Useful Gaelic word: deiseil

Sunset at Callanish <em>Picture: F Leask</em>
Sunset at Callanish Picture: F Leask
deiseil – ready/prepared

Listen to the pronunciation guide

This word is worth knowing about because its meaning has changed substantially over the years and also because of differences in the way the idiom is used between Gaelic and English. The word deiseil means “ready” or “prepared” in modern Gaelic.

However, the word originally had an additional meaning of “clockwise” or “sunwise”, as in rotating in the same direction as the sun. In earlier times it was a common practice for boats, for example, to make one or more clockwise rotations before heading out to the open sea. There were also customs of circling newly born babies clockwise in order to protect the young ones from spirits such as fairies.

Remember, in Gaelic culture fairies are deeply sinister and scary. In modern Gaelic, we use deiseil to mean ready or prepared. This writer can only speculate on how the word moved from meaning clockwise to meaning prepared.

The Gaelic expression for getting ready is a’ dèanamh deiseil, literally “making ready”. And very elderly Gaelic speakers, whose often translate literally from Gaelic to English when speaking English, will often urge people to “make ready”. Some Gaelic speakers have taken to translating the English phrase literally into Gaelic, a’ faighinn deiseil, literally “getting ready”, which sounds horrible and is grammatically ghastly. Dean deiseil is so much nicer.

Some younger speakers shorten the word to deis when speaking colloquially. Eil thu deiseil? for “Are you ready?” is shortened to Eil thu deis?

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