Similes, Metaphors & Kennings

Is fér bó aenmachaidh ...

Is fér bó aenmachaidh, is geilt aengeóid, is milide oenbeich.

(is * grass * of cow * of one-field * is * grazing * of one goose * is * honey-pasture * of one bee)

It's grass for one cow, grazing for one goose, flowers for one bee.

In other words, this is a poor, small, unproductive place, so don't expect much from it. The run is found in "Erchoitmed Ingine Gulidi", where Guilide's daughter is putting on the poor mouth in an attempt to dissuade unexpected visitors from wanting to spend the night.

Ard bot fiaich ...

Ard bot fiaich ocainn, íseal bot con.

(high * tail * of raven * at-us * low * tail * of hound)

The raven's tail is high for us and the hound's tail is low.

In other words, food is scarce for us. The expression is presumably based on a close observation of the appearance of animals at the beginning of spring, when the winter's stores of food were almost exhausted.

cenn i mbolg

cenn i mbolg

(head * in * bag)

head in a bag

This proverbial metaphor for ignorance is found in "In Tenga Bithnua" a sermon for the vigil of Easter composed around 1000 A.D, where it is paired with the similar expression "bith i tig dorcha" (being in a dark house). The full context is:

"ar ba cenn i mbolg 7 ba bth i tigh dhorcha do sil Adhuimh iarsindi na fes riam cissi dealbh ro bai forsin domun nó cia dhorigne" (for it was "head in a bag" and "being in a dark house" for the seed of Adam, since it had never been known what shape the world had or who made it).

Fiss 7 Fochmarc 7 Eolus a trí ndruid.

Fiss 7 Fochmarc 7 Eolus a trí ndruid.
Dub 7 Dorcha 7 Teimel a trí ndeogbaire.
Saith 7 Leór 7 Línad a trí rannaire.

(information * and * questioning * and * knowledge * their * three * druids
blackness * and * darkness * and * deep shadow * their * three * cupbearers
sufficiency * and * plenty * and * filling * their * three * carvers)

Facts and Questioning and Knowledge were their three druids.
Blackness and Darkness and Obscurity were their three cupbearers.
Fullness and Plenty and Filling were their three meatcarvers.

The Book of Leinster (lines 3902 - 3915; page 30d) contains a paragraph setting forth the triplistic description of the appearance, clothing, weaponry and retinue of Brian, Iuchar, and Iucharba, the "Trí Dee Donand" (Three Gods of Danu). The names of the three cupbears would seem to indicate that utter insensibility was the expected outcome of a good drinking bout.

Nert ní dernaim.

Nert ní dernaim.
Rith ní rordaim.
Léim ní rolngaim.

(strength * not * I can do
running * not * I can run
leap * not * I can leap)

That is a feat I cannot do.
That is a run I cannot run.
That is a leap I cannot leap.

So says the old and decrepit king Cathaír to Buchat in the tale "Esnada Tige Buchat", expressing his impotence in general, and in particular his inability to control the depredations of his sons against Buchat.

Is garit mo lorg latt.

Is garit mo lorg latt.

(is * short * my * club * with you)

My club is short in your opinion.

Fergus is furious at Cú Chulainn for having just killed Etarcomal, a persistent challenger who goaded Cú past his limit, even though Fergus had asked Cú not to harm the arrogant young man. Thomas Kinsella translated this line as "You must think my cudgel is very short." The sense of this proverbial expression is "You must think that you're beyond my authority and can do as you please. We'll just see about that!"

Cid as méithi saill tuircc mesa?

Cid as méithi saill tuircc mesa?
Miscais do·berar íar serc.

(what * that is * fatter * than salt-meat * of boar * of mast /
hatred * that is given * after * love)

What is fatter than the bacon of an acorn-fed boar?
Hatred that comes after love.

This arresting image comes from "Tochmarc Ailbe", where it is one of thirty riddles that Finn poses and Ailbe answers.

Día faetsath snáthat...

Día faetsath snáthat isin tig ro-cechlastai a toitim in tan labras beóus.

(if * were to fall * needle * in the * house * would be heard * its * falling * the * time * that he speaks * still)

If a needle fell in the house while he was speaking, it would be heard.

This may be the earliest instance in western (or world?) literature of the "so quiet you could hear a pin drop" image. It is found in "Togail Bruidne Da Derga" (792-3), where it describes that respectful attention that Taidle Ulad, the "rechtaire" or steward of Conaire Mór, could command whenever he made a pronouncement about the seating and serving arrangements in the royal house. Combining the powers of a chief protocol officer and a maître d', the rechtaire was a "servant" to be reckoned with in the medieval Irish hierarchy!

It lúaithidir...

It lúaithidir gaíth n-erraig.
... roth mbúaile.
... boicshimin ar lár srotha.

(they are) (as fast as) (wind) (of spring)
... (mill-wheel)
... (rush) (on) (middle) (of stream)

Three similies for speed:

They are as fast as a spring wind.
... as a mill wheel.
... as a rush in the middle of a stream.

The first image is found in "Serglige Con Culainn" (LU 3809), the second in "Togail Bruidne Da Derga" (1216), and the third in van Hamel's "Compert Con Culainn and Other Stories" (102.18).

Is laa 7 adaig in bith uile.

Is laa 7 adaig in bith uile.

(is * day * and * night * the * world * all)

Day and night are the whole world.

With these words, the Macc Óc wins possession forever of Síd in Broga, now known as Brugh na Bóinne or Newgrange. This is how it happpened, in Patrick Brown's telling of "De Gabáil in t-Sída":

The Macc Óc, foster-son of Midir of Brí Léith and Nindid the seer, came to the Dagda to petition him for land after it had all been shared out.
'I have no land for you,' said the Dagda. 'I've shared it all out.'
'In that case,' said the Macc Óc, 'grant me a day and a night in your own home.' And that was granted to him.
'Go home,' said the Dagda. 'Your time is all used up.'
'It is obvious,' he replied, 'that night and day are the whole world (is laa 7 adaig in bith uile), and that's what you have given to me.'
And at that, the Dagda left, and the Macc Óc remained in the síd.

In a rather different telling of this event in "Tochmarc Étaíne", the clinching phrase is "is laib & aidchib dochaiter an doman" (it is in days and nights that the world is spent).

Dionysius of Halicarnassus (late 1st cent. B.C.E.) recorded a remarkably similar use of this ruse from the Mediterranean world in Book 19 (17.4) of his "Roman Antiquities":

When Leucippus the Lacedaemonian inquired where it was fated for him and his followers to settle, the god [Apollo, via the Pythia at Delphi] commanded them to sail to Italy and settle that part of the land where they should stay a day and a night after landing. The expedition made land near Callipolis, a seaport of the Tarentines; and Leucippus, pleased with the nature of the place, persuaded the Tarentines to permit them to encamp there for a day and a night. When several days had passed and the Tarentines asked them to depart, Leucippus paid no heed for them, claiming that he had received the land from them under a compact for day and night; and so long as there should be either of these he would not give up the land. So the Tarentines, realizing that they had been tricked, permitted them to remain.

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