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Monday 4 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C
Shutterstock/Alena Ozerova

The Irish For As the nights are closing in - curl up by the fire and learn some winter words

Codladh Geimhridh literally means ‘winter sleep’ and is the Irish for hibernation. Sometimes that feels like a viable option in the Land of Eternal Winter (Hibernia), writes 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.

AS SAMHAIN RECEDES into Mí na Nollag, I am reminded of the Swedish saying ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes’.

Granted the charms of cold and rain aren’t as obvious as those of sunshine and heat, but there’s much to enjoy in December beyond the Christmas break.

Dark nights, frosty mornings, seeing your breath in front of you, end of year top-ten lists and the underrated comforts of hot alcoholic drinks.

If you’re a grinch like me, you can still enjoy December; all you need are the right clothes and the right Irish words.

Codladh Geimhridh: Literally ‘winter sleep’, this is the Irish for hibernation.

The Romans called Ireland the Land of Eternal Winter (Hibernia), which is really saying something when you consider that they had a word for Scotland and other colder places. Arguably this was more a comment on our miserable summers than our mild winters.

Fuar: I’m sure you know this one, the Irish word for cold. It sounds a lot like the past tense of the verb to get. For example, ‘fuair sé cic sa thóin’ – he got a kick in the bottom.

Siocán: Not to be confused with síocháin (peace), this word means frost. The turn of phrase ‘ní lugha orm an sioc ná é’ means “I hate him more than I hate frost”.

Siocdhóite is the Irish for frostbitten, it translates literally as frost-burnt.

Staga: This means a potato damaged by frost. It is just one of several highly specific words for bad potatoes, some of which can also be used as insults for people.

These include

Sliomach: An inedible potato or a useless person and  

Stagún: A damaged potato or very stubborn person.

Aimliú: The potatoes referred to above might also fall under this category. There is no direct equivalent for this word in English – it means ruined by exposure to rain, frost, wind or other atmospheric phenomena.

Buatais Bháistí: This alluringly alliterative term is the Irish for a welly, the perfect footwear for the season – it translates literally as rain boot.

The wellington boot is named in honour of Arthur Wellesley, the Irish-born first Duke of Wellington. However, the duke was deeply ashamed of his Irish birth – when it was brought up to embarrass him at parties in 19th century London high society, he’d famously reply: “Being born in a stable does not make one a horse”.

Ceirtlín: As the rain pelts against the window, it’s the right time for thick, woollen clothes and wholesome crafty hobbies like knitting.

While liathróid is the go-to word for a ball, ceirtlín is the word used for balls of wool, thread, yarn and the like. It is also the word used for a curled-up hedgehog.

Lómhar: An appropriate double-meaning in the wintertime, this recherché word can mean either woolly or precious.

Though both woolly and precious have more frequently-used terms in Irish (olanda and luachmar respectively), but I’ll be thinking of lómhar when I wrap my daughter up warmly before we go for a winter walk.

Darach’s new book, ‘Craic Baby: Dispatches From A Rising Language’ is published by Head of Zeus and available in bookshops now.

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

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