In Ireland, to be bulling means to be angry – typically in a visible and maybe voluble way, and sometimes with comical connotations.1 I used to hear it now and then in my childhood and teens, but haven’t come across it much in recent years. Maybe raging has eaten into its niche.
So I enjoyed this reminder in Declan Hughes’s crime novel All the Dead Voices (which featured in this old book spine poem):
‘And he was like, we need a new way to operate, we can’t keep taking our rivals out, we can’t keep doing things the old way. The Lamp Comerford way. Charlie said Lamp was bulling when he heard this, he felt he was being sidelined.’
You might assume the word comes from the noun bull and the animal’s reputation for bad-tempered stampedes. This may have reinforced the usage, but I think its origin is the Irish word buile ‘madness, frenzy’. To be ar buile /ər ’bwɪlʲə/ (roughly ‘er bwill-ih’) is to be in a rage or fury, a deargbuile /’dʒærəg,bwɪlʲə/ is literally a red rage (cf. red mist), and a fear buile /’fʲær ’bwɪlʲə/ is a madman.2
In Hiberno-English the expression bulling to do something is similar to the English mad to do something, i.e., very eager. If someone is bulling to go to the match, it implies an overwhelming desire to go to the match, without necessarily any anger or desperation.
My Irish-English dictionary has ar buile chun rud a dhéanamh, translated as ‘crazy to do something’, but I didn’t know this idiom and found the gloss ambiguous: does it mean extremely eager (= ‘mad keen’) or something more unhinged? Enquiries on Twitter were inconclusive, though @ExposieRosie said it suggests frantic rather than keen.
Another open question is how old bulling = angry is. Jonathon Green’s Chambers Slang Dictionary dates the sense to the 2000s, but I know it was used in the 1980s and 1990s, and my father says he remembers it from his (1950s) childhood. It may well be much older than that.
[archive of Hiberno-English posts]
1 I know bulling has other meanings, but I’m ignoring most of them here.
2 Phonetic renderings are approximate, and suggestions are welcome.