One of the first idioms I ever learned in Gaelic was “cho sgìth ri seann chù”: as tired as an old dog. As a student, this was probably the most used phrase in my vocabulary (with the possible exception of “chan eil mi a’ tuigsinn”) and I imagine that this is true for Gaelic students everywhere, and particularly those of us who have learnt the language as an adult.
Dogs appear often in in the fieldwork archive in phrases and sayings from all around Gaelic Scotland. Considering the occupation of many Gaelic speakers today still involves working with sheep and other livestock, it is unsurprising that many of these sayings are connected with sheep-dogs and other working dogs, like the phrase “Na bidh gun chù, ’s na beathaich cuillain” from South Uist, which means don’t be without a dog, but don’t buy a dog that isn’t old enough to work. And if you felt like teaching your dog some Gaelic, have a look at the fieldwork archive for commands used in training sheepdogs.
Many Gaelic proverbs also refer to dogs, like the following from Alexander Nicolson’s Collection of Gaelic Proverbs and Familiar Phrases: “Tigh gun chù, gun chat, gun leanabh beag, tigh gun ghean, gun ghàire”, a poignant saying which Nicolson tells us means “a house without dog, without cat, without child, a house without cheerfulness or laughter”. Surely many of us keep pets for just this reason.
Another proverb from the same text is “cha truagh leam cù ‘s marag m’ a amhaich” which literally translates as “I don’t pity a dog with a pudding round his neck”, or could be interpreted as “I don’t have sympathy for someone who is so fortunate”. That being said, I’m certain that any dog who had a string of sausages around his neck but can’t eat them wouldn’t consider himself fortunate in the least!
And finally for today, as a counterpoint to “cho sgìth ri seann chù” is “is fhearr an cù a ruitheas na ’n cù a mheathas.”: “Better is the dog that runs than he that gives in.” or in other words better to try at something rather than giving up before you start…even if you are as tired as an old dog.
For more vocabulary or sayings about dogs, why not have a look at the Fieldwork Archive, or if you know any yourself, please send them to us on Twitter or Facebook.
I hope everyone has a very happy Chinese New Year.
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