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From fidget spinner to spooning: Over 3,000 new Irish words are created every year

There are a few words that could have been used for Brexit: Breatimeacht, Sasamach, or Bréalú.

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IRELAND HAS TWO full-time terminologists, whose job it is to create hundreds of new Irish words and phrases each month.

Requests are made online from translators in the EU, journalists, and other members of the public for Irish versions of English language words, and 23-member voluntary committee meets once a month debates what terms become official.

Around 3,000 new Irish words are created each year, or 250-300 a month. These terms can be accessed on, a project funded by Foras na Gaeilge, the body responsible for the promotion of the Irish language.

Gearóid Ó Cleircín is one of the members on that committee – he’s a lecturer at DCU’s Fiontar and Scoil na Gaeilge.

For Seachtain na Gaeilge, he spoke to about how new words are created, the difficulties with that task and gave a few examples of words that fostered some debate.

Those words that are rooted in jargon can be quite difficult, but they can also be quite fun.


The way the committee works is there are two or three mini committees that go into a room to discuss what words would be appropriate for approval.

For the term “to spoon”, the committee decided to come up with two options.

They decided to go with spúnáil, which is obviously the Gaelicisation of the English term. But they also came up with a more descriptive, a longer version which is luigh tóin le gabhal.
That literally means like bum to crotch. Not particularly poetic in English!


For Brexit, Breatimeacht is the most common translation used, Ó Cleircín says.

But the committee weren’t entirely happy with it, and would be inclined to use the English word as is. Ó Cleircín says that research indicates the two terms are used equally as often, but there are other terms people can use:

  • Sasamach = Sasana + amach, meaning ‘England’ + ‘out’, which isn’t entirely accurate;
  • Bréalú = Breatain + éalú, meaning ‘Britain’ + ‘escape’.


‘Hackspace’ or ‘hackerspace’ means a common workspace where people come together and hang out and bounce ideas off each other. He said this was tricky to translate for a few reasons.

“The word hack in English has become very broad. It’s come out of the field of computing and so on, but we talk about life hacks, and hacktivism and so on.

“To translate that using Irish in computer terms, which could have a negative connotation.

The problem with hackáil is ‘hackspace’ doesn’t really have anything to do with hacking. So calling it a spás hackáil would be a bit lazy and mechanical. Generally for contemporary language terms we try to be a bit creative.

“So the final version was céarda chomhspéise. So céarda which would be an old term for ‘forge’, like a blacksmith’s forge, and chomhspéise, which means ‘of common interest’. So that took a bit of time to get to that and many of the committee members had never even heard of a hackspace.”


The last special collection the committee compiled was one of 1,500 IT terms and quite a lot of them are rooted in social media, app development, which are very jargon-based, Ó Cleircín says.

He says a good example of this is the word ‘tweet’. There are two Irish translations – giolc meaning the chirping sound a bird makes, and tuít, which is a more obvious translation. Both are used equally as frequently he says, but tuít could be slowly gaining more use.

“Journalists with RTÉ Nuacht and Raidió na Gaeltachta would have their own policy for words and phrases for news bulletins. They sometimes find that the pipeline can be a bit too technical, and difficult to use in bulletins. They tend to paraphrase it or explain it almost rather than use the term.”

Other interesting translation includes fidget spinner, the translation means rothán méire (literally means finger wheel); boss fight in a video game context, which is comhrac fathaigh or ‘combat with a giant’; and citizen journalism is iriseoireacht sráide or ‘street journalism’.

When asked whether the new, modern words being created in the language are taking away from the ancient culture that the language is rooted in, Ó Cleircín says that every language has new official terms created.

“It’s more that there aren’t enough speakers, or fluent, native speakers to keep those older terms in use,” he says.

Read: Selfie, alt-right and pre-drinks added to new English-Irish dictionary

Read: How do you decide what makes it into a dictionary?

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