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A bit of Irish translation for St. Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2023

“Translation” has been a part of my life for a long time. After all, what else does a language teacher deal with but translation? Of course, it started in French and Latin classes at KDSS. Miss Elliott and Mrs. Ferris kept us very involved in translation.

For four years, Miss Elliott was my home-room teacher. She wouldn’t allow us to speak to her unless we made the effort to do it in French. So, I would choose the desk just inside the door of the classroom where there was a cupboard in which resided the huge French-English and English-French dictionaries and I used them often.

As for Latin, my best friend, Sheila, and I spent hours on the telephone (not a private line!), comparing and working out the translation of our assignments of Cicero, Horace or Vergil. Neighbours interested in gossip didn’t bother listening in. It’s not surprising that the enjoyment of those challenges led me to a career as a language teacher.

With March 17 upon us, my thoughts turn to things Irish. My COVID-19 pandemic reading included the “Irish Doctor” series by Patrick Taylor, set mostly in County Down, Ireland.

Each book contains a glossary in which Taylor explains words and expressions from the stories which he feels his readers might not understand.

I wondered why, the Gaelic Irish aside, I didn’t need a translation for most of the words. Then I realized that I could hear my parents or my grandparents using those expressions as we went about our lives.

Grandpa Pollock inherited more than his red hair and rather quick temper from his Irish ancestors and the Grahams, Hunters and Beattys must have brought idioms from Fermanagh as well.
In your household, did you go take a gander if you heard an unexplained noise in the yard? If a neighbour was going to town, did he offer you a lift? Did you have to redd up the kitchen before you sat down after a meal? Did your dad say “Ah, that hit the spot!” when you took a cool drink to the field for him? Were you admonished, “Don’t get your knickers in a knot” when you were impatient? When someone was rather surprised about something, did you hear, “Well boys-a-boys…”?

Did your grandparents dote on you? When you couldn’t sit still, did your Mum ask if you had ants in your pants? When the age of an acquaintance was under discussion, was it said that “he’s no spring chicken”? Were you ever scared skinny when you were a child? Come ‘ere must have left my mouth many times whenever I was dealing with kids, dogs or cats. If you were hot or crabby, did your mum offer you “a wee drink”? I’m sure some of you would recognize many more expressions from the lists.

Sometimes translation is a local thing. There is one expression that makes sense only for Kincardinites. If gossip were suggesting that a woman was pregnant, I can hear Daddy passing on the news by saying, “Well, I guess she will soon be going up the hill.”
Ruth Anne Hollands Robinson
March, 2023

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