Institutes, Acronyms and the Letter H

Here’s a rambling and inconsequential post emanating from a coffee-room discussion yesterday.

The latest round of guff about University Rankings, in which Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) came top and Irish universities didn’t  prompted a strange letter to the Irish Times about the status of the Irish Institutes of Technology some of which have merged, or are planning to merge, to form Technological Universities.

Among the list of Irish Institutes of Technology, I found that sadly there isn’t an MIT in Ireland (Mullingar would be a good place for it!) but there are, for example:

Cork Institute of Technology (CIT)

Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT)

Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT)

Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT)

and so on, as well as..

Institute of Technology Tralee….(:-)

I wondered whether there might be some other potentially unfortunate acronyms  to be had, I hoped for example for a South Howth Institute of Technology but sadly there isn’t one; nor is there a Sligo Higher Institute of Technology. There’s no Galway Institute of Technology either.

In the course of that exercise in silliness I discovered how few towns and villages there are in Ireland whose names begin with the letter H. Moreover all of those listed on the Wikipedia page are in the Sacs-Bhéarla (English language) rather than genuinely Irish names.

I’m sure Irish speakers will correct me on this, but I guess this lack of Irish proper names beginning with H may be connected with the use of h in denoting lenition. When used in this way the `h’ always appears after the consonant being modified and so never forms the initial letter. There are plenty of words in Irish beginning with H, though, so this is either a red herring or something specific to place names.

Comments and corrections are welcome through the box below!


UPDATE: I’m reliably informed (via Twitter) that all words in modern Irish beginning with H are borrowings from other languages, and the h was only introduced into Irish words for the reason mentioned above,

6 Responses to “Institutes, Acronyms and the Letter H”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    Sacs-Bhéarla = English language because “sacs” comes from “Saxon”. This is similar in Welsh (Saes) and clearest in the Scottish word “sassenach” for an Englishman (Saxon-ach). The sex in Essex, Middlesex and Sussex comes from SAXon, too: East, Middle and South respectively.

    • telescoper Says:

      Yes, English is often referred to in Irish as ‘Béarla’, truncated from Sacs-Bhéarla. When preceded by Sacs the B is modified to Bh.

    • telescoper Says:

      P.S. `Sassenach’ is used by the Irish too – it appears in Joyce’s Ulysses:

      …the Times rubbed its hands and told the whitelivered Saxons there would soon be as few Irish in Ireland as redskins in America. Even the Grand Turk sent us his piastres. But the Sassenach tried to starve the nation at home while the land was full of crops that the British hyenas bought and sold in Rio de Janeiro.

  2. Since I am not UK based, I did not get the humor about Tralee nor GIT — although I seem to recall a Beatles song declaring someone as a silly git. Can you explain?

  3. I thought it a strange letter too. The problem in the southeast is quite simple – most students (and their parents) want to go to a university. They go and they don’t come back, a brain drain that is emptying the regions into our capital city

  4. There is Georgia Intitute of Technology in Atlanta.

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