Gaelic Song / Òrain Gàidhlig

My course at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig finished today, and I’ll be leaving tomorrow. I’ll stay at my Mum’s for a few days on the way home, and should be back in Bangor next Monday.

The course has been a lot of fun, and Joy Dunlop is a really good teacher. She’s strict about getting the pronunciation right, which is important, and uses interesting ways to describe the particular sounds of Scottish Gaelic. If we all knew phonetics and the IPA, it would be much easier.

We learnt 16 songs altogether in 5 days, which is plenty – in previous years here we’ve learnt over 30 songs in a week, which was maybe slightly too many. I like all the songs we did this time, and plan to continue singing at least some of them.

There were 16 of us in the class, although not everyone was there every day. I already knew some of the people from other courses I’ve done here, and it was nice to see them again, and to meet new people. Most were from Scotland, and other parts of the UK, plus two from Ireland, one from France and one from the Netherlands. We got on well together, and I think singing together is a great way to bond.

The class was taught mainly in English, with some bits of Scottish Gaelic now and then, and only a few of us speak much Gaelic. Outside the class I got to speak quite a bit of Gaelic with people who were studying and working here. I also spoke some French, Irish and Dutch.

Here are a few photos and videos from this year and previous years at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig:

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

This coming week I will be at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic college on the Isle of Skye, doing a course in Argyll Gaelic Song / Òrain Earra-Ghàidheal with Joy Dunlop. I think this is the eighth time I’ve been to the college, and I’m looking forward to it very much.

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

Tonight I’m staying in Glasgow, and tomorrow I’ll get the train along the West Highland Line to Mallaig, a very scenic journey, the ferry to Armadale, and then hopefully there’ll be a bus to the college.

Glasgow / Glaschu

On the train from Glasgow to Crookston, the suburb of Glasgow where I’m staying, I heard some Italian tourists talking to the guard. They didn’t seem to speak much English, and they had the wrong tickets, or they’d got on the wrong train. They asked the guard in Italian if he spoke Italian, and fortunately for them he did. It sounded to me like his Italian was very fluent, and everything was quickly sorted out. You never know when language skills might come in handy.

I haven’t heard any Scottish Gaelic yet, though I have seen it on some signs.

Sticky Cat-fish

Sticky catfish

Today I received a email from an advertising agency who are keen to put some ads on Omniglot. The jargon used in such emails is sometimes difficult to decipher. Some examples include:

“All companies are white”
– Presumably this means that the don’t engage in any dodgy or shady practices. I’ve heard of white hat and black hat hackers, and white and black magic, but not of companies being white.

“We can buy your unsold inventory”
– Not sure what this means. I think that inventory is any places on my site where you could place an ad, and unsold inventory is probably places that don’t already contain ads.

“We encourage you to place our banners, sticky cat-fish and pre-rolls.”
– I know what banners are, but sticky cat-fish and pre-rolls??

A catfish ad “appears (slides in or fades in) as a horizontal area at the bottom of a page. The term likely comes from the image of a catfish coming up to the water surface for air.” [source].

I suppose a sticky catfish ad is one that sticks around and can’t be minimised or dismissed. If you’re viewing this site on a phone or other small-screened device, you might spot some catfish, which are not sticky, as far as I know.

A pre-roll ad “is a video advertisement that automatically plays directly before a featured video.” [source].

Is there similar advertising jargon in other languages?

Winging It

Winging it, improvising, ad libbing

When actors have to take on a role in the theatre at the last minute, and try to learn their lines while waiting in the wings, or at the side of the stage, they are said to be ‘winging it‘.

At least that is thought to be the origin of this phrase, according to The Phrase Finder.

Apparently it was first used in writing in 1885 in the Stage magazine in the form of the verb ‘to wing’:

“‘To wing’… indicates the capacity to play a rôle without knowing the text, and the word itself came into use from the fact that the artiste frequently received the assistance of a special prompter, who… stood… screened by a piece of the scenery or a wing.

Winging it came to mean to do make things up as you go along, or to improvise with little preparation.

This is how I tend to make my podcasts and give presentations – I know more or less what I’m going to talk about, I make some notes, and I might rehearse it in my head a few times. Then I just wing it.

When speaking in foreign, I also wing it some of the time, paraphrasing when I don’t know particular words, and guess the grammar when I’m not sure of it. This is a very useful skill to develop.

Related expressions include to do something off the top of your head, to do something on the fly, to ad lib, and to make it up as you go along.

Are there similar phrases in other languages?

Logainmneacha

One of the things we discussed last week in Ireland was placenames, or in Irish, logainmneacha [ˈl̪ˠʌɡanʲəmʲəxə]. Most places in Ireland have Irish names and English names, which are either Anglicized versions of the Irish names, or in a few cases, completely different names.

For example, the capital of Ireland is known as Dublin in English, and as Baile Átha Cliatha [bʲlʲɑː ˈclʲiə / ˌbʲlʲæː ˈclʲiə] in Irish. Other places with very different Irish and English forms include Loch Garman / Wexford, Cill Mhantáin / Wicklow, Port Láirge / Waterford and Binn Éadair / Howth.

Dublin comes from the Irish Dubhlinn (black/dark pool), and refers to a dark tidal pool where the River Poddle enters the River Liffy. There are other placenames in Ireland that come from the same root, including Devlin, Divlin and Difflin.

Baile Átha Cliatha means “town of the ford of the hurdles”, and referred to a fording point of the River Liffey. Apparently the viking settlement in the Dublin area, founded in about 841 AD, was known as Dyflin, and the Gaelic town up the river was known as Átha Cliatha [source].

In some cases the English placenames are bad translations of the Irish originals. Examples include a suburb of Dublin known as Swords in English, but Sord (water source) in Irish – nothing to do with swords.

Vinegar Hill in County Wexford is Cnoc Fiodh na gCaor (Hill of the wood of the berries) in Irish – nothing to do with vinegar, but Fiodh na gCaor sounds like vinegar.

The word cnoc [kn̪ˠɔk / kɾˠʊk] (hill) appears in many placeanmes in Ireland, and is usually Anglicized as Knock. Examples include Knock (An Cnoc – ‘The Hill’), Knockaderry (Cnoc an Doire – ‘Hill of the Oak’), and Knockmealdown (Cnoc Mhaoldomhnaigh – ‘Hill of Maoldomhnach’).

Roundstone in Connemara is Cloch na Ron (Stone of the Seals) in Irish. Cloch does mean stone and ron does sound like round.

Many of the Anglicized forms of the names were coined by map makers who knew little or no Irish, and who wrote down names as they heard them.

More information about Irish placenames
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Place_names_in_Ireland
https://www.logainm.ie/
https://www.dochara.com/the-irish/place-names/irish-place-names/


Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll Station sign

In Wales / Cymru, most placenames are in Welsh. Some have Anglicized versions, including Caerdydd / Cardiff, Caerfyrddyn / Carmarthen and Dinbych / Denbigh.

Some have different English and Welsh versions, including Abertawe / Swansea, Abergwaun / Fishguard and Ynys Môn / Anglesey. In all these examples, the English name actually comes from Old Norse:

  • Swansea from Sveinsey (Sveinn’s island) [source]
  • Anglesey from Ongullsey (Hook island) or Onglisey (Ongli’s Island) [source]
  • Fishguard from Fiskigarðr (fish catching enclosure) [source].

More information about Irish placenames
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welsh_toponymy
http://www.thefullwiki.org/Welsh_placenames

Between Four Eyes

Illustration of the Swedish phrases mellan fyra ögon (between four eyes)

I learnt this week that in Swedish if you say that something is “between four eyes” – mellan fyra ögon – it means that it is known just to you and the person you’re speaking to, and should be kept secret.

Equivalent expressions in English include:

  • This is (just) between you and me/I
  • Keep it under your hat
  • This is between you, me and the post / gatepost / fencepost / bed-post / lampost / wall
  • Mum’s the word

The phrase “keep it under your hat” with the sense of keeping something a secret apparently first appeared in writing in the early 20th century, and referred to keeping something in your head, i.e. the thing you keep under your hat [source].

The phrase “between you, me and the bed-post” possibly first appeared in writing in 1832 in Eugene Aram, a novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton [source].

The phrase “Mum’s the word” has nothing to do with mothers or Egyptian mummies. Instead it refers to the medieval tradition of mumming, a kind of performance involving acting and dancing that was at first done in silence [source].

Do you know any other similar phrases in English or other languages?

Language Quiz

Language quiz image

Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

Can you identify the language, and do you know where it’s spoken?

I made this recording on the ferry from Dublin to Holyhead today – I’m now back in Bangor. I heard a couple behind me speaking in a language I didn’t recognise, and discretely recorded it. The quality of the recording is not great as I did it on my phone, and there was a lot of background noise. Later I found out what language it was.