english vs. gaeilge

flapjacks made today

I was thinking about my time in Ireland so far and wonder if I’ve changed after more than a year and a half.  Since living overseas has changed me before, I suppose I must have changed here as well.

Let me run through some of the lingo I’ve learnt!  Unknown to the English, there are many words in their language which have gone AWOL in Ireland, and not because the Irish have rejected them.  Before the English came and transformed the Emerald Isle, the Irish had their own language and culture, with terms from those times slipping their way to the present and confounding many a foreigner, including the English!  At first, it was easy to exchange one word for another and to understand in context what that word was referring to.  However, if I didn’t ask (and often, I didn’t), I could spend a whole conversation completely out of the loop, only “copping on”, as they say, at the very last minute and thus appearing a tool to the Irish having gas.

Here are some words that formerly puzzled me:

  • the Gardaí (Irish police)
  • craic (fun; amusement)
  • yoke (thing; object you’re referring to)
  • your one; your man (that person; him or her over there)
  • banjaxed (broken; busted; low quality)
  • cakehole (mouth)
  • culchie (country bumpkin)
  • runners (trainers; sneakers)
  • gas (amusing or funny moment)
  • bold (naughty but not in a sexual sense!)
  • k*****r (derogatory term for a person)
  • deadly (really good; very cool)
  • gimp (derogatory term for a young male)

Facile, one might think, exchanging one term for another, but not so much when it comes to entire sentences.  If you came to Ireland for the first time, not having heard much Irish English, would you know what somebody means when they say to you “pass us that yoke” or “your one over there” without once denoting the subject?  Instinctively knowing which object or person the Irish are referring to is still somewhat of a mystery, and for a time, there were phrases I just couldn’t fathom from context alone.  So let me outline them before they “wreck your head”!

  • “What’s the story?” / “What’s the craic?”
    Basically “What’s going on?” or “What are you up to?” and sometimes used as a greeting.  Usage varies from person to person but I tend to say this as an alternative to “What the hell do you want?” when someone is asking a favour.
  • “Don’t be talking to me”
    I picked this up from someone at work who’s a proper Dubliner, and when he says this phrase, he doesn’t mean to stop talking to him literally; it’s just another way of saying “Tell me about it” when someone’s fed up.
  • “Come here to me”
    Again, not in the literal sense.  It means the person is about to start a new subject, sometimes of a gossipy nature, and they say it to prepare you for what is to come, which is usually, for someone new to Irish, relief after sudden confusion.
  • “Ah, sure!”
    A versatile phrase to communicate indifference or agreement.  Kind of like the British “Typical!”, though in a quieter, less peevish sense, and nearly “Shikata ga nai”, the Japanese for “It can’t be helped”.
  • “Cop on, will ya!”
    Or more commonly: “cop the f**k on”.  It’s the Irish way of saying that somebody needs to sort themselves out, get with the program or find themselves the common sense to understand an issue.
  • “Just for the craic”
    “For fun”, that sort of thing.  The Irish are up for anything craic or remotely craic and they like other people to be up for craic too.  If they invite you out, they remind you that it’s “just for the craic”, in case you might think the invitation could be for anything not craic-related.
  • “Giving out to someone”
    The equivalent of “having a go at someone”, which is to criticise or scold them for something they’ve done.
  • “Ripping the piss out of someone”
    I’ve used this one before in a previous post and it means “to take the piss out of someone”, usually in a sporting way.
  • “It’ll be grand” / “No bother” / “Not at all”
    In other words, “it’ll be fine” or  “It doesn’t trouble me”.  I don’t say this much, probably because I’m a cynical Brit, but hey!  The Irish say it all the time and have better things to worry about.
  • “I’m wrecked”
    A key phrase for anyone on the Night Shift.  Another way of saying you’re tired or haven’t slept or have had such a wonderful time that you don’t have energy for much else.
  •  “You’re wrecking me head!”
    Same as “You’re doing my head in!” and also used to shut someone up or complain that someone is giving them a hard time.

You know that word further up only in ***?  Well, that word (I recently discovered) is actually an insult and not just a casual word for a “townie” or “chav”.  There are few things in this world which will get the Irish goat, but people they describe as “k*****rs” happen to be one of them.  I once read this word in the Metro Herald and asked my boyfriend why they censored it and he explained to me how “k*****r” is a really serious insult, not only because it has connotations derisive to a traveller (the nomadic community here in Ireland) but also there are just some terms so bad that they cannot be typed in English.  So there you go.  Be careful with that!

“ah, sure!”


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