Friday, March 11, 2011

"An Irish Vocabulary" by Erin O'Riordan

Words are fun, aren't they? You would think the English language would be enough for any writer. It does have 400,000 words, after all, far more than any other language on Earth. That's why the Oxford English Dictionary, originally supposed to take 10 years to complete, became a 49-year project. Allegedly, five years in, the compilers of the OED had gotten as far as the word "ant." (I learned these fun facts from a little book called Who the Hell is Pansy O'Hara?)

Yet in the course of my writing, I've dipped into Chinese, Croatian, French, Italian, Latin, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish for vocab words. My favorite foreign tongues, though, are the Celtic ones. I have a fascination with Welsh, even though it's not my ancestral tongue. It's nearly St. Patrick's day, though, so the language of the hour is Gaeilge (pronounced gale-ga), which we English speakers know as Gaelic.

The ubiquitous Gaelic phrase on St. Patrick's Day decorations is Erin Go Bragh, or Eireann go braugh, which we all know means "Ireland Forever." I'd like to say that my father, whose ancestors came from Derry, Northern Ireland in the 1840s, purposely named me after our island homeland. The truth is, my mom named me after an actor on The Waltons. But I digress. Another common Gaelic phrase is 'S Rioghal Mo Dhream, oft translated as "Royal is my race."

Other helpful Gaelic phrases:

Slainte! ~ Cheers!
Go raibh mile maith agat ~ Thank you very much
Pogue mo thoin ~ Kiss my posterior midsection
Beannachtai na Feile Padraig ~ Happy St. Patrick's Day

Note the Irish form of the saint's name is Padraig, which is why I abbreviate the holiday as St. Paddy's Day, the Irish way, and not St. Patty's Day, the Anglicized way. Not that I have anything against the English way of saying things; it's my stock and trade, after all. But we're all Irish on March 17.


  1. I love words and language and names and origins. In my dream library I would own the OED.

  2. I love the way Gaelic looks on the page. Thank you.