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Did you know that there are ten words for survey in early Irish?

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Introduction to the Concise Edition

The concise edition of the electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language, which is aimed at the non-specialist user, is a dictionary of early Irish covering the period c.700 CE- c.1700 CE. It draws on the larger, scholarly edition, also available on this site.

The concise edition gives just the dictionary headword and associated definitions without the grammatical information and historical citations that accompany the full edition. Typing in a search term in English will produce a list of all entries in which that word appears in a definition. This includes entries in which it appears in the definition of compound words and phrases, so be wary that not all results will be a direct equivalent of your search term. You should also note that we do not display any entries where there is some doubt about the existence of the word (preceded by a query in the full dictionary).

You can view the full, scholarly entry at any stage by clicking on the headword or by clicking on the 'Switch Edition' button.

The Dictionary contains much information on words relating to agriculture, medicine, law, music, religion and society that will be of particular interest to historians and archaeologists, and it traces the origin and development of words over a period of a thousand years. The rich vocabulary of the Dictionary is also ripe for exploitation by creative writers and thinkers in the modern languages, and by making it available now in a concise edition we hope to make it more accessible to the general user with no knowledge of Irish in the medieval period.

To read a brief explanation of the spelling and pronunciation of early Irish, and for further reading, see here.

Word of the Week[See More]


DEBUITH ‘a difference of opinion’ occurs on several occasions in medieval Irish literature as part of what seems to be a proverbial saying. To express the idea that a dispute has no long-term implications for the relationship between the parties involved, Irish poets and story-tellers say: IS DEABUIDH MEIC REA MHÁTHAIR ‘it is [just] the disagreement of a son with his mother’ (Ériu iv 216).

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NATHAIR is the Irish for ‘snake’. Despite the often-repeated tradition that St Patrick banished the snakes from Ireland, it is now accepted that the country simply never had any native snakes - after the last ice age, surrounding seas prevented these reptiles from colonizing the island. Nevertheless, the word NATHAIR does occur in medieval Irish texts and, remarkably, can be intended as a compliment when applied to people. Saint Adamnán, abbot of Iona, for example, is described in the story of his life as ‘nathir ar tuaichle ┐ treabaire’ (a serpent on account of his cleverness and prudence).

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NOTLAIC, the early Irish word for ‘Christmas’, gives us Modern Irish NOLLAIG ‘December’. Scottish Gaelic DÙBHLACHD ‘December’, on the other hand, seems to come from DUBLOCHT ‘wintry weather’, which is known from the fifteenth century. Particularly in religious and legal texts of the early medieval period, however, DEICIMBER (from the Latin for ‘tenth month’) was often used, while the phrases MÍ MARBDATAD (literally ‘the month of dormancy’) and MÍ MARB ('the dead or dormant month') are also recorded as means of referring to this time of year.

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AIRSCE is a word for which English has no direct equivalent. It refers to the stump of the neck that is left after someone’s head has been cut off. The word occurs in the tale of The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel, when King Conaire Mór asks for a drink. Mac Cécht goes to fetch one but has to travel across Ireland as none of the rivers or lakes will give him water. By the time he returns, Conaire’s head has been cut off, so Mac Cécht pours the water into the stump of the neck (dortais Mac Cécht in chúach n-usce ina arsci) and the severed head expresses its appreciation!

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