on the first day of (the month of) December / on December 1st

2) On the first day of Christmas (An Nollaig, i.e. on December 25th , referring to the 12-day version of the holiday and Christmas carol, described fairly exhaustively in the following blogs: (yep, that’s part of the sraith Nollag, too, with the fotheideal: Ag comhaireamh na ndaoine san amhrán “Dhá Lá Dhéag na Nollag”)

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