Irish Language Blog

Which Celtic Language Has 5 Words for ‘Hamster’ (Leid: Ní hí an Ghaeilge í!)? Posted by on Jan 28, 2016 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

B'fhéidir go mba chóir dúinn "HAMSTERICULA" a thabhairt ar an hamstar seo! Ach deir an grianghrafadóir nach bhfuil ann ach go bhfuil an hamstar ag méanfach (yawning). Ní starrfhiacail atá ann ach clárfhiacail. Ar ndóigh, mise a chuir Gaeilge ar an gcur síos. Ní dóigh liom go bhfuil Gaeilge ag an ngrianghrafadóir. (By Emmaeatsporridgelots (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

B’fhéidir go mba chóir dúinn “HAMSTERICULA” a thabhairt ar an hamstar seo! Ach deir an grianghrafadóir nach bhfuil ann ach go bhfuil an hamstar ag méanfach (yawning). Ní starrfhiacla atá ann sa phictiúr ach clárfhiacla! Ar ndóigh, mise a chuir Gaeilge ar an gcur síos. Ní dóigh liom go bhfuil Gaeilge ag an ngrianghrafadóir. (By Emmaeatsporridgelots (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Bhuel, as the title of this blog post suggests, Irish isn’t the Celtic language that has five words for ‘hamster.’   Or as “an leid” in the title said, “Ní hí an Ghaeilge í.”

In fact, we can take care of the Irish word for ‘hamster’ quite tidily:

hamstar, a hamster.  Note that the one concession to Irish spelling is the change from “-ster” to “-star.”  And why do we bother with that?  The ever-present “vowel harmony” rules (caol le caol agus leathan le leathan).   For a bit more on vowel harmony, féach an nóta thíos.

an hamstar, the hamster

hamstair, of a hamster (roth hamstair, a hamster wheel)

an hamstair, of the hamster (roth an hamstair, the wheel of the hamster  — a specific hamster in this case)

hamstair, hamsters

na hamstair, the hamsters

hamstar, of hamsters (cineálacha hamstar, kinds of hamsters)

na hamstar, of the hamsters (gothaí gnúise gleoite na hamstar, the cute facial expressions of the hamsters)

So, cad í an teanga Cheilteach a bhfuil cúig fhocal aici ar “hamster”?  Is í an Bhreatnais í (It’s Welsh).  Agus seo iad.   I’ve included the literal translations from Welsh to Irish here.  For the English, please see na haistriúcháin below.

Mura raibh gotha gnúise gleoite ag an hamstar sa phictiúr eile, déarfainn go raibh gleoiteacht go leor anseo don bheirt By Dalius Baranauskas - Own work, CC BY 3.0, $3

Mura raibh gotha gnúise gleoite ag an hamstar sa phictiúr eile (thuas), déarfainn go raibh gleoiteacht go leor anseo don bheirt (By Dalius Baranauskas – Own work, CC BY 3.0, $3

1) bochdew (boch, leiceann + tew, ramhar).  I don’t think there’s a single word in Irish with the exact equivalent meaning, but since Irish allows for the creation of a lot of compound words, I’d say we could improvise with “*ramharleicneachán

2) bochog (plucach, ach é mar ainmfhocal)

3) llygoden fochog (luch phlucach)

4) twrlla’r Almaen (marmat na Gearmáine)

5) codlyg, b’fhéidir ón dá fhocal Breatnaise seo: “cod” (mála, púitse, folaíóg) + “llyg” (dallóg fhraoigh).  Ach níl mé cinnte.  Eolas ag duine ar bith ar an liosta?

Sin iad: bochdew, bochog, llygoden fochog, twrlla’r Almaen agus codlyg, agus an chiall “hamstar” orthu go léir.

Hoodathunkit, as they say!  Cúig fhocal ar “hamster”!  Anois, hmmm, meas tú go bhfuil níos mó ná focal amháin ar “mhuc ghuine” sa teanga sin?  Nó sa Ghaeilge, fiú?  Nó i dteanga ar bith eile?  Agus céard faoin tseirbil?  Ábhar machnaimh agus b’fhéidir ábhar taighde lá éigin na coise tinne.  

Tá súil agam gur bhain tú sult as an mblag trítheangach i bpáirt seo, má tá hamstar nó hamstair agat mar pheata(í) nó muna bhfuil.  Dála an scéil, má tá hamsta(i)r agat, cén t-ainm atá air / uirthi / orthu? – Róislín

Nóta: If we left the “e” in the final syllable of “hamster,” it would break the vowel harmony rules for Irish, since “e” is slender (caol) and “a” is broad (leathan).  Vowel harmony should probably be a post unto itself, but for now, suffice it to say that, in Irish, if you have broad vowel (a, o, u) on one side of consonant, you have to have another broad vowel on the other side of the consonant, not an “e” or an “i” since “e” and “i” are considered “slender.”  Prominent exceptions include “anseo” and “ansin,” but then, they used to be two separate words, so the rule didn’t apply.  Ar aon chaoi, there’s always an “eisceacht” to make the “riail.

Aistriúchán: Breatnais go Gaeilge go Béarla

1) bochdew (boch, leiceann  / cheek + tew, ramhar / fat), so “fat-cheeked one”.  My improvised Irish compound word, “*ramharleicneachán,” also means the same thing.  I would have to admit, though, that the two-syllable Welsh compound word “bochdew” does have a certain succinct appeal that the five-syllable “*ramharleicneachán” doesn’t.

2) bochog (plucach, / full-cheeked).  The Welsh and Irish words are primarily adjectives, so we might consider this as meaning “full-cheeked one.”

3) llygoden fochog (luch phlucach / large-cheeked mouse)

4) twrlla’r Almaen (marmat na Gearmáine / German marmot)

5) codlyg: Perhaps “codlyg” is from these two Welsh words: “cod” (bag, pouch, pod) + “llyg” (shrew).  But I’m not sure.  So “pouch-cheeked shrew,” perhaps?  Anyone on the list know?

Needless to say, the Welsh word “cod” (bag, etc.) has no relation to the codfish, which is “penfras” in Welsh (lit. fat-head, large-head, or greasy-head — hmm, and how are we supposed to interpret that?).  Not that “cod” is the most basic word for “bag” in Welsh–in my experience, at any rate, that would be ‘bag‘ (pl: bagiau, my bag: fy mhag, a.y.y.b)

The only thing I can find out about the history of the word “codlyg” is that it shows up in D. S. Evans’ An English and Welsh Dictionary (1858).  Relatively early for talking about hamsters, it seems to me, but, then, maybe the term was presumed to mean wild hamsters.  Actually … are there wild hamsters?  It seems like a bit of an oxymoron, but I suppose that must be the origin somehow.  Now that I think of it, I wonder when people started keeping hamsters for pets.  Hmmm, taighde do lá na coise tinne.

Getting back to “cod” part of “codlyg,” it is interesting to note, that much like Welsh, the Old English language had a word “codd” for a “bag,” “pouch,” or, ermm, baglike male anatomical part, which led to, yes, “codpiece.”  Now, lo and behold, I have been speaking Irish and Welsh for years and never needed the word “codpiece,” so I decided to look it up in both languages.

For Welsh, we have “copis” (basically “codpiece” without the “d” sound in the middle, I assume) and another word “balog,” which can also mean “a flap,” although a mere flap, I think, would not offer quite the same degree of “protection” for the contents of the codpiece.   In case you were wondering, Welsh “copis” doesn’t mean “coppice” (thicket of small trees, etc.); the Welsh for that is “coedlan.”  Remember, in terms of language connections, not all that looks like a cognate is a cognate.

As for Irish, I’ve just checked about a dozen dictionaries, new and old, and can find neither hide nor hair of a word for “codpiece.”  I imagine one could use “cochaillín,” which can have a range of meanings (small cloak, small hood, small bag, small trawl-net–if there is such a thing, small cowl, small pod, small husk, small cupule, which is actually already somewhat diminutive, and, finally, if talking about animals, small scrotum).  But that’s all still a bit speculative since I haven’t noticed the use of “cochaillín” in a context where it could mean “codpiece.”

If anyone reading this does know the Irish word for “codpiece,” please do write in and let us all know.  We’re waiting with bated breath (but not holding said breath)!

Anyway, considering “cochaillín” for “codpiece,” makes me all the gladder that I chose “clóicín” for Clóicín Dearg, my translation of Little Red Riding Hood (Cincinnati: Another Language Press, 2001, ISBN: 1922852553).

What’s the deal with “clóicín” vs. “cochaillín“?  When I was working on the translation, I thought it was problematic enough that “cochaillín,” the other possible choice for the “little hood” part of “Little Red Riding Hood,” could also mean “a small spit of phlegm” (based on “cochaille,” a spit of phlegm).  If we understand “cochaillín” as derived from “cochall,” then, yes, it would mean “a small hooded cloak” but if we derive it from “cochaille,” then it means “a small spit of phlegm.”  And now we have third, if somewhat out-of-context translation for “cochaillín” (codpiece), which casts a whole new dimension to the story.  Linguistic wonders never cease

Clóicín,” on the other hand, pretty much just means “little cloak.”

Of course, we’re always supposed to understand language in context but …, bhuel, suimiúil!

Well, that footnote turned out to be almost as long as this blog post itself, but, I hope that it will at least lead to us finding the Irish word for ‘codpiece.’

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  1. Dáibhéad:

    Suimiúil ar fad! Go raibh maith agat. Taitníonn go mór an blag seo liom.

    Chuaigh mé ag cuardach théarma ainmhí nó dhá eile tar éis don alt seo a léamh. Tá tuairim ‘is aon théarma dhéag Gaeilge ar _bat_ (an t-ainmhí) ‘is sé, ar a laghad, ar _cormorant_! Féachaigí air sin anois!

    • róislín:

      @Dáibhéad GRMA as scríobh isteach. Tá sé sin an-suimiúil faoin “cormorant” agus an “bat.” Beidh sin suimiúil mar ábhar do bhlag eile sa todhchaí.

      Tá áthas orm go dtaitníonn an blag leat!

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