Irish Language Blog

What’s Wrong? Discussing Illnesses in Irish: Cad atá ort? Galar? Tinneas? Rud Eile? Posted by on Oct 22, 2014 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

While working on the last few blogs about “galar víris Ebola” and illnesses in general, I got to thinking — why do we have so many terms for describing health — even on the “lay” level?  In English, we have “disease,” “illness,” “sickness,” “ache,” “disorder,” and, more generally, “malady” and “affliction.” Irish has “galar,” “tinneas,” “aicíd,” “breoiteacht,” “neamhord,” and, less typically and “less medically,” i mo thaithí féin, “éagruas,” and perhaps more related terms, with words for “affliction” packing a “wallop,” as we’ll see below. And then, of course, there are the euphemisms, phrases like “being under the weather” in English, a few of which were mentioned last time (Níl Úna aici féin, etc.).

For English, it seems we’ve got some general patterns in how we use words like “disease” as opposed to “illness.” So, next, we’ll look at some typical English terms, and see what the Irish equivalents are. If there’s room, at the end of this blog, we’ll look at some more specific examples; if there’s not, that will be “ábhar blag eile,” but probably not until after “Oíche Shamhna” (31 Deireadh Fómhair) and “an tSamhain” (1 Mí na Samhna), since they are fast approaching. Seo an liosta de théarmaí leighis:

1) “disease” is probably the most scientific of these terms, and “diseases” tend to have a fairly specific description and/or be named after a person or place (Crohn’s Disease, Ebola Virus Disease, et al.)

i nGaeilge: galar, most typically (i mo thaithí féin), but “disease” can also be “tinneas” (also means “sickness” or “illness”) or “aicíd” (also means “pestilence,” and sometimes “blight”)

2) “sickness” is widely used in general, but when you think about it, in English, we don’t often match it up with specific names or symptoms. Instead, we have some general conditions, most of which have more technical names used by medical practitioners: morning sickness, sleeping sickness, altitude (mountain) sickness, motion sickness, carsickness, airsickness, seasickness, and most abstractly, homesickness. The technical terms, like “Hyperemesis Gravidarium” and “hypobaropathy” tend to be either Latin or Latin-based, and pretty easily internationally understood, so we won’t dwell on them here. Even with this variety of “sickness” terms, we’ve got some differentiation in usage in English. For “car-” and “sea-,” for example, I’d tend to simply say, “I’m carsick” or “I’m seasick;” in other words, I’d probably use an adjective to describe the situation. But I don’t think anyone says, in English, “I’m morning-sick.” Hmm. Suimiúil! In English, for “sickness” with “morning,” “sleeping,” “motion” and “home,” I’d probably just use verbs like “has” or “gets” (She has morning sickness; He gets motion sickness if he rides in the back of the car.)

i nGaeilge: tinneas OR breoiteacht. In my experience, “tinneas” is the word that is generally used in compounds, like “tinneas aeir.” But then there’s “saoire bhreoiteachta” (sick-leave) and “leaba bhreoiteachta” (sick-bed). And “galar” can sometimes be translated as “sickness” as well.  “Tinneas,” “breoiteacht,” or “galar” — they’re all generally “on you” (ort) in Irish, as in “Tá tinneas fiacaile ort” or “Tá  galar Crohn ort.”  And, of course, we can also use the other forms of “ar” (orm, air, uirthi, orainn, oraibh, orthu), as needed.

3) “illness” is certainly a widely used word, but are there instances where a specific symptoms are referred to as “illness”?  It seems to me that, once again, illness is a more general term.

i nGaeilge: tinneas OR breoiteacht, OR, and less commonly in my experience, “donacht” (lit. “badness” re: health, but can also be translated as “wretchedness” for luck or weather)

4) “ache” is usually associated with a part of the body: head, ear, tooth, stomach, back, but not eye, foot, elbow, etc. For those latter situations, we’d probably just say “pain” or “(it) hurts,” which would make an interesting, if somewhat bleak, blog, am éigin eile, sa todhchaí.

i nGaeilge: “ache” in an English compound word, like “earache,” tends to be “tinneas,” as in “tinneas cluaise,” but it can be “pian” (pain), if speaking more generally. As for “heartache,” which is not, fad m’eolais, really a medical term, it’s typically “crá” (lit. torment) or “scalladh” (lit. scalding), as in “crá croí” or “scalladh croí“.

5) “disorder” seems to mostly be for cognitive or mental situations, where the rest of the physical body is more or less healthy

i nGaeilge: for medical contexts, “neamhord.” However, as in English, there are other contexts for “disorder” besides medicine, which Irish typically differentiates (mí-ord in a business context, for lack of organization, etc., and aimhriar, in philosophy).

6) “malady” — well, I don’t think there are specific, named “maladies” in English. At least none come to mind. I suppose this term is more liteartha (literary) in usage, maybe beagán seanaimseartha.

i nGaeilge: for “malady,” we have “galar” (once again!) and “éagruas.” “Éagruas,” the opposite of “cruas” (hardness — physical or in temperament), also means “weakness” and “infirmity,” and it used to mean “distemper,” although “conslaod,” is the more recent (and more specific!) term

7) “affliction” — well, as we pause to consider this issue, most of the “translations” for “affliction” have more to do with suffering in general, not necessarily medically, but they do run the gamut. And I do mean “they” and I do mean “gamut,” because there are at least 20 words for “affliction” in Irish, including angar, ceasna, cránas, cros, diachair, dobrón, doghrainn, doilíos, dólás, donas, galar (which can also mean “misery” as well as “disease”), géarghoin, iomard, leannán, léan, leatrom, lobhra, sciúrsáil, teidhm, trioblóid, and tubaiste. Of these, the more widely used ones, i mo thaithí féin, are: doilíos (also means “difficulty”), dólás (the opposite of “sólás,” which is “comfort” or “solace”), donas (in general, the opposite of “sonas“), trioblóid (which can be major or minor), and “tubaiste” (which also has more meanings, like “calamity” or “tragedy”)

So what’s the take-away? To recap the most basic terms:

galar – usually a specific or named disease (galar Crohn, galar Creutzfeldt-Jakob, srl.)

tinneas – often refers to a part of the body (tinneas cinn) or a situation or environment causing illness or discomfort, such as pregnancy (tinneas maidine, morning sickness) or high altitude (tinneas sléibhe, altitude sickness, although this can also be “míbhail airde,” very literally “bad condition of altitude/height;” a third possible term is, straightforwardly, “galar airde“)

breoiteacht – reasonably widely used but doesn’t seem to lend itself to the same type of compound word formation as tinneas does. Also means “ill-health,” as does “easláinte.”

neamhord – used for situations like affective disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorder, etc.

The others are mostly more general terms, ones that can indication ill-health in general, or terms that are widely used outside of “leigheas” as such.

In this blog, I haven’t even tried to touch on the “-osises,” the “-omas,” the “-itises,” and the “-pathies,” partly because they’re quite technical and partly because they tend to be almost the same in Irish, with “-óis,” “-óma,” “-íteas,” or “-paite,” as the suffix (e.g. zónóis, meileanóma, einceifealaimiailíteas eachaí iartharach, einceifealapaite spúinseach bhólachta, the latter aka “galar na bó buile“).

I also haven’t tried (yet) to deal with words like “sickly,” “invalid,” “bedbound,” and simply being “a little green around the gills,” but there’s always a chance that these will be i mblaganna eile, sa todhchaí. Moltaí ar bith agaibhse? Má tá, seolaigí isteach iad, mura mhiste libh!

Finally, to top it all off, we could simply cite the traditional Irish expression: Tá seacht ngalair an tsléibhe air (He has every disease under the sun, lit. “The seven diseases of the mountain are on him.”). An créatúr! But beyond the ” *créatúrachas” (“poor-creature-ishness,” to coin, once again, focal nua, fad m’eolais), notice anything unusual grammatically there? It’s a traditional expression and “ngalair” seems to be spelled “-air” in the older citations I’ve found for it. Somewhat unusually, that would appear to lump “galar” in with the “unit of measurement” words that don’t follow the general rules after numbers (as in: seacht mbliana, seacht n-uibhe, seacht n-uaire, srl.). Some more recent citations, like Urban Dictionary (!), give the phrase the standard spelling (seacht ngalar), with “mountains” in the plural (seacht ngalar na sléibhte), at So was the original intent of the “mountain” (sléibhe) or of the “mountains” (sléibhte)? Can’t say, offhand, but maybe time, or some more searching, will tell.

Anyway, with best wishes “don angarúinneach a bhfuil seacht ngalair an tsléibhe air,” and slán go fóill, in all senses of the word “slán”!Róislín

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