Note that it is am boireannach as this word is masculine. It originally meant 'something female' so was neuter, as you would expect of any kind of 'thing' word. But then all neuters became masculine in Gaelic and Irish (but they don't use this word - they stick to bean). This word was adopted to cover the modern meaning 'woman', regardless of age and marital status, that did not exist in the past. You went straight form being a caileag 'young, unmarried woman' to being a bean 'married woman'. Many languages have faced the same problem. Some have extended the 'married woman' word to cover all women. As well as Irish there is German Frau (with Fräulein now considered offensive) and the French form of address madame (with mademoiselle now considered offensive). It is similar to the Miss/Mrs/Ms argument in English.
hey (sorry, it's not letting me reply to your message bellow, but this is in query to that)
so, what confuses me is that whilst the social preasure to marry was really high, there must have been times when the number of single adult women drastically outstripped single adult men, particularly given the martial culture and the occasional near wiping out of kindreds (frasers @ blar nan leine, is given to me as an eg).
im not a sociolinguist, so obv i'll defer to people who know more about this, but it just seems really odd that this wasn't a concept that language users were just confronted with from time to time?
taing a Dhaibhidh :)
Firstly you can't reply because my post was a reply to a reply to a reply to a reply to a reply to a post, and they have to impose a limit as each level of nesting moves further to the right.
I was thinking that, but not knowing the answer, which is why I wrote 'normally'.
I too would love to hear from someone who knows. I know this was a problem after the world wars, and I know a name was given to these women, but I can't remember what it was. I even met a lot of these people as old women, although they have, of course, mostly died out.
Some cultures had an official acceptance of polygamy, and I guess others might have had an unofficial acceptance in times of need.
If a lot of men in a small geographical area were killed then a bit of migration would mitigate the problem. People tended to marry younger, and I have no idea of the age distribution of the people who died, but it could be that a much higher proportion of the excess deaths involved married men, resulting in a widow, not a spinster. These widows were called 'war widows' in English. Although it was not explicit, many of these failed to remarry due to the man shortage.
Figures vary wildly, but it is often suggested that 10% of women died in some way related to childbirth. If this is the case, you might have excess female deaths of up to 10% and you would have to kill 10% of the men just to redress the balance. These are just some ideas, so I would definitely appreciate some expertise.
In terms of the Gaelic, you might expect there to be some derogatory terms, and Dwelly is brim full of derogatory terms for women, probably because most of his informants were male, but I have never come across a term for this particular situation.
Such a person did not normally exist, as the social pressure to marry was so high. But bean does not actually mean 'married woman' - it's just that almost all mnathan (and yes that really is the plural of bean) would have been married, so there would be nothing wrong with bean.
But as for a specific word for a spinster, I do not know one in Gaelic. But then it is not a word I have used this century in any language. So what follows comes out of dictionaries and should not be regarded as current.
Mark gives seana mhaighdeann lit. 'old maid' and AFB gives seann-nighean lit. 'old girl'.
Then I checked up cailleach, which is usually translated as 'old woman' today, but Dwelly says
Woman, single woman, old woman. 2 Old wife. 3 Woman without offspring. 4 Nun. 5 Carlin...
so it looks as if that word would have been suitable once.
This has already been answered at very great length on this page. The meaning of both bean and woman are very culturally dependent. When a dictionary says this is one of the meanings it means that this is the best translation in some circumstances. In particular any good dictionary will include past usage as well as current usage in case you meet the word in an old text. We have agreed that this was a good translation, and still is from the Irish, but that it is not appropriate in modern Gaelic.
Clearly there are times when you can take Humpty Dumpty's approach and use words however you feel like
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."
(Lewis Caroll, Through the Looking-glass, 1871 quoted in Wikipedia)
However, you will not get very far when learning another language unless you go with the consensus about what a word means. Not only have I presented arguments about what the word means, but, more importantly, Joanne, a mod, has stated that
Although 'bean' historically was used as a translation for 'woman', it isn't really nowadays :)
Since the mods are the final arbiters, I think we will have to go with that, unless you can present evidence to the contrary. The mods do listen and do add options when clear evidence is presented, but you have not yet stated where you got the evidence that bean means 'woman'.
I have looked it up several places and have found the following bean n. fem. /bɛn/ gen. mnà pl. mnathan, gen. pl. ban
- wife bean gun sliochd a childless woman (not a childless wife but woman) bean an taighe the woman of the house (it does not say married woman of the house, just woman) bean-tuirim n. fem. gen. mnà-tuirim pl. mnathan-tuirim mourning woman ( or a woman in morning not a wife just a woman) bean-chìche n. fem. gen. mnà-cìche pl. -an-cìche wetnurse ( one would assume that a wet nurse was married but it doesn't say so it refers to a woman that can nurse a baby) bean-chinnidh n. fem. gen. mnà-cinnidh pl. mnathan-cinnidh
Also brides maid, nurses, maid servants, sister in law, and a nun just to name a few all use bean to ensure that the person being spoke of is a woman, not a wife but a woman.
Yes, but I have explained why I do not consider that a dictionary giving this meaning is evidence that it is the correct translation in modern colloquial Gaelic. Joanne speaks Gaelic as a first language, and I speak it reasonably well. Fundamentally, a dictionary lists the meanings it could have in different situations, time-frames, registers and dialects, but does not give information about when this particular translation is the correct one. Listen to fluent Gaelic speakers, listen to/read the news on the BBC. I have just Googled a couple of strings and this is what I got,
bean bha bbcvirtually no news reports and vitually every hit for bean followed by a genitive. That is, either someone's wife or something like bean an taighe but never just a plain 'woman'
boireannach bha bbcpages of hits about women in the news
(Note that including
bha in a web search is a useful trick for getting Gaelic results. It is such a common word in Gaelic that virtually every text will contain it (especially something like a news report) but it exists as a word in no other language. I did get a few hits where it was used as an acronym but I ignored these.)
I then looked in DASG, the corpus of Gaelic, and I did a search for bean in the 21st century. With a very few of the hits I could not tell from the limited context given what the meaning was, but with the vast majority, it was
- the wife of a named person,
- 'his wife'
- a compound such as bean-na-bùtha or bean-uasal.
This last is the usage you refer to in your last paragraph. It is used in compounds to clarify that a particular person is female, almost as if it is a qualifier meaning 'female'. So never (in the small sample I looked at) was the word on its own meaning 'woman'.
The two big differences between DASG and the dictionaries available are
- You can restrict the search to a time period (in this case the 21st century)
- It shows how often it has each meaning, rather than just saying 'it could mean this sometimes'.