Useful Gaelic word: cothrom

Chan eil cothroman ann an diugh <em>Picture: Ardfern</em>
Chan eil cothroman ann an diugh Picture: Ardfern
cothrom – opportunity/balance/weight

Listen to the pronunciation guide

The th-sound is silent and the word is pronounced corrom. The word is worth knowing about because it has several meanings in the modern language.

The most common meaning is “opportunity”. We might talk about a cothrom-obrach: a job opportunity. Or a businessman might tell an investor that there are cothroman in a new market.

When jobs are scarce, people might say: Chan eil cothroman ann an diugh – “There are no opportunities around today”. In this sense, the word crops up in an idiom. The phrase: Chan eil cothrom air means, literally, “There is no opportunity upon it”, or “There is no alternative”, always in a negative sense.

Cothrom is also used to mean “weight” or “balance”, as in blocks of metal used for weighing or securing items. A cothrom-beart, for example, is a block of metal with a handle across the centre of it and which is used to balance machinery on a traditional Harris Tweed loom.

However, the use of cothrom as a noun meaning “weight” or “balance” is becoming uncommon in the spoken language because of confusion with cothrom as in opportunity, and the word cuideam, also meaning “weight”, is replacing it in this sense.

Cuideam normally means weight as in the weight of a person or an object. Someone buying livestock might ask: Dè an cuideam a th’ anns a’ chaora sin? Literally: “What weight is in that sheep?” and meaning “How heavy in that sheep?” Someone going to the gym to lift weights would most likely talk of togail cuideaman, for “lifting weights”, or slaodadh cuideaman, literally “pulling weights”, rather than togail cothroman, which might be misunderstood as referring to creating opportunities.

The phrase Cothrom na Fèine, also Cothrom na Fèinne, and sometimes Cothrom na Féinne, is worth knowing about. The phrase literally means “Opportunity of the Fingalians”, and originally referred to single combat in either wrestling or sword-fighting whether as sport or in battle. Nowadays, the phrase normally means “fair opportunity”, “a fair crack at the whip”, or that glorious journalistic and political cliché “a level playing-field”.

Another nice idiom is làn-chothrom, which literally means “full opportunity” and is used to mean a good chance of something.

Meanwhile, the adjective cothromach – which is derived from cothrom – means “fair” or “just”. Sometimes it has the meaning of “weighty” or “comfortable”, but this is uncommon in the modern spoken language.

And the verb cothromachadh means “balancing out” or “smoothing”. If Gaeldom gets its own version of Fox News, it could have cothromach is air a chothromachadh as a slogan. Or maybe not.