‘Duine de dhath’: New phrase for ‘person of colour’ added to Irish lexicon

Term updated by Foras na Gaeilge after previous referred to ‘blue’ people and ‘devil’

The Irish language has long wrestled with the description of people who are not white. An fear dubh could refer to a man of any colour with black hair or black skin. When capitalised, Fear Dubh has also referred to the devil.

For generations, Irish speakers used an odd alternative, duine gorm (blue person), to indicate people who were not white. Others used duine daite (coloured person).

One version evoked creatures from the film Avatar; the other echoed language associated with apartheid South Africa.

Now the guardians of Irish have entered a new term in the National Terminology Database: duine de dhath (person of colour).


"We were happy to use it. It's a case of concepts emerging and changing," said Donncha O Croinin, the chief terminologist at Foras na Gaeilge.

An Coiste Tearmaiochta, the Foras na Gaeilge committee that rules on new terms and words, last week approved duine de dhath, which is now included in an online dictionary and database, tearma.ie.

The adoption reflected the evolution of concepts as well as Ireland’s transition from a mono-ethnic society to one with growing African, Asian and Latino communities, said O Croinin.

“The concept has a much wider range of application. You can’t call a Hispanic person a black person. For person of colour, you’re talking about any shade of skin that isn’t white.”

Ola Majekodunmi, a broadcaster and board member of Foras na Gaeilge, suggested the new term. The daughter of Nigerian immigrants, she was educated in Irish and felt the terms duine daite and duine gorm were outdated.

“Gorm is not outright offensive or a racial slur, but it is doesn’t refer to someone like myself. I remember when I was in school wondering: who are these people? I’m not blue.”

The committee’s debate about duine de dhath focused on the preposition. It considered duine le dhath (people with colour) and duine faoi dhath (people under colour) as alternatives before settling for a literal translation of people of colour.

Majekodunmi believes that duine dubh (black person)is fine to describe black people, since Ireland has secularised and the term no longer risks association with the devil. "Today people shouldn't be afraid of saying duine dubh," she said.

Instead of the traditional greeting Dia is Mhuire dhuit, many Irish speakers now say haigh.

Less than 2 per cent of the population speak Irish, according to census figures, but revival efforts have been boosted by the Motherfocloir podcast and other content in Irish, including the film Arracht. – Guardian