When weather means time in Irish English

Ireland has a curious expression whereby this weather is used to mean “these days”. It normally occurs at the end of a clause or sentence, though it doesn’t have to. It’s a very colloquial phrase, more often heard than seen. But it appears sometimes in speechlike prose, such as these examples from the Irish chatroom boards.ie:

(1) He’s a sad man this weather.

(2) what coolant temp are you logging this weather?

(3) Wouldn’t imagine their stock was exactly flying out the door this weather.

(4) Hi, anyone else struggling with tacky paint this weather?

This weather meaning these days is an expression I’ve used most of my life, but I hadn’t really thought about it until I saw a tweet from Warren Maguire (whom some of you may remember from a post here last year on his survey of accents):

(Tyrone, if you’re wondering, is a large county in Northern Ireland.) Another linguist, Pavel Iosad, drew connections with other Celtic languages:

I added a note to the effect that the phrase was not limited to Tyrone but was also used in counties Galway and Mayo in the west of Ireland. It may well have informal currency all over the island, as it seems to come from the Irish word aimsir /ˈæmʃɪɾʲ/, which can refer to both weather and time.

As a child I learned aimsir principally in the “weather” sense, with am meaning “time” in most cases. But aimsir meaning “time” is apparent in many Irish phrases, such as le haimsir “with time”, and caitheamh aimsire “pastime” (literally spending time). Aimsir is also the Irish word for grammatical tense.

MacBain’s Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language has an entry on aimsir that suggests a possible development from am:

time, so Irish; Old Irish amser, Welsh amser, Breton amzer, possibly a Celtic ammesserâ; either a compound of am, time (ammensîrâ, from sîr, long?), or amb-mensura, root mens, measure, Latin mensus, English measure. Ascoli and Stokes give the Celtic as ád-messera, from ad-mensura.

Either way, it seems the temporal sense came first, then the weather-related one. I suspect a connection with farming, given the deep relationship between agricultural and seasonal rhythms – or maybe it’s not so specific, and emerged simply as a result of the correspondence between weather and time of year. I’d welcome your ideas.

Warren Maguire, meanwhile, would like to know if this weather = these days “is found in any English varieties that haven’t been in contact with Irish/Scottish Gaelic”. Jeffrey L. Kallen, in his chapter on Irish English in Englishes Around the World, says this sense of weather is “not found elsewhere”, but do let us know if there’s anything like it in your dialect.

[Archive of posts on Hiberno-English]

National Library of Ireland - Harvest Time

[image: ‘Harvest Time’, from the National Library of Ireland’s Lawrence Collection: Irish Life series. NLI Ref.: L_ROY_03303, via Wikimedia Commons]

18 Responses to When weather means time in Irish English

  1. Plenty of parallels for time/weather in the Romance languages: French temps, Italian tempo and Spanish tiempo.

  2. Roger says:

    Time and tide have an antique connection in English; cp. Ger. Zeit.
    Adrian Room on /tide/: “the alternative rise and fall of the sea, due to the gravitational attraction of the sun and moon . . . Old English /tid/
    from a Germanic word rel. to TIME. Cp. German /Zeit/ time. The original sense was time. The sense rise and fall of the sea evolved in the 14-15c.” — Word Histories.
    And a German newspaper, or Zeitung (“tiding”), brings the news of the day or time. So that’s earthbound time as oceanic-celestial, not to say obsessive-compulsive, from way back.

  3. paddy sammon says:

    There is a related pun on this word (aimsir) in the nightly weather forecast on the Irish-language TV channel, TG4: http://www.tg4.ie

    The weather forecast is headed by the words An Aimsir Láithreach. This can translate either as ‘the present tense’ (a common usage, heard e.g. in school grammar classes) or else – more unusually – as ‘the weather – immediately’!

    The weather forecast is usually broadcast e.g. at 18:55 each night, immediately before the main news bulletin.

  4. Stan says:

    Gerry: Oh yes, of course.

    Roger: That’s interesting. I don’t know how the origin of tidings never struck me before.

    Paddy: Thanks! As an only occasional viewer of TG4 weather, I hadn’t noticed that pun before.

  5. maceochi says:

    In Bulgarian, Macedonian and Serbo-Croat vreme (време) means both weather and time. In Slovene vreme means just weather. Unbelievably, Romanian, a non-Slavic language, has borrowed the word unchanged with both senses! I am genuinely gobsmacked. I suppose this is what happens when a language is surrounded on so many sides by languages of one family. In Czech and Slovak time is čas while weather is počasí and počasie, respectively. And час (čas) in Russian means hour! And a final parallel: in Russian weather is погода (pogoda), while год (god) is year…

    I love that TG4 pun! Designed to make people shudder with Irish grammar memories, just a bit, perhaps…

  6. alexguenther says:

    re: Zeitung / tiding – other Z/T pairs of words which blew my mind when I noticed them include the German cognates for tell, token, timber and tinder.

  7. Stan says:

    maceochi: That’s very interesting, thanks! It reminds me of something John McWhorter wrote about how artificial are the boundaries we tend to place around and within languages: that it’s better to think of it all as a large self-pollinating net whose elements are mixing all the time. A close connection between time and weather seems to exist in many languages; I should have specified in the post that I’d welcome such examples, not just English dialectal phrases.

    Alex: The brothers Grimm would approve.

  8. thnidu says:

    Standard French has the mirror development, where “temps” /tã/ < Latin "tempus" 'time' has added the meaning 'weather'.

    Mark Mandel

    • thnidu says:

      Whoops, sorry, didn’t see gerryfoley123’s comment. My “smart”phone’s link didn’t bring up the existing comments till of added mine.

      • gerryfoley123 says:

        I thought about the Latin tempus too, but didn’t know whether it might have had a weather connection. So apparently not.

  9. Aimsir/aimsear, in Dineen, is defined as: time, era, period, duration, season, weather. Certainly in the Conamara Gaeltacht it’s very commonly used to indicate time. One would never ask “cén chaoí an bhfuil tú ag an am seo?” It’d always be ‘cén chaoí an bhfuil tú an aimsir seo?”
    Another common temporal usage i nGaeilge was to indicate a period of employment, ‘cailín aimsire’ – servant girl, or ‘duine a chur in aimsir’ – to send someone into service.

    • Stan says:

      Thanks, Síle! Good to get a Gaeilgeoir’s insight. Though my main early association of aimsir was with weather, it seems the temporal senses are older and more prototypical.

  10. John Cowan says:

    There is no reference to weather s.v. tempus in Lewis & Short, but the word primarily means not ‘time’ in the abstract, but ‘a period of time’: thus ad tempus ‘in time, at the right time’ and ante tempus ‘too soon, before the right time’. The phrase pro tempore, used in English as pro tem., means ‘according to circumstances’, and certainly the weather is one of the most obvious circumstances there is. The idea of a point in time probably accounts for its alternate meaning ‘temple (of the head)’, the right spot (for hitting someone on the head); indeed temple < tempora (pl.)

  11. Malie says:

    re: time/tide/Zeit

    It’s not uncommon to hear “these tides” where one might more usually hear “these days” in Devon. I’d only really heard it in coastal places so I assumed there was a fishing/maritime connection, but when words like “Yuletide” were pointed out to me I became less sure that it was related to the sea (at least in origin).

  12. Stan says:

    John: Very helpful and pertinent, thank you.

    Malie: I’ve never heard these tides; it’s a fine example. The word apparently comes from OE tīd “division of time”, which has cognates throughout Indo-European languages.

  13. Emphyrio says:

    In modern Greek too, “καιρός” means mostly “weather”, but also (and especially in the plural, “καιροί”) it means “times”. For example, Chaplin’s “Modern Times” has always been translated as “Μοντέρνοι καιροί”. We also say “Είναι καιρός για / Είναι καιρός να κάνουμε…” (It’s time for / It’s time to do…

  14. John Cowan says:

    In Classical Greek, καιρός, like tempus, meant ‘a moment of time’ (punctual or recurrent), as opposed to χρόνος, which is linear, measurable time. Kairos has been borrowed directly into English, and is used especially in the language of Christian theology. The Virgin Birth, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection: all these are kairoi, both in the sense of having happened only once and in the sense of recurring in every liturgical year. It has been said that the Gospels tell us not what happened but what happens.

    The novels of Madeleine L’Engle, best known for A Wrinkle In Time, are divided into two subseries with links between them: the Kairos group (including Wrinkle), which are more “fantastic” and mostly about the Murry and O’Keefe families, and the Chronos group, which are more “realistic” and mostly about the Austin family. There are shared secondary characters and the general historical timeline is the same. Oddly enough, despite the strong Christian themes of her books, many Christian bookstores will not carry them because of L’Engle’s belief in universal salvation.

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