Irish Language Blog

Wrapping Up the Berry Business for this Lughnasa Posted by on Aug 12, 2010 in Uncategorized

le Róislín

Our last blog looked primarily at the berry known in Irish as “fraochán” [FRAYKH-awn] or “fraochóg” [FRAYKH-ohg] and in English, most commonly, as bilberry, blaeberry, or whortleberry, and additionally as winberry, whinberry, bog bilberry, myrtle blueberry, and black-heart.  Confusingly, for me at least, as a non-pomologist, there’s also some overlap in terminology with crowberry and huckleberry but that’s a saga for another day, or a guest blog from any Irish-speaking pomologists out there.

In this case, the Irish seems much more straightforward than the English.  Both the Irish words “fraochán” and “fraochóg” are based on “fraoch” (heather), which grows on a heath (fraochra).  Fraochán” is grammatically masculine (as are most nouns that end in “–án” in Irish) and “fraochóg” is feminine, again, following the gender pattern for its suffix “– óg / –eog” (as in spúnóg, fuinneog, and bológ, which are all grammatically feminine, even “bológ,” which means “bullock,” an créatúr!).

How can one berry have so many names in English?  The short version of the answer is, simply put, time and space, which combined would probably answer many questions about the universe at large.  More specifically, invasion, conquest, language contact, tribal expansion, linguistic fossilization, etc.  The origins of bil-, blae-, and whortleberry are, respectively, bölle (Danish), blue (Scots), and horta (Old English). See how nice and consistent Irish is, sticking to “fraoch” as the basis!  Introducing bogs, hearts, whin, and myrtle into the picture seems to be a result of the stalwart linguistic principle which we could abbreviate as DAMIAIFE (Dá mhéad is amhlaidh is fearr é).

But, ní breac é go mbeidh sé ar an bport.  Or to put it another way, “Ná maraigh an fia go bhfeicfidh tú é.”  Or just in regular old English, “not so fast.”

It’s true that the threesome of fraoch, fraochra (-ach, -lach, -ra), and fraochán (-óg) are all nicely connected.  But never overlook the possibility of a comhainm to work a wrench into a monkey, oops, to throw a monkey wrench into the works.  

At any rate, when looking at any of the words connected to “fraoch” (heather), be sure to distinguish it from “fraoch,” the comhainm, which means “fierceness” or “fury.” This second word gives us some other compound words starting with the same letters as the ones pertaining to heather.  More examples?

fraochta, furious

fraochnimh [fraykh-niv], venomous anger

fraochlinn, a stormy sea

as opposed to

fraochdhaite, heather-colored (of tweed, etc.)

fraochmhar [fraykh-wur], heathery,

as well as Inis Fraoigh [IN-ish free], which literally means Island of Heather, (with Fraoch [“free”] in the possessive form) but which Yeats co-opted to convey a much more symbolic meaning.

Now for the remaining $64,000 question, how do you say the girl’s name “Heather” in Irish, I agree with the various online commentators who recommend simply using “Heather.”  “Fraoch” isn’t used traditionally as a personal name in Irish, nor is the diminutive that has been put forth in various name forums and copied round and round, with the “-ín” ending  Strong as the Celtic connotations of this name might be, botanically and symbolically speaking, using it as a name in Irish seems neither dea-fhoghrach nor dúchasach.

And finally, speaking of heath and heather, perhaps someone can answer this, since I’ve never had the opportunity to visit the place.  Hampstead Heath in London is probably the most famous urban heath and comprises about 800 acres.  Do the following actually grow there?

fraoch fireann (I’ve seen this translated as both “Scotch heather” and “bell-heather”.  “Fireann” usually means “masculine” but here probably is best translated with one of its less typical meanings, “real”).

fraoch mór, another name for Scotch heather

fraoch camógach, Mediterranean heather, literally “bent heather.”  “Camógach” is based on “cam” (bent, crooked) and related to “camógaíocht” (camogie), a game played with a “camóg,” a stick that is bent, crooked, or, for the punctuationphiles, comma-shaped” (since “camóg” also means “comma”).  The English name (“Mediterranean”) suggests a non-British habitat but one can’t be sure from names!

If you know, your feedback would be welcome!  – Róislín

Nótaí: breac, trout; comhainm [KOH-AN-yim], homonym; dea-fhoghrach [DJA-OH-rukh], euphonious; dúchasach, indigenous; fia [FEE-uh], deer; go bhfeicfidh tú [guh VEK-hee too], till you will see; go mbeidh sé [guh may shay], until it will be; maraigh, kill; port, bank (of river)

Na Seanfhocail:

Ní breac é go mbeidh sé ar an bport.  It’s not a trout till it’s on the river bank, i.e. Don’t count your eggs before they hatch.

Ná maraigh an fia go bhfeicfidh tú é.  Don’t kill the deer till you see it, i.e. Don’t count your eggs before they hatch, redux.

Dá mhéad is amhlaidh is fearr é, the more the merrier. 

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  1. Elizabeth Creely:

    Does “fraochlinn” just mean stormy?

    Would you use it as an adjective with the word for ocean i.e. “fraochlinn aigean”? Not sure of the word for ocean, either…

    Or does the whole word encompass the whole concept?

    I love your site, by the way.

    • róislín:

      @Elizabeth Creely Fraochlinn is a compound word meaning “stormy sea.” The “linn” part is the same word you might know as used for “pool” (linn snámha, etc.). So you don’t need to add a word for “sea” or “ocean.” It’s pretty much a poetic or literary word, not one I’ve really heard in daily speech. Glad you like the site, and thanks for writing.

  2. Steven:

    I’ve been getting a lot of mixed translations for the word Stag. But what I’m really looking for is the proper Irish Gaeilge phrase for “The great stag” or “The white stag”. I agree your site is very nice.

    • róislín:

      @Steven GRMA as scríobh isteach. Mholfainn “carria” ar “stag.” Maidir leis na frásaí “the great stag” nó “the white stag”: a) great (i.e. large): an carria mór nó an t-ollcharria b) white: an carria bán (b’fhéidir “fionn” nó “geal”)

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