Ná bíodh do theanga faoi do chrios.

Ná bíodh do theanga faoi do chrios.

Don’t keep your tongue under your belt.

Note: Do not be afraid to speak. This is practically the motto of Daltaí na Gaeilge’s Irish Language immersion weekends. We encourage everyone to speak. We ask people to speak in as much Irish as they have. If one can not speak any Irish, we have a crash phrase course that should get one through the weekend. It is also a great opportunity to listen to the fluent speakers. People are encouraged to eavesdrop on the conversations among Gaelgeoirí. It is the best way to acquire the language. Is fearr Gaeilge bhriste ná Béarla cliste.

An áit a mbíonn mná bíonn caint agus an áit a mbíonn géanna bíonn callán.

An áit a mbíonn mná bíonn caint agus an áit a mbíonn géanna bíonn callán.

Where there are women there is talk,and where there are geese there is cackling.

Note: We continue last week’s debate about who the real gabbers are, men or women. This week’s proverb obviously posits the contention that it is women who ‘do be’ the gabbers. The point is made bluntly with the metaphor comparing women to cackling geese. The point is also made subtly with the choice of the last word, ‘callán.’ Our translation takes a bit of poetic license to try and capture this nuance of word. The word ‘callán’ does not actually mean ‘cackling.’ In Irish, the word for cackling would be ‘grágaíl,’ or one of its variants; grágadail, grágáil, grágalach, or grágalíocht. ‘Callán’ actually means noise, or more specifically, a clamor of voices. Therefore, whenever there are geese, then are is a clamor of unintelligible voices, just as whenever there are women.

This allegation is not exclusively Irish. There is a similar Italian proverb, “Dove sono donne ed ocche, non vi sono parole poche.” (Wherever there are women and geese, the words are not few.) A Native American proverbs says, “A squaw’s tongue runs faster than the wind’s legs.” The French have a saying, “Foxes are all tail and women are all tongue.” A German proverb says, “Woman never spoiled anything through silence.” A Spanish proverb says, “The nightingale will run out of songs before the woman runs out of conversation.” A Russian proverb says “A woman’s hair is long; her tongue is longer.” There are a number of these misogynic proverbs in English. “Many women, many words.” “A woman’s strength is her tongue.” “Women’s tongues wag like lambs’ tails.” Charles Dickens wrote in the Pickwick Papers “Tongue; well that’s a very good thing when it an’t a woman’s.” “Silence is a fine jewel for a woman, but it is seldom worn.” “A woman’s heart and her tongue are not related.” “A woman’s tongue is the last thing about her that dies.”

Inis do Mháire i gcógar é, is inseoidh Máire dó phóbal é.

Inis do Mháire i gcógar é, is inseoidh Máire dó phóbal é.

Tell it to Mary in a whisper, and Mary will tell it to the parish.

Note: The world is full of blabbers, or gabbers, like Máire in this week’s proverb.

She was worse than a blabber; she was a hinter. It gave her great pleasure to rouse curiosity and speculation about dangerous things.

Robertson Davies, What’s Bred in the Bone, 1985.

However, for most people in the English speaking world, when they hear the phrase “gift of gab,” they think of the Irish.

Suppose you wanted to say “that boy has the gift of the gab,” in Irish. According to Tomás de Bhaldraithe’s dictionary, one way would be to say “Tá an bhean dhearg go maith ag an mac sin.” Literally, this means “That son has the red woman well.” (English ~ Irish Dictionary, An Gúm, 1992, p. 286, under the word ‘gab.’)

From this, one might infer that our Máire is a ‘bean dhearg’, a red woman. Nonetheless, in the sense used here, ‘dearg’ would actually mean ‘real.’ For example,

Bhí an t-ádh dearg air. He was in real luck.
Tá an diabhal dearg air. He is a real devil.

This interpretation leads to the conclusion, in the Irish language at least, that a ‘real woman’ is a gabber.

On the other hand, one could argue the opposite conclusion. In Irish, real men are the gabbers. This is evident in the fact that virtually every other synonym in Irish for the word ‘gabber’ is in the masculine gender, i.e., ‘cabaire’, ‘plobaire’, ‘clabaire’, ‘duine bÈaloscailte’, ‘duine bÈalscaoilte’, and ‘duine rÛchainteach’. All of these are fourth declension, masculine. Therefore, a ‘real man’ is a gabber.

Some might counter that gender has almost no connection to the meaning of a word. In this case, all these words end in a vowel that just happens to be a hallmark of fourth declension, masculine words. These words are masculine only because of their spelling, or only because of their pronunciation. ‘Bean dhearg’, on the other hand is an idiom that embraces the Irish belief that a ‘real woman’ is a gabber.

In rebuttal, one could counter that there are fourth declension nouns, nouns ending in a vowel, that are feminine, e.g., ‘nóta’, ‘gloine’, ‘sláinte’, ‘taibhse’, … So the bulk of Irish words for ‘gabber’ could have been lumped in the fourth declension but have been viewed as feminine. They were not. Therefore, a ‘real man’ is a gabber.

Ní scéal rúin é ó tá a fhios ag triúr é.

Ní scéal rúin é ó tá a fhios ag triúr é.

It is not a secret after three people know it.

Note: An English variant is “The secrets of two no further will go, the secret of three a hundred will know.” Benjamin Franklin may have been paraphrasing this when he wrote, “Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.” Shakespeare wasn’t sure even two could keep a secret:

Is your man secret? Did you ne’er hear say
Two may keep counsel, putting one away?

Romeo & Juliet

Gossip is such an integral part of Ireland’s oral tradition that this proverb is widely known in one of several variations, e.g.,

Ní scéal rúin é más fios do thiúr é.
(It is not a secret if three people know it.)

Chan scéal rúin a chluinneas triúr.
(A story that three people hear is not a secret.)

‘Rúin’ is the genitive singular case of ‘rún,’ meaning secret, mystery, purpose, intention, love, or affection. Obviously, it is an ambiguous noun. On the other hand, ‘scéal rúin’ is an idiomatic expression that unambiguously means secret. A secret story (the literal meaning of ‘scéal rúin’) is the stuff of gossip, not the usual arcane grist of espionage.