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.
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.