Even Racists Got the Blues

Most of the time, I feel a little bit sorry for people who make horrendous translation mistakes. This is not one of those times.

View of a man from the back The man is wearing a black "Utili-kilt" and a black T-shirt featuring the "Blue Lives Matter" logo inside a shamrock, with the Irish words "Gorm Chónaí Ábhar" below the shamrock. Photo taken by Karen Reshkin at the 2016 Milwaukee Irish Fest and is used with her permission. Visit her website at www.acleversheep.net.

OK…I have to say that, most of the time, I feel a little bit sorry for people who make horrendous translation mistakes. This is not one of those times.

This pic came across my desk about nine months ago, and it may just be the worst example of a self-translation disaster I’ve ever seen. 

In fact, it’s so bad, and so out of context, that most of my Irish-speaking friends had no idea what this person was trying to say with those three Irish words: “Gorm Chónaí Ábhar.” It’s beyond gibberish. It even took me a few minutes.

The sad thing is, in order to “get it,” you need to be familiar not only with the ways in which people make translation mistakes (which are legion), but also with a particularly unpleasant segment of U.S. politics.

What this person was trying to say, with this mess of a translation on his t-shirt, is “Blue Lives Matter.”

A Little Background

For the sake of those who don’t live in the U.S. (and without delving too deeply into the dark underbelly of American politics), suffice it to say that the slogan “Blue Lives Matter” arose in opposition to the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

The “Black Lives Matter” movement arose in response to the disproportionate degree of police brutality directed at people of color in the U.S., particularly toward African Americans.  I’ll leave it to you to decide what would motivate someone to oppose such a movement. The term I prefer can be found in your Irish dictionary under “C.”

So no…I’m not very sorry for this person (I am, however, very sorry at the assault upon the Irish language!).

Beyond philosophy, then, what exactly is wrong with this translation? Well, let’s start with how the “translator” went about it:

Sometimes the Dictionary is NOT Your Friend

I’m often baffled by the number of people who seem to think that you can translate from one language to another simply by pulling the words of one language from a dictionary and plugging them into the syntax of the other. It just doesn’t work that way, friends. Repeat after me: “Languages are not codes for one another.”

That’s exactly what happened here, though. Someone either found a dictionary or searched the internet for the three words “blue,” “lives,” and “matter,” and stuck them together as if they were English. Oy. Dia sábháil (that’s Ulster Irish for “oy”).

Irish syntax is very, very (very!) different from English. For one thing, the verb comes first in the sentence. For another, adjectives follow the nouns they modify. So even if you COULD render this phrase with these three simple words, you’d need “Matter Lives Blue.”

Unfortunately, however, you can’t fix this phrase simply by reordering the words, because, among other things…

Idiom Also Matters

An idiom is an expression particular to a particular language or region. For example, in English, when we say that something “matters,” we mean that it has worth and/or that it makes a difference.

It doesn’t necessarily work that way in other languages. In Irish, we’d have to get more specific. We might say something like Tá fiúntas i _____ (“There is worth/value in _____”) or Tá ________ tábhachtach (“______ is/are important”).

To make matters worse, though (there’s another idiom for you!), whoever made this “translation” apparently forgot that the word “matter” in English can have several meanings. In this case, the word he or she chose — ábhar — means “matter” as in “subject matter.” It’s a noun. Oops!

So Does Pronunciation

Another thing this poor “translator” apparently forgot is that the word “lives” in English can be pronounced to rhyme with “gives” or with “hives,” and that the meaning changes accordingly.

What was wanted here, of course, is “lives” as rhymes with “hives.” Three guesses as to which one the “translator” chose. Yep. Wrong one.

The word cónaí in Irish (which in certain grammatical circumstances inflects to chónaí) means “dwelling.” When we want to say that we live somewhere, we literally say “Am I in my dwelling in _________.”

Tá mé i mo chónaí i nDún na nGall: “I live in Donegal.”

Tá Seán ina chónaí i nGaillimh: “Seán lives in Galway.”

To toss another problem onto the pile, in Irish, we probably wouldn’t use the equivalent of the English “life/lives (rhymes with ‘hives’)” to mean “people”. We’d most likely just use daoine: “people.” There’s that “idiom” problem again.

And Then There’s Gorm

The funny thing here is, the Irish word gorm actually does mean “blue” in most contexts. Just not in this manner, and definitely not in this context.

When color is used to describe a person in Irish, it typically refers to hair color. For example An bhean rua: The red-haired woman.

There are exceptions, of course: For example, Na fir bhuí (“The orange/yellow men”) is used to refer to members of the Orange Order because of the color of their sashes. But “blue/gorm” would not be used to refer to police officers as a group. That’s an American thing.

All that having been said, though, here’s the lovely, delicious irony: When the word gorm is used in reference to people, guess what it means?

It means “Black.”

People of African descent, or with similarly dark skin, are described as “blue” in Irish (most likely because dubh (“black”) and dorcha (“dark”) have negative connotations in the language and donn (“brown”) would be understood to refer to hair color).

That’s right. At the end of the day, allowing for grammatical travesties (of which there are many) and horrendous word choices, what this person’s shirt says is “Black Lives Matter.”

Somehow that makes me strangely happy.

Featured image © 2016 by Karen Reshkin. Used with permission. Karen took this picture at the 2016 Milwaukee Irish Fest. Please visit her Irish-learning website A Clever Sheep (www.acleversheep.net)

In addition to being “The Geeky Gaeilgeoir,” Audrey Nickel is the author of  The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook,” published by Bradan Press, Nova Scotia, Canada.  For information about the book, including where to buy it, please visit http://www.bradanpress.com/irish-tattoo-handbook/

258 thoughts on “Even Racists Got the Blues”

  1. Ochón! Ochón!
    Tá an t-alt seo an-ghreannmhar ar fad. Maith thú.
    This was the first tweet I read this morning. It’s raining, but this cheered me up. It was like a little ray of sunshine.

    Liked by 7 people

  2. Even more amusing, in American English we have the word “gormless”, which is used to describe a pitifully stupid or incompetent person – and would be a good term for the person who made that shirt!

    Liked by 7 people

    1. In American English? Interesting. I’m American, and I’ve only ever seen that word in Dickens novels. Maybe it is/was particular to a certain part of the US. The dictionary says it’s “chiefly British,” but I trust you. Also, gorm lives matter.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. >>>Interesting. I’m American, and I’ve only ever seen that word in Dickens novels. <<<

        Are you really "American"? Would that be Cree or Sioux or Ojibawa or one of those Americans – as in one of the first nations of the continent. Or perhaps you are Yank or Mex or Canuk American because after all the continent has three countries currently. Your nationality is certainly not American because America is one of two continents and there is no country called America – and never has been. In fact Yankland occupies less than 1/3 of the Northern continent. That doesn't stop them from thinking they know all and own everything.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. @Míċeál:

        In North America, the English word “American” generally refers to “of/from the United States of America.” Going on about how the people of the US should be called something like “USAians” tends to get a reaction somewhere between an eye-roll and being told “stop trying to be cute and be quiet while the adults are talking.”

        Do you also complain about people being called “Greeks” rather than something like “Hellenates” because the country is properly named the Hellenic Republic?

        Liked by 5 people

      3. I’ve never “gormless” either, but maybe I don’t get out enough. And I’m “American” as well, Miceal. We call ourselves “Americans” — those to our north call themselves “Canadians” and those to our south “Mexicans”. We all know about the continent names, thank you. We are not “United States-ians”. However, nice job hijacking an otherwise thoughtful discussion to make your hate statement.

        Liked by 4 people

      4. >>>Your nationality is certainly not American because America is one of two continents and there is no country called America …That doesn’t stop them from thinking they know all…

        Aboriginal Americans today refer to themselves as native / Native / Native American, indigenous / Indigenous American, Indian / American Indian, First American, or by their tribe, clan or sub-tribe, or occasionally by band or tribal confederacy, depending on personal preferences, political motives, and the context of the discussion. They may refer to themselves as American, but they don’t do so in an exclusive way.

        The full official name of the country is United States of America. In the English language throughout the world, the word “American” refers to people or things originating from the United States of America. It is rarely used in any other way, and there is no alternative in the English language in ordinary usage worldwide. Several other languages also use some form of “American” to refer to people from the USA.

        You seem particularly bitter about it for some reason, but usage makes language.

        Liked by 7 people

    2. You know, Lee, when I first learned the word “gorm” in Irish, I found myself wondering if it was related to “gormless” somehow (It isn’t, as it happens. Apparently the root is an English dialect word: “gaum.”) It sure does seem to apply here, though!

      Like Kathryn Jacoby, I haven’t encountered “gormless” here in the U.S., but that could be a regional thing. Other than nine years in North Carolina, I’ve only ever lived on the West Coast. Webster says that it’s primarily a British word, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it floating around in some U.S. dialects as well.


      Liked by 2 people

      1. I grew up with “gormless” in frequent use in my grandparents’ house in Central Virginia. Curve ball! My grandfather spent WWII as an aircraft mechanic for the U.S. Air Force stationed in England. So, where did it come from? I wish I could ask him. Thanks for the delightful blog post.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Californian here, and I used to hear gormless growing up on the west coast. I live in Ireland now, and I assumed the same when I began learning some Irish. I always understood “gormless” to be cowardly or along the lines of “yellow-bellied”, as I’d heard it used in sentences like: “Stand aside you gormless worm.”

        Interesting stuff, all of it. Language adoptions and interpretations are so incredible. 🙂

        Liked by 3 people

      1. fear gorm is used to mean ‘black man’ because fear dubh is traditionally used to refer to the devil.

        Source: I live in Ireland, am married to an Irishman who confirmed this. You can also Google gorm in reference to people, and several translations will pop up that define fear gorm as the correct term for a ‘black man’.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. “Gorm” used to refer to dark-skinned people, particularly people of African ancestry, is established in the language, W K Palulis. If you want to say “black person” in Irish, it’s “duine gorm.”

        We can be certain that the person wearing this shirt didn’t mean it that way, though, because of the blue line in the shamrock on his shirt. That blue line is the emblem of the “Blue Lives Matter” movement.

        There’s really no getting around the fact that this guy meant to say one thing and ended up saying another.

        Liked by 4 people

  3. Really interesting! I didn’t know ‘gorm’ was used in Irish for black. In Scottish Gaelic, dubh, ‘daoine dubha’ is used.
    It got me thinking about the social politics of using language symbolically rather than functionally. The t-shirt maker doesn’t *expect* anyone to understand it. It’s not his vernacular language, its use is post-vernacular; not used in order to communicate information but to communicate an ethnic identity. Or adopting a language he’s ignorant of in order to *pose* as an ethnic identity.
    Identity politics indeed.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. It’s funny how language works sometimes. I’ve heard several reasons for why “gorm” is used in Irish for people of African descent, the most prevalent being that, because “fear dubh” is a euphemism for the devil and “fear/duine donn” would be understood as referring to a white person with brown hair, they needed to get a bit creative. Another theory I’ve heard is that the first black people the Irish would have encountered came from parts of Africa where the skin color tends to be very dark, having an almost bluish tint. It’s possible that both are true, or perhaps we’ll never know exactly why!

      This isn’t the only place where color works differently in Irish from what you’d expect. I was surprised to learn, a few years back, that when native speakers refer to grey animals (such as a grey horse), they use the word “glas” (green)! Grey-haired humans, however, are simply “liath” (grey)

      Liked by 2 people

    2. If I remember correctly, Moors of the Maghreb (Morocco, Mauritania, parts of Western Sahara) are/were sometimes referred to as ‘blue’ instead of ‘black’ b/c they dyed their clothing a deep blue and the dye would often stain their skin. Since it was Moors the Irish were likely to have had a lot of contact with in Antiquity and the Middle Ages, it’s possible, I’m theorizing, that blue was used to describe them instead of black. Possibly?

      Liked by 4 people

  4. An fearr gorm = black man . I veey well understood his shirt with my native language limitations. An fearr dubh, which can directly be translated to ‘the black man’ is, in fact, the word for the devil. I guess Irish folk knew of the devil long before they saw a black person ! #islanderswoes

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Ah, this has cheered me up no end. I do wonder, giving him the benefit of the doubt, if it is possible that he meant to say Black Lives Matter… Anyway, your brilliant blog put me in mind of a gem of a book called English As She Is Spoke. The author, a Portugese gentleman, was unfamiliar with English – and used a Portugese/French dictionary for translation, followed by a French/English dictionary to create the English as she is, er, spoke. This produced such gems as: ‘That pond it seems me many multiplied of fishes. Let us amuse rather to the fishing.’ This is a clearly a much better way of saying: That lake is full of fish, let’s have fun fishing.’

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Thanks Karen! I wondered the same thing at first, but the blue line in the shamrock on the T-shirt is a symbol of the “Blue Lives Matter” movement, so I’m pretty confident that’s what he meant to say.

      What baffles me is where he got the inflected form “chónaí.” If this were a straight dictionary job, I’d expect the root form “cónaí.” I’d thought maybe it was a Google Translate error, but GT doesn’t translate “lives” at all. It translates “live” as “beo” and “life” as “saol,” but it has no idea what to do with “lives.” He may have done a search on something like “How do you say ‘lives’ in Irish”…that’s the only thing I can think of.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. Hey genius who wrote this article, Blue lives matter IS NOT against Any race. It’s showing police officers that we support them as well and do not support Black lives matter folks who are killing officers. Also, more white people are killed by officers then black, so get your facts straight. Also, far more blacks are killed by blacks then by all races and professions combined. Also, most officers are very good people who help those of all races, BLM is a racist movement that targets white and police officers. So before you think you understand American culture groups, get a damn grip and try to understand what is actually going on over here, moron. Blue lives matter is about the least racist group you could ever have, it supports officers of all ethnicities.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Literally, none of your “facts” are correct. BLM does not and has never killed or called for the killing of police officers. They are a 501C3 registered non-profit promoting reform of police practices in vulnerable communities. Charity status is not granted to organisations that promote violence. Yes, more white people are killed by the police, but there are also a lot more white people in the United States. When you look at population size a disproportionate number of black and Hispanic people die in police custody compared to their populations within the US. The myth of disproportionate black on black crime is one, a myth, and two completely irrelevant to police procedural reform and reparative justice or the fact that people of colour are more likely to be harmed by the police than white people according to research conducted by the Justice Department and the FBI. I agree, there are many great officers, including my grandfather and brother but that is anecdotal and can not represent the whole. Reduced training, poor gun management, poor hiring practices, lack of oversight, diminished funding and unchecked latent biases has led to many departments hiring subpar candidates that probably wouldn’t have even been allowed into the Academy 20 years ago. Vulnerable populations are the ones that suffer from poorly trained, sleep deprived officers and officers that should have never been hired in the first place. Black Lives Matter is not anti-white or anti-police, but recognises a profound problem with the system. Blue Lives Matter is a reactionary response to professional criticism that inherently sees a dichotomy between a profession and a group of people. And that’s really the whole problem in a nut shell.

      Liked by 8 people

    2. Misunderstanding the point of the very excellent article and hurling the slur genius ironically. Yep that made my day. All the other points I’m just going to leave on the table, because honestly, why waste time with this ‘genius’.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. You’re the moron if you think BLM is racist. The SPLC doesn’t even call them a hate group. And your phony stats fool no one who can actually read and research for themselves.

      Liked by 3 people

    4. Well. First the lie that BLM is organized to kill police; second the misleading factoid to persuade the reader that blacks are, as a race, inherently brutal and violent and deserve whatever they get. Blue Lives Matter MIGHT not be racist (though the fact that I usually see a blue stripe flag or symbol right next to a Confederate flag puts the lie to that claim), but Mr. Mark here certainly is.

      Liked by 6 people

    5. “Also, more white people are killed by officers then black,”

      How To Lie With Statistics 101, eh?

      African-Americans are 13% of the US population but 24% of those killed by police. Whites are 62% of the US population but 49% of those killed by police. So, yes, more whites are killed by police but only because there are a lot more whites around; per capita, blacks are killed by police at 230% the rate of whites.

      Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2016/07/11/arent-more-white-people-than-black-people-killed-by-police-yes-but-no/?utm_term=.8123f0480754

      Liked by 8 people

      1. they statistically also commit more crimes per capta… fact, not opinion.. and yes, i am also not a racist though im sure youll spend your time attempting to pretend i am so it will fit your narrative… in the end, its people like you who continue this agenda of racism in modern times… and its disgusting…

        Liked by 2 people

    6. Ahh, there’s the racist xenophobe response, replete with bad spelling and grammar, right-wing talking points, and misinformation. Congratulations on the hat trick, Mark!

      Liked by 6 people

    7. An internet search and check shows, Mr. Mark, that there are NO reported killings of any law enforcement officer, or attempted killing of any law enforcement officer, by anyone known to have been a member of BLM.

      Unless you are privy to some court documents, filings, arraignments or other cases in some way pending that have not made the news in any form, I believe you are just repeating some regular nonsense from the Alt-Right.

      BLM has primarily been accused of blocking public access to roads and facilities (pickets, road barriers, chaining themselves to a building kind of thing); trespass on public land to carry out a protest without a parade permit; some minor property damage; interfering with police (usually by means of recording video and sound of assaults and arrests to present as evidence or expose to the public when police are getting out of hand and are in a state that does not recognize the photographer’s bill of rights); disturbing the peace; arrest arrest (usually an illegal arrest as the police are not properly trained in the law); etc.

      Note I am a US citizen, born here, and not a member of BLM. What I am is smart enough to not fall for the White Supremacist non-sense and the Alt-Right lies.

      Liked by 5 people

  7. The spoken language around Maam Cross to Carraroe varies from pure Gaelic to a macaronic dialect that uses both Irish and English phrases and syntax so the shirt reflects the current venacular of the actual living language.

    It’s message of course is that police have the right to shoot to kill as the RUC did in the north of Ireland.

    Those very people would protest against that and cannot see that the BLM movement reflects exactly the STK resistance and there was SOME understanding for the latter as the RUC were targets at the time. It doesn’t excuse STK but explains it.

    Gorm in Irish has two meanings: literal is blue, in vernacular context it means coloured.

    Why blue? Some hypotheses the Celts when going from Galacia through North Africa to Spain interacted with the Berbers who painted themselves blue (the Tuareg Berber still do)

    More say it was Picts who painted themselves blue but where swarthy besides that.

    Another Irish word for coloured is “yolla” up in the North, a curruption of a French word used in similar fashion to “gorm” and from the same root as “yellow”… which we called “white” (ban) in the sense of “fair”… (haired or complexioned)…

    I guess words matter!!! But we should not get held up on grammer as Irish grammer was written by monks who based it on Latin… and it didn’t reflect the vernacular speech too closely.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Blue Rights Movement is not racist. It just wants violence against police officers to also stop by all ethnicities, not just black. So unless you think violence against police officers is right, I don’t see how it’s racist

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hilarious, thanks for the read. I wonder if you could make an attempt to translate the gibberish back to English as best you can? Blue dwelling subject matter?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Wow! Looks like Google had trouble with the “matter” idiom too. I’m going to work with my friends at the Irish Language Forum (www.irishlanguageforum.com) to work out how this phrase would be best expressed in Irish. I can think of a couple of possibilities, but I’d like to get a better feel for how a native Irish speaker would phrase it.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I would say something like “Is fíu saolanna glas”. Blue and green are notoriously difficult to pin down linguistically. Many languages still don’t have a word for “blue”. In Irish primary school (grade school) books, you would get “gorm” for “blue”, but in Wales you would get “glas”, which would be “green” in an Irish textbook. Then there’s “uaithne”, a word describing green living things e.g. grass, leaves. “Glas” comes from an Indo-European word referring to the sea, and “gorm” was often applied to weapons. So I think of “glas” as “sea-coloured” (hence your “glas” animals) and “gorm” as a more intense, sometimes metallic colour. So the Fir goirm, whose lives matter, could refer to an intense, shiny colour of the skin. Or it could be influenced by the Norse “blaumen”.
        P.S. My favourite dictionary translation snafu is of “ní bheidh ár leithéidí arís ann”, which means “you’ll never see our likes again”. Caoimhín Breathnach of UCD says that if you go through the dictionary, word by word, you get “Thing will be counterparts of slaughter again there”. I want that on a t-shirt.
        P.P.S. My previous cryptic remark refers to “English as She Is Spoke”. Think the comment went in the wrong place!

        Liked by 3 people

    2. And GT gives me: ábhar maireachtála gorm (doing the search in Colombia, if that makes any difference)

      GT probably spits out a different response each time. And, yes, GG, I’d be interested to see the best translation of this thorny phrase.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. To add to the fun, I tried plugging both “Black lives matter” and “Blue lives matter” into GT. The first got me “Tá ábhar beo ag Black” (Seriously Google? You haven’t learned the Irish word for “black” yet?). The second got me “Tá ábhar gorm ina gcónaí” (literally “there is blue matter in their dwelling”)! I get different results when I change the capitalization. For example, “Blue Lives Matter” comes out as “Ábhar Gorm Beatha” and “Black Lives Matter” comes out as “Ábhar Domhanda” (“World Matter”). When I enter it in all lowercase I get “ábhar maireachtála gorm” for “blue lives matter” and just “saol dubh” (“black life”) for “black lives matter.” All caps gets “GÁIL BHUN ÁBHAR for “BLUE LIVES MATTER” and MATH BEARTA DUBH for BLACK LIVES MATTER.

        I guess if nothing else, this highlights that you shouldn’t use GT for anything important or permanent!

        Liked by 4 people

  10. GG, I’m sorry to nitpick such a great post (that seems to be going viral in certain circles) and don’t want to detract from it. However, from one translator/editor to another, I love every word of this post except one: The title sounds off to me, and for a million reasons I won’t go into I would have written it as “Even Racists Get the Blues.” My two cents.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. As a translator, normally I’d want to hold my head and weep at people’s stupidity, but this was worth it for the laughs! Google Translate gave me “Tá ábhar gorm ina gcónaí”. Would that be “There’s blue matter in the dwelling”?

    Liked by 3 people

  12. I think ‘an fear gorm’ may have originated from the Taureg people in North Africa. The Tuaregs have been called the “blue people” for the indigo-dye colored clothes they traditionally wore and which stained their skin.

    Bob Quinn suggested in his documentary ‘Atlantean’ that the Irish owe much of their early traditions to the middle east and north africa, which is backed up by recent DNA evidence along with linguistic and other evidence.



    p.s. i loved your article – as for the guy in the photo, well, it takes a special kind of idiot to be that ignorant!

    Slán agus beannacht ó Corcaigh!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. According to Wikipedia there was a 9th century viking called Hastein who bought some blámenn (blue men) slaves in North Africa and later sold them in Ireland.

      The chemical that gives indigo its rich blue colour is the same as that found in woad. Perhaps the Tuareg were the same colour as the Ancient Britons (though the identity of the pigment described by Julius Cæsar is disputed, it could be a mineral).

      Liked by 2 people

    1. It is pretty useful, but you may not be comfortable using it if you’re an atheist: It’s a short form of “Dia dár sábháil” (God save us). Many Irish colloquialisms are religious in nature, and are used even by people who aren’t religious…much as everyone speaking English uses “goodbye” even through it comes from “God be with ye.” If you’d prefer a non-religious term, something like “A thiarcais!” (pronounced, roughly, “uh HEER-kush”) might work better for you.

      “Dia Sábháil” is pronounced, roughly, “JEE-uh SOW-ul” in Ulster (where “sow” is pronounced to rhyme with “plow”). The full phrase would be “JEE-uh dahr SOW-ul.

      A really good place to get pronunciations is abair.ie. They have sythesizers for the three main dialects, with a couple of regional variations. It tends to do best with single words or short phrases. Just choose your dialect from the list at the top of the page (the first two are Ulster, the third is Connacht, and the fourth is Munster), type or paste the word (s) into the box, and hit “Déan Sintéis.” It’s important to remember to include the accent marks (fadas), as they’re essential to the correct pronunciation, and the site won’t give you one without them.


      Liked by 2 people

      1. as for being an atheist gaeilgeóir, these are two of my favourite substitutions:
        In Connemara, they say “Día Linn”, “God be with us”, like the rest of the country when you sneeze. But when you cough they say “Deisil”, “Sunwise / Right-hand-wise”. I’ve gotten into the habit of saying that when people sneeze.
        The other is from Old Irish literature. There’s a greeting used, “Fó dia”. This “dia” is not “god”, but “day”. “Fó dia” means “fortunate day”.

        Liked by 2 people

  13. My little sister, as a toddler, had a babydoll that was of a deep brown color. (This was so long ago that it may have been sold as a Negro….). She never spoke Irish, and always called it her “blue baby.” Now, thanks to this delightful post, I still don’t really know where she got that, but thanks!

    My family has a book from 1930’s China, Karen L, that is titled “Correctly English in Thirty Days,” published by the Correctly English Society. Very, very useful, but mostly for giggles.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. { I’ll leave it to you to decide what would motivate someone to oppose such a movement. The term I prefer can be found in your Irish dictionary under “C.” }

    Ludicrous, but standard leftist drivel – anyone who disagrees with me MUST be evil.

    And I’ll leave it to you to decide what would motivate someone to oppose a group that don’t want police officers to be shot (and this is coming from someone who has always been strongly against police abuses and corruption and ethical issues and hates how often the “good apples” sweep it under the rug to protect the “bad apples”.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Believing that Black Lives Matter want the police to be shot is right-wing drivel. Blue Lives Matter only exists because people want to think black people are criminals and sub-human creatures who need to be kept in line by the direct descendants of the slave patrols established to prevent rebellions amongst their hostages to capitalism.

      Liked by 4 people

  15. Question: Why is the racist wearing what appears to be a pleated felt skirt? With a utility belt with an umbrella and pepper spray? Tá mearbhall an domhain orainn?! (apologies for dreadful Irish)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Looks like a knock-off Utilikilt, most likely made of cotton duck. Announces your white ethnic identity while trying to look like manly work clothes. The latter is important–you wouldn’t want someone to mistake your kilt for a woman’s skirt, after all.

      Liked by 4 people

  16. Thanks for the clarification. I became interested in Gaelic (and Gaillic) from listening to traditional bands and their songs. I’m complete crap at speaking other languages but I’m still interested in learning them. I can still learn to read and write them, right? What you’ve said about the complexity of different languages is why I took my time and thoroughly looked through a book of full grammar. I also bought a dictionary that gives some context to the entries.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. I have found the original phrase annoying and in its own way just as racist as the coppers it was directed against. Now if they had chosen “Black lives matter TOO” it would be much more acceptable and less offensive.

    Sin sin.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. As a rejoinder to “Black lives don’t matter” — an attitude shared by too many in the USA — “Black lives matter” is exactly correct. Your “…TOO” changes the meaning; in particular, it denies the premise of the original. That denial is common among American racists. There’s a long history here in the US of the belief that black lives don’t really matter, and to deny the effects that that history still has on the US is to deny reality.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Perhaps as a non-Yank I missed the nuance, which you point out here, of ingrained racism inherent in Yank culture. For this reason I would still claim that outside of Yankland (particularly North of 49) those who appropriate the BLM mantra should add the ‘too’ for clarity lest they be considered ‘racists’.

        Liked by 2 people

  18. The dangers of using google translate for t-shirts (or tattoos!). I heard recently that it’s actually become a fashion trend in France to wear gobblydigook French slogans on a t-shirt “Je Sais Poulet” and so on. It’s an ironic nod to the ridiculous interpretations of their language on fashion items, which non-French manufacturers use to make them seem “tres bien chique”. However, back to the delicious irony of this guy’s counter Black Lives Matter ‘black-lives-matter’ as gaelige (sort of) t-shirt. I’ve long been interested in the black people/blue people English/Irish translation. So much so, I wrote a radio play based on it, ‘The Blue King of Trafadden’. You can listen here: https://soundcloud.com/wlrfmwaterford/the-blue-king-of-trafadden
    BTW “gorm” is pronounced “guhrrum”, NOT as in rhymes with worm. I doubt there’s a connection with ‘gormless’.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Or ‘gur’ like ‘gur cake’ which you bought for a penny when you were ‘ar gur’ from school.

        Good arithmetic (and if you don’t understand that say it in Gaelic and listen in Francach).

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Actually, Google Translate renders “black lives matter” into Irish as “saol dubh”, and, with capitalization and punctuation, “Black lives matter.” as “Tá ábhar beo ag Black.”

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The funny thing is, it depends on capitalization (which is kind of weird, when you think about it!). A ways down in the comments, I mention the different ways in which I entered “Black lives matter” and “Blue lives matter” into GT (initial caps, no caps, all caps, etc), and the translations change radically (and differ between “blue” and “black” as well). If nothing else, it shows the folly of relying on machine translation for anything that truly matters!

        Liked by 2 people

  19. It’s like the Latin American boxer who had 痛風 tattooed down the entire length of his back. I realize he was trying to say “killer wind” or somesuch, but it actually translates from Japanese as “gout”.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. I don’t speak Irish, but (from what you put in the article) you could probably make the case that the t-shirt says something more sinister than “Black Lives Matter”, and in fact, more racist than “Blue Lives Matter”. Namely “The matter of living-space for Black people” – i.e. “The Black question”.

    To be fair, this is me being as uncharitable as I can be, but that’s pretty disturbing, isn’t it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’d say that’s unlikely, Jo. He’s just taken three Irish words and stuck them together using English syntax. Sad to say, it happens all the time. The fact that he has the “Blue Lives Matter” blue bar on the shirt makes it pretty clear that that’s what he was trying to say.

      Liked by 2 people

  21. Re: “To toss another problem onto the pile, in Irish, we probably wouldn’t use the equivalent of the English “life/lives (rhymes with ‘hives’)” to mean “people”.” “Lives” is critical to the expression. Its point is not a more general one that black *people* matter but a specific one, that the *lives* of black people matter, since this is about them being killed without justification. We aren’t using “lives” to mean “people”: we really mean “lives”. Perhaps the solution is to translate “lives of black people matter” rather than just “black people matter”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a really important point, Jason. I’m working with people at ILF to see how we can best convey that sense in Irish, and I think that’s the directions things are trending toward. As soon as I have something that sounds reasonable, I’ll post it.

      It’s such a challenge when you’re working with idioms in such different languages, but I’m confident that we can come up with something that conveys the correct meaning.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Just to update, so far the best translation attempt I’ve seen for “Black lives matter” is “Saolta fiúntacha iad saolta daoine gorma.” I’m still not entirely happy with it. It’s meant to read as “Black people’s lives are valuable lives,” but it could be read as “Black people’s lives are worthy/respectable lives,” which may be true, but isn’t quite the same thing. We’ll keep working on it.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. One of the challenging things when translating, particularly from English to Irish, is that Irish tends to be much more “wordy.” A strength English has is the ability to convey a lot of meaning — often different layers of meaning — in just a few words. We run into this all the time with tattoo and memorial translations, as these pithy English expressions often come out rather clunky in Irish, and tend to lose a lot of their impact.

      Usually the best thing to do is to find an equivalent Irish expression, but when one doesn’t exist, as is the case with “Black lives matter,” often the best approach is to completely rephrase the expression rather than trying to translate it directly. We spend a lot of time asking people questions about what must seem to them to be very simple and obvious phrases, and I know it drives some of them batty, but it’s a vital part of the process.

      I’m actually planning a post on translation challenges for sometime in the next couple of weeks, so this is rather timely.

      Liked by 2 people

  22. OMG!! Sorry in Irish, black is gorm and police are garda.
    So, literally off the top of my head, ‘black lives matter’ would be ‘tá saol daoine gorma tábhtacht’ and ‘blue lives matter’ has no relevance in Ireland because the country is all white to start with!!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. So, let’s see if I’ve got it right — would “Blue [i.e. Black] lives matter” translate as “Tá fiúntas i daoine gorm?” I want to get this right, should I ever have the chance to “help” someone with the wording for a tattoo…
    Or, you know, run up some T-shirts. I’d use a four-leafed clover instead of a shamrock, of course.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. I have been trying to learn Irish Gaelic for twenty years without success (I have no linguistic ability whatsoever). With that caveat in place, I tried to translate the meaning of Blue Lives Matter, and the best I could manage was “cabhraigh oifigigh póilíní”, which, I believe, is “help/support police officers”, which draws a line and declares a side, but doesn’t (to me) seem as hateful. I wonder if there even is a way to sound as racist as Blue Lives Matter does in English when translating the phrase into Gaelic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I doubt there’s any way to culturally translate “Blue Lives Matter” with all its venom, not that I speak Irish. The thing is, if your language doesn’t already include some version of “black lives matter,” then “blue lives matter” won’t sound racist. After all, the lives of police officers DO matter. They’re human. The racism only gets in there when “blue lives matter” is framed as a retort to black lives matter, thus creating a conceptual structure in which black lives and blue lives are in inherent opposition, as if stating that black lives matter were in fact a threat to police–in other words, “blue lives matter” is an example of newspeak in that the phrase works to structure thinking in a politically convenient way. And THAT is why the phrase itself is a racist attack. I suspect that “black lives matter” is relatively easy to translate at least in a basic way, but to get “blue lives matter,” you’d have to find a way to accomplish that structural liguistic Judo.

      Liked by 5 people

  25. Bit of an aside, but I had a lightbulb moment around gorm being used for black when I saw that the full title of the book on which the Oscar-winning film “Moonlight” is based is “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue”.


  26. I’m Irish, and I was always of the belief that “Fir gorm” referred to black men because the first black men to reach Ireland were French sailors, who wore a very distinctive blue uniform. Hence these “blue men” were identified by this particular phrase.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not so worried by his obviously disastrous ‘translation’ (or the louts/webpages which helped him). This has been extremely well analysed by the author and other comments here. His use of the shamrock symbol is also, I think, highly offensive to those of us who profess a Christian faith as Irish people. Even if you don’t profess a faith, the use of this well recognised Irish symbol ought to be responded to as deeply offensive rather then being dismissed. It is another layer of his hateful, subtle self-branding.

      This guy is in fact a disastrous translation of subtle racism and he is using Irishness to back it up or even cover it up. He should have actually written, “I’m a racist Irish white supremacist” on his t-shirt but that would get him in major trouble. So he went for something a little less provocative, even untranslatable. This guy ain’t dumb. There’s a lot of dangerous dudes around and you’ve gotta protect yourself. Plus, his mammy would never let him out wearing that. Then just in case he’s caught out unawares by an angry mob of marauding black guys, one of whom may have picked up some Gaelic language and grammer skills, he camouflaged his racist tendencies with Irish pride. If he was suddenly surrounded by this unarmed black mob, he could easily defend himself from their, “what’s written here Pat?”

      He could say, “Oh that, that’s just ‘blue dwelling stuff’. I sincerely hope the brand doesn’t catch on.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s