Ní beag nod don eolach, cited on the front page of Tionscadal na Nod, or Is leor nod don eolach is an Irish expression that is used when something requires no further explanation or elaboration if it is communicated to someone learned or wise. It can be translated as ‘a sign (nod) is enough (lit. not little) for the wise’, recalling broadly similar expressions such as (dictum) sapienti sat (est) ‘a word to the wise is enough’. Dismissive as the latter may sound in English, however, the Irish proverbial expression is particularly apt for describing scribal practice. The word nod (earlier also not), like the Latin word nota from which it is borrowed, often meant a sign or contraction in writing, so that the same phrase can be rendered as ‘a scribal abbreviation is enough for the scholar’.

Recorded usages

The proverb is cited in a 19th-century manuscript written by Mícheál (Óg) Ó Longáin (RIA MS 23 G 25), in a quatrain which T. F. O’Rahilly has edited as follows:

Dligheann daoi tiugh teagosga,
tearc teagosg don tsaoi threórach,
tuigeann mac léighinn leathfhocal,
ní beag nod don eólach
Dánfhocail (1921): 13 no. 65.

The same quatrain is given a narrative twist in the following poem, possibly from Connacht:

Dias mhac do bhi ag fear éigin,
Fear-léighin agus tuata,
Níor chléireach fear an léighin,
Agus budh chléireach an tuata,
Dlighe daoi tuighe teagaisg,
Teirce oidis do thriath treórach,
Tuigeann fear léighin leath-fhocal,
Acht ni beag ‘nod’ do’n aineólach.
A certain man had two sons
And one was learned, and one unlearned,
The learned man was not a cleric,
A cleric the man unlearned turned.
You must thatch with learning the dunce’s hand,
But the wise well-bred his book has spurned,
If a half-word does for the man of learning,
A nod’s enough for the wise unlearned.
—Douglas Hyde, ‘A few rhymed proverbs’, The Celtic Review 1 (1904–1905). Unfortunately, no manuscript source is given.

The 18th-century scribe Pól Ruillis used the phrase to sympathetic effect when he added a note to his copy of Iomarbhágh na bhfileadh (RIA MS 24 C 53, written 1726). It is written in Ogam as well as Irish script:

[in Ogam:]
Atá Donchoth Macnamara r(o)-bhocht, fóir air má thig leat
Donough Macnamara is very poor, help him if you can.
[in Irish script:]
Ní beag nod don eolach, óir tuigfe tú féin cía an duine is mían líom
A contraction is enough for the learned [i.e. I need not state in full], for yourself will know who is the man I mean.
—Slightly modified from R. A. S. Macalister, ‘On some County Cork Ogham stones in English museums’, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 36 (1906): 170 (publication revised in Studies in Irish epigraphy, see p. 165).
Tionscadal na Nod
About the project The collection


SEARCH (advanced)