eDIL - Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language

The electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language (eDIL) is a digital dictionary of medieval Irish. It is based on the ROYAL IRISH ACADEMY’S Dictionary of the Irish Language based mainly on Old and Middle Irish materials (1913-1976) which covers the period c.700-c.1700. The current site contains revisions to c.4000 entries and further corrections and additions will be added in the coming years.

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Word of the Week[See More]


CUILEBAD is the early Irish word for a flabellum or fan used in religious ceremonies to keep insects away from the priest and from the consecrated Body and Blood of Christ. The fourth-century Apostolic Constitutions stated that the purpose of such a fan was to ‘silently drive away the small animals that fly about’; the Irish perhaps had more sinister aims, for it has been proposed that the word CUILEBAD is made up of CUIL ‘fly’ and BATH ‘death’!

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SLÍASAIT ‘thigh’ is found in three fine early Irish phrases: (1) TARB SLÍASTA, the ‘bull’ of the thigh, is almost certainly the thickest part, (2) CAIRDES SLÍASTA ‘friendship of the thighs’ is clearly an allusion to sexual intercourse, and (3) ORBA CRUIB ┐ SLÍASTA ‘inheritance of hand and thigh’ seems to mean property which someone has acquired though his or her own efforts and which they can then give to a son or daughter at will. This phrase has attracted attention because it is specifically stated that such property could be passed on by a woman.

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MIDACH 'physician', oddly enough, turns up in the name for one of the fingers. Legal texts tell us that three scruples must be paid in compensation for injury to or loss of a finger. The only exceptions are the long finger of the right hand and the ‘mér midaig’ of the left hand, each of which is worth nine scruples. ‘Mér midaig’ is obviously based on DIGITUS MEDICUS, the Latin name for the ‘ring-finger’. Why this finger was associated with physicians is not known for certain, but the 6th-/7th-century Archbishop Isidore of Seville claimed it was because physicians applied eye-salve with this finger!

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SCÚAP (Modern Irish SCUAB) is a brush or broom. It must have been the thought of a broom sweeping away everything in its path that led to the word being used to refer to a calamity which, it was feared, would befall Ireland at the end of the world. IN SCÚAP A FÁNAIT, the ‘broom’ from the Fanad Peninsula, in present-day Donegal, was predicted as a vengeance upon Ireland for the beheading of John the Baptist. This prediction seems to be linked to the tradition that it was an Irishman, Mug Ruith, who carried out the beheading.

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