Sunday, 6 November 2016

samhain

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.