Irish Language Blog

Turcaí vs. An Tuirc: Talking ‘Turkey’ in Irish Posted by on Nov 17, 2014 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Lead … lead. Can … can. Rose … rose. Tear … tear. Bow … bow. Bat … bat. Turkey … turkey.

Or should I say:

Lead (luaidhe) … lead (treoir). Can (canna) … can (féidir le). Rose (rós) … rose (d’éirigh).   Tear (deoir) … tear (stróic).   Bow (bogha) … bow (umhlú).  Bat (ialtóg) … bat (slacán).   Turkey (An Tuirc) … (turkey) turcaí.

Actually, that probably sums up this blog in a nutshell. Looking at some websites in Irish meant to be about turkeys (the birds), I was somewhat (but not totally) surprised at how many of them used “An Tuirc,” which is the name of the country (Poblacht na Tuirce), where “turcaí” or “turcaithe” was actually meant.  “A ullmhú” followed directly by “Tuirc,” mar shampla, which isn’t even grammatical–the word order is off, for starters.

Some of those websites might have been machine translations, in which case, perhaps, no one cares. But it’s also a typical human error, when using foclóirí (online or hard copy), to simply take the first definition offered, without checking to see if it’s what you really want.

One of the most humorous examples of this I’ve seen was a Halloween picture, with labels (lipéid) in Irish. The bat flying around the haunted house was labeled “slacán” (used for a “cricket bat,” or similar sports equipment). If it weren’t for the fact that the site was for learners, it would simply be a comical error. But sadly, some people probably learned the word “slacán” for “bat” (the animal) from that site. That was about 10 years ago; some day I’ll have to check and see if it’s still posted.

Whether your turkey preparation will be for Lá an Altaithe in America (27 Mí na Samhna 2014, i mbliana) or for An Nollaig (25 Mí na Nollag, ar ndóigh), or both (an dá rud), let’s get the terminology straight, starting with the country, Turkey.

An Tuirc, and, like many country names (An Fhrainc, An Ghearmáin, srl.), it’s grammatically feminine. So for the possessive, we say:

na Tuirce, as in “muintir na Tuirce” or “Poblacht na Tuirce.”

There’s no plural, again, as with most country names. In fact, the only real way I can think of to use most individual country names in the plural would be in a very literary vein, perhaps like saying “the Irelands of the literary imagination.” And that usage, for Ireland or any other country is beyond the scope of this blogpost. That comment, naturally, doesn’t refer to countries whose names are inherently plural, like “The Philippines”(na hOileain Fhilipíneacha — no “double-p” to worry about since “pp” doesn’t occur natively in Irish, and note, Irish tends to use a fuller form of the name, anyway, with “oileán“).

The remaining typical vocabulary words based on “An Tuirc” are:

Turcach, a Turkish person

Turcach, Turkish (adjective), as in “ceol Turcach” or “éadach tuáillí Turcach” (referring to the material, i.e. “towelling,” not to a group of the towels themselves)

an Tuircis, the Turkish language,

and, for good measure:

Milseán na dTurcach, Turkish Delight (the candy).

Now, how the word “turkey” came to be applied to the New World bird is a saga unto itself. Admittedly, it’s basically a misnomer (ainm contráilte), but like some other ainmneacha contráilte (Na hIndiacha Thiar, The West Indies, mar shampla), it stuck.

Apparently the trouble started around 500 years ago, with early European exploration of an leathsféar thiar. The North American bird (now known taxonomically as Meleagris gallopavo) was mistaken for the guineafowl, a bird that probably has an etymological saga of its own, since its habitat is not limited to Guinea (be it Guinea-Conakry, Guinea-Bissau, or the Republic of Equatorial Guinea). Ábhar blag eile?

The Turkey/turkey connection is pretty confowluted (TBO), with “meleagris” used in the Latin for both turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) and for some types of guineafowl (Numida meleagris and Agelastes meleagrides). Furthermore, the Irish words for “turkeyhen” and “turkeycock” are “cearc fhrancach” (lit. french hen) and “coileach francach” (lit. french rooster) respectively. Apparently “turkeyhen/cock” was another name, now archaic, for the “guineafowl,” although it seems to me that neither name is very precise.  Not that all names of flora and fauna are particularly precise, ach sin scéal eile.  At any rate, I’m pretty sure that the Irish “cearc fhrancach / coileach francach” doesn’t actually refer to French poultry, such as the French “Poulet de Bresse,” which has been nominated for the Christmas carol “french hen.” And it’s probably not one of the following either: Faverolles, La Fleche, Crevecoeurs, Marans, or Houdans. For those, I’d use the capital “F,” to indicate that they’re from the country France. But for more on the birds of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” we’ll have to wait at least until we have dinnéar Lá Altaithe under our belts, literally.

Nor does the fact that “cearc fhrancach” is typically translated as “turkey-hen,” mean that it’s a female turkey, as known in North American. For that, I’d just use “turcaí baineann.” In fact, in English, female turkeys, fad m’eolais, are referred to as “hen turkeys,” not “turkey hens.” So, in English, a “turkey-hen” isn’t the same as a “hen turkey.” Mh’anam!

Similarly, for the “tom” (or male) turkey, it’s simply “turcaí fireann.” Perhaps, modeled on “fearchat” for “tom cat,” we could also say “*fearthurcaí,” although I don’t see any precedent for it. It’s fun to say, though [FÆR-HURK-ee, with the “t” silent because of lenition]! That “Æ” symbol is for the “a” sound in American English “bat,” “cat,” or “rat,” or, assuming one already knows some Irish, it’s simply the sound of “fear” the Irish for “man.”

For some reason, I always seem to enjoy saying lenited and eclipsed forms of “turcaí,” as you might remember from previous blogs where we counted them (sé thurcaí [shay HURK-ee], six turkeys, seacht dturcaí [shakht DURK-ee], seven turkeys), etc. “Turkey jerky” is also sort of fun to say, especially in English, but also in Irish, although it’s not quite as rhyming as an Béarla: seirgeoil thurcaí [SHER-ig-yoh-il HURK-ee], lit. jerky of turkey.

Anyway, getting to the Irish for “turkey,” the bird, you’ve seen some of its forms already, but here’s the summary:

turcaí, a turkey

an turcaí, the turkey

an turcaí, of the turkey (blas an turcaí, the taste of the turkey)

turcaithe, turkeys

na turcaithe, the turkeys

na dturcaithe, of the turkeys (cleití na dturcaithe, mar shampla, na 4000 cleite turcaí a úsáidtear le culaith “Big Bird” a dhéanamh (i Sesame Street).   Cleití bána ó na turcaithe iad ach cuirtear dath buí orthu chun an dath ceart a fháil do Big Bird. Níos mó ná turcaí amháin atá i gceist, ceapaim, chun 4000 cleite a fháil! Mar sin, ginideach iolra le “the”: “na dturcaithe” (of the turkeys).

Bhuel, I guess I’ve talked “turkey” enough for one blog, and hopefully it wasn’t too “herky-jerky.”

Anyone have any special tips for roasting turkeys or suggestions (moltaí) for using the leftover turkey that Americans will be facing soon?

Slán go fowl (couldn’t resist) – Róislín

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Keep learning Irish with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it

Leave a comment: