10 more words from Irish English dialect

One of my pet linguistic topics is Irish English dialect, which I explored at length in an essay a while back. Here are 10 words, usages, and grammatical features characteristic of English as it’s used in Ireland.

Links point to previous blog posts with more discussion on usage, origins, and so on.

1. Grand is a popular adjective/interjection in Ireland to express modest satisfaction, approval, wellbeing, or simply acknowledgement. It’s handy for understatement and not overdoing one’s enthusiasm, but in certain situations it can be a biteen (see below) ambiguous.

2. ­–een is a common suffix, borrowed from Irish –ín /iːn/, normally applied to something small, endearing, or beloved. It’s often appended to loved ones’ names: Nora → Noreen. You may know it from Irish words that spread internationally, like boreen, carrageen, shebeen, or smithereens.

'This is fine' meme showing cartoon dog in burning house, sitting calmly at a table with a mug on it while flames rise all around. The caption has been 'Irished' to 'This is grand'.3. A culchie is someone from the Irish countryside (or a small town or village), especially from a Dubliner’s point of view. It began as a derogatory stereotype – think hick or bumpkin – but it’s now often used as an affectionate tribal badge. There are a lot of theories about its origin.

4. Haitch /heɪtʃ/, not ‘aitch’, is how Irish people pronounce the letter ‘h’. Historically this shibboleth carried a lot of cultural and political baggage, as well as attracting grumbles (and worse) from linguistic purists. It’s on the rise in British English.

5. Codding is joking or fooling. It can be transitive (I’m only codding you) and intransitive (I’m only codding). There’s also the nouns cod ‘joke, hoax’ and codology, with the learned suffix –ology added by some codder. As far as I can tell, it has nothing to do with fish.

6. Do be, be’s: These are ways to mark habitual aspect in Irish English. Maybe because Irish has a form of habitual be, Irish people, when English was forced on them, devised ways to convey it, including ‘do be’ and ‘be’s’: The cat does be [or be’s] out rambling most nights.

7. Bold has a special sense of ‘naughty, mischievous’ in Irish English, often in reference to children. In my experience it’s more common than the standardized English sense of bold = brave, daring, though the distinction isn’t always clear-cut. Irish dána straddles the two senses.

8. The cut of you: The cut of someone is an informal idiom that refers to a person’s state or appearance, which typically has something obviously wrong with it. It can be the speaker themselves: Look at the cut of me! The tone is usually critical in an amused vein.

9. Ye, youse, and yiz are second-person plural pronouns used all over Ireland; ye is favoured in the west, but I use youse too. We inflect and affix them to fit our needs: yeers, youse’ll, yizzer (= plural your, via yiz). I’d be lost without them, y’all. (We can’t use ye that way.)

10. On foot of is a more formal phrase that means ‘as a result of’ or ‘on the basis of’. It’s not heard much in everyday speech but is routine in legal/managerial contexts and journalism, particularly crime and business reporting: The FTSE slumped on foot of US jobs news.

My previous set of Irishisms featured the after perfect, amn’t, bulling, cnáimhseáil, feck, fierce, fooster, notions, oxter, plámás, sleeveen, and till. The first collection featured acushla machree, asthore, cat, give out, hames, moryah, smacht, thick, and yoke.

Some of these occur in other dialects – ‘haitch’ in Australian English, for example – but they all mark Irish English and collectively help characterize the dialect. I’ve made notes on a couple of other Hiberno-English usages and hopefully will get around to them next year.

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21 Responses to 10 more words from Irish English dialect

  1. Stan, I see that back in 2016 you answered the question I was going to ask today, about youse and yez (or yiz) in American speech. As in my NY/NJ youth: “Whaddayiz wanna do?”

  2. dawninnl says:

    Great to see you posting again :)
    I lived in Ireland, Galway and Dublin between 1987 and 97. All the above are familiar except I don’t remember hearing do be. Grand and bold in the Irish sense became part of my own vocabulary.

  3. I feel a nod should be given to the Irish expression that always precedes complete chaos, destruction and disaster – “Sure, it’ll be grand!”

    • Stan Carey says:

      Definitely. There’s a slew [another Irish word] of those, lent nuance through pragmatic markers like “Ah shur”, “Arra”, and “musha”, Maybe most famously there’s “Feck it sure it’s grand”. It’s like a whole way of life.

  4. Peter King says:

    Hi Mr Carey. I had a bad experience with WordPress and no longer have an account to post from, but I always find these posts interesting, and I heard most of those words growing up in NYC with my “culchie” parents. ________________________________

  5. astraya says:

    I must admit to cringing whenever I hear “haitch”, but I also cringe whenever I hear “zee”.

    https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/archived/booksandarts/the-h-wars-aitch-or-haitch/7541200

  6. Sean J. says:

    I remember that during the so-called troubles, even `wrong’ spelling could spell doom: Haitch = Catholic.

    • Stan Carey says:

      Yes. Someone told me they were beaten up for saying it ‘wrong’.

      • Colin Watson says:

        When I was growing up in Belfast in the 1980s/90s, there were stories of people being stopped in the street and being told to say the alphabet (because the letter A was also a shibboleth – on the whole, Catholics tended to say “ah”, while Protestants said “ay”). I’m sure these were at least in part apocryphal, but equally sure that there was a grain of truth – people did indeed have very finely-tuned senses for identifying “which foot you kicked with”.

  7. Brad Macpherson says:

    “Stand over” is definite Irishism too, instead of “stand by” or “stand behind”. To an Australian ear “stand over” means to intimidate, like a thug is a “stand-over merchant”.

    • Stan Carey says:

      That’s an interesting example. The ‘postpone’ and ‘supervise’ senses of the phrase are probably used everywhere, but I didn’t know about the ‘intimidate’ use.

  8. Ed Barrett says:

    Hi, Stan.

    I hope all’s well.

    Was it in one of your posts I read about the Irish usage ‘a scissors’?

    Either way, I was wondering whether this singular / plural mix might extend to other things considered pairs. Might ‘a waders’ be heard, for example?

  9. Liam Grant says:

    Yes, heard (pronounced to rhyme with aired, not herd) all of these growing up in the Bronx raised by two new immigrants. And poor Sister Patricia, teaching first grade, trying to get a class that was one third (rhymes with turd) first generation children, NOT to pronounce the letter as “haitch”, was amusing in its way.

    • Stan Carey says:

      Thanks for letting me know. I’m surprised that a couple of them made it across. Poor Sister Patricia would have had an easier time just accepting the variation, but I suppose that just wouldn’t do.

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