Sunday, 6 November 2016


Seen on Facebook: samhain means "summer's end".

Samhain is a Gaelic word meaning summer's end

This seems misleading. I can't find any dictionaries that say it means "summer's end".

The Royal Irish Academy's dictionary of medieval Irish says "The first of November, the festival held on that date, in relig. contexts All Saints' Day, All Hallows."

Dwelly says "November".

Ó Dónaill says "November".

Where did this idea that it means "summer's end" come from? Maybe from McBain's An Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language which says of Scots Gaelic samhuinn:

Hallow-tide, Irish samhain, Early Irish samuin, samain, samfhuin: usually regarded as for *sam-fuin, "summer-end", from sam, summer, and fuin, end, sunset, fuinim, I end, *vo-nesô, root nes, as in còmhnuidh, q.v. (Stokes). For fuin, Kluge suggests *wen, suffer (Gothic winnan, suffer); Zimmer favours Sanskrit van, hurt (English wound); and Ascoli analyses it into fo-in-. Dr Stokes, however, takes samain from the root som, same (English same, Greek ὁμός, like, Latin simul, whence English assemble; See samhuil), and makes *samani- mean "assembly" - the gathering at Tara on 1st November, while Cét-shamain, our Céitein, was the "first feast", held on 1st May.

In other words it means "Hallow-tide", but it might be derived from words for "summer" and "end", or it might be derived from a word for "assembly".

I don't think much of the pronunciations either. Is there a Welsh cognate of samhain? If there is, it wouldn't begin with /s/. The Welsh cognate of Old Irish sam "summer" is haf.


The Ridger, FCD said...

There is a Welsh word. It's Calangaeaf. Calan could mean beginning, though it's really the first day of something, usually a month; gaeaf is winter. So where Scots say "end of summer" (if they do), the Welsh say "beginning of winter".

Anonymous said...

Before fall and spring came in to common observation, there were two seasons, winter and summer. Summer began on May Day; winter began six months later, half way around the year's cycle: Hallowe'en, the night of October thirty first, the next day being November 1. (The "day" began at sunset, hence the observation beginning at sundown the calendar before...

Mwncïod said...

The Welsh version of “end of summer” is the name in Welsh for the month July (mis) Gorffennaf - "gorffen" ‎(“end”) +‎ haf ‎(“summer”).