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The Irish For... A drunken swaggerer and a place abounding in dogs

Darach O Séaghdha talks us through some of the marvelous definitions in the venerable Dinneen dictionary.

Darach Ó Séaghdha

This the latest dispatch from our columnist Darach Ó Séaghdha, author of the award-winning and bestselling Motherfoclóir. Every Sunday morning, Darach will be regaling (re-Gaeling?) us with insights on what the Irish language says about Ireland, our society, our past and our present. Enjoy.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE between an English-Irish dictionary and an Irish-English dictionary? As you’d expect, they largely contain the same information. However, the two languages are not exact mirrors of each other and each contain words not found in the other tongue.

David Bowie once described the dictionary as “a long poem about everything” and this is especially true of Foclóir Gaeilge agus Béarla, more commonly named for its creator, Father Patrick Dinneen.

As it’s indexed as Gaeilge, it contains a treasury of Irish words with no equivalents as Béarla, words that were left out of the next major dictionary in 1959 (which was indexed by English entries).

This collection of uniquely Irish words would be magical enough, but then there is added bonus of Dinneen’s own definitions, which often read more like droll verse than mere explanations.

Here is a selection of some of the buried treasure in that volume. Could any of these words make a come-back?

Teanngháire: This literally means wave-laughter but Dinneen translates it as ”the roaring of a sea in a cave”. The foclóir has lots of maritime entries, including carraig bhréige “a rock of which no part is above water in any tide, but which is not far below the surface of the sea”.

Iníon Gaoithe: This translates literally as “wind daughter” and is a poetic term for your breath.

Gadhrach: This one might be familiar to readers with the surname O’Gara; it’s an adjective to describe someone fond of dogs, or a place abounding in dogs.

Faolshnámh: Dinneen defines this one as “gliding like a wolf”, which is to move with utter confidence and predatory grace – a compound of faol (one of the words for a wolf) and snámh (swimming).

Gabhairín: Officially this means a small goat but Dinneen advises us that it can also refer to “potatoes sold secretly by children for pocket-money”.

Tíne Thanaide: “A phosphorescent light on the teats and udder of a cow in wet weather”.

Alabárd: “Anything out of proportion, as a small garsún hurling with a very tall man’s camán”.

Bóicín Beorach: This alliterative term means a drunken swaggerer (from bóic, pretensions or boasting). Such a character may or may not also be a gaige na maige (swaggering fop or tilted dandy), a term gathering steam as the Irish for hipster – it beats hiopstar, for sure.

Comhla Breac: A magical trapdoor to fairy dwellings, hidden amongst rocks.

Coigealach: Speaking of doors, this entry is bashfully described as “a rude figure tarred and posted on the doors of those whom Lent finds unmarried”. It is not clear exactly how rude this figure is as no illustrations have been provided.

Búdán: As well as being the hard outer casing of an oat, Dinneen advises that this is also “a tube for blowing smoke or pepper through keyholes in wren-play”.

About the author:

Darach Ó Séaghdha

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