Irish Language Blog

Whither “Nathair”? Mar “Athair” nó Mar “Chathair”? Posted by on Jun 6, 2011 in Uncategorized

(le Róislín)

So, you’re staring at the Irish word “nathair” and wondering which way to go for its tuiseal ginideach and its foirmeacha iolra.   Is it going to be like “cathair” or is it going to be like “athair”?

Before we actually answer that (why cut to the chase when we can prevaricate and still learn even more Irish?), let’s imagine the context in which you’re using the word “nathair” (snake) to begin with.  Well, you might be reading “Geineasas” (3:1): “Ba ghlice an nathair nimhe ná aon ainmhí allta… .”  Aistriúchán thíos

Or you might be talking about your run-of-the-mill Natrix natrix (aka nathair fhéir, grass snake), one of relatively few snake species found in Britain, though not native to Ireland (naturally, thanks to Naomh Pádraig agus/nó geolaíocht).  Since this same N. natrix apparently lives near water and is also known as a “water snake,” I’m somewhat intrigued as to who decided it would be called “nathair fhéir” (lit. snake of grass) in Irish.  Probably I won’t ever know but presumably it wasn’t na SeanGhaeil iad féin.  They would have had their hands full with naming the various earca, earcáin, péisteanna, and buafa that actually do inhabit Ireland, not to mention na hainmhithe osnadúrtha, mar chait ocht gcos (assuming there was more than one) agus na heich uisce (again, in the plural here, though, come to think of it, there tends to be only one per finscéal).  And if not that nathair neamhnimhneach (N. natrix) perhaps a little more adrenalin-pumpingly, some type of nathair shligreach, as for example, nathair shligreach Aruba (Crotalus durissus) or nathair shligreach iomairshrónach (Crotalus willardi).  Or, and here you can fill in the plural if you like (freagra thios), you could be having a general discussion about   _____________ nimhneacha eile, such as cobraí or mambanna dubha.     

More benignly, you might be wondering how to translate the name of the boardgame, Snakes and Ladders.  Bhuel, “ladder” (singular) is “dréimire,” so, care to hazard a well-crafted guess?  _________ agus ______.  It’s quite straightforward.  Freagra thíos.  And if you’re feeling adventurous, you could translate it into its more commercialized Milton Bradley name, “Chutes and Ladders,” (freagra is also thíos).    

And finally, just to make sure we’re getting the “ginideach uatha” into the mix, who knows when the next cocktail party will offer you the chance to chat knowledgeably about viper’s bugloss (lus na ________; freagra thíos) or to discuss whether there is one or more than one adder in Carn na ________, in northern Scotland (hint: elevation for this “carn” is 786m, and freagra also thíos).     

If you’re on the “ginideach uatha” trail, you’ll probably want to ditch the reference I found online to the Dungeons & Dragons translation for “Temple of the Serpent.”  They got the “na __________” part right, but then overdid it by trying to add the preposition “de” (of, but “de” is “partitive,” not “possessive”).  Another problem with the translation, and another rainy-day topic, is that whoever translated the phrase also used “seipeal” [sic] (no “fadas”), which means either “chapel” or “Catholic church,” not “temple.”  

By now, you’ve probably either analysed, deduced, remembered, channeled, or otherwise figured out the forms that go in the blanks.  Bottom line is that that “nathair” works like “cathair, cathrach, cathracha,” not like “athair, athar, aithreacha.” 

méid na nathrach, the size of the snake

méid na cathrach, the size of the city

There aren’t too many other phrases that one could nicely parallel like that, since we generally distinguish quite clearly between snakes and cities.  Though we could ponder “Gnéas agus an Chathair” and “Gnéas agus an Nathair,” at least for argument’s sake.

For the plurals:

na cathracha, the cities 

na nathracha, the snakes

Hmmm, na nathracha nimhe … na cathracha nimhe … . A statement on mankind’s so-called “progress”?

Well, on that nóta meabhraitheach, sgf go dtí an chéad uair eile, ó Róislín

Aistriúchán (Geineasas 3:1): The serpent (lit. snake of poison) was more cunning than any wild animal … .

Freagraí: nathracha (plural of “nathair”);  Snakes and Ladders, Nathracha agus Dréimirí.  For the “chutes” version, I’d use “sleamhnáin.”  Viper’s bugloss: lus na nathrach.  Scottish mountain: Carn na Nathrach, translated as “the cairn of the adders,” although it would seem to me it should be translated as singular (the cairn of the adder).  The Scottish Gaelic plural for their word “nathair” is normally “nathraichean,” but, sorting all that out is definitely ábhar blag eile.  Temple of the Serpent, for the Dungeons & Dragons game, would normally be “Teampall na Nathrach,” no “de” needed.  Using “seipeal” [sic] and essentially saying “The Snake’s Chapel” sets up a whole new angle on the scenario.. 

Gluais: buaf, toad; earc, lizard; earcán, worm (used specifically for the “blind- or slow-worm”); iomairshrónach, ridge-nosed; péist, worm in general, though in various combinations this word can also mean monster, whale, snake, etc.); sligreach, rattle- (as in “-snake”; as opposed to a gligín, which is for a leanbh),

Nóta maidir le “mamba dubh” agus “mambanna dubha” (black mamba, -s): yes, I’ve gone out on a bit of a limb here for the plural since I find no precedent for it, online or otherwise.  If anyone knows of one, please let us know.  I considered *mambaí” but somehow “mambanna” seems to work better.  “Mambaí” looks too much like a) the place name Mambai in Brazil, b) the place name Mumbai in India, and c) the Irish word “mamaí,” and furthermore, at least to me, “mambaí” has a little too much of a namby-pamby-Bambi cutesy-wootsy feel.  In both cases, the word “mamba” would still be 4th-declension, though.  But you knew that, right? 

Nóta a Dó maidir le “mamba dubh”: Technically, we should probably be saying “mamba béaldubh,” since only its mouth is actually black, but if “mamba noir,” “mamba negra,” and “Schwarze Mamba” all make do (dubh?) without specifying the mouth, we may as well leave well enough alone.  For the drochimeartas focal there, you’d have to say “dubh” as it’s pronounced in the North (like “doo”), not with the more southern/Standard v-final “duv” sound.  But you knew that too, right?

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Keep learning Irish with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it

Leave a comment: