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"An e neach-smàlaidh sean a th' annaibh?"

Translation:Are you an old firefighter?

March 30, 2020



I believe them to be asking if they used to be a firefighter rather than a bit of ageism lol as in scotland we would say 'that's my old boss' or 'he's an old teacher' as in used to be my boss or used to be a teacher.. i know you are not meant to take the sentences literally but I can only guess that's what is meant rather than being downright rude lol


That's an interesting suggestion. This usage is not common in my experience, so I did not think of it, but I have looked it up:

  • Dwelly does not mention this usage
  • AFB does list 'former' as one of the meanings
  • Out of 68 examples for seann, Mark gives

    seann dachaidh old home [in which they used to live]
    an seann chuideachd athar he enlisted in his father’s old [former] company
    na seann dùthcha of the old country [from which they came]
    an seann taigh the old house [in which they used to live]
    + a few examples that are a bit ambiguous but where it is certainly not clear that 'former' is intended.

Note that Mark states explicitly that seann, coming before the noun, is the correct attributive form. And I would never use sean as it is being used here, and I don't think it is common, although I recognise that it is not wrong.

So , yes it is possible, occurring unambiguously in 6% of Mark's examples, but is sufficiently rare that it is not, in my view, what you might immediately understand.

They tend to use simpler constructions in Gaelic, where available, so the natural way to say this would be

An e neach-smàlaidh a bh' annaibh? Is it a firefighter that you were?

or, with even more emphasis on the past,

Am b' e neach-smàlaidh a bh' annaibh? Was it a firefighter that you were?

If you wanted to emphasise that it was your current position to be an ex-firefighter then I think most people would say

An e ex-neach-smàlaidh a bh' annaibh? Is it an ex-firefighter that you are?


Why not "Are you an old fireman?" Is a firefighter different from a fireman/woman in Gaelic.


Many languages are struggling with changes in social attitudes and how to translate gender-specific terminology. It is a problem in Gaelic when it happens that the Gaelic term is gender specific and the English isn't - or vice versa.

But this term was the same in both languages so there was no problem

fear-smàlaidh = fireman

In Gaelic you can take any such word and replace the fear = man with

= woman
neach = person
luchd = people

This works fine in Gaelic, but in English it can sound awkward, so we try to avoid terms like fire-person. I think the problem is the two-syllable words and where the stress is in these words. All these words happen to be single syllables in Gaelic which is why there is no problem.

But the net result is that, whilst the terms may be interchangeable in some situations, they are note the same. If they have specifically used the gender-neutral term in Gaelic, then you have to find a gender-neutral term in English, even if fire-person is too awkward to use.

Note that is not the normal word for a woman, but it is the word that has been adopted in this context. I guess they chose this because bean is a bit old-fashioned sounding - so it is fine for translating landlady or fishwife but not firefighter and boireannach is far too long. Ban- is found in some words, but it translates 'female' not 'woman' so cannot be attached to a word that is not already a job title - there is no such person as a *smàlaidh so there is no such thing as *ban-smàlaidh. D


We' ve leant fireman for ages! We do know there can be women doing this job too, nowadays, but certainly not if we speak about an OLD firefighter! And Fireman is still correct and should be accepted.


That depends on what you mean by 'learnt'. If you mean that you have learnt to use the word fireman to describe a man who fights fires then that is fine - as a translation of the Gaelic fear-smàlaidh, but this is different. This is a neach-smàlaidh.

If, on the other hand, you are saying that you have learnt fireman as a translation of neach-smàlaidh then I would be rather dubious and I would require evidence. Neach is used specifically as the gender-neutral replacement for fear or bean, so the only correct translation is a gender-neutral term.


What a rude question. Do we need to learn to be so rude?


Why is "sean" after "neach-smàlaidh" here? Or do I know this already and have just forgotten?


There's two different words that mean the same thing. You can either put seann before the noun, or you can put sean after the noun. It's entirely your choice. Obviously they decided to use sean here.

Note that if you want to say 'older' or 'oldest' (learn about that later) or to say the firefighter is old, you can never use seann (or any other adjective that goes before the noun, come to that).

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