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New Year’s reading: Motherfoclóir

Thursday, 4 January, 2018

We’re dedicating time this week to the books that were the presents of Christmas past. On Monday, it was The Best of A.A. Gill, a gift from Noel Donnelly, Tuesday it was Five Escape Brexit Island, put in the Rainy Day Xmas stocking by Ian McMaster, and yesterday it was the turn of Change Agent, given to this blogger from himself. Today, it’s Motherfoclóir by Darach O’Seaghdha, which was put under the tree in Clontarf by Brian.

The full title is Motherfoclóir: Dispatches from a not so dead language and there’s a lot in that first word there. For instance, the Irish Gaelic word foclóir means “dictionary” and its pronunciation is similar to a well-known, common and vulgar English four-letter word. So, Motherfoclóir takes a cheeky, punny look at the Irish language and the author fills the pages with stories about his own experiences with the Irish language and its role in his life. The chapters have titles like, “Irish Names or, ‘How’s That, Like, Pronounced?'” and “Ní Thuigim (I Don’t Understand), and each is peopled with tales and remarks about Ireland and the Irish and the Irish language. Snippet:

“The Irish for colour-blind is dathdhall. While some people are indeed colour-blind, others are just a bit subjective when it comes to describing what is in front of them — one person’s beige is another person’s taupe (or, if you like paint catalogues, Irish cream/hen egg/bare brick/pine nut). Such disagreements are a frequent occurrence with colours in translation.

The Irish term for a black man, fear gorm, translates literally as blue man. Just to add to the confusion, bluegrass is gormfhéar. One of the theories to explain this is that fear dubh (literally black man) was an existing term for the devil in the centuries before Irish speakers had contact with back people, and gorm was offered as compromise. An Orangeman is Fear Buí — literally, a yellow man.”


To keep up with the stories that have inspired Motherfoclóir, follow @theirishfor.

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