Irish Language Blog

When Does ‘X’ Become ‘CS’? Freagra: In the Middle of Some Irish Words Posted by on Sep 28, 2015 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Your first thought on looking at the combination “cs” might be the abbreviation for the element ‘cesium’ (caeisiam, i nGaeilge).  Well, maybe not.  Not exactly a “téarma laethúil.”  Maybe “Csárdás,” the Hungarian dance?  That’s “cardas,” i nGaeilge, by the way.  Maybe CSI (an clár teilifíse)?  Any way you look at it, “cs” as a cluster doesn’t occur very often in English words; when it does, it’s usually the s-ending of words like “logistics,” “physics , or “aerobics” (an Ghaeilge orthu sin thíos).

In Irish, the consonant cluster “cs” isn’t that widespread either.  When it does occur, it typically replaces “x,” especially in some “focail iasachta.”  There aren’t lots of examples but there are some interesting ones.  They fall into two basic categories:  a) a small handful that refer specifically to Irish culture, and b) the rest, much more numerous, which are often scientific and/or heavily Latin-based.

Let’s look first at the Irish cultural terms:

bacstaí, the Irish for “boxty,” a type of bread or cake made with grated raw potatoes.  The origin of this word is mysterious.  Some say it may come from “to bake,” but it’s really more fried, rather than baked.  Another possibility is “arán bocht tí,” consisting of the words “bread,” “poor,” and “of house,” but there’s probably no way to prove this.  As far as I know, this word first showed up in print with the anglicized spelling (boxty) and eventually got gaelicized, with the “x” being represented by “cs.”  We may never know the exact origin, but for our purposes, the key point is that it shows the x / cs alternation.

plancstaí, the Irish for “planxty,” a type of musical composition.  Again, as far as I know, the ultimate origin of this term is mysterious, and again, I think it showed up first in print as “planxty,” not as “plancstaí” as such.  It’s another example of the x / cs alternation.

As I mentioned above, the second and much larger, category consists of scientific terms or Latin-based words (many of which are also scientific).  Here are some examples with “cs” either in the middle or at the end.  Can you figure out what they mean?  (Freagraí thíos, 1)

An Féinics

An Sfioncs

An Stiocs

An tSacsain








Some less everyday words that still fit the pattern are “adacs,” “aircitéacs,” and “amocsaicillin” (freagraí thíos, 2)

And there’s at least one noteworthy “x” in English (and Latin), which doesn’t become “-cs-” but rather becomes “-sc-” in the middle of the word.  An cuimhin leat é?  ‘Sea, “ascaill.”  Which means “armpit.”  You might remember this word from a previous blog (nasc thíos).  Wait!  Where’s the “x” in “armpit”?  Well, it’s not there in English, of course, but it is in Latin (axilla), which also gives us the English word “axillary” as in “axillary temperature” (taking the temperature via a baby’s armpit).  Hmm, yeah, we may have less and less need for that phrase as we now have scanning and patch thermometers, but it’s a good vocabulary example, anyway.

A word of warning though:  “cs” in Irish can also replace English “ct” in words like “aicsean,” “ficsean,” and “traicsean” which, you guessed it, mean “action,” “fiction,” and “traction.”   Nobody ever said spelling was consistent or logical.

And while we’re looking at exceptions, there’s one interesting example of “-cs-“in Irish replacing an English “ch.”  This is an English “ch” with a k sound, not as in “chew” or “child.”  The word is “áracs,” which means “auroch” (Bos taurus), now sadly extinct, but undergoing their own Jurassic Park treatment (nasc thíos).   Getting back to the language aspect, I wonder if any other words fit that English “ch” to Irish “cs” pattern!

Well, that’s been an interesting work-out, looking at what happens to English medial “x” in Irish words.  What’s next?  Medial “z”?   Hmm, cén Ghaeilge atá ar “pizzazz“?  Tá “píotsa” (le “-ts-” ar an bhfocal “pizza,” ach sin fuaim eile ar fad; níl an “zz” san fhocal “pizzazz” mar “ts”).  So far I haven’t found “pizzazz” in any Irish dictionaries, either defined or with a gaelicized spelling.  Oh well, there are lots of other linguistic fish to fry, so I guess I should wrap up now.  <slight pause> … <sneaking back into the blog> … “Pizzazz” is an interesting word though, origin generally considered unknown (attributed variously to show-biz slang, jazz slang, and fashion editor Diana Vreeland) and relatively recent in origin (early/mid-20th c.).  But, of course, that’s not really related to an teanga Gaeilge.   Unless I can find a good Irish equivalent for it.  Maybe searching under “panache”?  Slán go fóill — Róislín


On Armpits: Ascaill, Axilla, Armpit — Who Says Irish Doesn’t Have Many Cognates with English? (Cuid a hAon/Pt. 1) Posted on 24. Apr, 2013 by róislín in Irish Language  (

On Aurochs: Breeding Ancient Cattle Back from Extinction By Stephan Faris Friday, Feb. 12, 2010 (,8599,1961918,00.html)

Aistriúcháin ar logistics, physics, and aerobics:  lóistíocht,  fisic OR an fhisic, aeróbaic.  As you can see, the English “-cs” ending doesn’t carry over into Irish, typically being replaced by “-cht” or simply by “c” itself.   However, a further exception to that pattern is the Irish for “Olympics,” which generally becomes a noun-adjective combination (Cluichí Oilimpeacha, lit. Olympic Games).

Freagraí 1: An Féinics, The Phoenix; An Sfioncs, The Sphinx; An Stiocs, The Styx; An tSacsain, Saxony; angla-shacsanach, Anglo-Saxon; innéacs, index; Lucsamburg, Luxemburg; ocsaigin, oxygen; téacs, text; téacsúil, textual; tocsaineach, toxic

Freagraí 2: adacs, addax; aircitéacs, architext; amocsaicillin, amoxicillin

Update as of 10/29/15: Agus ceann eile a bhfuil mé go díreach i ndiaidh smaoineamh air: héilics, má tá tú ag caint faoi aigéad dí-ocsairibeanúicléasach nó rud éigin mar sin.  

Gluais don nuashonruchán: héilics, helix, as our key term, and: aigéad, acid; dí-ocsai-, deoxy-; núicléasach, nucleic; ribea-, ribo-; combined, those last four give us aigéad dí-ocsairibeanúicléasach (deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA)


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  1. Fearn:

    Cad mar gheall ar Chathal Marcs?

    • róislín:

      @Fearn Sampla suimiúil, a Fhearn. GRMA as scríobh isteach.

      An aithníonn ‘chuile dhuine an t-ainm?

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