Word of the Week

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

CÚ was used in medieval Irish to mean 'a dog' or 'a hound', but it appears also in names of related species such as the CÚ ALLAID 'wolf' (literally 'wild hound') and the CÚ RÚAD 'fox' (literally 'red hound'). DOBURCHÚ 'water-hound' was used for an otter. Less well-known are applications of the word to insects. An Old Irish text on the meanings of words uses CÚ to describe a moth, and CÚ CHERCHAILLI 'a pillow-creature' is said to appear 'in the hair of the cheek' and may refer to a bed-bug or tick.

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21/08/2020
INGNAD

INGNAD is 'a wonder' or 'remarkable event'. In medieval Irish, there are collections of wonder-tales from Britain and the Isle of Man as well as from Ireland itself. The text DO INGANTAIB ÉRENN 'On the Wonders of Ireland' includes an account of a round tower in Ros Deala (Rostalla), Co. Westmeath, which burned for nine days while innumerable black birds flew in and out, the smaller birds taking shelter from the fire under the wings of one huge bird. Eventually, the big bird uprooted the oak tree it landed on and flew off with it … though no one knows where the birds went.

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14/08/2020
BÚABALL

BÚABALL seems to have been derived from Latin ‘bubalus’ and to have originally meant ‘a wild ox’. The phrase BENN BÚABAILL ‘the horn of an ox’ was sometimes used for a drinking-horn, and eventually BÚABALL by itself came to be applied to a horn for drinking, signalling or making music. A great example of how words can change their meanings over time! Image © NMS

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31/07/2020
GERTA

GERTA appears only in the phrase SÉT GERTA. This referred to a parting gift, given by a foster-parent to a foster-child, which formally marked the end of their arrangement of care. Such a gift served a symbolic and social function, however, in that it bound the child to provide for his or her foster-parents in times of poverty or old-age. The meaning of early Irish SÉT GERTA seems to be 'the gift of warming or cherishing'.

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24/07/2020
FULACHT

FULACHT is used in medieval Irish literature to refer to a cooking pit. These pits are often associated with burnt mounds – archaeological sites which have been found to contain large quantities of heat-shattered stone. That the food was cooked on spits is suggested by an early account of FULACHT NA MORRÍGNA ‘the Morrígan’s Cooking Pit’. This claims that, if a piece of raw meat, a piece of cooked meat and a portion of butter are placed on a spit over this particular cooking pit, the raw meat will cook and the cooked meat will burn but the butter will not melt (YBL 419a12).

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17/07/2020