Word of the Week

BODAR

BODAR (Modern Irish BODHAR) means ‘deaf’ but the word is used also to describe an indistinct or hollow sound and it is the latter sense which lies behind BODHRÁN, the name of a traditional Irish frame drum generally made of goatskin. What seems to be the earliest mention of the BODHRÁN actually occurs in a late copy of the medical text Rosa Anglica. Here, it is claimed that one of the signs of tympanites (the swelling of the abdomen with air or gas) is that, on being struck, the belly makes a sound ‘mar bhodhrán’ (like a drum)!

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23/10/2020
CRIDE

CRIDE 'heart' indicates the physical heart of a living thing, but it can be used figuratively also to refer to the middle. In the latter sense, CRIDE is often used along with words for other parts of the body. CRIDE LÁIME, for example, is 'the palm of the hand' (the phrase 'heart of the hand' is used in the same way in Hiberno-English) and CRIDE COISE, literally 'the heart of the foot', denotes the centre of the sole.

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18/10/2020
SECAL

SECAL 'rye' and TAES SECAIL 'rye dough' are mentioned often in medieval Irish texts, but the most remarkable references are not to rye as a crop or food-stuff but to people rubbing rye-dough on their skin in order to disguise themselves as lepers. One tale tells how a character named Rón Cerr had calf's blood and rye-dough (FUIL LÆIG ┐ TÁES SECAIL) rubbed on himself so that he might be mistaken for a leper. Another text says that a woman called Macha once rubbed rye dough and bog water (TÁES SECAIL ┐ ROTA) on herself to achieve the same effect.

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09/10/2020
CROICCENN

CROICCENN 'hide, skin' survives into Modern Irish as CRAICEANN. Medieval forms of the word occur in Irish versions of some familiar phrases. The Irish account of ‘The Destruction of Troy’ suggests IN CROCUNN ÓRDA for ‘The Golden Fleece’, and a verse preserved in the bottom margin of the famous 15th-century manuscript, An Leabhar Breac, has an Irish equivalent of 'wolf in sheep's clothing': FOEL I CRAICEND CHOERECH, literally 'a wolf in the skin of a sheep'.

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02/10/2020
TÍAG

TÍAG is an early Irish word for 'a bag, a satchel' and TÍAG LEBUIR was specifically 'a book-satchel'. In the medieval Irish version of the Passion of John the Baptist, two monks are said to transport John’s head in one such book-satchel (INA TÉIG LIBAIR), and the late eighth-century (?) Faddan More Psalter, which was discovered in a bog in Co. Tipperary, in July 2006, came complete with what seems to be pig-skin satchel, the straps or thongs of which were lying nearby.

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25/09/2020
MAIDM

MAIDM 'breaking' is applied in medieval Irish to a number of natural phenomena, including lake-bursts and thunder-claps, and MAIDM TALMAN 'a breaking of the earth' seems to refer to an earthquake. The Annals of the Four Masters report that such an event occurred in the Ox Mountains, Co. Sligo, in the year 1490 and that a hundred people were killed, along with many horses and cows, that putrid fish were thrown up and that a lough formed. Local tradition holds that Lough Achree is the lough in question, but this is actually a corrie lake formed by glacial activity in the last ice age.

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11/09/2020
MESC

MESC is an early word for ‘drunk’ but it was used also to mean ‘confused’ and the verb MESCAID meant ‘confuses’. According to a text preserved in the Book of Ballymore, OGAM ROMESC BRES ‘the Ogam which Confused Bres’ was the name of a very elaborate form of Ogam. It got its name when an inscription in this writing-system was thrown at Bres son of Elatha during the Battle of Moytirra. Bres was so distracted, trying to read it, that he lost the battle!

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04/09/2020
BRÁTHAIR

BRÁTHAIR, in early Irish, could refer to a brother, a sibling, but it could denote also a more distant male cousin or kinsman. Later, it was applied also to a brother in a religious community. In late medieval Irish grammar, words too were thought of as having brothers – and sisters. A BRÁTHAIR was a related masculine noun, while a SIUR ‘sister’ was a related feminine noun!

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28/08/2020