The Fading, Untranslatable Words of the Gaelic Mindscape

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Published by Michael Newton

Michael Newton was awarded a B.A. in Computer Science from the University of California (San Diego) in 1990 and a Ph.D. in Celtic Studies from the University of Edinburgh in 1998. He is a leading authority on the literature and cultural legacy of Scottish Highland immigrant communities in America. He has written several books and numerous articles on many aspects of Highland tradition and history, and has given lectures at venues such as the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, Slighe nan Gaidheal in Seattle, and the Toronto Scottish Gaelic Learners' Association. He has also been creating digital content since the early 1980s in the form of computer games (having been on the FTL Games team that produced Dungeon Master in 1987), hypermedia (creating the Celtic History Museum in HyperCard in 1991), and on-line digital collaboratories (creating Finding the Celtic in 2008).

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15 Comments

  1. Are you sure you’re not mixing “buaidh” , victory, with “buadh”, virtue? As a rule, the genitive plural, which you mentioned as “buadh”, is the same as the nominative singular. The words “buaidh” and “buadh” are probably (or have been) connected (folk etymology or shared root?) but I’m not sure that they are the same word, at least in modern usage.

      1. “Buadh” has a genitive singular “buaidh”, whereas “buaidh” (nominative singular) has at least one genitive singular “buadhach”. That suggests that the two have been used as distinct words for centuries, even if they have a common root. It occurs to me that “lus nam buadh”, for example, has no possible connection with “buaidh”. Any buadh/buaidh confusion or combination in placenames might depend on the placename being old enough to incorporate a (slenderised) locative case.

      2. Thanks for your feedback. I’ve tried to modify the article to cover both terms and the relationship between them. If you look over my article on creativity, you’ll see that buaidh & buadh were understood to have semantic fields in common and hence have overlapping usages. See especially phrases like buaidh na bàrdachd. I expect that buaidh emerged through dissimilation from buadh historically.

  2. I just found out your blog, I’m new to the Gaelic/Celtic culture and I have been trying to learn more since I moved to Scotland. I wanted to point out that your words “… It was the conviction that great physical power was derived from great spiritual power that led to buaidh’s connotation of “victory” might be associated with the Ancient Greek concept of kalos kai agathos: the hero is beautiful, strong and full of grace because of his internal beauty and devotion to the Gods. Thank you for the post.

  3. I loved reading this piece Michael and see many similarities with the beliefs about the Otherworld that were held in pre-Christian Ireland.

  4. “I hope to write in the near future about one of my pet-peeves: the constant use of the pejorative term “superstition” in reference to Gaelic cosmology and indigenous knowledge, even by people who seem to be sympathetic to it. This is a colonial hangover … to be continued.”

    I think it more a 19th century materialist convention that has been drummed into most ‘modern’ people like a mantra.

    Similarly most of what once passed for history in Ireland and Scotland has now been written off as mythology, whilst highly speculative and unprovable archaeological fancies have been taken as the new ‘facts’ even though they are largely guesswork.

      1. Yes but it wasn’t until the 19th century that the average European jumped the bandwagon : )

      2. True, the mass of the European population was not affected by the attitudes of the élite in the Classical world, but social values, attitudes, and practices started becoming reformed at a wide scale a little earlier than the 19th century, with the spread of literacy, Protestantism, etc., in the 17th century, even if it took until the 19th to become virtually universal.

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