How to Speak English Like the Irish

Extras, Ireland — By on June 6, 2011 at 6:00 am

By Sarah Brown
Special to The Lost Girls

For about six months now, I’ve been living with a lovely Irish girl from Cork. We get along wonderfully and always have a good time, but I must admit, it took me a few months to understand her. You’re probably thinking, now, how can that be? You both speak English, right? Well yes, technically we speak the language. But in reality, we don’t speak the same language.

Are you catching my drift? While we may communicate in the same mother tongue, some Irish expressions and turns of phrase could not be more different from those we use in the States. On a recent trip to Ireland, I was confronted with these differences, and continually found myself asking, “You did what!? You said what?!” To clear up some of the confusion for those you making a trip to the Emerald Isle, I have created a list of the most frequently used words and phrases, so you too, can learn to speak English like the Irish…

The first thing my friends told me upon arrival in Dublin was, “Make sure you watch out for the knackers.” And no, it is not just some twisted form of the well-known word for underwear, knickers. Rather, a knacker is someone who is, for the most part, a seedy sketchball, and who is to be avoided at all costs. Seen as the low-lifes of Irish society, knackers are often stereotyped as those who wear tracksuits and lots of gold chains, and engage in violent or destructive behavior. The current Urban Dictionary definition of knacker is, “An Irish term of affection for general scum. Originally originating from a term of reference for travellers (gypsys), but nowadays covering whole spectrum of degenerates. Inbreeding is commonplace.”

Chips, crisps, or fries? Americans traveling abroad often encounter problems in Ireland and the UK when attempting to distinguish French fries from potato chips. Chips in Ireland and the UK are crisps, and fries are chips, get it?

If you gain a little weight from eating too many chips, crisps, etc., the Irish don’t talk about it in pounds. In Ireland, when referring to how much things weigh (including oneself), you measure in stone. Crazy, eh? A stone is the equivalent of about 14 pounds. So for example, a girl who has lost two stone has lost a serious amount of weight.

Stereotypically, the Irish have dirty mouths. The kind that my mother would wash out with soap if she heard what came out of them. One of their favorite expressions? Feckall. To do feckall generally means to do nothing at all. If something is worth feckall, it means it is worth absolutely nothing. For example, “I just spent all evening at the pub with a girl and got absolutely feckall out of it.” Translation: The evening was a worthless waste of time.

However, when an evening does go well, and it ends in what a man could deem a “success,” he would generally describe it as getting the shift. To get the shift essentially means to get laid. Simple as that.

When the Irish go out, they know how to have a good time or, as they say, craic. Pronounced “crack,” it is a term for fun, a good time, or entertainment. For example, “Last night was such good craic!” In addition, if people are fun and outgoing, they to can also be referred to as the craic. As in, “He’s good craic.”

Shite. Pronounced “shy-t,” this Irish word for shit is commonplace. When combined into the phrase gobshite, it refers to someone who is a loudmouth and talks a lot, but never says anything of value. Literally, shite is coming out of their gob (mouth).

Generally, when someone is a gobshite, Irish people tend not to put up with it. And when Irish people don’t like something, they’re not afraid to express it. The expression to give out to someone refers to this Irish tradition of chastising someone for their misdoings, or relaying previous events that have caused annoyance or grief. In plain terms, to give out to someone is to tell them off, yell at them, or give them a piece of your mind.

The Irish are also a laughable lot, and will be the first ones to make fun of themselves if the situation warrants it. Their humor tends to be very sarcastic and relies heavily upon making fun of others. The expression to take the piss out of someone means to make fun of or ridicule them. Despite what you might think, it does not, in any way, have anything to do with urine.

“It’s all good in the neighborhood.” The Irish have many ways of conveying that something is good. Some common ones include, class, grand, and savage. If you refer to something as class, you are saying it’s excellent. “Did you see the match last night? That last goal was class!” If something is grand, it’s nice or good. “Ah, a cup of tea right now would be grand.” And finally, if something is savage it is really badass. “That movie was savage—you have to go see it.”

However, even on an island as small as Ireland, the slang and turns of phrase vary exponentially. Between Listowel in Count Kerry and Killybegs in County Donegal, two people having a conversation might not understand each other. But when overseas, one Irish person can identify exactly where another one is from, purely by listening to his or her accent. Nevertheless, no matter where they are from, the Irish are all a lovable, laughable lot of people, who are always up for the craic. If you’re lucky enough to meet them, you’re in for a good time!