Meaisín Ticéad

A couple of years ago, I heard a Dubliner who speaks no Irish talking about the Luas system in Dublin. He made a dismissive and mocking comment about the Irish translation of ticket machine as meaisín ticéad. Interestingly, around the same time as this, I happened to read a similar criticism of the use of meaisín ticéad in a newspaper. I think it was the Irish times. I didn’t keep the article but if I remember rightly, it said something like ‘surely they can do better than this.’

And a search on Google has just turned up the following comment from a cretin called Simon Eales.

What’s the Irish for “line”? Oh wait, it’s……..line. Very helpful. The most pointless sign I’ve seen is for “ticket machine” which was “meaisín ticéad”. Oh right, thanks for that, really helpful.

First things first. There is a fundamental stupidity to these criticisms. If you are translating from one language to another, you translate according to what the dictionaries and other sources tell you. In Irish, machine is meaisín. Ticket is ticéad. The fact that both of these words are borrowings from English is irrelevant, as is the fact that their spelling and pronunciation have been changed to conform to Irish patterns. Ticéad dates back to the mid-19th century in Irish, when it was used in its original sense of ‘note’. (Ticket is ultimately a borrowing of the French etiquette.) In its modern sense, ticéad occurs as far back as Acht Fórsaí Cosanta, 1923. Meaisín has been used since at least 1925 in the language, when it occurred in Acht Chuan agus Phort Dhún Dealgan and it has been used many times since in acts, official documents and dictionaries. The morons who scoff at meaisín ticéad seem to think that translators make up basic words like this as they go along! In fact, these are terms that have been in existence since long before any of us were born.

Another point for Mr Eales and his ilk to consider is that not all words which are similar in Irish and English are similar because Irish borrowed them from English. This is just an assumption that stupid people tend to make. The words line in English and líne in Irish both derive ultimately from Latin linea. However, the word líne is first used in Irish in its modern sense (a line of text in this case) in the Féilire Aonghusa in the 8th century: (http://www.dil.ie/search?search_in=headword&q=l%C3%ADne). This predates its first recorded use in English, according to the Online Etymological Dictionary: (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=line) .

So, that one belongs to us, Simon. What are you going to use in English from now on to avoid looking ridiculous?

The fact is that most languages are full of borrowings. This isn’t usually an issue unless you’re a bigot like Eales dealing with a minority language. In that case, you’re going to sniff out any words that are similar and sneer at them as evidence of the inherent inferiority of the minority language in question (and presumably the ethnic group which created it), whether that language is Irish, Maori, Welsh, Wajarri or Basque. Of course, any borrowings in major languages like English can be ignored, because they’re real languages.

Let’s just stop making this artificial and irrational distinction and look at the words borrowed by English from French. For example, the English for the French condition is … condition! They didn’t even bother changing the spelling! The Irish is coinníoll or bail or a few other words, depending on the exact meaning. The French accident is accident in English! (Taisme or timpiste in Irish.) Situation is situation in English! (Staid in Irish.) Organisations criminelles are criminal organisations in English … (Eagraíochtaí coiriúla in Irish) There are thousands of borrowings in English from French! It’s too funny for words! Very helpful, eh Simon! I mean, you call English a language?

Actually Simon, I’m not an idiot and I’m not about to lower myself to your level. English is a language. It’s a beautiful, wise, funny, sophisticated language, like every other language on Earth. All human languages are beautiful and fascinating, including small and endangered ones, because the human mind (when free of ignorance and bigotry) is creative and inventive, and that is true across the entire human race. The fact that English is full of obvious borrowings from French doesn’t matter. It doesn’t invalidate its claim to be a language, any more than the far less significant number of borrowings from English in Irish means that Irish isn’t a language.

Unless, of course, you’re a narrow-minded bigot who cherry-picks your facts to suit your prejudices.

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