Ten Medieval Irish Words.

Sharon Arbuthnot, a researcher and editor for the Dictionary of the Irish Language, reports for RTÉ on the revision of eDIL:

Updates to the Oxford English Dictionary deliver a regular batch of new words and phrases. […] In contrast, new additions to a dictionary of medieval language are not novel terms that have appeared recently in speech and writing, but lost words that have been rediscovered. These can include words that have been hidden in centuries-old manuscripts, words in published texts that were not picked up previously by dictionary-makers and words that have been misunderstood in the past. […]

The most authoritative source of medieval Irish is the Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language (eDIL) which covers the language from earliest evidence up to around the year 1650. Over the past five years, I have been working as part of a team of researchers from Queen’s University, Belfast, and the University of Cambridge to revise and expand the dictionary’s contents. We have changed definitions, supplied evidence to show that certain words were in circulation at an earlier date than was previously thought and even deleted a few items which proved not to be real words at all!

But when the updated version of the dictionary is launched at the end of this month, it seems likely that the main talking points will be the newly created entries. More than 500 entirely new headwords have been added, many of them testifying to the quirky and colourful language that is so characteristic of medieval Irish. They also provide fascinating titbits of information on all manner of subjects from food to festivals, superstitions to medicine and society to wildlife.

As a taster of what is to come, here are 10 of my favourite new words and phrases, all notable for different reasons and certainly worth looking up as soon as the updated version of the dictionary becomes available online.

How I love this sort of thing! Here’s my personal favorite of the notable newbies:

(7) Ngetal was the early Irish name for the letter-cluster ng, which we still find in Modern Irish expressions such as i nGaillimh for “in Galway”. Though it seems very unusual today to see an Irish word spelt in this way, there are several examples of this term, so it is clear that ngetal not only meant “ng” but also began with ng-.

I use eDIL a lot, and am delighted they’re updating it. Thanks, Trevor!

Comments

  1. I presume that in “it seems very unusual today to see an Irish word spelt in this way” by “Irish word” is meant the base form, since g- > ng- is still a standard mutation. Since it’s the only ng- word in eDIL, and a variant form at that, it seems it was almost equally unusual way back when.

  2. PlasticPaddy says:

    The ng is the only case of úrú (the above consonant mutation after e.g., the preposition “i”) where a liaison between the written consonants occurs, instead of the first only being pronounced. So grammarians perhaps became tired of writing “the same sound as found in the word teanga” 😊

  3. For the curious, there is a Wikipedia article on the letter ngéadal.

    In the reference section of the Wikipedia article, Damian McManus’ article on the Ogham Irish letter names is cited. If you have accesss to this article, the discussion of getal (ngetal) begins on p.157. (JSTOR offers six free articles a month to independent researchers who do not otherwise have access.)

    Patrick Sims-Williams has additional discussion of the name and phonological value of ngetal on page 149 of his article “Some problems in deciphering the early Irish Ogam alphabet”, freely available on academia.edu.

  4. “hence the unetymological spelling of the letter name” [from wiki] — a precedent for haitch

  5. PlasticPaddy says:

    Re feil Muire Geimrid, Candlemas is on 2 Feb and St. Bridget’s day is on 1 Feb. So Irish Catholics have two feast days in a row!

  6. Trond Engen says:

    Devout Catholics have nothing but feast days.

  7. Trond Engen says:

    (Not exactly true. If I remember correctly there are a couple of days without a saintly death to celebrate.)

  8. David Marjanović says:

    No, there are several saints for every day.

  9. PlasticPaddy says:

    Not all saint’s days are feast days. The only other consecutive feast days for Irish Catholics in 2019 are 9-10 August and 26-28 December. See
    https://universalis.com/Europe.Ireland/calendar.htm

  10. January First-of-May says:

    I do vaguely recall that some of the big-name days (Christmas, IIRC?) do not have associated saints, but even if true, that might be an Orthodox thing rather than a Catholic thing.
    (Googling finds me a list of at least four Catholic saints for December 25th.)

    In any case, even if that were true, those big-name days would still have been feasts one way or another.

  11. David Marjanović says:

    Saints for big-name feast days are of course overshadowed by the feasts, so hardly anybody knows about them; but there are simply way more than 366 saints.

    (Hm. Actually, I have no idea if there’s one for February 29th.)

    The differences between countries on which saints’ days are actually celebrated are enormous. I knew about Dec. 26th (a holiday in Austria) and 28th (not a holiday in Austria; used instead of April 1st in Spain), but had no idea about the 27th (none less than “SAINT JOHN, APOSTLE, EVANGELIST Feast“).

  12. January First-of-May says:

    Hm. Actually, I have no idea if there’s one for February 29th.

    At least two – John Cassian of Massilia and Oswald of Worcester.

  13. It seems weird to me that Saints are most commonly venerated on the anniversaries of their deaths. It makes sense for martyrs, but making it the default for non-martyrs seems unduly morbid. Pope Francis may agree with me. He set the feast dates for the two of his predecessors he sanctified according to other criteria. John Paul II’s feast is the date of his election to the papacy, and John XXIII’s is the anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

  14. John Cowan says:

    “There may be, and undoubtedly are, innumerable saints unrecognized and uncanonized.” —Dorothy Sayers, Purgatory (introduction)

  15. Trond Engen says:

    PlaticPaddy: Not all saint’s days are feast days.

    So you say, you Submarine!

    David M.: Saints for big-name feast days are of course overshadowed by the feasts, so hardly anybody knows about them; but there are simply way more than 366 saints.

    Yes, way more, but I misremembered the distribution. There are some days with significantly fewer than others, but none without any. The comprehensive register of saints at katolsk,no lists fewest on Christmas day with seven saints in addition to the Feast of the Nativity and June 29th with six saints in addition to the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. And of course..

    (Hm. Actually, I have no idea if there’s one for February 29th.)

    John C.: At least two – John Cassian of Massilia and Oswald of Worcester.

    Also John-Barsanuphius (the bishop) of Damascus.

  16. John Cassian of Massilia, Oswald of Worcester, and John-Barsanuphius walked into a bar…

    What great names!

  17. Did the saints for Feb 29 only perform two quarter-miracles? Or they succeeded in performing miracles only on the fourth attempt? Begone, demon, begone, I say! I bid thee begone! No, I really mean it, BEGONE!

  18. Barsanuphius is an ancient Coptic name (ⲃⲁⲣϣⲉⲛⲟⲩϥⲓ), Egyptian wrš jnpw

    According to Florensky, the 2nd part of the name refers to Anubis, Ancient Egyptian god of death.

    He translates it as “Be vigilant, Anubis!”

  19. January First-of-May says:

    The monastery of St. Barsanuphius (Варсонофьевский монастырь) in Moscow (probably named for a different saint of that name) – perhaps best known as the place where the body of Boris Godunov was buried during False Dmitry’s reign – ceased to exist in 1765, but left its name to the street where it was located, which is to this day known as Варсонофьевский переулок (Varsonofyevsky pereulok).

  20. David Marjanović says:

    It seems weird to me that Saints are most commonly venerated on the anniversaries of their deaths.

    For most of them that’s simply the only date that’s known.

    The theological reasoning may be that that’s when they irrevocably became saints, i.e. entered heaven; “person in heaven” is what “saint” officially means.

  21. “There may be, and undoubtedly are, innumerable saints unrecognized and uncanonized” — hence All Saints’ Day

  22. John Cowan says:

    Well, in one sense, yes; to Protestants, all believers are saints. But in a more usual Catholic sense, a saint is someone who is qualified to enter heaven immediately rather than the scenic trip through Purgatory that the rest of the saved undergo. (Note that the souls in Purgatory are not suffering from the guilt of sinning, but by their own will are undertaking whatever is necessary to remove the character defects that caused them to sin in the first place; and while Purgatory is temporal, it isn’t over till it’s over.)

    Update: While there are technical requirements about miracles and rules about local vs. universal cultus, the fundamental question about canonization is: Did this person live a life (or die the death) heroically in and for Christ?

  23. I concede that, when a Catholic says “saint”, they usually mean someone who has been canonised; however, any Catholic with a bit of catechism will agree that anyone in Heaven is technically a saint, however long it took them to get there. There is no need for an intermediate category of uncanonised Purgatory-skippers.

  24. January First-of-May says:

    There is also, I believe, some debate as to which canonizations are accepted cross-denominationally, and which are not; IIRC, the official position is that every saint prior to 1054 AD technically counts as both Orthodox and Catholic if they are either (though many of those are not actually venerated), but after that it can vary widely.

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