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  5. "Slàinte mhath Iain."

"Slàinte mhath Iain."

Translation:Good health Iain.

December 7, 2019



"Slàinte mhath!" is a traditional toast among English speakers in Nova Scotia where I live - I had no idea what it meant!


Weel, ye ken noo - as we say in Scots. In Scotland the usage is generally that the first person to say the toast says "Slainte!" and then the reply is "Slainte mhath!" This is common among people who know no Gaelic at all. I got a minor shock to see the sign outside a village medical practice in the west of Ireland - Slainte [something, I presume Centre].

Also when parking the car to see the sign that just said "Saor". As in there was no charge for the parking. In Scotland that word is seldom seen in public without the word "Alba" following it. (And some idiot was actually selling baseball caps with "Soar Alba" emblazoned on them, I mean if you can't spell, check it before you have the flipping caps made.)


It is a surprisingly common error as this internet search shows.

But one of the results that comes up is an aerial photography company. Eventually I realized it wasn't an error, but a pun, as they do 'soar' - fly high.


Yes, that one looks intentional!


I'd like to see a language course on Scots, later.


Agree, but I wonder if they teach it in school today...


Sadly there is very little chance any time soon due to the low prestige of Scots. When I moved to Scotland I tried to find a course and I can assure you there are no courses anywhere, of any description. Because people are not taught Scots at school they end up thinking their good Scots is bad English, and this just perpetuates the stigma they feel. It is often commented that Scots should be taught, according to policy, and it is generally accepted that people should not be criticized for using it.

I did a little work experience in a Scottish school and I asked a senior teacher about her attitude to Scots and she just said, with vehemence, 'I don't accept bad English'. I was shocked but this is something I have heard anecdotally time and again although it is 100% against policy.

I was teaching a maths class and a boy said something in Scots that I did not understand, so I politely asked what he meant. I thought this was appropriate but I was shocked by the reaction. He and his neighbours started grinning with an enormous appearance of pride. It took me some time to figure out what I had said, but in fact it was the first time anyone had said that (putting myself in the ignorant position) as opposed to telling them 'say that in English' which implies it is their language that is at fault.

They do actually teach it. They have one lesson a year. On 25th January (Burns Night). They study a Burns poem or two. They are told 'this is our heritage so we should study it'. The language bears no relation to modern Scots – indeed it does not really contain much Scots grammar at all, but rather it is just English with obscure words put in for literary effect. So this would not require a course anyway, but just a vocab list. Then the rest of the year they get criticised when they speak Scots.


Sadly, indeed. 'I don't accept bad English' - would she accept Shakespearean language or perceive it as bad? I heard, they teach it today in some London theatres.

At least, I am glad that have a Scots-English dictionary!


There are lots of stories of the word aye 'yes' being objected to as dialect or slang. It wasn't quite used by Shakespeare – it was just coming in, but it is still used in the British Navy and even in the House of Commons (as a noun meaning a 'yes vote'). Just the sort of thing she would object to.


There are a plethora of books avaiable in Scots. I happen to have both Raold Dahl's "The sleekit Mr. Tod", a Scots version of The House at Poo Corner here at pur house in Pennsylvania among others to read with my almost 4 year old grand daughter when ghey come to visit from Edinburgh, and even The New Testament, which I admit to consulting when reading the daily office. Maisie loves it when the foxes are sampling the farmer's cider and one says, "Aye, that'll scowder yer thrapple!" There are many other more adult books in Scots as well. At Maisie's nursery in Edinburgh, they have learning sessions and childrens songs like the familiar "put you left hand in, take your left hand out" etc. It aint dead until it's chest quits it's up and down.


Should it not be ' a Iain'?


The vocative "a" is not used before words that start with a vowel (or a silent consonant like "fh").


"Slàinte mhath" should really be good cheers in that context.


Well no. It's a bit misleading to translate slàinte as "cheers" because the word literally means "health". It's just that it's used in the same context as English speakers use "cheers" when starting a round of drinks. Might be closer to say "your health!" except there's no "you" in the Gaelic expression.

By the time you get as far as slàinte mhath it's getting pretty tenuous to keep on with the "cheers" analogy. "Slàinte mhath" literally translates as "good health" and you'll find it in medical treatises as well as being said in the pub. I haven't noticed a Health Centre in Scotland with "Slàinte [something]" on the sign, but that's certainly the case in Ireland.

This is the word "health" and the reply "good health" being used in the sense of a toast, but parallels with the word "cheers" are potentially misleading and can only be taken so far.


In the Spanish speaking country I live in, we say "salud" in a toast, and it means "health", so is it the same as in Gaelic?


Pretty much. In Gaelic you can say just "Slàinte!" which means the same as "Salud!", but it's more common to hear, "Slàinte mhath!", which is more like "Buena salud!".


I've always thought that the two words are so similar that there must be some connection, but no one has actually found it.


The most complicated selection of clicks so far!


Sláin is a way to say goodbye in Irish, as far as I know. Is there a known point where/how Scottish diverged from Irish in how goodbyes are said?


There is very little knowledge of when the two diverged at all, and for at least four good reasons.

Firstly, virtually everything we have from more than a few centuries ago was written by educated literate people, who tended to write in a very formal, somewhat archaic, standardized language that seems to have take specific traits from various dialects.

Secondly, there is quite a gap in the record in Scotland, between this standardized 'Old Irish' and Early Modern Gaelic.

Thirdly, the language spoken by peasants was very regional, as they had no way of knowing what people were saying even 50 miles away, so we cannot assume any standardization even in one country.

Fourthly, there are many features of Islay Gaelic that resemble Irish and many features of Ulster Irish that resemble Gaelic. The sea does not really represent a border.

It seems that slán was the original Old Irish, but that the derived term sláinte (which would appear to mean 'healthed') also existed.

I suspect that slán just happened to be the form that got standardized in the early 20th century, when the music stopped.


Brilliant answer, love this kind of stuff. Tapadh leibh gu mòr!

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