Deiseal agus tuathal

Yesterday we discussed the Irish words deiseal (/ˈdʲɛʃəl/) and tuathal (/’tuəhəl/) in class. Deiseal means clockwise, dextral, right-hand, rightward, starboard, and tuathal means the opposite: anticlockwise, sinistral left-hand, leftward, port.

Some examples of usage:
– bogadh ar deiseal = to go in a clockwise direction
– dul deiseal = to go in a rightward direction
– fad is a bheas grian ag dul deiseal = whilst the sun follows its course
– ag bogadh ar tuathal = going in an anticlockwise direction
– cúl tuathail = own goal

They are related to the course of the sun, and date back to a time when the sun was thought to move around the earth from east to west. The course of the sun was considered the correct, right and good direction or deiseal, while the opposite direction tuathal was considered the wrong and bad direction. Buildings were built facing towards the rising sun, and adhering to these directions was thought to bring luck and prosperity.

The word deasil also exists in English, though isn’t commonly used. The opposite is widdershins or withershins.

Deiseal comes from the Old Irish word dessel, which means ‘direction of the sun, right-hand course, and comes from dess (right) and sel (turn).

Tuathal comes from the Old Irish word túaithbel, which means ‘a turning lefthandwise, against the sun, withershins’ and is a combination of túath (northern; left, on the left; perverse, wicked, evil) and sel (turn).

Source: Early Irish History and Mythology, T. F. O’Rahilly, via Wiktionary, and eDIL.

Do other languages have words for directions with similar roots?

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This entry was posted in English, Irish, Language, Words and phrases.

3 Responses to Deiseal agus tuathal

  1. TJ says:

    Just noticed something here that I’ve been considering and using my daily language without noticing…
    I usually refer to the clockwise movement as a left-handed movement, and anti-clockwise movement as a right handed movement. Seems that I’ve been considering the initial movements of the hands starting from the bottom of the clock (at 6) instead of the top of the clock (at 12).

    To make it complicated now, we can also argue that my view is true if we stand behind the clock and describe its movement from the top at 12: hence clockwise will be left, and anti-clockwise will be right, as I used to consider before. This method of description is used in the art of heraldry by the way, where, for example, a rampant lion charge facing left to the viewer is called “lion rampant dexter (i.e. right, and not sinister)” because the base of heraldic descriptions is taken from the back of the coat of arms and not its front. Why? Don’t ask me!

  2. David Eger says:

    Is there any connection with deas (= south)? If you face East (as you would in a church, synagogue or mosque), the South is on your right. In Welsh, ‘de’ can mean either ‘right’ or ‘south’.

    If I’m not mistaken, ‘deas’ can also mean ‘pretty’ in Irish. Words for ‘right’ often have connections with the concept of ‘good': in English ‘right’ = good/correct/straight, as well as the opposite of left; in Welsh, ‘good’ is ‘da’ (pronounced ‘de’ in some areas); in Latvian, ‘lab-‘ = ‘good’ and ‘right’ (side, direction) – ‘labvakar’ = good evening, ‘labā roka’ = right hand.

  3. TJ says:

    Just a lil correction: in a mosque the direction of prayers is towards Makkah in general, so it can be in any direction (if you are in US or Europe you might be facing east/south east) … depending on your location that is.