Irish Language Blog

Uachtarán: The Irish Word for “President” (uachtar, “upper portion, cream” + -án, a suffix) Posted by on Oct 28, 2012 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

I guess that “teideal an bhlag seo” pretty much explains the Irish word for president, “uachtarán” [OO-ukh-tar-awn].  “Uachtar” [OO-ukh-tar] actually means “upper portion,” widely used today to mean “cream” (as in “uachtar reoite,” ice-cream).  That is, of course a throwback to the days before homaiginiú, when the cream rose to the top of the milk bottle (and birds sometimes pecked through the foil bottle-top to get at it).  Cé go fada ó chonaic mé sin!

In Irish, “an” (the definite article) precedes “uachtarán” and other honorary titles.  If the title begins with a vowel, like “uachtarán,” a “t-” is prefixed, as in “an t-uachtarán,” or, with someone’s name, “an tUachtarán Kennedy,” etc. (gan fleiscín, without hyphen).   Similarly, we have “an Dochtúir Mac Giolla Dorcha (aka “an Dochtúir Kildare“), “an Dochtúir House,” “an Dochtúir Welby,” and “an Dochtúir Howser,” all, of course assuming that such cláracha teilifíse might be available as Gaeilge.  Similarly, “an tAthair Ó Murchú” (Father Murphy), an tSiúr Bríd (Sister Bridget), etc.

And what are some of the other words for heads of state or other dignitaries?

In Ireland, “An Taoiseach” [un TEE-shukh].  Traditionally this word meant “chieftain” in Irish, but in today’s political context, it refers to a government position similar to Prime Minister.  This word “Taoiseach” is routinely used in Irish even when writing in English, as in “The Taoiseach says …”.   Although I’ve never had much reason to check out how the word “Taoiseach” might be embedded in other languages, I assume it remains in Irish, not translated or transliterated.  And I’ve just found a few examples of such phrases to bear this out, such as “Le Taoiseach dit” (Fraincis), “El propio Taoiseach dice (Spáinnis), and ” Bydd Taoiseach yn siarad am Ewrop” (Breatnais), so I assume this holds true in all languages.

Also specific to Ireland, “An Tánaiste” [TAWN-ish-tchuh], deputy to the Taoiseach or “deputy prime minister.”  Historically, “tánaiste” meant “tanist” or “heir presumptive.”  The word shows up in some interesting, not-particularly-political idioms, such as “Tá sé ag rith i dtánaiste a anama” (He’s running for dear life, lit. He is running in the “next-to” of his soul — very difficult to translate literally) or “Is é an Solamh tánaiste é” (He’s a second Solomon).  “Tánaisteacht” is the system of “tanistry” (the choosing of an heir, as opposed to céadghinteacht, primogeniture).  The term and/or concept appears in literature as diverse as Macbeth, The Waste Land, Joyce’s Ulysses, and Tremayne’s Sister Fidelma novels.

Príomh-Aire [PRzhEEV-AHRzh-uh], a prime minister.  “Aire” means “minister” in the context of politics and government, not in the religious context, where “ministir” is used.

, king.  In olden days, there was also an “ardrí” (angl. “ardree”) or “High King.”

Banríon, queen, a compound word, with the prefix “ban-” (woman).  This is a feminine noun, so, with the definite article, we say “an bhanríon” [un WAN-REE-uh-nuh], i.e. it’s lenited (b changes to bh, pronounced “w”)

Prionsa, prince, although traditionally in Ireland, a king’s son was referred to as “mac rí,” literally “son of a king”.  A crown prince is either a “prionsa corónach” or “rídhamhna” (the “makings” of a king, based on “damhnú,” to shape or form).

Banphrionsa [BAHN-FRIN-suh], princess.  This word is generally considered to be grammatically masculine because it is based on “prionsa” (prince) which is masculine.  So we say, “an banphrionsa” when the word is the subject or direct object of a sentence (Tá an banphrionsa anseo; Cloisim an banphrionsa).  The masculine aspect of the grammatical gender can also be seen in phrases such as “Páirc Chuimhneacháin an Bhanphrionsa Grace” (Princess Grace Memorial Park), where the word is lenited to show possession (X an bhanphrionsa, the princess’s X).  A couple of banphrionsaí ficseanúla would include An Banphrionsa Leia (as Cogaí Réalta), Xena, Banphrionsa na Laoch (as an gclár eapainmneach),  An Banphrionsa Fióna (as Shrek), and, to semi-coin a name, An Banphrionsa Fearbóigín (as an leabhar An Bhrídeach-Bhanphrionsa le William Goldman agus an scannán; tuilleadh ar an bhfocal “Fearbóigín” sa nóta thíos).  In Ireland, traditionally, a king’s daughter was referred to as an “iníon rí” (king’s daughter), paralleling the use of “mac rí.”

Getting back to “uachtarán” itself, we’ll conclude with a few additional forms of the word:

uachtaráin, of (a) president, sometimes translated as “presidential”

na huachtaráin, the presidents

na n-uachtarán, of the presidents (not that we generally have more than one at a time, but we could use this phrase if they were convening, or some such situation.  Sampla:  “limisíní na n-uachtarán” as opposed to “limisín an uachtaráin,” for just one president

iaruachtarán, past president; an t-iaruachtarán, the past president; an tIarUachtarán when capitalized (gan fleiscín).

leasuachtarán, vice-president, an leasuachtarán; sampla: an Leasuachtarán Biden

And where does an tUachtarán live?  In Ireland, it would be “Áras an Uachtaráin” (the President’s House/Mansion).  Sna Stáit Aontaithe, ar ndóigh, “an Teach Bán” [un tchakh bawn], 1600 Ascaill Pennsylvania.

Sin é don bhlag seo.  Séasúr an toghcháin atá ann, ceart go leor! SGF, Róislín

Nóta faoin ainm “Fearbóigín” — I semi-coined this name based on the Irish word for “buttercup” (fearbóg). I added the “-ín” ending since the resulting word, Fearbóigín,  sounded more like a girl”s name that way and since the suffix can be added to almost any noun or name in Irish (e.g.Séamaisín) or even in Hiberno-English (e.g. houseen).  At least, DRMBANSM (de réir mo bharúla, ach ní saoi mé, i.e. IMHO), “Fearbóigín sounds more name-like than just “Fearbóg.”

At least “Fearbóigín” sounds more appealing than “An Banphrionsa Crobh Préacháin,” which would mean “Princess Crow-talon,” instead of “Princess Buttercup,” paralleling the  plant name “crowfoot,” which is more or less the same as buttercup.

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