basking shark – liamhán

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  • #36779
    Hugo David
    Participant

    Etymologically, does anyone know if the Irish term for the basking shark – liamhán – can be broken down to some root that gives a clue as to the literal meaning of the name liamhán? (i.e., like how swordfish can be broken down to sword + fish, or the bird “swift” refers to its speed, or “porpoise” comes from the Latin porcus “pig” + piscis “fish”)

    Go raibh míle maith agat

    #45508
    Héilics Órbhuí
    Participant

    I have no idea, but can only speculate. The “-án” suffix is an exceedingly common noun suffix which doesn’t have an exact meaning, per se, it mostly just means “thing”. Liamh looks and sounds a bit like leamh, which makes a little sense if you think of them as slow harmless creatures. I also see that another form in the dictionary is “liab(h)án”, but that doesn’t really offer any clues to me. So I guess have that guess, which might not be worth anything. It’s probably from an older word, if anything.

    #45510
    Labhrás
    Participant

    -án is a diminutive like -ín, (but not productive anymore). cnocán is a little hill (cnoc).
    Liamhán is a little liamh.

    So, liamh … it could be related to líomh(adh), to grind, sharpen; file, smooth, polish. … or to leamh, soft, weak, tepid, impotent. …. or to Old Irish lie, a flood …

    #45511
    Héilics Órbhuí
    Participant

    I don’t know if it’s fair to say that -án is always diminutive. In many cases it does function that way, but there are just as many where it serves a much more general function as well. Safe to say that I don’t think a basking shark is a little version of another thing.

    #45528
    Hugo David
    Participant

    Is it possible that liamhán is a noun or adjective form of “líomh(adh), to grind, sharpen; file, smooth, polish” — basking shark skin is very rough, so maybe the animal was named for its sandpaper texture?

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