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The Irish For: Don’t Be Such A Gorilla-Whale-Daughter-In-Law

To translate the meaning of Bridezilla effectively we need to pop the bonnet of the word and look at the moving parts, writes Darach Ó Séaghdha.

Image: Design Pics Inc/Shutterstock

This is 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.

THOSE UNSUNG HEROES over at An Coiste Téarmaíochta (the Terminology Committee) are tasked with the role of developing, recording and approving new terminology in Irish and are frequently called upon to weigh in on what the Irish for a recent English word should be.

It’s a thankless task that often puts them in the crosshairs of the world’s worst pedants, so I’d like to take a moment to say that I think they’re brilliant and appreciate everything they do.

Translation is an art and a craft as well as a science, and it’s not unusual for there to be more than one supportable answer when rendering a new-ish English word into Irish.

Consider, for example, the word bridezilla. It’s not a word I have any grá for myself, but it has found itself in common use for nearly twenty years and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. As such, it has found itself in texts that translators in various languages have been asked to work on and a decision has been called for.

So, how do you translate a word such as bridezilla into Irish? Do we just leave it as is? Some traditionalists, immune to the charm of zú and zó-eolaíocht, aren’t too keen on the letter Z ever making an appearance in Irish.

Once we decide to translate, we find ourselves at a crossroads: do we follow the sound of the word or its meaning? Or can we find an existing term in Irish that can serve as an equivalent?

Rendering a word phonetically is a quick and dirty option, but doesn’t work if the phoneticisation accidentally renders existing and unrelated Irish words. In this instance, the formation Brídshiolla would mean bride-syllable.

Imagine how silly you’d look if you said that! I fear you’d never live it down.

To translate the meaning effectively we need to pop the bonnet of the word and look at the moving parts. Bridezilla is a portmanteau of bride and Godzilla, the famous Japanese monster.

But what do those two words mean? Godzilla is an English rendering of the original Japanese name Gojira, itself a portmanteau of gorira (gorilla) and kujira (whale).

The significance of gorilla-whale has been the subject of discussion since Godzilla’s first appearance in 1954; some have suggested that the gorilla in question was specifically fellow cinematic city-wrecker King Kong and that the symbolism of a whale is a reference to that sea-mammal’s significance in Japanese history (whalers opened the island empire to international trade, kick-starting its rapid modernisation). Japanese version of King Kong, basically.

Others have said that gojira was merely the nickname of a studio employee which director Ishoro Honda found entertaining.  

Either way, while the Irish for gorilla is simply goraille, there are several entries in respect of whales. Míol Mór is the most common and just means big creature; without the mór, a míol could be a louse, hare or a flea. Another option is bleidhmhíol – promisingly for us, this one can mean either a whale or a monster.

The word bride also has tales to tell, with multiple possible origins lurking behind the mists of time. One suggested root is the Gothic word bruþs, which literally means daughter-in-law; the new wife being defined by her relationship with her husband’s parents (whose home she was moving into) rather than to “himself”.

This is consistent with the traditional Irish proposal “ar mhaith leat bheith curtha le mo mhuintir?” (do you want to be buried with my people?).

Old Irish has various words for bride-price (ellam, tinscra, turthochmarc to name but a few) but has less to say on brides themselves as distinct from married women on the days and years after their wedding.

The modern word brídeach was picked up somewhere along the way. And it is this modern word that informs the translation for bridezilla recently announced on An Coiste Téarmaíochta’s website – brídeach bhuile (angry bride).

No references to gorillas, whales, Japanese monster movies or daughters-in-law, but it does slot perfectly into the lyrics of An Poc Ar Buile.

After all, translation is all about priorities.

Darach’s new book Craic Baby is the follow-up to his acclaimed Motherfoclóir and is out now under the Head of Zeus imprint.

He runs @theirishfor Twitter account and the @motherfocloir podcast.

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