Dude. Sweetie Pie. Buddy. Honey. Mack. Soulmate. Darling. Love. Sweetheart.
English is full of friendly, sometimes casual, often endearing, terms that people use for one another — some used for acquaintances; others reserved for those nearest and dearest.
Irish is the same way. What seems to surprise people, though, is that Irish endearments typically are NOT direct translations of English endearments. In fact, often what seems like sweet phrase in English makes no sense in Irish at all (and vice versa).
A Common Request
On Irish translation forums, we are often asked to translate endearments and friendly expressions. In fact, after tattoo requests, endearments (usually for personalized gifts) are the most common.
Sometimes these requests are oddly specific, and it can be a bit amazing sometimes what people think can be translated (sorry, folks, but there just isn’t an Irish translation for “My sweet baboo.”)
When you’re willing to accept that exact translations aren’t always possible, however, the realm of Irish endearments is a very rich and satisfying one.
First, just a little grammar
The first thing we ask someone with such a request is “do you want it to sound as if you were talking TO the person or ABOUT the person?” It doesn’t matter in English, but it matters hugely in Irish.
In Irish, if you’re speaking directly to someone (or want it to sound as if you are), you use a special construction called “the vocative case.”
For the purposes of this article, however, we’re going to assume the vocative case is what’s wanted.
In English, there are often occasions when we want to use a friendly, or at least non-threatening, term for someone else:
“How’s it going, buddy?”
“Watch it, Mack!”
“It’s OK, sweetie.”
In Irish, one of the most basic terms used in these situations would be “a chara” (uh KHAR-uh): “friend.”
In fact, you’ll find a chara used in everything from formal letter salutations to greeting cards. It’s used for both men and women.
A slightly more informal form of address in these situations (one reserved pretty much for males) would be a mhac (uh wak), which literally means “son,” but is used where an English speaker might say “dude” or “mate” or “buddy.”
An interesting side note
As an interesting side note, it’s likely that the English term “mack” came from the Irish a mhac!
More endearing endearments
As you get beyond the basic “buddy/dude/mate” endearments, the options increase. There are quite a few endearments that will be used for affectionate friendships as well as for closer relationships.
I tend to think of these as “midrange endearments.” They’re expressions that can be used between friends or between lovers. Often they’re also used as endearments for children.
Some of the more common include:
A stór (uh stohr): Literally “my treasure.”
A thaisce (uh HASH-keh): Also “my treasure.”
A leanbh (uh LAN-uv): Literally “my child.” (special note: this one often gets transcribed as “alanna” in Irish songs.)
More romantic endearments
Moving on, endearments become more romantic, intense, or passionate:
A mhuirnín (uh WUR-neen): Darling
A ghrá (uh GHRAH): Love
A chroí (uh KHREE): Heart
A chuisle (uh KHUSH-leh): Pulse
A rún (uh ROON): Secret
A chuid (uh KHWIJ): Portion/share
These will often be combined, to intensify the feeling. For example:
A rún mo chroí (uh ROON muh KHREE): Literally “Secret of my heart.”
A chuid den tsaol (uh KWHIJ den TEEL): Literally “My share of life”)
You’ll also find them intensified by adding adjectives, for example:
A ghrá geal (uh GHRAH gyal): Literally “bright love.”
Even more passionate
As we move along, we find terms that are even more passionate…terms that are reserved for lovers. Many of these are based on another word for “love”: searc (shark).
A chéadsearc (uh KHAYD-shark): First love (not “first” as in a series, but “first” as in “primary”).
A rúnsearc (uh ROON-shark): Literally “secret love” — a very passionate way of saying “beloved.”
A special case: soulmate
“Soulmate” is an especially popular request, and one that causes a lot of confusion, primarily because no one can seem to agree on what it means.
When Americans say “soulmate” they usually mean a romantic partner…someone with whom they are fated to be.
When Europeans say “soulmate” they usually mean someone with whom they have a lot in common — a very close friend, for example — but not necessarily someone with whom they have a romantic bond.
To make things even more confusing, misunderstandings of Irish grammar have resulted in constructions that are assumed to mean “soulmate,” even though they’re actually nonsensical.
Summing up the “soulmate” issue
A common assertion is that the phrase anam cara means “soulmate.” This is, frankly, pure nonsense, based on jamming two Irish words together using English syntax.
At best, anam cara could be taken to mean “a soul of a friend.”
There is an existing compound word — anamchara — that literally means “soul friend.” But this really doesn’t work as “soulmate” in either definition.
Anamchara is traditionally used to refer to one’s confessor or spiritual advisor. Originally, it was used to refer to the spiritual advisor a young monk would be assigned when he joined the monastery.
In more modern terms, it’s used to refer to the priest to whom one offers confession before mass. Definitely nothing romantic there!
So what do I call my soulmate?
If you mean “soulmate” in the romantic sense, the more passionate Irish endearments should suit, including:
A ghrá geal
A chuid den tsaol
There are also a few words of more recent coinage (formed, really, from English terms), including:
Mo shíorghrá (muh HEER-ggrah) My eternal love
M’fhíorghrá (MEER-ggrah) My true love
Though, to be perfectly honest, these terms wouldn’t come naturally to native speakers, and are condemned by some as “Béarlachas” (Anglicisms).
If you’re using “soulmate” to refer to a very close friend, you also have several options:
A chara mo chléibh (uh KHAR-uh muh khlayv) My bosom friend
A bhuanchara (uh WOON-khar-uh) My eternal/enduring friend
A dhlúthchara (uh GGLOO-khar-uh) My best/closest friend
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