An Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language/Biographical Notes

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An Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language  (1911)  by Alexander MacBain
Biographical Notes
Alexander Macbain photo, from An Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language.jpg



Alexander MacBain, the author of this book, was born in Glenfeshie of Badenoch, in Inverness-shire, in the year 1855. He spent his boyhood in his native district, and began his career there as a pupil teacher. Later on he was for a short time with the Ordnance Survey in Wales. In his nineteenth year he went to Old Aberdeen Grammar School: two years later, to King's College; graduated in 1880; and, in the same year, received the appointment of rector of Raining's School, Inverness. This post he held until 1894, when the school was transferred to the administration of the local Board. From that time until the close of his life he held a position in the High School of Inverness. In 1901 he was made an LL.D. by the University of Aberdeen.

The range of his studies in the Celtic field covered mythology, philology, history, manners and customs, and place and personal names. His literary output, extending over only 24 years, though not voluminous, involved much preparatory work, and is of great value for the acumen and originality exercised in the study and elucidation of the subjects which he took in hand.

A large number of his papers appeared in the Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, and also in pamphlet form. These comprise, besides others, articles on "Celtic Burial," "Who were the Picts?" "The Chieftainship of Clan Chattan," "Badenoch History, Clans, and Place Names," "Ptolemy's Geography," "The Norse Element in Highland Place Names," "Personal Names," and "The Book of Deer." In collaboration with the Rev. John Kennedy he brought out the two volumes of "Reliquiæ Celticæ," containing much matter for the student of Gaelic. He edited "Skene's Highlanders," to which he added a short but valuable excursus. Along with Mr John Whyte, Inverness, he prepared two useful Gaelic school-books and an edition of MacEachan's Gaelic Dictionary.

His most important work, however, is "The Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language," issued in 1896, of which the present volume is the second edition. Unfortunately, he was prevented from personally superintending its publication by his sudden demise in April, 1907, when in the town of Stirling making arrangements with the publisher.