I discovered an interesting word in Irish yesterday – súilíní [ˈsˠuːl̪ʲiːn̪ʲiː] – which is a diminutive form of súil [sˠuːl̪ʲ] (eye) and means literally “small eyes”, and actually means eyelets, an aperture-sight, or bubbles. For example, uisce gan súilíní is still water (“water without bubbles”) [source].

More common Irish words for bubbles are bolgán and boilgeog.

The word súilíní is also used in Hiberno-English to mean “bubbles of fat floating on top of a stew or clear soup”, and is also written sooleens [source].

The word súil (eye) comes from *sūli, an alteration of the Proto-Celtic *sūle (suns), the dual of *sūlos, which is the genitive of *sāwol (sun), from the Proto-Indo-European *sóh₂wl̥ (sun). Apparently in Irish mythology the sun was seen as the “eye of the sky”, and the word for sun came to mean eye [source].

The words for sun in other European languages come from the same root, and most start with s, e.g. saũle (Latvian), sol (Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Catalan, Spanish, Portuguese), Sonne (German), etc. There are some exceptions though, including haul (Welsh) heol (Breton), howl (Cornish) and ήλιος (ḗlios – Greek) [source].

7 thoughts on “Súilíní

  1. Interestingly enough, in Polish the word for sun is “słońce”, but the “fatty circles on broth” is called “oka na rosole”, which translates to “eyes on the broth”. Also there is diminutive form of “słońce” (sun) – “słoneczko”, however, this would express positive emotion towards the sun more than anything else (especially if talking to a little child, you might use this form).

  2. Instructions for making Chinese tea describe bubbles as shrimp eyes and crab eyes.

  3. The s- to h- shift from Proto-Indo-European to Welsh and Greek is a regular phenomenon. As well as “sun”: PIE *sohwl- / Welsh haul / Greek helios, see, for example, the words for “salt”: PIE *sal- / Welsh halen / Greek hals and “whole”: PIE *solo- / Welsh holl) / Greek holos.

  4. Other examples of the s- Latin and Irish, h- Greek and Welsh phonetic change are:
    Latin senex > Irish sean – Greek ἕνος ‎(hénos) > Welsh hen “old” PIE *sénos (also Armenian հին ‎(hin)
    Latin sextarius > O.Irish sesrae – Greek ἕξ ‎(héks) > Welsh hestor (sixth part of a measure) PIE *swéḱs
    Latin sedeō > Irish síthcháin – Greek ἵζω (hízō) > Welsh heddwch “peace” PIE *sed (to sit)

  5. Your last example is a very interesting one, Yenlit! So the Irish police force An Garda Síochána (“the guard of the peace”) and its Welsh counterpart Yr Heddlu (“the peace-throng”) are directly connected, etymologically speaking.

    I’m intrigued, though — unless it’s all just a coincidence of similar sounding but unrelated roots — by what could link the notions of sitting, of peace, and of fairy-magic. Old Irish sid (modern , as in the anglicized “banshee”, fairy woman) meant “otherworldly”, and specifically a “fairy mound”, as well as being connected to the idea of “peace”, síocháin having been construed as a compound of and cáin (“law”).

    Now this makes me think of the Welsh gorsedd (literally, the “over-seat”) of the bards, which has also been referred to historically as the “magic mound”. Modern Welsh sedd (“seat”) and hedd (“peace”) are different words today — nevertheless there seems to be a strong connection. It’s just that I can’t put my finger on it!

  6. I don’t know the exact reason behind the semantic connection of “fairy mound” and “sitting” other than the notion of “settle” as in “settlement (of)” and “abode” etc?
    The Early Celtic root *sedo- derived from PIE *sed ‘settle, sit’ produced two Brythonic roots:
    (source: The Brittonic Language in the Old North)
    1. heδ
    PIE *sed- > eCelt *sedo- > Br *Σedo- > Old Welsh: het > Middle Welsh: hed > Welsh: hedd, > Cornish: hedhy ‘cease, rest’, Breton: hezaff; Latin: sedo ‘I sit’. From the verbal root ‘sit’, in the Celtic languages ‘peace, tranquillity’.
    2. *hēs[s]
    PIE *sed- > eCelt *sed- + past participial -tā- > eBr *Σestā- > lBr Σessā-; cf, lengthened grade *sēd- > eCelt sīdo- > OIr síd, síth > Ir síoth, G sìth, Mx shee; cogn. Lat sessa, (past participle feminine of sedeo ‘I sit’) cf, from the lengthened grade, Lat sēdo ‘I settle’, sēdēs ‘a seat’, ‘A seat, a dwelling-place’.

  7. Thanks, Yenlit. I suppose that the notions of being seated and of being peaceful can be seen to be closely associated in the translation of English “Settle down now” as French “Calmez-vous”!

    Perhaps the Irish “fairies” (i.e. the old gods and their kin) exercised their otherworldly sway from “seats of power”, which was the idea behind calling their abodes síthe?

    Anyway: thank you, Simon for providing this space for thought and speculation..!

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