Linguistics of Bodhrán-related Words


Does Bodhrán rhyme with Moron?

The modern Irish word bodhrán is properly pronounced bow-rawn, like Cow brawn, with a slight emphasis on the first syllable. It is also pronounced bow-RAWN; BOH-rahn (like know Ron) or boh-RAHN; or BORE-on (like more on); it all depends on who you ask and what language he's speaking. Some of these alternate pronunciations are dialectical variants; some of them are incorrect, but persist anyway. Pronouncing the d is just plain wrong.

What happened to the d?

In Old Irish, the dh had a sound like th in this. By the late Middle Ages, that sound had softened further in the Irish language to a vague aspiration, and in the modern language it merely modifies the preceding vowel.

Where'd this word come from anyway?

According to Mícháel O Súilleabháin, The Bodhrán, p.3, the word bodhrán derives from the Irish word bodhar, meaning deaf and dull-sounding, and therefore it appears that the name of the instrument was suggested by its sound (and not any characteristic of the drummer, thank you very much!). He notes that in Kerry, the drum is called a tambourine.

The earliest extant use of the word bodhrán (v. Dictionary of the Irish Language) comes from an Early Modern Irish (ca. 17th century) translation of a medical manual entitled Rosa Anglica (Irish Texts Society, vol.25). There the word is found glossed as "tabur (i.e. tabor), timpan (i.e. drum)". We have no idea, however, whether it referred to a particular type of drum, or if it did, what sort of drum. The tabor was a particular type of drum in certain times and places. The Irish word timpan does not describe a particular drum; it can even refer to a type of stringed instrument.) Nor do we have any particularly Irish evidence for styles of performance. Frame drums with a bodhrán-type shape appear in continental representations from the 15th century onward, but no one has produced an example showing the double-ended-stick style which defines modern bodhrán technique. [My thanks to Heather Rose Jones for this research.]

What about cipín?

The double-headed beater, unique to the bodhrán, is called a cipín in Irish. According to Joseph McKee and Kevin Rice, cipín, pronounced ki-PEEN, is the Irish word for kindling. It's a word I'd never heard before I read McKee's article.

What's the right word for a bodhrán-player?

OK, now that you've gotten the jokes out of your system, let's get serious.

Some people like to keep it simple with bodhrán-player. Tony Sullivan, in the booklet accompaying his instructional tape, uses bodhránist.

According to Eolaire, a guide to Irish for musicians, published by Comhaltas Ceobltóirí Èireann, the preferred word is bodhránaí (bow-rawn-ee). Thanks to Paulette Gershen for this citation. This neologism follows one common pattern in Irish of forming nouns; some examples provided by B. Dalton on IRTRAD-L are listed below.

Other suggestions so far: bodhrán-stricker, bodhránner, drummer, and bodhrádóir (bow-rah-door). The last choice follows another pattern of noun formation in Irish; examples of that pattern are also listed below, some of them provided by Andy Linton on IRTRAD-L.

veidhleadóir violinist, veidhlín violin
deileadóir lathe worker, deil lathe
ceoltóir musician, ceol music
drumadóir drummer, druma drum
stiúrthóir conductor, stiúr control, rudder
triomadóir dryer, triomaigh to dry
múinteóir teacher, múin to teach
gunnadóir gunner, gunna gun

tiománaí driver, tiomáint drive
tréadaí herdsman, tréad herd
luthchleasaí athlete, luthchleas athletics
gabhálaí invader, gabháil invasion
gadaí robber, goid to steal

fidléir fiddler, fidil fiddle
gruaigaire hairdresser, gruaig hair
potaire potter, pota pot
pótaire drunkard, póit drinking bout

From the root gleacach, struggling, three different nouns are derived: gleacaí acrobat, gleacaire boxer and gleiceadóir wrestler.

It is also pointed out that the word bodhrán could be construed to mean "deaf person," and that this may be an entirely appropriate term for an unfortunately large minority of players of this much-maligned instrument.



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Josh Mittleman

Last updated 30 Mar 1999