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While visiting Dublin, Ireland in 2017 I enjoyed the people I encountered. From the tour bus drivers to waiters in cafés to people we chatted with in pubs, all were friendly and playful. And what is it, to Americans, that so delights us? Those charming accents and words and phrases common to their language but unique to us.
My mother, sisters and niece accompanied me on this trip, a magnificent girls’ trip across the UK. We agreed that the Irish hold a special place in our hearts. My mother’s family comes from Ireland, so perhaps it’s a familial connection. Or perhaps it’s that they don’t know a stranger. We felt very welcomed and embraced in Dublin.
Check out these fun Irish phrases and what they mean and then try them out on your next trip to the Emerald Isle.
Irish Words We’ve Adopted
Some Irish words are common to the English language. We’ve adopted them. Slew, meaning a large number, comes from the Irish word slaugh, which means a host. Trousers comes from the Irish trius. Galore is adapted from go leor, meaning plenty or enough.
The Irish gave us bog, which they pronounce bug. And we get whiskey from the Irish phrase uisce beatha, which means “water of life”. Buddy came from the Irish bhodaigh, meaning pal. And slogan originated from a word used by Irish clans in the 1670s, sluagh-ghairm, which is a battle shout.
The fun word smithereens is a gift from the Irish, from their word smidrin with the “een” diminutive added. It means a small fragment.
And do you know how we got the word boycott? It comes from Ireland’s history.
In 1880, an uncaring County Mayo land agent named Captain Boycott refused requests to reduce rents after a bad harvest. His aggrieved tenants responded by refusing to bring in the harvests. From that time on, boycott refers to shunning people, organizations or countries that do not respect human rights.
Fun Irish Phrases and What They Mean
Pubs truly are the heart and soul of Ireland’s cities, towns and villages. Visit them and enjoy listening to lively stories and discussions. The Irish sprinkle their conversations with sayings that are common to them and play with the English language. Now you’ll know what they mean.
Acting the Maggot
This phrase means you are probably up to no good or getting into mischief.
Oul Fella or Oul Wan
If you hear someone talking about her oul fella or her oul wan, she is referring to her father or her mother, respectively. I think I might start calling my mom oul wan!
When someone is fluthered, he is very, very drunk!
When you are content in your current surroundings, you are happy out.
When the phrase donkey years pops up, it refers to a lot of years.
This questions is the equivalent of asking, “Was it good?”
This phrase refers to the bathroom. “Where are the jacks?” “Aye, down the stairs.” In Irish pubs and restaurants, it seems all the jacks are up a flight of stairs or down one.
One of my favorites, if something isn’t done the right way, it is arseways. In case you don’t know, arse means ass.
Go Way Outta That
This fun phrase is an expression of disbelief. It can also be used as a refusal to a request.
Sure Look It
This phrase is very common and often attached to the end of a sentence. It means carry on or let’s get on with it. A similar phrase, sure listen, means the same. It does NOT mean “listen to me”.
Used more in rural Ireland, ara comes before your name if someone doesn’t believe you or feels surprised or disappointed by you.
The Craic was 90
Heard frequently in pubs, this phrase means the atmosphere and fun were excellent.
I Will Yeah
This one makes me laugh. It’s said when a person has no intention of doing what she’s just been asked to do.
A Bag of Tayto
This is a bag of crisps…or what we call chips.
Will You Have a Mineral?
You might get asked this in a pub or café. It means, “Will you have a soft drink?” “And a bag of tayto?” Now you know how to answer!
Great Drying Out
When the weather clears up this phrase means it’s a great day to dry clothes on the line.
Feck Off or What the Feck
You might easily guess the equivalent of these phrases. Replace the “e” with a “u” in feck and you’ve got it. We heard feckin’ frequently too, placed before any word!
I’m Going on the Gargle
When you do this, you are headed out for drinks and might not be back…for days.
A dooter is a short, or wee, walk.
Aye and Naw
Aye is yes and naw is no for the Irish. Confusingly, the word yes means hello!
Used affectionately, an eejit describes someone who isn’t very bright.
Which Phrase is Your Favorite?
Did you learn new phrases to try out? Which one is your favorite?
I hope, when travel restrictions ease, that you add Ireland to your “must visit list”. While there, listen and join in conversations and get to know the lovely and fun Irish people. Visit pubs and cafés and walk the streets and parks. Ride the hop on/hop off buses and delight in the guides, who speak with such love and passion for their cities.
And if you are going on the gargle, let me know!
Another Fun Post
If you enjoyed this post, check out Fun British Phrases and What They Mean.
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11 Replies to “Fun Irish Phrases and What They Mean”
I love learning fun phrases from different places visited! My favorite is Oul Fella or Oul Wan!
I love that one too!
These are so fun! I’m afraid when I go I won’t be able to understand anyone!
It takes me a day to begin to understand what people are saying!
I love learning about other cultures! Fun to learn these phrases!
They are fun aren’t they?!
These are so fun! We loved our trip to Ireland! We kept “Sláinte” in our vocabulary after our trip!
That’s a good one too!
I love eytmology so found this post about Irish phrases fascinating! Fun post!
Thank you! I loved listening to the Irish speak.
I love this!! These are fascinating. Fun to learn some of the etymology of our own English language, plus some of the Irish phrases I’ve never heard of. Thanks!