Word of the Week

EÓLCHAIRE

EÓLCHAIRE is sometimes translated as ‘homesickness’. It is probably based on the word EÓL ‘what is known or familiar’. One Middle-Irish text distinguishes EÓLCHAIRE from CUMA ‘grief’. The former, it says, is a kind of sorrow concerned with territory or land; the latter is sorrow brought on by the loss of people.

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13/09/2019
SÍR

SÍR means ‘long’. It could be used of time or distance and occurs in the names of a number of well-known characters from early Irish tales. SÍRNA SÍRSHAEGLACH (‘long-lived’) was 150 years old when he died and SÍRLÁM (‘long-arm’) had arms so long that they reached the ground when he was standing up!

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06/09/2019
COICERT

COICERT means ‘emendation (of text)’. We know that the word was in existence in the 9th century, for we have evidence of it in Old Irish glosses on Latin. We have even a rare example represented in the Ogam alphabet in the margins of a manuscript. COICERT has been our focus since this phase of the eDIL Project began in 2014; it is now our Word for the week in which the fruits of this project, in the form of a new version of the Dictionary, is launched. Check out our website (www.dil.ie) later today to see what's changed...

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30/08/2019
CALLANN

CALLANN, the ‘calends’ or first day of a month, is known today from phrases such as Modern Irish LÁ CAILLE ‘New Year’s Day’ and Scottish Gaelic OIDHCHE CHALLAINN ‘New Year’s Eve, Hogmanay’. From it, we get also two memorable medieval Irish words. CAILLEÓRACHT is a term for predicting events according to the day of the week on which 1st January falls or the way the wind is blowing on that day. And CAILLEÓIR is a term for the person who makes such predictions.

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23/08/2019
BRATÁN

BRATÁN is an early Irish term for a fish. The word has come down to us in Modern Irish as BRADÁN (Scottish Gaelic BRADAN) and it is generally used nowadays to refer to the salmon. In origin, though, BRATÁN is simply the diminutive of BRAT ‘a captive’, so it means literally ‘little captive’ and may have denoted other commonly caught fish before being restricted in meaning to the salmon.

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16/08/2019
BALLAIGID

BALLAIGID is a rare medieval Irish verb which derives from the noun BALL ‘a spot, mark or speckle’. In the tale ‘Caithréim Thoirdhealbhaigh’, it appears as part of a magnificent five-part compound in the statement DO GHEALNÚADDERGDATHBALLAIG IN GRÍAN A GNÚIS ‘the sun bright-fresh-red-colour-speckled its face’!

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09/08/2019
MESS

MESS is the medieval Irish term for ‘mast’, the nuts, seeds and fruit of trees and shrubs that are eaten mostly by wildlife. It often occurs with MUCC ‘pig’, so that MUCC MESSA is a ‘mast-fed pig’ and MUCC REMI-THUIT MESS is ‘a pig that falls before the mast’. The latter phrase is used of a person who has died prematurely. It appears in the Annals of the Four Masters in reference to Mael Seachlainn mac Murchada who was poisoned at the age of 30 in 1155 (FM ii 1114.13).

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02/08/2019
LEPAID

LEPAID is the early Irish word which gave us Modern Irish LEABA and Scottish Gaelic LEAPAIDH, both of which mean ‘bed’. In medieval times, however, the word was commonly used in a legal sense to refer to harbouring or offering shelter. If the person being harboured had committed some offence, then the host could incur FÍACH LEPTHA ‘the fine of harbourage’. That this was not confined to idea of supplying a bed can be seen from examples in which FÍACH LEPTHA is said to be due for providing a criminal with food!

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12/05/2019
TAÍDLECH

TAÍDLECH means ‘shining’ or ‘glittering’. The word appears as the epithet of a man named Eogan Taídlech who is said to have possessed a magnificent cloak. According to medieval Irish tradition, the garment was made for him by the daughter of the king of Spain and it consisted of multicoloured ‘wool’ collected from a salmon. Eogan returned to Ireland, resplendent and glittering in that cloak, and from then on he was known as Eogan Taídlech.

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06/05/2019
DEBUITH

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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31/03/2019
NATHAIR

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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17/03/2019
NOTLAIC

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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10/03/2019