Cnaipí & cripio

A story I heard when I was in Ireland featured two characters playing na cnaipí (tiddlywinks) /nə kripiː/ in a graveyard at night. A man who overheard them sharing out the tiddlywinks, saying over and over “one for me and one for you”, and thought they were the devil and god sharing out souls.

When I first heard the story I didn’t know what na cnaipí were, but later disovered that they are buttons or tiddlywinks. The singular of the word is cnaipe /kripə/ or /knapə/* and it means button, knob, key or dot, and can refer to buttons on clothes and to buttons (and keys and knobs) on keyboards and other electronic software and hardware.

* in some dialects of Irish, such as in Ulster and Connemara, cn is pronounced /kr/ while in others it’s pronounced /kn/

Today I discovered some similar-sounding Welsh words, cripio (to scratch) and cripiad (scratch), and wondered if they were related to the Irish cnaipe.

According to Dennis King, cnaipe comes from the Middle Irish cnap, from the Old Norse knappr (button, knob), from the Germanic *kn-a-pp-, from the Indo-European root *gen- (to compress into a ball), which is also the root of the English words knob and knoll, and the Scottish Gaelic word cnap (knob, lump, hillock).

As far as I can discover, there is no link between cnaipe and cripio – their resemblance is a chance one, something you find quite often when comparing languages.

One thought on “Cnaipí & cripio

  1. I suspect the [kripə] pronunciation is simply the result of phonological change to a more typical sonoroty profile where anything following the first consonant of the syllable onset is as high in sonority as possible. A nasal like [n] is (at one level) a stop, so relatively low in the sonority hierarchy compared to liquids such as [l] and [r].

    There’s something similar in Scots Gaelic, where cnoc ‘hill’ is (in some if not all dialects) pronounced (approximately) [krõxk], with the nasality transferred from the second onset consonant (leaving it as the liquid [r]) to the following vowel.

    Another nice example of how you get unexpected sporadic convergence between languages (like English and Persian bad, which evolved in the same direction from completely different sources). The same thing is true in scripts: for example, the Georgian and Burmese ‹t› letters are identical in form, but evolved in completely different ways from what was likely the same far removed ancestor in the proto-Sinaitic script.

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