Na ceithre rud is measa amú; ceann tinn, béal seirbh, intinn bhuartha, agus poca folamh.

Na ceithre rud is measa amú; ceann tinn, béal seirbh, intinn bhuartha, agus poca folamh.

The four least useful things;
a headache, a bitter mouth,
a worried mind, and an empty pocket.

Note: What good is a headache? It doesn’t get you the riches of muscles aching from work.

When you’re lying awake with a dismal headache,
and repose is taboo’d by anxiety,
I conceive you may use, any language you choose
to indulge in, without impropriety.
     Gilbert & Sullivan, Iolanthe [1882], Act II.

What good is a bitter mouth? People will only dismiss what you say as sour grapes.

The Land of Faery,
Where nobody gets old and bitter of tongue.
     W.B. Yeats, The Land of Heart’s Desire [1894].

What good is a worried mind? It won’t change things.

You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. And be sure to smell the roses along the way.
     W.C. Hagen, The Walter Hagen Story [1956].

What good is an empty pocket? Yours isn’t the only one.

Mise Raifteirí an file
Lán dóchais agus grá
Le súile gan solas,
Le ciúnas gan chrá.

Ag dul siar ar m’aistear
Le solas mo chroí
Fann agus tuirseach
Go deireadh mo shlí.

Féach anois mé
Agus m’aghaidh ar bhalla
Ag seinm ceoil
Do phócaí folamh’.
     Antaine Raifeirí, [1784-1835] Raifeirí an File.

Note also: In the expression “na ceithre rud” the article, “na”, is plural while the noun, “rud”, is singular. When counting things, the rule is that the noun is usually in the singular, e.g., rud amháin, dhá rud, trí rud, ceithre rud, … However, the plural article is used to modify things counted from three to nineteen, e.g., na trí rud, na ceithre rud, … na naoi rud déag. Every other counted thing uses the singular particle, e.g., an rud amháin, an dhá rud, … an fiche rud, an ceithre chéad rud.

Trí ní is deacair a thuiscint; intleacht na mban, obair na mbeach, teacht agus imeacht na taoide.

Trí ní is deacair a thuiscint; intleacht na mban, obair na mbeach, teacht agus imeacht na taoide.

Three things hardest to understand;
the intellect of women, the work of the bees,
the coming and going of the tide.

Note: This is our first triad, a usually rhythmical form of seanfhocal that revolves around the mystical number three. Ancient Celts revered the number three. There were three cornerstones of the Druid universe; the earth, the water, and the sky. Three spiral designs appear in Celtic iconography as triskels (An example is shown here on the left). St. Patrick reinforced the sacred character of the number three when he introduced the theological concept of the Holy Trinity to the Irish.

Ní dhéanfadh an domhan capall rása d’asal.

Ní dhéanfadh an domhan capall rása d’asal.

The world would not make a race horse out of an ass (donkey).

Note: Perhaps, the most comparable English proverb is “Horses for courses.” People, like animals, have talents better suited for one thing than another. One has to accept the talents that a person has been given, and not try to make that person do something for which they are ill-suited. This should also be considered when assessing your own talents. As it was inscribed at the Delphic Oracle, “Know thyself.”

Note also: The verb in this week’s seanfhocal is in the conditional mood. Like the future tense of the indicative mood, the conditional mood is used to describe a state of being that has not occured. Therefore, the conditional form,

“Ní dhéanfadh an domhan … (The world could not …),”

is almost the same as the indicative future form,

“Ní dhéanfaidh an domhan … (The world will not …).”

Take the ‘i,’ as in indicative future, out the indicative future form and you get the conditional, at least in the second person (singular and plural) and third person singular.

Bíonn blás ar an mbeagán.

Bíonn blás ar an mbeagán.

Little things tend to be tasty.

Note: This seanfhocal runs counter to the concept that “bigger is better”. It brings to mind the English language proverb: “Good things come in small packages”. Of course, in this age of conspicuous consumption, if little things are tasty one might just be tempted to eat lots and lots of them.

Ní bhíonn beag bog.

Ní bhíonn beag bog.

Little (things) tend not to be soft.

Note: Small things (and people) are often thought of as being compact and hard. In Julius Caesar, for instance, portly men were felt to be complacent, while those who had a “lean and hungry look” were hard and dangerous.

Note also the slender “b” (written as b´ in the pronunciation key) in the word “beag” followed by a broad “b” (written as b in the pronunciation key) in the word “bog.” Listen after the slender b-sound in beag for a very weak i-sound (as in “sit”). It could be written phonetically as “bieg.” In contrast, the broad b in bog could be written phonetically as “buog.” The u-sound (as in “rule”) in bog is harder to hear because it is magnified and assimilated by the o-sound. This weak i-sound is typical after slender consonants while the weak u-sound is typical after broadz

Is fearr greim de choinín ná dhá ghreim de chat.

Is fearr greim de choinín ná dhá ghreim de chat.

On bite of a rabbit is better than two bites of a cat.

Note: This week’s proverb may seem at first glance to be obscure as well as macabre. You might ask yourself what sort of barbarian would eat a cat? With our tongue only slightly in our cheek, we can suggest that the answer is a hungry barbarian. Is maith an t-anlann an t-ocras. Of course, that is hard for us to understand in this Industrial Age. Ní thuigeann an sách an seang. Hunger will make a barbarian of us all. In any case, a rabbit is surely more tasty that a cat.

Perhaps, a less barbaric way to make this point is to use the English proverb, “Quality is better than quantity.” This proverb probably came from the Latin. Non multa sed multum. (Not quantity, but quality. Literally Not many, but much.) Lucius Annaeus Seneca wrote a letter in the first century of the last millennium that said, “It is quality rather than quantity that matters.” This is true in our case since a bite of a tasty rabbit is clearly preferable to two bites of a less tasty cat.