Irish Language Blog

What’s So “Leap” about “Leap Year” and Is It “Leap” in Irish (Bliain Bhisigh)? Posted by on Feb 26, 2012 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Feabhra: an 29ú lá —       Lá Bisigh Sona!

Looking at the terminology for “leap” in Irish got me thinking, why exactly do we call it “leap” year?  Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t going to be a discussion of the space-time continuum, if that’s even relevant, and it’s not going to be about how time really works (which I leave to the, hmm, “spatiotemporalographers” (?)).  Or why leap year happens.  Just a calm little dictionary-based comparison of what some different languages say to describe the “leapness” (?) of leap year.  The Irish examples will be prominent for the very reason that the way to say “leap” year, month, or day, has nothing to do with the ordinary Irish word for a “leap” or “leaping.”   So, Irish first, natch:

bliain bhisigh, leap year

mí bhisigh, leap month

lá bisigh, leap day

All of these are based on the word “biseach,” which basically means “an improvement or recovery” (especially in health), “an increase,” or “a premium.”

The ordinary Irish word for “leap” is “léim,” which can be a noun or a verb (léimim, I leap, or tugaim léim, I give a leap or thug mé léim, I gave a leap)

A few more fun terms regarding “leap” as the actual motion:

gluaiseacht chliobóige, leap-frogging, lit. moving of a (“like a,” really, in this case) filly (!)

Another leap-frog term, for those geocaigh ríomhaire who understand it: tástáil chliobógach chraplaithe, a crippled leap-frog test (!)

And then there’s always “Léim a’ Mhadaidh,” the Irish place name anglicized as ____________ (freagra thíos).

As for some other languages, all the others I can put my hands on (tip of the iceberg, I’m sure), the idea varies, but leans away from “leaping.”  Welsh does parallel the English, with “blwyddyn naid” (lit. year of jump).  The others I find mostly incorporate the adjective “bissextile” (intercalary): año bisiesto, Spáinnis; año bissexto, Portaingéilis; annus bissextus, Laidin; année bissextile, Fraincis; Schrikkeljaar, Ollainnis.  How the German “Schaltjahr” relates to the German adjective “eingefügt” (intercalary) actually defies me, but perhaps one of this blog’s léitheoirí will know.  If so, please do write in.

Sin é don bhlag inniu! SGF, Róislín

Freagra: Limavady, the leap of the dog

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  1. James Fergus:

    The German Schaltjahr is made up of “schalten” which means to switch and “jahr” for year.
    Bainim an-taitneamh as do bhlag!

    • róislín:

      @James Fergus GRMA as scríobh isteach, a Shéamais, agus grma as an eolas — iontach suimiúil. Tá áthas orm a chluinstin go mbaineann tú taitneamh as an bhlag. – Róislín

  2. Ciarán McCollum:

    According DTV’s Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Deutschen, the German term “Schaltjahr” dates from around the 8th century. At this time the verb schalten (then scaltan) carried the meaning “to push, shove, move (a ship) forward”. Derived from this was the verb einschalten, fashioned by Collins as “to interpolate”, a word in many respects synonymous with einfügen. So the additional day (or Schalttag) is “eingeschaltet” into the year, hence: Schaltjahr.

    You might also be interested to know that if in English you use the term “intercalary” once in a blue moon, in German you in fact use it alle Schaltjahr (“every leap year”).

    And as a mac léinn of German with a burgeoning interest in Irish, I must say that I am delighted to have discovered this blog.

    • róislín:

      @Ciarán McCollum A Chiaráin, a chara,

      Go raibh míle maith agat as scríobh isteach leis an eolas suimiúil sin. Rinne mé staidéar ar an Ghearmáinis blianta ó shin ach tá an-mheirg uirthi.

      Thank you so much for writing in with this interesting information. I studied German at one time, but it’s very rusty.

      Tá áthas orm a chluinstin go dtaitníonn an blag leat. Ádh mór le do chúrsaí ag an Ollscoil.

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