After the success of the last Non-Irish Irish Speaking tutorial, I am back this term with a new, advanced course in the cultural language.* These 10 steps focus on terms, phrases and expressions that are uniquely Irish, not found anywhere else in the world (as much as I am aware!), whereas some of the examples in IRE 101: How to Talk Like a Paddy might also be found in the UK.
Ah sure, go on then:
1. Intake of Breath
We’re starting with a tricky one! Basically, it’s the sound people make when they’re listening to you talk (similar to “uh huh,” if you’re American!). It sounds like a cheerful gasp, but it’s really just a sort of acknowledgement that you’re listening, or you agree. If you listen closely, it sounds like someone saying “Yeah,” only in a whisper, and on the intake of breath. When I first met Frank and heard him doing this over the phone, I assumed he had a breathing problem. I was even a bit concerned! Then I came to visit and heard his dad doing it, and his brother, and perfect strangers… so I asked and was politely enlightened on my mistake.
2. The Messages
To hear someone say they’re “going for the messages” means they’re going off to get the shopping, run errands, and do similar tasks around town. I only finally figured this one out in the last year and I still catch myself thinking someone is going to… get messages off his phone? collect the mail??? but no. Just doing the “bits and bobs” around town.
Example: “I’ll be in to you shortly, I’m off to get the messages now.”
3. Come here ’til I tell ya…
I’m not sure what the purpose of this phrase is, except that maybe you only share it with friends and neighbours as a way of sounding a bit confidential?? Anyway, it’s a way to open a sentence when you have news, especially if it’s good, juicy gossip!!! You run all the words together so it’s more like “comeheretilItellya.” I have one neighbour in particular who loves to use this phrase and always gets really close up in your face and grabs your arm as she tells you the dirt.
Example: “Hi there, Annemarie, howerya? Come here ’til I tell ya, I’m after getting a top for my Christine in Penny’s for 2 euro, reduced from 5 euro. They’ve loads more, and lovely colours, you should have a nosey and see what you can find for The Child.”
Bonus: Sometimes people will actually use this phrase to preface a question they want to ask you, which is a bit odd, and sometimes they change it and say, “come here ’til I ask you.”
You’ll often hear naughty children around town being scolded for their “bold” behavior.
Example: “Bold, Darren! You’re being a Bold Boy!”
Bonus: Going along with the whole “bold” theme, I found it a bit shocking that you’ll often hear parents tell their children to hit back when struck!
Example: “Mam, Oisin hit me!!!” “Well, then hit him back! Don’t be a baby! Show him how it feels!”
5. Rotten, Rotten, Rotten
I always giggle for some reason when I hear this one. It comes most often when people are describing food. Whereas in America we might describe a bad dining experience on a scale of “not good” to “horrible,” you’d never hear someone emphatically tell her friends it was “rotten!”
Example: “We went for a meal down the town and come here til I tell you – it was rotten! Absolutely rotten!!! We waited for ages to get our lasagna and it was rotten! The chips were the only thing I could eat off the plate. I had to stop off at the chipper and get a batter burger on me way home.”
Bonus: The opposite of a “rotten” meal is a “gorgeous” one.
6. Giving Out
The Irish Fine Art of complaining or, more often, scolding, is better known as “giving out.” Obviously, this should never be confused with the American term, “putting out.” Ha ha ha.
Example 1: “I’m not giving out to you, Aoife, but you should have known to bring your brolly and wellies when it’s pissin’ down rain like this!”
Example 2: “Ah sure, I gave out to your man well enough, after he had the cheek to overcharge me the two pints!”
7. The Child
I’d bet about half the time you hear someone mention their kids, they don’t call them by name, but instead say, “The Child.” Though it may sound cold to me, it’s just a turn of phrase and no reflection on the way the Irish feel about their” babbies” in general! In fact, Irish parents are some of the most affectionate I’ve come across in my life, right up there with the Italians! Maybe it’s a throwback from a bygone era?
Example: “Where is The Child?” “Ah she’s asleep in her buggy. She’s just after eating a whole bag of Tayto and she’s knackered.”
Bonus: You will also hear people make similar references to their pets, i.e. “He’s away Mary, he’s gone for a walk with The Hound.”
8. Terms for Exhaustion
I find most Irish people to be exhuberantly active folks, from the taxing hobbies of cycling, running, power-walking, horse back riding, Rugby, Gaelic football, Hurling and Soccer to the simple pride they take in working hard on their gardens and homes. Not to mention the work ethic they demonstrate on the job!!!
After all that moving around, they’re obviously tired at the end of the day, or “plum tuckered out,” as the hicks might say in America! Only here they’d describe that exhaustion as being “knackered,” “shattered,” or “wrecked.”
Example: “I just done 60 mile on the bike and I’m shattered! Give us a cuppa tea will ya and one of them buns.”
Bonus: I’m not sure if the terms are related, but you might also hear an Irish person using the term “knacker” to describe a rather trashy or dodgy person.
This is not an Irish term to describe being drunk – surprise! No, this is a word you might hear when something, such as a pen, is used up. I first heard this when I was a nanny in Dublin and one of the children threw her markers on the floor, declaring vehemently, “These are wasted!”
10. Fair Play
Ending on a high note… the Irish way of saying “good job” or “well done!”
Example: “You oughtta see Magella, she looks class! She’s lost nearly a stone!” “Wow, well fair play to her!!”
Bonus: If you’re really enthusiastic, you can add a certain popular expletive to your congratulations. “Jaysus, ya won the All-Ireland! Fair F***ing Play to ya!!!”
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*Remember, this is NOT a real course in Irish or any other language. I’m only messin’.