St. Patrick’s Day: 10 Common English Words Which Have Gaelic Roots

Hello everyone! Happy St. Patrick’s Day (or Pádraig, as Gaelic speakers would call him)!

Since today is St. Patrick’s Day, I figured I’d do a post about the Gaelic language. Now, I don’t by any means claim to speak it, I find it to be a fascinating & beautiful sounding language.

For those who don’t know, Gaelic dates back to well before the Fourth Century, when it was first written. Today, it’s a language spoken mostly in Ireland, & 34% of the island’s inhabitants speak it as their first language, adding to a total of 1.77 million people speaking it as either their first or second language. Believe it or not, as many as 30,000 Americans also speak the language fluently. Despite the majority of Irish people citing English as their first language, the Republic of Ireland has made Gaelic an official national & first language. Children learn it in school, & even the street signs have translations.

Dublin_DPD_Street_sign

A street sign in Dublin, with English on the Bottom & Gaelic on top.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Ww2censor

The European Union recognizes Gaelic as an official language & it’s even acknowledged as an official second language of the UK. So, to say it’s historically & culturally significant to the people of Ireland & to the world is an understatement.

Now that you know a little about Gaelic, you can see how it’s worked its way into everyday English. Here are ten words you probably didn’t know had a connection to the original language of the Emerald Isle.

1) Bog:
We’ll start off with an easy one. The word is used to describe a watery area, covered in grassy plants, where the extremely soft soil is made of decomposed material. It’s the same in Gaelic as it is in English. The original word meant soft.

2) Clan:
This word refers to your extended family, & usually it refers to relatives who are Scottish or Irish. For example, my Irish family is named Hanley, so I come from the Hanley clan. It’s no coincidence that we mostly use it to describe families from this part of the world because this one comes from the Gaelic word, clann, meaning offspring.

3) Galore:
Meaning in abundance, or in large amounts, it comes from the phrase go leor, meaning, “til plenty.”

4) Glen:
You know, the place where fairies & elves live. It comes from the Gaelic word for valley, gleann.

5) Kibosh:
Putting the kibosh on something means to put it to a very effective end. At first glance, you’d probably think this one comes from Yiddish. Well, so do most people, but that may not be true. Many scholars agree that it’s Gaelic in origin. The word which influenced it was most likely caidhp bháis, & it translates to “Death Cap.” It was a reference to the black hood put over someone’s face before hanging. I’d say that’s a pretty effective end. Wouldn’t you?

6)Pet:
This one’s pretty simple. Pet comes from the Gaelic word, peata, meaning, “small tame animal.”

7) Phoney:
Phoney came from the English word fawney. This was used to describe gold-leafed brass rings, falsely sold as solid gold by thieves & con men. Fawney goes back even farther, to the Gaelic, fáinne, which translates as fake.

8) Slogan:
The word we know that means a catch phrase comes from the Gaelic word meaning “battle cry.” The word is sluagh-ghairm. So, instead of hearing jingles & snappy taglines, you’d probably hear this before you were run though with a sword.

9) Smithereens:
Here’s another easy one. This word comes from the Gaelic word smidirīn, meaning “tiny pieces.”

10) Whiskey:
Yes, whiskey is a word that comes from Ireland. Everyone knows whiskey. It comes from the Gaelic uisce beatha, which translates to “the water of life.” Very appropriate.

 

 

As you can see, Gaelic’s influence on English can be found in some pretty common words. It’s no surprise considering the English picked up new words pretty much everywhere they went/oppressed.

There you have it. Now you know; you’re welcome. Enjoy the rest of your St. Patrick’s Day!

PS:

This is a shamrock.

800px-Shamrock_leaf

A shamrock (seamróg). Now you know 11 words. Photo used courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user, Graymalkn

 

This is not:

Four-leaf_Clover_Trifolium_repens_2

A four-leaf clover. Photo released into public domain by Wikimedia Commons user KEBman.

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1 Comment

Filed under Etymology

One response to “St. Patrick’s Day: 10 Common English Words Which Have Gaelic Roots

  1. Jane Baronas

    Thanks, Bill! This is cool!

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