Placenamesni.orgthe history behind our place-names

Glossary of Technical Terms


advowson The right of presenting a clergyman to a vacant benefice.

affricate A plosive pronounced in conjunction with a fricative; e.g. the sounds spelt with (t)ch or -dge in English.

alveolar Pronounced with the tip of the tongue touching the ridge of hard flesh behind the upper teeth; e.g. t in the English word tea.

analogy The replacement of a form by another in imitation of words of a similar class; e.g. in imitation of bake - baked, fake - faked, rake - raked a child or foreigner might create a form shaked.

anglicize Make English in form; e.g. in place-names the Irish word baile "homestead, townland" is anglicized bally.

annal A record of events in chronological order, according to the date of the year.

annates Later known as First Fruits; a tax paid, initially to the Pope, by a clergyman on appointment to a benefice.

apocope The loss of the end of a word.

aspiration (i) The forcing of air through a narrow passage thereby creating a frictional sound; e.g. gh in the word lough as pronounced in Ireland and Scotland is an aspirated consonant, (ii) the modification of a consonant sound in this way, indicated in Irish writing by putting h after the consonant; e.g. p aspirated resembles the ph sound at the beginning of phantom; also called lenition.

assimilation The replacing of a sound in one syllable by another to make it similar to a sound in another syllable; e.g. in some dialects of Irish the r in the first syllable of the Latin sermon- was changed to n in imitation of the n in the second syllable, giving a form seanmóin.


ballybetagh Irish baile biataigh "land of a food-provider", native land unit, the holder of which had a duty to maintain his lord and retinue when travelling in the area (Colton Vis. p.130).

ballyboe Irish baile bó "land of a cow", a land unit equivalent to a modern townland, possibly so-named as supplying the yearly rent of one cow (Colton Vis. p.130).

barony In Ireland an administrative unit midway in size between a county and a civil parish, originally the landholding of a feudal baron (EA p.62).

benefice An ecclesiastical office to which income is attached.

bilabial Articulated by bringing the two lips together; e.g. the p in the English word pea.

Brittonic Relating to the branch of Celtic languages which includes Welsh, Cornish and Breton.


calendar A précis of an historical document or documents with its contents arranged according to date.

carrow Irish ceathrú "a quarter". See quarter.

cartography The science of map-making.

cartouche An ornamental frame round the title etc. of a map.

carucate Latin carucata "ploughland", a territorial unit, the equivalent of a townland.

Celtic Relating to the (language of the) Irish, Scots, Manx, Welsh, Cornish, Bretons, and Gauls.

centralized Pronounced with the centre of the tongue raised; e.g. the vowel sound at the beginning of again or at the end of the.

cess Tax.

cinament A territorial unit of lesser size than a tuogh (which see). Three derivations have been suggested: (i) from Irish cine "a family", cineamhain?) (EA 388); (ii) from French scindement "cutting up, division" (Morton 1956-7, 39); (iii) from French (a)ceignement "enclosure(?)" (Reid 1957, 12).

civil parish An administrative unit usually based on the medieval parish.

cluster See consonant cluster.

coarb Irish comharba, originally the heir of an ecclesiastical office, later a high-ranking hereditary tenant of church land under the bishop. The coarb may be in charge of other ecclesiastical tenants called erenaghs, which see.

compound A word consisting of two or more verbal elements; e.g. aircraft, housework.

consonant (i) An element of the alphabet which is not a vowel, e.g. c, j, x, etc., (ii) a speech sound in which the passage of air through the mouth or nose is impeded, e.g. at the lips (b, p, or m), at the teeth (s, z), etc.

consonant cluster A group of two or more consonants; e.g. bl in blood, ndl in handle, lfths in twelfths.

contraction (i) The shortening of a word or words normally by the omission of one or more sounds, (ii) a contracted word; e.g. good-bye is a contraction of God be with you; can not is contracted to can't.

county Feudal land division, equivalent to an English shire, created by the English administration in Ireland as the major subdivision of an Irish province.


deanery Properly called a rural deanery, an ecclesiastical division of people or land administered by a rural dean.

declension A group of nouns whose case-endings vary according to a fixed pattern. (There are five declensions in modern Irish).

delenition Sounding or writing a consonant as if it were not aspirated; see aspiration.

dental A sound pronounced with the tip of the tongue touching the upper teeth; e.g. th in the English thumb.

devoicing Removing the sound caused by the resonance of vocal cords; see voiced.

dialect A variety of a language in a given area with distinctive vocabulary, pronunciation or grammatical forms.

digraph A group of two letters expressing a single sound; e.g. ea in English team or ph in English photograph.

diocese The area or population over which a bishop has ecclesiastical authority.

diphthong A union of two vowel sounds pronounced in one syllable; e.g. oi in English boil. (Note that a diphthong cannot be sung on a single sustained note without changing the position of the mouth).

dissimilation The replacing of a sound in one syllable by another to make it different from a sound in another syllable e.g. Loughbrickland comes from an original Irish form, Loch Bricrenn.


eclipsis The replacement in Irish of one sound by another in initial position as the result of the influence of the previous word; e.g. the c of Irish cór "choir" (pronounced like English core) is eclipsed by g in the phrase i gcór "in a choir" due to the influence of the preposition i, and gcór is pronounced like English gore; also called nasalization.

elision The omission of a sound in pronunciation; e.g. the d is elided in the word handkerchief.

emphasis See stress.

epenthetic vowel A vowel sound inserted within a word; e.g. in Ireland an extra vowel is generally inserted between the l and m of the word film.

erenagh Irish airchinnech "steward", hereditary officer in charge of church lands, later a tenant to the bishop (Colton Vis. pp.4-5).

escheat Revert to the feudal overlord, in Ireland usually forfeit to the English crown (Moody 1939, 30).

etymology The facts relating to the formation and meaning of a word.


fiant A warrant for the making out of a grant under the royal seal, or (letters) patent.

fricative A speech sound formed by narrowing the passage of air from the mouth so that audible friction is produced; e.g. gh in Irish and Scottish lough.


Gaelic Relating to the branch of Celtic languages which includes Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx.

glebe The house and land (and its revenue) provided for the clergyman of a parish.

glide A sound produced when the organs of speech are moving from the position for one speech sound to the position for another; e.g. in pronouncing the word deluge there is a y-like glide between the l and the u.

gloss A word or phrase inserted in a manuscript to explain a part of the text.

Goedelic = Gaelic which see.

grange Anglo-Norman term for farm land providing food or revenue for a feudal lord, frequently a monastery.


haplology The omission of a syllable beside another with a similar sound; e.g. lib(ra)ry, deteri(or)ated.

hearth money A tax on the number of hearths used by a household.


impropriator The person to whom rectorial tithes of a monastery etc. were granted after the Dissolution.

inflect To vary the form of a word to indicate a different grammatical relationship; e.g. man singular, men plural.

inquisition A judicial inquiry, here usually into the possessions of an individual at death.

International Phonetic Alphabet The system of phonetic transcription advocated by the International Phonetic Association.


labial = bilabial which see.

lenition See aspiration.

lexicon The complete word content of a language.

lowering Changing a vowel sound by dropping the tongue slightly in the mouth; e.g. pronouncing doctor as dactor.


manor Feudal estate (Anglo-Norman and Plantation), smaller than a barony, entitling the landowner to jurisdiction over his tenants at a manor court.

martyrology Irish féilire, also translated "calendar", lists names of saints and gives the days on which their feasts are to be celebrated.

mearing A boundary.

metathesis The transposition of sounds in a word; e.g. saying elascit instead of elastic.

moiety French moitié, "the half of", also a part or portion of any size.

morphology The study of the grammatical structure of words.


nasalization See eclipsis.


oblique Having a grammatical form other than nominative singular.

onomasticon A list of proper names, usually places.

orthography Normal spelling.


palatal A sound produced with the tongue raised towards the hard palate.

parish A subdivision of a diocese served by a single main church or clergyman.

patent (or letters patent), an official document conferring a right or privilege, frequently here a grant of land.

patronymic A name derived from that of the father.

phonemic Relating to the system of phonetic oppositions in the speech sounds of a language, which make, in English for example, soap a different word from soup, and pin a different word from bin.

phonetic Relating to vocal sound.

phonology The study of the sound features of a language.

plosive A sound formed by closing the air passage and then releasing the air flow suddenly, causing an explosive sound; e.g. p in English pipe.

ploughland Medieval English land unit of about 120 acres, equivalent to a townland.

prebend An endowment, often in land, for the maintenance of a canon or prebendary, a senior churchman who assisted the bishop or had duties in the cathedral.

precinct Ad hoc land division (usually a number of townlands) used in Plantation grants.

prefix A verbal element placed at the beginning of a word which modifies the meaning of the word; e.g. un- in unlikely.

proportion Ad hoc land division (usually a number of townlands) used in Plantation grants.

province Irish cúige "fifth": the largest administrative division in Ireland, of which there are now four (Ulster, Leinster, Connacht, Munster) but were once five.


quarter Land unit often a quarter of the ballybetagh, and thus containing three or four townlands, but sometimes referring to a subdivision of a townland. See also carrow.


raising Changing a vowel sound by lifting the tongue higher in the mouth; e.g. pronouncing bag as beg.

realize Pronounce; e.g. -adh at the end of verbal nouns in Ulster Irish is realized as English -oo.

rectory A parish under the care of a rector supported by its tithes; if the rector cannot reside in the parish he appoints and supports a resident vicar.

reduction (i) Shortening of a vowel sound; e.g. the vowel sound in board is reduced in the word cupboard, (ii) = contraction which see.

register A document providing a chronological record of the transactions of an individual or organization.

rounded Pronounced with pouting lips; e.g. the vowel sounds in oar and ooze.


seize To put in legal possession of property, especially land.

semantic Relating to the meaning of words.

semivowel A sound such as y or w at the beginning of words like yet, wet, etc.

sept Subgroup of people, for instance of a tribe or ruling family.

sessiagh Irish seiseach "a sixth", usually referring to a subdivision of a townland or similar unit. Apparently three sessiaghs were equivalent to a ballyboe (Colton Vis. 130).

shift of stress The transfer of emphasis from one syllable to another; e.g. Belfast was originally stressed on the second syllable fast but because of shift of stress many people now pronounce it Belfast. See stress.

stem (dental, o-, etc.) Classification of nouns based on the form of their endings before the Old Irish period, e.g. the Old Irish o-stem fer 'man' derives from earlier Celtic *wiros.

stress The degree of force with which a syllable is pronounced. For example, the name Antrim is stressed on the first syllable while Tyrone is stressed on the second.

subdenomination A smaller land division, usually a division of a townland.

substantive A noun.

suffix A verbal element placed at the end of a word which modifies the meaning of the word; e.g. -less in senseless.

syllable A unit of pronunciation containing one vowel sound which may be preceded or followed by a consonant or consonants; e.g. I, my, hill,have one syllable; outside, table, ceiling have two; sympathy, understand, telephone have three, etc.

syncopation The omission of a short unstressed vowel or digraph when a syllable beginning with a vowel is added; e.g. tiger+ess becomes tigress.


tate A small land unit once used in parts of Ulster, treated as equivalent to a townland, although only half the size.

termon Irish tearmann, land belonging to the Church, with privilege of sanctuary (providing safety from arrest for repentant criminals), usually held for the bishop by a coarb as hereditary tenant.

terrier A list of the names of lands held by the Church or other body.

tithes Taxes paid to the Church. Under the native system they were shared between parish clergy and erenagh (as the tenant of the bishop); under the English administration they were payable to the local clergyman of the Established Church.

topography The configuration of a land surface, including its relief and the position of its features.

toponymy Place-names as a subject for study.

townland The common term or English translation for a variety of small local land units; the smallest unit in the 19th-century Irish administrative system.

transcription An indication by written symbols of the precise sound of an utterance.

tuogh Irish tuath "tribe, tribal kingdom", a population or territorial unit.


unrounded Articulated with the lips spread or in neutral position; see rounded.


velar Articulated with the back of the tongue touching the soft palate; e.g. c in cool.

vicarage A parish in the charge of a vicar, the deputy either for a rector who received some of the revenue but resided elsewhere, or for a monastery or cathedral or lay impropriator.

visitation An inspection of (church) lands, usually carried out for a bishop (ecclesiastical or episcopal visitation) or for the Crown (regal visitation).

vocalization The changing of a consonant sound into a vowel sound by widening the air passage; akin to the disappearance of r in Southern English pronunciation of words like bird, worm, car.

voiced Sounded with resonance of the vocal cords. (A test for voicing can be made by closing the ears with the fingers and uttering a consonant sound, e.g. ssss, zzzz, ffff, vvvv. If a buzzing or humming sound is heard the consonant is voiced; if not it is voiceless).

voiceless See voiced.