Is glas iad na cnoc i bhfad uainn

Is glas iad na cnoc i bhfad uainn

is glas iəd nə knik i vad uən’

Distant hills look green.

Note: An American variant of this week’s proverb is, “The grass is always greener in the other fellow’s yard”. We saw a similar seanfhocal earlier, “Bíonn adharca fada ar na ba i gcéin”. (Long horns are [always] on the cows abroad.) Both of these express a cynicism that was justified, at least with respect to America. For most Irish immigrants, America, especially in the nineteenth century, was just a different horror from the one they left behind. Many would escape early death in Ireland to find it in America; excavating the Erie canal, mining coal in Pennsylvania, laying track for the railroads, fighting for the Army, or succumbing to disease in the squalid Irish tenements of New York and Boston.

Note also: The pronunciation of the word ‘cnoic’ (hills) strays a bit from ‘an Lárchanúint’ (the core dialect). ‘An Lárchanúint’ was created for teaching purposes in the early 1980s from the three major dialects of Irish: Munster, Connacht, and Ulster. It is an amalgam of these dialects, containing pronunciations common to them all. Under the spelling conventions of ‘an Lárchanúint’, the letters ‘oi’ are usually pronounced as the short vowel sound o, e.g., coill, soir, goic. So the ‘Lárchanúint’ pronunciation of ‘cnoic’ should be knok´ or knoik. The second k sound is slender, and, therefore, is usually preceded with a barely perceptible short vowel sound i, called a y-glide. However, speakers from all the major dialects have promoted the y-glide to the medial vowel to form knik´. This is to emphasize the plural number of ‘cnoic’. ‘Cnoc’ (knok) is the singular form.

And still, if you listen carefully, you will hear the speaker deviate further from ‘an Lárchanúint’, saying krik instead of knik. This is a regional variation. Speakers of the Munster dialect will tend to say knik while speakers from Ulster and Connacht will tend to say krik. This is true of these dialects for all words with the letter ‘n’ following any another consonant except the letter s, e.g.:

  • cnámh (cra:v) bone
  • gnaoi (gri:) liking
  • gníomh (g´r´i:v) deed
  • mná (mra:) women
  • tnúth (tru:h) envy.

Some samples of how this regional rule does not change the sound of ‘sn’ are: snámh (sna:v) swim, snáth (sna:h) thread, sníomh (s´n´i:v) spin, snoíodóir (sni:-do:r´) sculptor. Linguists call this phenomenon denasalization, replacing the alveolar nasal phoneme with the corresponding nonlateral alveolar liquid phoneme. There is a reverse phenomenon in Old Irish called nasalization, ach sin scéal eile.

Cuir síoda ar ghabhar agus is gabhar i gcónaí é

Cuir síoda ar ghabhar agus is gabhar i gcónaí é

kir’ s’iː-də er É£aur ag-əs
is gaur i goːn-iː eː

Put silk on a goat and it is still a goat.

Note: You can not make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. This English proverb was more about class distinction than our Irish proverb. It goes back to the sixteenth century where purses were actually made for the masses out of pigs’ ears. Only the nobility could afford a purse made out of silk. Hence, a silk purse became an earmark of nobility.

Our Irish proverb is more about accepting who you are, than about discriminating between classes. An ape’s an ape, a varlet’s a varlet, though they be clad in silk or scarlet. The higher the monkey climbs the more he shows his tail. Pretending to be who you are not, exposes your weaknesses, as the poet Alexander Pope wrote,

The higher you climb, the more you shew your A__. Verified in no instance more than Dulness aspiring. Emblematized also by an Ape climbing and exposing his posteriors.
     Dunciad 1743.

Pretending to be who you are not, exposes you to ridicule, as the director Woody Allen makes clear in his film, Small Time Crooks.

Bíonn gach duine go lách go dtéann bó ina gharraí

Bíonn gach duine go lách go dtéann bó ina gharraí

b’iːn gax di’n-ə gə deːn boː in- ə É£ar-iː

Everybody is good natured until a cow goes into his garden.

Note: Dorothy Parker, the American journalist, once described ‘guts’ as grace under pressure. Goethe said a talent is formed in stillness, a character in the world’s torrent. In a similar vein, this week’s proverb points out that the real test of one’s character comes in times of adversity. Anyone can be good natured when times are good. Only those with ‘guts,’ will remain good natured when their garden has been destroyed by errant bovine behavior.

Is minic a bhíonn ciúin ciontach.

Is minic a bhíonn ciúin ciontach.

The quiet one is often guilty.

Note: “Secret guilt by silence is betrayed.” — John Dryden, The Hind and the Panther [1687]. It takes great skill and strong nerve to tell a lie, even a lie of omission. Consequently, the guilty will often hold their tongue.

Sometimes the guilty conscience will hold one’s tongue. “One that will not plead that cause wherein his tongue must be confuted by his conscience.” — Thomas Fuller, The Holy State and the Profane State. The Good Advocate [1642].

Sometimes the guilty hold their tongue as a matter of jurisprudence. In the United States, for example, the guilty have an absolute right to remain silent.

Is binn béal ina thost.

Is binn béal ina thost.

A silent mouth is sweet.

Note: Silence is golden. — English Proverb. Sprechen is silbern, Schweigen is gelden. (Speech is silver, silence is golden.) — German Proverb. If a word be worth a shekel, silence is worth two. — Hebrew Proverb. Is minic a bhris béal duine a shrón. Is minic a ghearr teanga duine a scornach. Cùm do theanga ‘nad chuimse. (Keep your tongue in hand.) — Scots Gaelic Proverb. The mouth is the tongue’s prison. — Arabic Proverb.

Note also. There is a subtlety in this week’s proverb that is not evident in any of the comparable proverbs above. The phrase ‘ina thost’ is a common idiomatic form. In this case, it literally means ‘in his silence’ with the word ‘his’ a grammatical reference to the masculine noun ‘béal’ (mouth).

It is a noun phrase that is used to convey a temporary sense. For example, if you want to say I am teacher now, but want to infer that it is a temporary state of affairs, you might say, “Tá mé i mo mhúinteoir.” (Literally I am in my teacher(ness).) If you want to convey a sense of permanence then you might say “Is mhúinteoir mé.” (I am a teacher.)

Similarly, if you wanted to infer that silence is always sweet, you could use the adjective for silent, tostach. Is binn béal tostach. Since it was not used, and since the tempory form was used, then we can infer that silence is not always golden.