Daltai na Gaeilge
Proverbs

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Is ait an mac an saol.

Life is strange.
[Such is life].

Note: This week's proverb is an ancient paragon of Irish word play. It literally means "The life is the strange son." In Irish, the definite article is used to express abstraction whereas in English the same is done with an indefinite article, or no article at all. This week's subject and predicate are both abstractions so a better English translation would be "Life is a strange son."

To ancient Celts, both the clan and the world were composed of living things. For example, recall the Lady of the Lake in Celtic, Arthurian legend. She was the living embodiment of the world's bodies of water. This is why the word 'saol' means both life and world.

Now the word "ait" is a play on words. It means pleasant, likeable, fine, excellent, comical, queer (in the sense of strange). Lengthen the vowel and you get "áit" meaning place. One would expect to hear the world is a strange "áit."

This concept of a living world explains the subtle word play using 'son' as a metaphor. It is common, even today, to use 'a mhic' (o son) as a term of endearment for addressing any male. So in this case the author used this metaphor to say the world is strange, but it is also a friend.

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