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Advanced Hiberno English: More on How to speak English like the Irish

| 39 comments | Category: off topic

I’m back in the Emerald Isle for the month (currently up in Donegal again, improving my Gaeilge before going back to Cavan for the Fleadh).

It’s not just great to be speaking our first national language again, but also our second one; since I don’t have to water down my English to be more understandable, as I do everywhere else. It’s why you’ll find me so quick into speaking the local language when I travel – I find speaking very literal international/business English to be fierce boring to be honest! Time to take a break from that in this article :)

One of the most popular articles on the site has been How to speak English like the Irish, where I give an introduction to the wonderful workings of “Hiberno English”.

Since I’m after showing yez how deadly our “canúint” is, and yez keep giving out about not understanding me, I’m gonna have to follow it up with a part 2, amn’t I?

After some turns of phrase and important new vocabulary, I’ll go on with today’s theme of “slagging” (playful mocking), so there’ll be cursing and plenty of taking the piss out of YOU dear reader. Us Irish do this very frequently, and no harm is meant by it. So if you get offended easily, kindly feck off now will ye!

God love ya if any plastic paddies can’t follow the parts in italics, so I’ll water them down for yez at the end of each section.

[Plastic paddy: Anyone who says "I'm Irish" but pronounces Ireland as I.R.land rather than OUR-lend . If you rely on the explanations to understand 90% or more of the words in italics or bullet points in this article, then NO, you're not Irish, not even "four sevenths" or whatever arsebackwards mathematics you can come up with. You're 100% American/Australian/Canadian etc. Having an Irish passport makes no difference -we practically give those away for free in the box of Cornflakes.

Fierceis an intensifying adjective. Normally negative adjectives are used frequently like this to emphasise the intensity of a word, and can be positive or negative. More examples: She's awful gorgeous. You'll use up a serious amount of petrol to drive there!

Reminder from the previous article: deadly means good, to give out means to complain, and amn't I is like it's ugly cousin "aren't I". yez is plural you (can also be yee or yous)

God love ya: An expression of pity, usually sarcastic. I'm not religious, but I'll still use many expressions like this. Another very common alternative is "Ye poor thing!"

Feck off: Way less offensive than "fuck", so it's OK to say this in most company and you'll hear it on TV at all hours.

Canúint: "Dialect" in Irish/Gaeilge. Depending on the company and the part of the country, you'll hear some Irish words sprinkled into the conversation randomly. Check out this page for plenty of free resources to learn the Irish language!]

More different turns of phrase

I’ve given ye the basics, so I have. But there is much more to learn, don’t you know!

C’mere ’till I tell ye!

The “present continuous” (be doing) in English was actually given to it by Celtic languages. You’ll not see it used in most other Germanic languages (like German) at all at all, so you will see it used slightly more frequently in Irish, and this extends to even an entirely new tense, the Habitual Present; “Bíonn” in Irish. This is rendered as “do(es) be (verb)ing” in English. Much more common in the countryside nowadays than in cities though. As the name implies, it can only be used for habitual actions, not something just happening at the moment, which is the standard present continuous.

Some examples:

I do be working every day. It’s him I do be thinking of. They do be talking on their mobiles a lot.

Another one which is less frequent in cities is reported speech, translating “arsa” from Irish. The word order as Gaeilge is “arsa mise” which, word-for-word is “says/said I”. When someone is keeping you in a story, these asides replace English word order of “I/he/she said”. It’s also frequently used mid-sentence of the reported speech.

Ah, now, you’ll be grand on the drive – says I – sure, isn’t the sun splittin’ the stones today!”

And when in shops or otherwise requesting something from someone, even when all by yourself, it’s important to say give us. This isn’t necessarily the royal we, it’s just convention. “Give us a packet of Taytos will ye?” and sounds a lot softer than “give me”.

[So I have, and Don't you know! are intensifiers added to the end of sentences.

C'mere 'till I tell ye! is a precursor to someone saying something interesting. It's only requesting your attention - you don't actually have to "come here" because your man is usually right beside you when he says it. (Your man is just a generic way of referring to someone male when you don't want to use their name, and your one is for girls)

The "till" (until) here means "so that I may".

At all at all is a direct translation of ar chor ar bith. Each one means "at all", but saying it twice really emphasises it. Since English doesn't have a useful alternative, we repeat it!

Ah, now - expresses dismay at something, in this example at someone giving out about something difficult when it isn't that bad.

When the sun is splittin' the stones it's very hot. This is good because it happens so rarely in Ireland generally, so we welcome it!]

Important new vocab when in Ireland

There are many more words that we use in Ireland that are worth knowing:

  • There you go now (said when giving someone something)
  • How are ye keepin’? How are ye? How’s the form? (All alternatives for hello – once again in the Irish language, we tend to ask this question as a greeting (Cad é mar atá tú? in Ulster dialect, Cén chaoi a bhfuil tú? in Connemara or Conas atá tú? in Munster), since the translation of “hello”, Dia duit, is generally a bit too formal/religious)
  • em (This hesitating word replaces um/uh used by most English speakers. I never hear the end of this when I first attempt to speak a new language and say “em” on camera whenever I’m trying to think of what to say. Give my head peace will yez!)
  • “Bold” means naughty (usually of children), never brave.
  • Not a bother (If you don’t mind doing a task, and a good alternative to “you’re welcome” after a thank you)
  • A parer is how we say a “pencil sharpener”
  • A yoyo is an alternative to “euro”. That costed me twenty yoyos!!
  • “Horse box” can mean a stocky bloke, but my brother uses it to refer to basically anyone, shortening it down to “horse”. That’s the way some of us say “hello” in our family now!
  • Whisht!! Is our flavour of “shh!” – useful in pubs if someone is about to sing, or other such public venues to get everyone else to shut their gob (mouth)
  • Well, the dead arose and appeared to many! This is used when you haven’t seen someone for a while, out of surprise. Used in our house whenever someone stumbles down the stairs in their pyjamas at midday.
  • Arse licker is a brown-noser.
  • Cute has nothing to do with bunny rabbits or heart-throbs in boybands. It’s clever in a sly way. If you are pushing your luck with it, it’s common to hear “Don’t get cute with me!”
  • Dear means expensive.

Insults, and positive/negative words

As well as fierce and awful, mentioned above. There are plenty more words that you can use by themselves to express how fantastic something is. Something can be grand (good or OK), class/ deadly (excellent), mighty/powerful/savage (fantastic/great!) and a person can be a legend if they are really cool. No sonnets or stories of dragon-slaying need to have been written about them to earn the title.

If something is negative though, then it’s cat, desperate, murder or brutal.

When you ask someone how they are, the answer is a more modest “not too bad”. It sounds bleak, but it’s actually our way of saying “pretty good, actually!”. It’s why America’s overpositive “Awesome!!!!” annoys me so much.

One way that you can use individual curse words in Ireland is to alter the original one slightly. So ass is arse (although in this case arse is more vulgar. Unlike the Brits, we pronounce the ‘r’ very clearly), and fuck is feck. Diphthongs on particular vowels help a lot, so shit becomes shite (rhymes with fight) and a particularly silly one is to avoid taking the lord’s name in vain (perish the thought!) we say Jayzus instead of Jesus. Note that these are different words, they are not how the Irish pronounce fuck, shit and Jesus, which we use as the rest of the world would.

The longer you make the ay sound in Jaaaaaayzys, the more surprise at the situation there is, although this is usually quite a mild curse thanks to the fact that the word essentially means nothing and refers to absolutely no crucified fella who came from Nazareth!

When it’s time to slag someone, then you can express your exasperation at how much of a slow eejitthey are by saying “Ah come on to fuck wilya!” Despite how it sounds, this is not an invitation for a ride (sexual intercourse. If you need transport anywhere ask for a LIFT unless you want a shlap!). Come on to fuck can be yelled at a bad sport player or anyone not living up to their potential.

If someone is quite the amadán, then you’d say that He doesn’t know his arse from his elbow.

One much more colourful way of insulting someone, beyond individual words, would be actually cursing them. This is much more common in the Irish language, with use of the subjunctive (May he..), and some people may use it in English too, but almost never to someone’s face. You’re more likely to hear these from culchies than townies though.

Examples include:

  • May the cat eat him, and may the devil eat the cat!
  • May all of his possessions melt!
  • May he suffer torment, anguish and bitter weeping
  • May he and all of his offspring be awkward and unhandy
  • May he meet the same end as the goats that chased the badger off the cliff
  • May he itch but have no nails to scratch with

[Eejit is an idiot and Amadán is Irish for fool. A culchie is someone from the countryside, or even someone from anywhere but Dublin, who would technically also be a townie. Dubs really use the term out of incredible jealousy at how class the rest of the country is compared to the big smoke]

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As before, this is just a small taste of some features of Irish English! Most things here are national, but some may be regional (savage, for example is much more frequently heard in Cork). If I’ve missed anything between this article and the previous one, or if you’ve any thoughts on all this, let me know in the comments!

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  • WC

    Haha, thanks for this! I’ve long loved the Irish accent, but it doesn’t sound right if you can’t use the right words.

  • acutia

    Good on ye. You’ve definitely confused some International English speakers, there now, so ye have.

    Though I seem to have noticed two typos:
    1)”ourland” – there may be joke in your spelling I can’t see, but what the bejayus? Maybe this is a play on “dortspeak”? I’d probably go for something like “IRE’lenD” with a downward pitch contour, whereas Americans often go up in pitch on “IRE”, add unneeded syllables and leave too much stress on “land”. English people don’t give the R enough welly and can sometimes annoyingly pronounce it like “Oi’lund”.

    2) “cultie” – I’d spell this as “culchie”.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      English people don’t tend to be plastic paddies, which is what I was referring to, rather than any concept of a correct way that “everyone” should pronounce it. Changed land to lend to be more clear though, and fixed culchie. Thanks!

      • Anne Walsh

        Any thoughts on DortSpeak? It’s spreading like a virus across most of the TV and radio stations – particularly the women. It’s a bit painful to hear Dortspeak from people in Kerry…..

  • http://www.facebook.com/murtaghj John Murtagh

    Jaysus! You’ve brought back memories of growing up in my house (in London)! Also reminds me of the British playwright/film maker Martin McDonagh (a plastic paddy himself – he’s from Camberwell, god love him) who writes in “Hiberno English” – he’s been accused of writing “stage Irish” by fellow playwright but bone fide “Irishman” Conor McPherson. But I do like his plays for the authentic dialogue – even though it’s been written by a “Plastic Pad” – it still rings true.

  • http://twitter.com/riayn Meg

    Thanks so much for this entertaining post. As an Australian from a Scottish family, I can see similarities to both Scottish and Australian English, neither of which is surprising. Also, you are right, standard English is incredibly boring.

  • http://georgemillo.com/ George Millo

    A very entertaining post! It reminds me of something I’ve been meaning to ask before:

    You’ve said somewhere before that your Irish accent (i.e. your accent when you speak Gaelic) still needs work. (Apologies if that’s no longer the case!). I’m interested to know, since you already speak English with an Irish accent – surely this would carry over when you speak Gaelic so your accent wouldn’t sound noticeable “foreign”? What’s the difference in accent between a native speaker of Gaelic and someone learning it as a second language who already has an Irish accent in their English?

    (This is all just speculation, sorry if it’s a stupid question! I’m English and know nothing about the Irish language beyond what what I’ve learned from this site.)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I don’t remember ever writing that I was going to work on my Irish accent. It’s fine, but it’s not native. It’s easy to tell that someone was born in the Gaeltacht, or has reached a bilingual level of Irish. Listen to RnaG, streamed Irish radio online and you’ll hear various accents of what it should sound like.
      Irish English is a variety of English. You will always have an accent in Irish, whether you start from that or whether you start from American English. But it’s true that certain features of Hiberno English make the accent much less pronounced.

    • http://corcaighist.blogspot.com Corcaighist

      Benny’s right. It’s not about having an Irish accent. It’s about having a native-accent. No matter how fluent someone is in Irish you can pretty easily tell a native speaker from a second-language speaker (if you have experience of what is what – the difference won’t be noticeable to the uninformed) though if that L2-speaker has lived in the Gaeltacht for many years then it mightn’t be as apparent. But the vast majority of L2-speakers do not spend much time at all in the Gaeltacht or speaking to natives. There is also a big difference between native city speakers and native Gaeltacht speakers. You can hear a big difference between presenters on city Raidió na Life and Raidió Rí-Rá (mostly L2-speakers) and Gaeltacht Raidió na Gaeltachta (mostly native speakers.)

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

        Very true! I flick between various radio stations and Raidio na Life is my favourite for content, although they have the least native speakers by far. I was thinking of visiting various radio stations and recording a chat with them on video to demonstrate the various accents. I’ll see if it’s practical to do so before I leave Ireland!

        • http://corcaighist.blogspot.com Corcaighist

          If you do it, let us know what station and what time :-) Beidh mé ag éisteacht leat!

          • Anne Walsh

            Smaoineamh iontach – thar barr. Also Des Bishop the American comedian did a brilliant job learning Irish over 3 months – he learned it so well that he’d nearly pass for a native – pretty impressive in my book

      • Anne Walsh

        That’s totally true – I live in the Gaeltacht
        I speak Irish and anyone who is a native Irish speaker knows within the first 10 words of Irish if someone is a native speaker or not…the accent for each of the three main Gaelic dialects (connemara, Kerry and Donegal) are quite different. In connemara Irish S is often pronounced as Z. Also many native speakers loathe the Irish spoken by Dublin presenters (sorry, they do! – which is somewhat amusing as there is not that many Irish speakers in the first place)

  • Mark Ó Domhnaill

    Alot of the things ye said here are also in Scots too (Scots is a Germanic Language which is a mix of Old Norse and Old English and is my first language) words like “Eejit”=Eijit Arse=Ers.” Whisht=Quheist(pron Wheesht) and we also say feck and Give us=Gie us. Interesting to see the similarities between the words in Scotland and Ireland. Albion agus Éireann go Bragh! . Guid oan 3e Benny! Maun 3e hae monies a braa Leid!

  • http://www.budgettraveladventures.com/ Jeremy Branham

    I loved reading this. I had no idea how much of our slang here in America came directly from Irish words. I’ve used quite a few of these phrases so I knew a little more Irish than I thought.

    The one that really jumped out to me was the phrase “God love ya!” Where I grew up in the South, we have a similar expression “Bless your (his/her) heart!” It is very, very polite but is a sarcastic way of saying something negative or insulting or commenting on an unfortunate situation. You can say something negative and then cover it up with politeness by saying “bless your heart!”

    Got to love our languages! :)

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    So…”feck” and “fuck” are two different words, with “feck” not being considered as vulgar? Did I get that right? I always just thought “feck” was how you guys pronounced “fuck”, not that it was a separate word, haha!

    Oh, and this was fantastic fun, thanks for that.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Yep, that’s right. Two completely separate words. I just updated the article to reflect that. I would use fuck, shit, Jesus etc. like any other English speakers may. Feck, shite and Jayzus are not our pronunciations of these words but separate very light curses to be used with most company, like “darn”.

      Glad you enjoyed it!

      • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

        Interesting, thank you, never knew that. Oh, and how’s your horse? :D

        Cheers,
        Andrew

  • http://twitter.com/Fetabrown Faith Brown ブラウン信子

    Thanks for the article, brought a smile to me mornin’ doing these in my
    most dreadful Father Ted imitation.

    Seeing so many Irish-isms in a list really reminded me a lot of American
    English, no doubt from the significant Irish influence. The ‘says I/I
    said’ bit inside a story, the derogatory use of ‘cute’, and the habitual
    progressive reminded me quite a bit of time spent in Virginia.

  • Mark Ó Domhnaill

    Don’t forget “how’s the Craic?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Thanks – I didn’t bring up words that like that this time, which were mentioned in the first article already though.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Ah yes, I was supposed to add ‘dear’. Just threw it in there. Thanks for the extras – all excellent examples :D

    • Mark Ó Domhnaill

      Woops. Didn’t realise ye had already mentioned them. I feel the right eejit! Keep up the posts,there great reading! Maun 3e ay pit oan a guid ward oan thon wab! :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    I’m sorry but I have so little patience for this “blood” thing. Use it for poetic license if you like, but even I’m not “Irish by blood”. There is no actual genetic or biological “heritage” happening for nationalities. Not ever.

    The fact that you are offended is just further proof of your lack of Irishness. Irish people have to deal with a lot of slagging and build thick skin to laugh with the blows ;)

    As far as I’m concerned there’s nothing Irish about most “Irish Americans” I’ve met, in the sense of what I understand of what it means to be Irish, which has nothing to do with great grandfathers. Good for them to be proud of their heritage, but I care about who the person I’m talking to is, not who their great great grandparents were. I consider a baby born of Nigerian parents but raised in Ireland and who attended school etc. here to be much more Irish than any plastic paddy ever could be.

    Sorry, but this is just my honest opinion.

    • http://twitter.com/Tman6t9 Тим

      So true. I’ve met so many Yanks who run up to me yelling ‘I’m Irish!’, for some reason thinking it’s relevant because I’m British. The two are hardly the same thing. Furthermore, my family is of mixed Scots/Norwegian descent and I live in the Republic of Georgia…to me, an American calling themselves ‘Irish’ or ‘Italian’ is as ridiculous as me charging around this place introducing myself as Norwegian, Scottish or Georgian after having been raised in the west of England. Actually, I once met some Americans who bore a real hatred for Armenian people; I took offence since many of my friends are Armenians, and the people they were referring to were actually Americans with Armenian last names.

      I don’t understand the way Americans will one minute proclaim how proud they are of being from the United States, talking about the Founding Fathers and the War of Independence, and the next trying to claim they’re from a European country they’ve never visited, know nothing about and don’t speak the language of. The USA’s heritage might be young, but it’s heritage nonetheless, like it or not.

      • http://www.facebook.com/aquietconscience Maureen Dee

        You mean like when black people try to say they’re African and wear African clothing and identify as African when they’ve never been there, don’t know or live the culture, don’t speak any of the languages? (Why should that bother you though, if they aren’t hurting anyone?)

    • http://www.facebook.com/aquietconscience Maureen Dee

      So yeah my great grandparents came from Ireland. My grandparents were born in the US but one grew up in Ireland then came back over. Would you say my grandparents were “plastic paddies”? My grandpa was your stereotypical movie Irish cop with a brogue (Deputy Inspector). My mom embraced the Irish culture and was a top Irish dancer (on Ted Mack, had contract with NBC) and identifies as Irish American but is extremely proud of her roots and defends the Irish on everything;) I was never like that but I wouldn’t call her a plastic paddy. She has true love for the country and culture. (Yes, she’s been there.) Me, I honestly couldn’t care less about being “Irish” because I don’t identify as any one thing in particular, but it’s no skin off my nose to allow her to choose her own identity. My grandmother had been to Ireland and spoke Gaelic fluently and had her obligatory picture of JFK on the wall next to Jesus. Some people love their roots. I don’t denigrate them at all, wherever they are or aren’t “truly” from.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    You want Youtube.com. This is a blog! It would have been quite boring to watch a 20 minute video of me reading this post to you… I’ll make videos when it works with the topic better ;)

  • Gina

    Fun article! I especially like yoyo for Euro. :)

  • acutia

    Sorry, but narrator does NOT speak his English with an Irish accent but an English accent. To my ears it’s mostly a South Eastern English accent with some Estuary (London) elements i.e. “finking” for ‘thinking”. There’s a tinge of somewhere else in there, maybe South West England (Devon ?).

  • http://georgemillo.com/ George Millo

    I’ve heard “dear” used to mean “expensive” in England, but only by older people.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    This article is a follow up to the article which describes in great detail how English’s sentence structure and grammar is different in Ireland. You don’t seem to have read that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/aquietconscience Maureen Dee

    My mom is from 100% Irish stock. So I’m 50% Irish from her and all the rest from my dad. Growing up, my mom cared about her heritage but my dad did not. My father never cared about being part Polish, German or Italian. My last name was German and people could not pronounce it. I never identified as a German person, though. My hubby likes to joke about how he’s black because there is ONE black ancestor in his line somewhere. We all do come from somewhere, though. Why get upset if someone chooses their identity?

  • http://www.facebook.com/aquietconscience Maureen Dee

    I think you are in heart and spirit what you love and what you respect and care about. Like Nathaniel/Hawkeye in Last of the Mohicans.

  • http://www.facebook.com/aquietconscience Maureen Dee

    Benny I would adore it if you came to NYC and told the Ancient Order of Hibernians that they’re plastic paddies. Also come out during a police funeral when they bring on the bagpipes. I’m sure your POV will go over very well!

  • http://www.facebook.com/aquietconscience Maureen Dee

    “Anyone who says “I’m Irish” but pronounces Ireland as I.R.land rather than OUR-lend” I can do an Irish accent. I have watched every series of Father Ted. (<3 Father Ted.)

  • Squantum

    Great article.I am a Bostonian.I probably have more of an interest in my heritage than I should.Growing up in Boston, in an Irish-American neighborhood,this extended bastardized culture of a distant land was in our face.Other Americans that were different than us,would call us Irish. We are Americans, those days are gone.If I am a Plastic Paddy then-so be it,because I am in some great company!
    Take care.

  • Gus Mueller

    Good article on Irish slang.

  • Conor Wilson

    Here, here, Benny bai, story bud? Not everybody who says “I.R.land” is a plastic Paddy, neither they are! We don’t all have those mean Cavan accents like yourself! ;)