25 Irish Slang Terms You Should Know

iStock.com/levers2007
iStock.com/levers2007

People in Ireland speak English, but not exactly the "Queen’s English." With a little help from the Gaelic language—called Irish—the populace of the Emerald Isle have devised their very own myriad of weird and wonderful words and phrases. Here are a few Irish colloquialisms to help you understand the next person from Derry, Dublin, or Donegal that you come in contact with:

  1. Craic (pronounced "crack"): This is the big one. Originally crack as used by Ulster Scots, the Gaelic spelling of the word was not widely used in Ireland until it was popularized as the catchphrase of the Irish-language TV show SBB ina Shuí starting in the 1970s. Now, craic is probably the word most commonly used by Irish people across the world. The word has a pretty simple meaning, however—"general banter" or "fun."
  1. Wee: Small. Everything in Ireland is wee. Absolutely everything. If Big Shaq was Irish, he’d have been called "Wee Shaq."
  1. Wean (pronounced "wayne"): A child.
  1. Lethal/leefs: Mainly used in the northwest of Ireland, these words both mean "great"; leefs is short for "lethal."
  1. Quare (pronounced "kware"): An odd-looking word that also means "great," or "very."
  1. Feck off: Quite possibly Ireland’s greatest achievement, this phrase is the perfect way to curse without technically cursing. Replace the e with a u, and you have what this slang term means.
  1. Dooter: A wee (see above) walk.
  1. Saunter: A slightly brisker walk. Almost a strut, but with less shoulder movement and self-confidence.
  1. Aye/Naw: Yes/no.
  1. Yes: Hello (this one doesn’t make sense—we know that).
  1. Lashing: Raining heavily.
  1. Slag: Used as a verb, it means to make a joke at someone else’s expense.
  1. Wired to the moon: You know that feeling you get when you’ve enjoyed a fairly big Tuesday night in a club, and then stumble into work the next morning after downing six espresso shots at the nearest Starbucks? Yes, that is what being "wired to the moon" is.
  1. Jesus, Mary & Joseph: When it comes to blasphemy, there are no half measures in Ireland. As a historically religious country, blasphemy is relatively frowned upon, so when an Irish person it absolutely necessary to take the Lord’s name in vain, they do so by taking Jesus’s whole family in vain.
  1. Cat: Bad … because apparently Irish people think cats are bad?
  1. Brock: Also bad.
  1. Eejit: A person who is a bit of an idiot.
  1. While man/woman: A person who is also a bit of an idiot.
  1. Melter: And yet another person who is a bit of an idiot, or at least very annoying.
  1. Haven’t a baldies: When you are unsure of an answer to a question.
  1. Wind your neck in: The perfect way to take someone who is overly arrogant down a peg or two? Tell them to "wind their neck in."
  1. Yonks: A long time.
  1. Bake: Face.
  1. Juke: A wee (see way above) look.
  1. All lured: Delighted.

Why 'Run' Is The Most Complex Word in the English Language

iStock.com/VectorStory
iStock.com/VectorStory

English can be hard for other language speakers to learn. To use just one example, there are at least eight different ways of expressing events in the future, and conditional tenses are another matter entirely. For evidence of the many nuances and inconsistencies of the English tongue, look no further than this tricky poem penned in 1920. (For a sample: “Hiccough has the sound of cup. My advice is to give up!”)

As author Simon Winchester wrote for The New York Times, there’s one English word in particular that’s deceptively simple: run. As a verb, it boasts a record-setting 645 definitions. Peter Gilliver, a lexicographer and associate editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, spent nine months sussing out its many shades of meaning.

“You might think this word simply means ‘to go with quick steps on alternate feet, never having both or (in the case of many animals) all feet on the ground at the same time,’” Winchester writes. “But no such luck: that is merely sense I.1a, and there are miles to go before the reader of this particular entry may sleep.”

This wasn’t always the case, though. When the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1928, the word with the most definitions was set. However, the word put later outpaced it, and run eventually overtook them both as the English language's most complex word. Winchester thinks this evolution is partly due to advancements in technology (for instance, “a train runs on tracks” and “an iPad runs apps”).

He believes the widespread use of run—and its intricate web of meanings—is also a reflection of our times. “It is a feature of our more sort of energetic and frantic times that set and put seem, in a peculiar way, sort of rather stodgy, rather conservative,” Gilliver told NPR in an interview.

So the next time you tell your boss you "want to run an idea" by them, know that you’re unconsciously expressing your enthusiasm—as well as all the other subtleties wrapped up in run that previous words like set failed to capture.

[h/t The New York Times]

11 Little-Known Words for Specific Family Members

iStock.com/kali9
iStock.com/kali9

The words we use for family members in English are specific about some things, and vague about others. Our vocabulary marks a distinction between our mother and her sisters (some languages use one word for mother and maternal aunts), but doesn't say whether siblings are older or younger (some languages have different words for brother and sister depending on their age relative to you). We lack words that pick out particular family members (we have cousin, but what about child-of-my-father's-brother?) as well as certain general terms (we have siblings for brothers-and-sisters, but what about nieces-and-nephews?)

If you look hard enough, you can find some words to help fill in the gaps. Here are 11 unusual English kinship words for family members.

1. Patruel

This one means "child of your paternal uncle." Also, a child of your own brother. It hasn't gotten a lot of use in the past few centuries, but it was once convenient to have a term for this relationship because it factored into royal succession considerations. The first citation for it in the OED, from 1538, reads, "Efter his patruell deid withoutin contradictioun he wes king."

2. Avuncle

Your mother's brother. Latin distinguished between patruus, father's brother, and avunculus, mother's brother. (There was also amita, father's sister, and matertera, mother's sister.) It's the root of the word avuncular, meaning "having to do with uncles" or "uncle-like" (i.e., kind and friendly, like an uncle). You won't find the word avuncle in the dictionary, but it has been used in anthropology texts and in papers concerning royal matters.

3. Niblings

Your nieces and nephews. You won't find this in the dictionary either, but use of this term seems to be growing among favorite aunts and uncles who want an easy way to refer to their little bundles of sibling-provided joy in a collective or gender-neutral way.

4. Fadu

Your father's sister. Latin amita covers this relationship, but we don't have to reach that far back to find an English equivalent. Old English made a distinction between aunts and uncles depending on whether they were maternal or paternal. We lost all that when we borrowed the more general aunt and uncle from French.

5. Modrige

"Your mother's sister," from Old English.

6. Fœdra

"Your father's brother," from Old English.

7. Eam

Your mother's brother. It survived in some dialects as eme, with a more general meaning of uncle or friend, into the 19th century.

8. Brother-uterine

Your half-brother from the same mother. This is a term used in old legal documents or other discussions of inheritance and succession. Half-siblings of the same mother are uterine and of the same father are consanguine.

9. Brother-german

Full brother, sharing both parents. Nothing to do with Germany. The german here is related to germane, which originally meant "of the same parents" and later came to mean just related or relevant.

10. Double cousin

Full first cousin, sharing all four grandparents. This comes about when a pair of sisters marries a pair of brothers, among other circumstances.

11. Machetonim

The parents of your child's spouse. Your child's in-laws. Ok, this is a Yiddish word, but one that, like a lot of Yiddish words, has poked its way into English because it fills a gap. When it comes to marriage, this can be a very important relationship, so it’s good to have a word for it. If your parents get along with their machetonim, the family—the whole mishpocheh—will be happier.

This story was republished in 2019.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER