Irish Language Blog

When Is a Dog’s Dinner Not a ‘Dog’s Dinner’?: Some Irish Vocabulary Notes for “Mess” Posted by on Sep 7, 2017 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

I recently heard some commentary on the radio equating the plans for Brexit (Breatimeacht) with a dog’s dinner.  And that got me thinking about another use of caint fháthchiallach / mheafarach, since we talked about the issue in the latest post (nasc thíos). Although “dog’s dinner,” as such, is not a traditional metaphorical expression in Irish (afaik), the Irish language has its share of words for saying that something is a mess.

So, let’s start with a couple of Irish words for “mess”:

praiseach, mess, also: pottage, thin porridge, gruel, and curiously, wild cabbage or kale (the latter also known as “cál”

foirmeacha an fhocail: praiseach, an phraiseach, na praisí (gan uimhir iolra, de ghnáth)

brachán, mess, porridge, or stirabout.  Not specifically “thin” porridge, but one can add the word “lom” (bare) to it (not “tanaí,” for thin people or animals), to change the meaning to “thin porridge” or “gruel.”  That also gives us the song “Brochan lom,” in Scottish Gaelic, but easy to understand if you know Irish.

foirmeacha an fhocail: brachán, an brachán, an bhracháin (gan uimhir iolra, de ghnáth)

Interesting — I wonder how many other languages have two ways of comparing a “mess” to “porridge.”

And there is a third, non-porridge-related choice.  Hmm, [I never thought I’d end up using that tripartite compound adjective!  Ar aon chaoi, seo é: prácás, mess, medley or hodgepodge.  No particular tie-in to foods such as porridge or gruel, but can be used to describe food: prácás bia, messy food, lit. a mess of food, a “food mess”

foirmeacha an fhocail: prácás, an prácás, an phrácáis (gan uimhir iolra, de ghnáth)

By the way, there is an additional, more basic word for porridge, with no particular implications of thickness or thinness: leite, an leite, na leitean (gan uimhir iolra).

And lo and behold, wouldn’t you know it, there’s also the phrase “smeadar leitean” (a mess of soft porridge).  Interesting, I get “thick” and “thin,” in porridge, but never really thought of porridge as being “soft” or “not soft.”  Anyway, I feel another blog topic coming on!

So, those were some of the typical words for “mess” in Irish.  Now, since the topic was raised, if you’re wondering how to literally say, “the dinner of the dog” in Irish, it would be “dinnéar an mhadra” or “dinnéar an mhadaidh” (Northern dialect).   The vocab is:

dinnéar, dinner (a pretty easy word to learn)

madra, dog, OR: madadh, dog.  In the possessive form, madra becomes “mhadra” and “madadh” becomes “mhadaidh,” with the “dh” silent.  The “mh” isn’t pronounced like an “m” plus an “h.”  It’s a consonant cluster, usually pronounced like a “w” or sometimes like a “v.”  For “mhadaidh” {WAH-dee], I’d say it’s virtually always a “w” sound.

To just say “a dog’s dinner” (a dinner of a dog) would be: dinnéar madra OR dinnéar madaidh.

But just as a reminder, I don’t recall ever hearing this dog’s dinner expression used figuratively in Irish, to mean “mess.”  In fact, I’ve really only heard or seen it occasionally in Irish as an actual reference to feeding dogs.  In my experience (as the owner of “dhá mhadra / dhá mhadadh,” we usually just say, “Did you feed the dogs yet?” not “Did you give the dogs their dinner?”  And I can’t say I’ve heard that many references in Irish to giving the dogs dinner as opposed to simply feeding them.  Searching on Google doesn’t bring up any figurative usages, just a few grammar citations, mostly going back to Ní Ghráda’s Progress in Irish (n.d. but ca. 1965), where she uses “the dog’s dinner” as an example for teaching “an tuiseal ginideach.”

So that’s mess, mess, mess, porridge, a mess of soft porridge, and an actual dog’s dinner in Irish.  And by the way, it’s not only the Brexit plans that might be described in UK English as a “dog’s dinner.”  Umpteen other things and situations as well.  A recent jaunt through Internet brought up references economic policies in general, da Vinci’s The Last Supper, and a near canine-caused calamity at the Chelsea Flower Show  (that one was luckily a near miss, though; the flowers survived).  Naisc don dá alt sin thíos.

Now if only I had been writing a blog for Welsh, I could have said, “When is a dog’s dinner not a dog’s dinner?” and answered “When it’s a “traed moch.”  “Traed moch” is a great figurative expression, literally meaning “pigs’ feet.”  Actually, I think there are more than a few dogs around who would happily consume pigs’ feet, known as crúibíní in Irish, for “a ndinnéar” (their dinner).   Hmm, an ag prislíneacht atá na madraí, ag éisteacht leis sin?  But that’s another matter altogether.   Hope I haven’t made too much of a mess, hash, muddle, shambles, jumble or chaos of this topic.  And I see the next few blog topics looming imminently before me.  Go dtí sin, SGF — Róislín

Naisc: Three Ways to Say “Keeping Your Nose to the Grindstone” in Irish without Using the Words for “Nose” or “Grindstone” –  Is é sin a rá, cora cainte atá difriúil ar fad i bhfoclaíocht ach mar a gcéanna (beagnach) i gciallPosted by róislín on Aug 31, 2017 in Irish Language

For a little bit more on “samhlacha,” I remind you again of this one: Liúdair go dtí a) an Caisleán Nua, b) an Aithin nó go c) Toraigh?Posted by róislín on May 15, 2012 in Irish Language

And cúpla nasc, especially since “dog’s dinner” is not very widely used in the US as slang and it might be fun for the Meiriceánaigh here to see a few more examples:, “The Last Supper or a dog’s dinner? After the latest 21-year restoration of Leonardo’s masterpiece some critics can see little of the original, by Philip Willan, 24 May 1999, Flower show exhibit was almost a dog’s dinner, Published: 14:56, 27 May 2008, Updated: 15:00, 27 May 2008

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