Irish Language Blog

Túis, Frainclíní, agus Saincheadúnais, A Thiarcais! Posted by on Aug 14, 2011 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Actually, it is the English versions of these three words that offer the alliteration, which gives the phrase a slightly literary twist.  That in turns tempts me to end teideal an bhlag seo with the interjection “a thiarcais.”  So, the title of this blog translates into English as “Frankincense, Franklins, and Franchises, Oh My!” Can’t resist that “Oh, My!” ending when listing things in threes, thank to the indelible imprint of Arlen and Harburg (“Leoin, Tíogair, agus Béir, A Thiarcais,” if I may be so bold)

What do “frankincense,” “franklin,” and “franchise” have in common?  In English, they derive from the Late Latin “francus,” which meant both “a Frankish person” and “free”, with the extended meanings of “open,” “candid,” “sincere,” and “pure.”  And how does this pan out in Irish?  Baint ar bith acu leis an bhfocal Laidine sin francusUaim ar bith i dtús na bhfocal (áit a mbíonn “uaim,” ar ndóigh).  .

1. Túis [toosh]

Ar dtús, pléifidh muid an focal “túis” (frankincense).  In case that was at all ambiguous, the first phrase “ar dtús,” comes from “tús(firinscneach, 1st declension) a completely different Irish word meaning “beginning, start.”  Anyway, first we’ll discuss the word “túis” (bainsncneach, 2nd declension).

Here, the Irish is clearly related to the Latin word for incense, “thūs,” which you may also recognize from “thurible,” the device for carrying incense, which in turns comes from the tuiseal ginideach of this word in Latin, “thūris”. A reminder how helpful it is to fully understand the tuiseal ginideach, not just for Irish, but for Latin too, and sometimes for Latin-derived Irish words.

Túis” means both “frankincense” and “incense” in Irish.  As a child, I never thought that much about what the “frank” part of “frankincense” was all about.  It was just part of the phrase, and about the only context I knew for discussing frankincense was the reference to the gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh in the Bible.  Eventually, the foclóir sanasaíochta beckoned, and I looked it up.  The “frank-“ part of the English word means “pure,” so, centuries ago “franke ensens” meant “pure incense” and eventually it became one word, “frankincense.”

Now, how incense can be impure?  Sin ceist nach bhfuil an freagra di agam.  Or more succinctly said,

Diabhal a fhios agam!  Maybe if some filler is added, like sawdust, which burns but isn’t fragrant.  Eolas ag duine ar bith?

2. Frainclíní [FRANK-leen-ee]

The word “franklin” is more well known as a name these days, rather than as a term designating social status.  In the emerging middle class of the late Middle Ages, however, it meant “non-noble freeholder.”  It was originally spelled “frankeleyn,” from “francus” (free, Frank).

The surname exists in Irish, as “Frainclín,” but in my experience, it’s not that widely encountered.  It was found in 13th-century Dublin, and, in modern times, it is centered in Limerick and Tipperary.  I have to acknowledge that I find no references to “frainclíní,” as a social class, in modern Irish, but I assume that to refer to them, we’d use the same form found as a surname.  If only I had Chaucer in Irish, I could check out what the translator used for “Scéal an Fhrainclín,” but unfortunately, I can’t find any Irish translations of Chaucer!

As for some other “Frank-derived” names, the given names “Francis” (male) and “Frances” (female)  are widely used in Irish, as Proinsias and Proinséas respectively.

One small pointer about the name “Proinsias” – it’s one of the few men’s names in Irish that doesn’t get slenderized at the end in direct address or when possessive.  In other words, we say,

A Phroinsias [uh FRIN-shuss], Francis! (to greet Francis, using an tuiseal gairmeach) and

cóta Phroinsias, the coat of Francis (an tuiseal ginideach)

That would be in contrast to other men’s names that end in “–as,” like Tomás or Séamas, for which we slenderize the ending (adding an “-i-“ before the final “s”), giving us phrases like “Dia dhuit, a Thomáis” [… uh HOM-awsh] and “cóta Shéamais” [… HAY-mish].

Another way to look at the difference between the names “Proinsias,” “Tomás,” and “Séamas,” is in terms of our old friends, na díochlaontaí (the declensions).  Yes, personal names also belong to declensions in Irish, just like generic nouns (box, table, etc.) do.  So Proinsias is “fir4” (4th-declension, masculine, with “fir” for firinscneach; or “m4,” for the English abbreviation) while Tomás and Séamas are “fir1” (m1, 1st-declension masculine).  Plenty more could be written on the declensions of personal names in Irish, but for now, that will have to be added to the riaráiste of ábhair do bhlaganna eile.

3. Saincheadúnais [SAN-HyAD-oon-ish]

The English word, “franchise,” is also derived from “francus” (free, Frank).  The original meaning of “franchise” is the “right to vote,” since the origin of the word (francus) implied “freedom.”  In Irish, “right to vote” would be, quite straightforwardly, “ceart vótála.”   Why “vótála” and not “vótáil,” the latter being the form you’d probably find listed in the dictionary?  Tuiseal ginideach.  “Ceart vótála” literally means “right of voting.”  Irish doesn’t use a word that literally means “of” in phrases like this – it uses an tuiseal ginideach, with a change to the ending of “vótáil” to indicate “of voting.”

These days, we tend to use the word “franchise” largely in discussing commerce, referring to individually run shops which are part of a larger enterprise, like Subway or McDonald’s.  In these cases, the parent company grants the right to others to sell its products, so cearta (rights) are still involved, just in a very different context.  That explains the Irish word “saincheadúnas,” a compound word, consisting of “sain-“ (special, particular) and “ceadúnas” (license).

4. A Thiarcais [uh HEER-kish]

As to why, “A Thiarcais,” at the end of this blog’s title?  Just “le haghaidh an chraic,” really.  “A thiarcais” can be translated variously as “Oh, my!,” “Dear, dear!,” or “My goodness!,” or in an extended sense, “Bless my soul!”  As I said above, I find it hard to resist “oh-my-ing” threesomes when they occur in titles.  Even in Irish!

Aguisín: An Focal “frankly”

And finally, let’s look at one last word that might seem to be related to this discussion, “frankly,”  In English, yes, the “frank” part of “frankly” implies openness and sincerity, as in “’This hot dog is terrible,’ said Tom frankly.”

However this connotation doesn’t seem to have carried over into Irish, where the typical close equivalents to “frankly,” are “leis an fhírinne a rá” (to tell the truth), “déanta na fírinne” (the truth “done”), “go hoscailte” (openly), or “gan cor a chur sa scéal” (lit. without putting a twist in the story).  In other words, speaking “frankly” in Irish doesn’t borrow from Latin or invoke the Frankish people themselves.

And speaking of “frankly,” sorry, Rhett, your famous retort doesn’t have quite the same panache when translated into Irish, imho.  In Irish, he could say “Leis an fhírinne a rá, a thaisce, is cuma liom sa diabhal!”  If he spoke Gaeilge Uladh, he would likely have used, “Leis an fhírinne a dhéanamh,” instead of “leis an fhírinne a rá,” but as the illogical saying goes, “same diff.”  Too many words and too many syllables for panache, at least when compared to the nearly metrical English, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!” (beagnach trócaech, más cuimhin liom na téarmaí scanta i gceart).

Is cuma liom sa diabhal” is still a great expletive, approximately like saying “Divil a bit do I care!,” lit. It’s indifferent with me in the devil), and, afaik, considered inoffensive in Irish.

Maybe we could adjust Mr. Butler’s “Rhettoric” and give him a nice traditional Irish expression, “Is cuma liom agam nó uaim thú!” (I don’t care if I have you or not).  Literally, of course, that’s more like saying “It’s indifferent with me (whether) you (are) at me or from me!”   And it wouldn’t exactly respond to Scarlett’s classic query, “Where shall I go! What shall I do?”  But I think it would suit the context reasonably well.  At any rate, he would certainly be speaking his mind, something he never shirked from doing, fad mo chuimhne.

Come to think of it, I guess with “Butler” heritage, Rhett might well have been of Irish descent, so perhaps one of his sinsir would have spoken Irish.  Certainly we can assume someone in the O’Hara lineage would have, and probably also someone in the ancestry of the original Gone with the Wind author herself, Margaret Mitchell.

So of our three “frank-” terms in English, only one, “frainclín,” admittedly not widely used in modern Irish, actually retains the “francus” element.  C’est la vie! <insert croitheadh guaillí “Gailleach,” nó “Francach” más fearr leat, for which I now wish there were a convenient emoticon – but come to think of it, I don’t recall any emoticons with shoulders that can be shrugged, so “Bof!” mar a deirtear sa Fhraincis>

On that note, and with plenty of bia for future smaoineamh (.i.e. ábhair go leor ar intinn agam do bhlaganna eile), SGF ó Róislín

gluais: croitheadh guaillí, shrugging of shoulders; Gailleach, Gallic; gairmeach, vocative, i.e. “calling” (cf. gairm, a calling, vocation, in the religious or employment sense); mar a deirtear, as is said; riaráiste, backlog; sanasaíocht, etymology; scanadh, scansion; trócaech, trochaic; uaim (noun), alliteration; uaim (preposition) from me

Nóta (possible topic for future consideration): in Irish, should “Gallic shrug” be called “Gailleach” (Gallic, but also Gaulish) or “Francach” (to avoid ambiguity with the ancient Gauls).  As you may recall, “Francachas” is “Gallicism,” so maybe it’s best to stick to “croitheadh guaillí Francach.”  But then we lose that nice beagáinín uama (bit of alluring alliteration, guaillí with Gailleach). Hmmm!  And is a “French shrug” different from a “Gallic shrug”? Smaointe?  And of course, I can’t find any definitive answer for this query!  In fact, I can’t find any commentary in Irish about it at all.  Or even anything definitive in French, for that matter –- just a lot of debate back and forth about the term, between English and French speakers, which even with my Fraincis mheirgeach, I see leads to lots of commentary and discussion, but no specific dictionary-style entry in French.  A Fhrancachaí?

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  1. Gearoid:

    OK, ceist agam ort…

    Does “oh my!” following a threesome originate in The Wizard of Oz (“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”) or Gone with the Wind? Both released in 1939. One a parody of the other? Dicuss.

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