Useful Gaelic word: seann

Seann taigh, Miughalaigh <em>Picture: Paul Store</em>
Seann taigh, Miughalaigh Picture: Paul Store
seann – old

Listen to the pronunciation guide

Sometimes spelt sean, it is one of two words for “old” in Gaelic. The other one is aosta, which is spelt aosda in older books. The difference between the two words is how they are used in sentences.

In Gaelic, adjectives normally come after the noun. However, there is a small group of adjectives which are before the noun. French has the same rule with most adjectives being after the noun but a small group being before the noun. This writer has always wondered whether this is some kind of long-lost link between French and the Celtic languages.

Both seann taigh and taigh aosta mean “old house” in Gaelic. Sean crops up in the Gaelic for both grandfather and grandmother. The Gaelic for grandfather is seanair, which is a shortened form of sean athair, literally “old father”. Great-grandfather is sean-seanair, literally “old old father”, and so forth.

In colloquial Gaelic, the word seanair is often shortened to sen, pronounced shen. The Gaelic for grandmother is seanmhair, and literally means “old mother”, with sean seanmhair being great grandmother.

The word seanair comes up in a very useful Gaelic idiom: b’ eòlach do sheanair. This means literally: “your grandfather knew”. However, it is actually used to mean “ooh fancy”, just like the sketch in the BBC Scotland sketch show Chewin’ the Fat.

For example, someone showing off their swish new iPad might be sarcastically told: b’ eòlach do sheanair air iPad in order to take them down a peg or two. No doubt the grandfather was more into Android.

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