Catlike Canines

Keep in mind this isn’t always the case but it seems in the case with at least a few communities in the entire world (some Amazonian/South American communities as well as the Akan in general) the word for dog’s derived from either cat or some other felid. It’s like how some Amazons refer to dogs as house jaguars or among some Akans, the word for dog is okraman and the word for cat’s okra (also soul).

It’s not that dogs haven’t been around in Africa and South America for a long time but possibly shorter than what’s expected in Eurasia, which’s where they’re first domesticated there. If wolves aren’t native to Africa at all, then dogs might inevitably be introduced and count even be a proper invasive species there (dog predation on livestock and monkeys have been noted before).

They’re even considered as such in some Latin American circles. Again not always the case but if/when dogs are recently introduced in South America and to a lesser extent, Africa then sometimes the word for dog may be likened to cats as a point of reference/familiarity. The fact that cats and dogs are sometimes closely entwined in witchcraft beliefs (which makes more sense with goats being victims, that dogs do prey on them) makes it a good semantic and semiotic association.

It’s like this study on one Ivorian community where witches have familiars taking on guises of dogs, leopards and cats and prey on goats. Likewise in another study, though this might not be true for all Amazons, witches are said to appear as dogs, jaguars and aeroplanes. This is what I’m talking about. Whilst not always the case either, if witches are likened to predators like dogs and leopards then this shouldn’t be surprising.

The fact that dogs can take on solitary behaviours, cats with some degree of social behaviour and some households have both cats and dogs made to hunt pests should make it a very unsurprising association.

The closest to the old school

Scots is like English in the same way Portuguese’s like Spanish. Very similar but also different. I actually regard Scots as the more Germanic counterpart to English. It’s not entirely free of Romance influence but it did preserve some features lost in contemporary English just as some Scots dialects (most notably Doric, Orcadian and Shetlandic) are heavily influenced by Nordic languages. This makes sense as Scotland itself was subjected to Nordic influence before, moreso with Shetland and Orkney as they used to be Norwegian territory!

It can be considered a form of colonial lag in that both English and Scots derive from Old English but only Scots has preserved the more archaic or old-fashioned features and moreso with some dialects. The fact that the Normans never invaded Scotland, so whatever Latin/Romantic influence there is in Scotland is somewhat more modest than with English at the very least. Scots isn’t necessarily entirely free of Romance influence but closer to its Germanic roots than English is.

The separation into Irish and Scottish Gaelic

Admittedly I’m not a linguist but whatever possible dialectal variations within Old Irish’s been speculated by some scholars. Whilst not always the case, it does explain some things. It’s like if Southern Irish dialects (especially in Kerry) treat gorm, the Irish word for blue, to encompass green vegetation but other Irish dialects don’t (as far as I know and excerpted, the Belfast glossary as well as the Rathlin dictionary and the 1768 dictionary, have gorm normally mean blue and sometimes black). If true, then it might be analogous to what became of Vulgar Latin.

There could’ve been dialectal variation within Latin, moreso when it comes to colonised people speaking their mother languages from time to time. It’s even speculated that Gaulish may’ve influenced both French and Breton. Logically, Spanish got influenced by Arabic. France’s got a substantial Celtic (though Brythonic) speaking population in Brittany and Spain used to be influenced by the Arabs. This might not be unique to both of them either. Scottish Gaelic could’ve been influenced by any pre-existing Celtic language in Scotland.

Similar things can be said of Irish to some extent. Whatever the circumstance, dialectal variations within Old Irish and Vulgar Latin’s enough to beget contemporary Italian, Irish, Scottish Gaelic, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

Dialects Splintering into Languages

I think what I wrote about the Irish language and its precedents likely having dialects and still do when it comes to using certain colour terms (and anything else to some extent, really). If true, this might explain why most dialects of Irish use gorm to mostly mean blue and dark skin whilst a few Irish dialects as well as Scottish Gaelic have it include green vegetation. (There’s a 1768 dictionary stating that ‘gorm’ means both ‘blue’ and ‘black person’.)

This might not be unique to the Irish and Scottish Gaelic languages as a similar phenomenon likely occurred to the Romance languages. Given they all descend from Vulgar/Slangy Latin, this makes the most sense in how and why Italian, Catalan and Romansh preferred domina to mean woman (donna, dona and duonna) whilst French, Occitan and Neapolitan stuck to femina (femme, femena and femna).

Likewise Portuguese and Spanish clung onto mulier (mulher, mujer). Spanish, Portuguese and Italian use casa to mean house but French has it mean hut (though it might not be unique in here since I think a few others like Wallon and Normand might use something similar to the French maison). Since French and Italian actually have lexical similarity of almost 90%, so there’s bound to be a number of common cognates.

The ones I recall are tisotto/tissu, fratello/frere, sorella/soeur, coccinella/cocchinelle, matina/matin (Irish has madin), chien/cane, blond/biondo and singe/scimmia (Milanese Lombard likely has simia/scimia and if I were to give the Irish equivalent, it’s simaog). Let’s not also forget that there are even French words spelt similarly to that of their Italian counterparts (loup/lupo and the afformented matin/matina).

However there are cases where Italian words have rough equivalents in Portuguese, French in Spanish as well as Italian in Spanish and French in Portuguese. The Italian/Spanish words for birthday are compleanno/cumpleaño. The French/Portuguese equivalents are anniversaire/aniversário. The French/Portuguese words for cresent are croissant/crescendo but Italian/Spanish use mezza-luna/media-luna.

As for the striped hyena, in French and Spanish it’s hyène rayée/hiena rayada but in Portuguese and Italian it’s hiena listrada/iena striata. Not to mention Catalan, Portuguese and Spanish use hermano/germano/ermao and bruxo/brujo/bruixot and the like. Both French and Italian use frere/fratello and the like but French uses sorcier whilst Italian uses stregone (though arguably both start with s).

If there’s a dialect continuum in some contemporary Romance languages, the same thing should be said of Vulgar Latin given this is how many Romance languages began.

Blue, Cyan and Green in Irish

Often, almost always undisputedly so in Irish though it also means black person. Though the additional mean of green (as in dark green) might be dialectal though that could also be the case of Irish’s very own precedents, especially when it came to separating into Irish and Scottish Gaelic respectively.

Whilst some dictionaries and texts give the additional meaning of dark green, a 1768 dictionary makes ‘gorm’ restricted to both focal blue and black people. Same with a few other studies. (Keep in mind Mr Patrick Dinneen may’ve come from a different part of Ireland where gorm can also mean green or something.)

Now if you want me to be honest, I actually tend to think of blue as a dark colour and since gorm’s also used to mean black person then gorm might as well be a murky colour in here. (Though this might also be shared with other languages to some extent. Russian has a separate word for focal blue in siniy and goluboy’s not only used to refer to cyan but is also a colour term in its own right.)

Glas–Cyan, Light Green, Vegetation Green
If I’m not mistaken, the word ‘glas’ is used to refer to both vegetation green and sheep grey as well as blue (most especially in Welsh and Breton where it is the focal word for blue). So much so that it’s unmistakably the ‘grue’ word in the Celtic languages (as proven in one of my excerpts). Whilst some Irish speakers use ‘glas’ to mean green in general, I tend to regard it as both plant green and focal turquoise/cyan.

I wouldn’t refer to leaves and grass as ‘uaine’ but glas. I’d even refer to cyan/turquoise items as glas. (Likewise, my own take on blue as well as its Irish counterpart’s almost always restricted to focal/electric blue, blue eyes and dark blue.) I might even regard Irish glas as more or less equivalent to Russian goluboy but in the sense of being a proper colour term for something in-between blue and green.

Not that Irish and even Russian lack grue tendencies but I can go on arguing similar things can be said of English where in my opinion hasn’t had a proper colour term for turquoise until recently whereas Irish already does. (Likewise, Turkmen does in fact have a separate word for blue in mawy/mavy with kok being blue-green/cyan.)

Uaine–Focal/Bright/Artifical Green
Like I said, I actually think/consider Irish to be one of those languages that have a separate colour term referring to turquoise/cyan/blue-green. In fact, it’s right up with Russian, Turkmen and possibly Scottish Gaelic to some extent when it comes to having a definitive word for blue-green from the start. If gorm is blue, glas is cyan (in my opinion) then uaine is focal green.

Uaine’s the green of artificial items like clothing, lights, bright green, eyes and dyes. This is practically how I regard uaine as with glas used for vegetation green, wool grey and cyan items. Funnily enough, in one study it shows that Korean also has two separate colour-terms for green. One is focal green or green proper, one referred to yellow-green. Again, Irish might not be unique in this regard.

Whether if it’s one of those languages with a built-in word for cyan (right up with Russian and Turkmen to some extent) or right up with Korean in having two separate colour-terms referring to certain shades of green.

Note that whilst much of it’s my own opinion, the odd fact that Irish has a separate colour-term for what’s used to encompass both vegetation-green and wool grey as well as a counterpart in Welsh meaning blue makes me think Irish already has a word for ‘blue-green’.

Flesh and Word: Reading Bodies in Old Norse-Icelandic and Early Irish Literature (Excerpt)

Also very prominent in the visualisation of the hero are the symmetrically (!)
distributed four dimples on his cheeks. These are coloured buide, úane, gorm
and corcra (‘yellow’, ‘green’, ‘blue’ and ‘purple’).¹²³ The dimples evoke a sense
of balance on the face, a crucial point given the importance of symmetry McManus proposes in relation to concepts of beauty.¹²⁴ Moreover, their multi-coloured
appearance is also worth noting. This implies that it is not an ordinary, natural,
physical body which is described but rather one exhibiting literary conventions
of expressing beauty. Stark colour contrasts are observable on other noble heroes’ faces in early Irish saga literature also. In TBDD the noble warrior Conall
Cernach – who is introduced as [a]s caime di laechaib Hérenn – is said to feature
two differently coloured cheeks: [g]ilithir sneachta indala grúadh dó, breicdergithir sían a ngrúad n-aile.¹²⁵ In addition to his cheeks, Conall also exhibits a striking colour contrast in his eyes. This supports the previously stated assumption
that multi-coloured facial features and the contrast the colours evoke are an expression of beauty in many early Irish texts.¹²⁶

In terms of imagining Cú Chulainn’s face as a whole it is likely that, even
given that colour terms are a challenging area in early Irish scholarship, the
terms used here do not paint a fair hero: his hair is probably two thirds dark
(dond (‘dark’) and cróderg (‘blood-red’)), with the remaining third presumably
fair like a crown of red gold (mind órbuide).¹²⁷ Furthermore, on his face the
only openly bright colour is buide (‘yellow’). Úaine (‘green’) is somewhat prob-
 All translations of colour terms provided here are referring to the online version of the DIL, (accessed on ..).
 McManus, ‘Good-looking and Irresistible’, p. .
 Quoted from Eichhorn-Mulligan, ‘Politics of Anatomy’, p. ; ‘The handsomest of the heroes of Ériu’; ‘As bright as snow one cheek, as speckled red as foxglove his other.’
 Mulligan mentions the possibility that these descriptions might have had a parallel in reality in the use of make-up or hair-dye and also refers to the codes regarding the colour of
clothes. While this is of course possible, the present study focuses solely on the literary
realm. See Eichhorn-Mulligan, ‘Politics of Anatomy’, p. .
 For an introduction to the topic of colours see Heidi Lazar-Meyn, ‘Colour Terms in Táin Bó
Cúailnge’, in Ulidia: Proceedings of the First International Conference on the Ulster Cycle of Tales.
Belfast and Emain Macha – April , ed. J. P. Mallory and Gerard Stockman (Belfast,
), pp. –.
92 2 Speak for Yourself! Expressive Mediality and the Self
lematic, as according to Stefan Zimmer the term covers various shades of
green¹²⁸ but here most likely expresses a vibrant colour. Corcra is rendered as
‘crimson’ or ‘purple’. Gorm is has a semantic range of ‘blue, deep blue’ and is
apparently often opposed to glass ‘green’, or ‘grue’ (‘green-blue’), a distinction
giving gorm a connotation of ‘dark, black’ also. Cú Chulainn may therefore not
be particularly fair in appearance but rather incorporates rich, dark and saturated colours and maximum colour-contrast.¹²⁹

Progress in Colour Studies. Volume 1, Language and Culture (Excerpt)

Old Irish and Middle Irish colour terms
I have previously demonstrated (Lazar-Meyn 1979; 1987; 1994) that there
were several sets of colour terms in use in Old and Middle Irish. These included
five basic colour terms (using Berlin and Kay’s (1969) definition of a BCT),
which can be glossed approximately:
dub, “black”
bán, “white”
derg, “red”
glas, “grue” (denoting both green and blue)
buide, “yellow”.

I am grateful to Carole Biggam for having sought out persons working on the Celtic colour
systems to participate in PICS04, which I note was held in the colourful city of Glaschu. I am
further indebted to her for her patience, and even more so for her polite reminder of the range of
the Welsh colour term glas, which is now correctly described.
Given the broad range of their referents, these terms could, apparently, be used
in any context.
Based on his review of the same data, Robert MacLaury (personal
communication, January 31, 2003) would add to this list a sixth basic colour
term, gorm, “focal blue, extending into dark brown and black”, and would
define glas as “focal green, extending into grey”. However, given the existence
of further colour terms, principally concerned with saturation and brightness, in
the Old and Middle Irish periods, gorm would appear to be a better fit therein:
finn, “bright, fair”
gel, “dazzling white”
gorm, “dark and shining”
úaine, “verdant; bright green”
donn, “unsaturated brown through to grey”
odor, “bright brown”
corcair, “scarlet”.
A third set of colour terms is contextually restricted:
rúad, “red hair / complexion, dried blood”
líath, “grey, primarily of hair”
cíar, “jet-black” (found only in alliterative phrases)
flann, “blood-red” (found only in alliterative phrases)
lachtna, “milk-coloured [wool]”
and possibly
partaing, “Parthian [leather], scarlet [lips]”.

The Irish usage of gorm to mean “swarthy, dark-skinned” does not exist
in Scots Gaelic and he rejects the metaphoric meaning of “green, foolish” as
unlikely to be applied to a famous clan chief by anyone who valued his life.