I would beg to argue that it is only in studying other languages that one can gain appreciation for how specific words can be. I was recently reading an article in The Guardian by Robert Macfarlane in which he listed several Gaelic1 words and their meanings. I was awed to utter gleeful delight in how specific they were. Just look at some of these:
These definitions are taken from Macfarlane’s article, which I will link below. I have attempted to express the pronunciation of the Gaelic words phonetically, but if you want to hear an audio pronunciation, click on each word. I have used the consonant combination “kh” to express the sound made in the back of the throat in words like the Scottish “loch.”
Caochan (“COO-khan”): “A slender moor-stream obscured by vegetation such that it is virtually hidden from sight.”
Feadan (possibly “FIH-dahn”): “A small stream running through a moorland loch.”
Fèith (“faay”): “A fine vein-like watercourse running through peat, often dry in the summer.”
Rionnach maoim (“ROON-nakh MOO-ihm”): “The shadows cast on the moorland by clouds moving across the sky on a bright and windy day.”
Èit (possibly “etch” or “aitch”): “The practice of placing quartz stones in streams so that they sparkle in the moonlight and thereby attract salmon to them in the late summer and autumn.”
Teine-biorach (“CHI-neh BID-okh”): “A flame or will-o’-the-wisp that runs on the top of heather when the moor burns during the summer.”
Is that not spine-tinglingly delightful?
P.S. Robert Macfarlane wrote a most wonderful book titled The Lost Words, which I will tell you more about in a couple weeks.
1Gaelic refers to the Scottish language. It does not refer to the Irish language. The Irish language is called Irish in English, or Gaeilge (“GAL-guh”) in Irish.
2 thoughts on “A Gleeful Ramble on the Specificity of Gaelic Words”
This is a very interesting post. I sometimes think of words of another languages (mainly when translated into English) as being unspecific, so I am very intrigued in your article stating the opposite!
I have been reading a lot of the New Testament lately, and am learning that the ancient Greek doesn’t directly connect with modern English. For example, many verses in the NT talk about Jesus having brethren; however, the Greek word for “brethren,” adelphoi, has broader meanings than blood brother. For example, Lot is called Abraham’s “brother” in the King James Version of Gen. 14:14, even though he was actually Abraham’s nephew, being the son of Haran, Abraham’s brother (Gen. 11:26–28). This shows us that the “brethren” of Jesus are not necessarily his blood brothers, even though the English text implies that they are.
Another word that I’d get hung up on was the usage of “until” in 1 Cor 15:25 and Matt 1:25. Firstly, the former appears to contradict Luke 1:33. Secondly, saying that Jesus must reign only for a certain period of time goes against the general belief of every Christian that He will reign forever! And the latter verse contradicts Roman Catholic, as well as the early Church Fathers: Origen of Alexandria (commentary on Matthew 10:17), St. Athanasias (Four Discourses Against the Arians, 2:70), St. Jerome (Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary 19), and St. Augustine’s (Serm. 186, 1) belief that Mary was a perpetual virgin. The Greek word for “until,” heos, often indicates a selected period of time, without implying change in the future. Once again, the original text states something different than what we read in modern English!
Language is so fascinating, as well as how all these words translate. Thanks, again, for a most interesting post, Nicole! I hope you enjoy the rest of your summer.
In Him we trust,
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I have yet to read the New Testament in Greek, but it is something I would love to do because I know the English translation simply cannot capture all the senses of the original.
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