Every language changes, and never more so than now, with viral memes from social media, and canned PR phrases colonizing speech.Ireland retains its distinctive hold on its own version of English.
I sometimes offer advice for people visiting Ireland by asking them to consider tuning the ear or the mind rather, by giving them some phrases they will hear.
‘Don’t be talking, sure.’
This expression means the opposite i.e. ’Tell me more.’ It also carries the message of humour, faint disbelief, sarcasm, bewilderment and exasperation.
If you want poster-size images of common Irish expressions, have a look at the Free Posters page.
Where to begin..?
Dictionary: Dolan’s reference book is a keeper.
Lexilogos: slang, expressions, proverbs and more
Scríobh: The Irish language…
There are plenty of coarse expressions at these sites. Mind yourself.
Irish English terms
Hiberno English slang
Mrs Malaprop, Irish Bulls etc
I have a massive fondness for these incongruities of speech. The more mistaken use of idiom and unintentional paradoxes and tautologies… leading to absurdity… the better. Even the likes of Samuel Beckett found refuge and consolation in this arena.
It could be said that the Irish took revenge on their colonizers by taking over their language and wringing its neck. One unfortunate byproduct might be that some Irish people play up the gormless Paddy more than is decent.
Origins of: Mrs Malaprop
The name comes from a character named Mrs. Malaprop in the play "The Rivals" by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, a Dublin playwright who found fame in London in the late 1700s.
- Alcoholics Unanimous, for Alcoholics Anonymous
- Various veins, for varicose veins
- Electrical votes, for electoral votes
Dubliner and former Taoiseach Albert ‘Bertie’ Ahearn did not lose any popularity for the likes of these:
- ‘It’s all smoke and daggers…that’s all it is!’
- ‘It took Ireland 30 years to become an overnight success.’
Less well remembered are these, not coincidentally relating to the same charge of insider shenannigans:
- ‘I deeply resent the allegations, and I defy the allegators to step forward..’
If you have ever marked student essays, you will have had a rich immersion.
- ‘Thomas Jefferson, a Virgin, and Benjamin Franklin were two singers of the Declaration of Independence...'
A Visit from Mrs Malaprop
Every Irish family will have had a visit from Mrs Malaprop. She dispenses her favours liberally. Nobody escapes her hospitality….
Upon meeting my parents for the first time, my Canadian fianceé was keen to engage with them, and to get to know them better. It was her first time in Ireland.
She and Da fell into conversation one day. She observed how he had one ear to the radio (‘the wireless’) and, sensing an opening, she thought she might engage him on the topic being discussed. The conversation was reported to me later. It’s just as well I was not there to hear it first-hand.
It went something like this.
“Mr Brady, we don’t get the same information on the radio in Canada, the farming news. Do you listen to it every day?”
“Well, not every day. But it can be interesting.”
“The prices at the markets? What farmers get for their animals?”
“Right. I’m not sure why I like to hear it, to be honest. But my mother’s people were small farmers in Wicklow. That might account for it.”
“Maybe you’re considering raising a few bollocks to sell yourself then?”
A strained stillness followed, with breaths held. My fiancée quickly sensed that she had inadvertently introduced a problem in the conversation. She waited as my father rubbed thoughtfully at his eyebrows a few times. He seemed confused, even flustered.
“Ah,” he said then, recovering himself. “I would have been tempted a while ago maybe. But, sure, these days you never know what price a bullock will fetch.”
I tried to persuade my wife later that he might have been considering my brother and me, in the ‘raising bullocks’ notion.
The term originated with Sir Boyle Roche, an Irish M.P. in the later 1700s. It is not clear whether his bluster was a screen for a keen intelligence or perhaps a fondness for mischief.
Irish accents and use of Hiberno Irish forms were much mocked and sneered at in Britain at the height of its empire. Irish people were commonly portrayed as stupid, simian in appearance, innately violent and backward. As ugly as this treatment was, it did not approach the depths of prejudice and violence toward Africans and indeed any non-white peoples.
Irish people are known to play up ‘The Paddy’ in order to deceive. James Joyce included them. ‘… where the hand of man has never set foot…’
Famously, Boyle Roche orated:
- “Why we should put ourselves out of our way to do anything for posterity, for what has posterity ever done for us?"
- “We should silence anyone who opposes the right to freedom of speech."
It’s just as a wag noted: the Irish Bull is always pregnant.
Honorary Irish citizenship should be considered for the following notables. A certificate of proficiency, at least.
Sam Goldwyn must have had Irish relations. Note: relations in Ireland means relatives. One leads to another in any case.
Goldwyn routinely tied himself in knots.
- ‘The next time I send a damn fool for something, I go myself.’
- ‘’His verbal contract is worth more than the paper it's written on.’
Yogi died in 2015 after 70 years in pro baseball. Again, an honorary Hiberno-Irish identity card for him.
- ‘Always go to other people's funerals; otherwise they won't go to yours.’
- ‘90 percent of it is half mental.’
Irish minds seem to have a talent for engaging with the absurd. Maybe it’s because of how we are said to respond, with laughter instead of despair. The Murphy here was supposedly a US Capt. Ed Murphy, an aeronautical engineer.
My favourite is Murphy’s Law of Damage:
- ‘If there’s a 10 percent change of something going wrong, it will go wrong 100 percent of the time and cause 110 percent damage.’
It is true. The ‘extra’ 10 percent is to the ego or the morale of the participants / culprits. You can check the Math yourself.
More. And yet more again…
Father Ted and D’Unbelieveables
‘Father Ted’ was a documentary masquerading as a comedy. There are clips available online via a Youtube search.
Also, full episodes here
‘D’Unbelieveables’ is rural Tipperary at its mightiest.
YouTube Search here
Fugitives and Runaway Indentured Servants
I chanced across these while reading ‘White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain's White Slaves in America.’ Something about the wording stayed in my mind.
From The Pennsylvania Gazette, July 7, 1763
RUN away from the subscriber, living in Lancaster ... a Native Irish Servant Woman, named Katey Norton, who came from the County of Wicklow, in Ireland, last Fall, she is about 25 or 26 years of age, of a dark complexion, has black hair, talks in the Irish dialect, rocks in her walk, and is pretty sharp in talking . . . she is a cunning hussey, and no doubt will pass a while for an honest woman, as she has good clothes with her, and can behave herself. Whoever takes up said woman, and brings her to the subscriber, in Lancaster, shall have three pounds reward, and reasonable Charges, paid by me ROBERT FULTON.
Plenty more here
If you are a Brady
I don’t have much interest in digging into family names on either side of our family. A surname’s supposed meanings or origins can be fanciful or downright nonsense too. Also, most ‘coats of arms’ are bogus.
That said, the original Irish word behind the Brady surname looks to be brádach. It may come as little surprise it some that it denotes a cross-grained temperament.
Recently my eye was drawn to this series of dime novels.
‘Secret Service : old and young King Brady, detectives.’
Wait but! These are fraught times for identity and grievance politics. If you’re touchy about past depictions of non WASP Americans and immigrants to America, the covers and dialogue will give you plenty to be outraged about. Mind yourself.