Irish Slang: 34 Words and Phrases That You Will Be Interested In
Once you achieve a certain level of English fluency, you start craving more and digging in the direction that will please your curious mind. As English language professionals, we still learn English daily because it constantly changes. Discovering new horizons of the English language is always fun and challenging at the same time. For instance, the last time we were looking for educational content in English for motivation, we ran into the Vanity Fair YouTube video where Jamie Dornan, who played Mr. Grey in the 50 Shades franchise, teaches Northern Irish slang. Since then, it's been all blur. All we know is that the video inspired the Promova blog author in a big way, so now you have this educational article about Irish slang words. With gra from Promova!
Irish Slang: Where Does It Come From
The concept that one language, in this case, English, has different accents, vocabulary, and slang may seem absurd at first glance. However, suppose you think for another minute. In that case, you'll realize that people living in separate parts of the world, different states of the same country, or remote areas of the same island naturally will have their nuances using the same language. In addition, the cultural and linguistic influence of several groups can lead to the creation of unique words and phrases, such as Irish slang.
It's no secret that people in Ireland don't speak elegant or posh English and mostly don't have the Queen's accent. Nonetheless, it doesn't stop them from decent communication in English with a spice of Irish slang.
The thing is that Ireland is a multi-language environment where people except English also speak Irish (Gaeilge) and Ullans (in Northern Ireland). Before the 19th century, Ireland wasn't a predominantly English-speaking country. But after the centuries since the Camaro-Norman settlers first brought English to the island and English King Henry III invaded it, the language became dominant among most of the population. Trying to distinguish their culture, Irish people developed plenty of Irish slang phrases from the Gaelic language. Most of the Irish terms and phrases remain popular in Hiberno-English.
Therefore, as there are some American words that British people don't understand, there is also Irish slang that other English-speaking countries can't make heads or tails of. Undoubtedly, English is a complex language because of the basics and differences in its Australian, British, American, and Canadian variations. But, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the beauty of English bases on how different it is in various cultures.
The Most Frequently Used Irish Slang Words
American culture made English learners get used to expressing emotions exaggeratedly. Whatever they say you should divide by two and hope it will reflect what things really are like. However, Irish people are opposed to that. That is why they interpret the word “grand” not as usual “magnificent” or “imposing” but as “fine” or “adequate.” Not being aware of that nuance leads many foreigners to misunderstand the meaning of grand from an Irish person's lips. So, remember that answering “I'm grand” means more down to earth, “I'm fine,” and not American, “I'm doing fantastic.”
Gaff is an absolute necessity for your Irish slang dictionary. In Ireland, the term means «house» and is known as a part of the collocation “gaff party ", which is a “house party.”
It might be difficult to imagine that some very familiar English words can have the opposite meaning in a different variant of the English language, but that is the case with Irish slang. In Hiberno-English, “deadly” does not have a negative connotation. Actually, it's exactly the opposite. As a part of the Irish slang dictionary, it means “excellent.” So, don't get offended if an Irish person says you look deadly. It is intended to be a compliment.
This Irish slang word is a synonym for “thing.” So when you hear people saying yoke, keep in mind that it has nothing to do with eggs. Instead, yoke literally refers to anything or an object you see.
Probably, the most well-known stereotype about Irish folks is that they love spending time in pubs and getting drunk. That is why they have several Irish slang words that define the state of being affected by alcohol and losing control. One of the most common adjectives for “drunk” in Ireland is “locked.” However, you can also use mouldy, ossified, polluted, twisted, scuttered, trollied, plastered, langers, and buckled.
The term that wasn't meant to be a compliment is an Irish slang word, "dryshite." The noun means a dull, boring person who can't be fun. In Ireland, it is a big insult to call someone like that. So, keep your eyes open to notice any offensive vocabulary coming from an Irish.
Gas is an antonym to the word "dryshite." It has nothing to do with the fuel when said by Irish people. The noun refers to a funny person or situation. It can also be used to depict shock or disbelief.
A culchie or bogger defines an inhabitant of rural Ireland. Such people don't necessarily live in distant villages. They are just not urban Irish who live outside Dublin. Stereotypically, they are seen to be rough and unsophisticated dwellers.
It would be too dull for the Irish population not to come up with a slang word to replace «man» or “guy,” right? So they created “fella” which means a male of any age. It sounds pretty cute and unique and distinguishes Irish men from the male representatives of other countries.
If there is an Irish slang word for man, there should be another one for a girl. That's just logical. And Irish people did follow the rules of logic. So they developed the Irish slang "Cailín" to define “girl.” It was coined from the Gaelic name Caitlin, meaning "pure."
"Manky" is an Irish slang adjective that claims something to be gross, unclean, disgusting, or rotten. People love to use it to describe the nasty weather in Ireland.
This term is an adjective that describes something of poor quality, worthless or out-of-work. So, for instance, you can say that because of the poxy wi-fi at the office, you couldn't finish the project in time.
We bet you've already noticed that British and American variations of English swear words and insults quite differ. For instance, English people don't use the f. But Irish folks also have their curses and insults. The most common Irish slang insults are “eejit” or “gombeen” which means "idiot."
Here we are coming back to the drinking culture in Ireland. In this case, we will define soft drinks according to Irish slang. Any type of alcohol-free beverage is called «minerals» in Ireland. Usually, only an older generation uses this Irish slang, meaning Coca-Cola, Pepsi, or any other type of soda.
Irish English may seem a little harsh, but we still think it's beautiful in its own way. Let's take the noun “love,” for example. Did you know that there is a unique Irish slang term in Hiberno-English that means love? It may not sound as romantic as the Italian “amore”, but Irish slang for love is also pretty cute. Meet “grá.”
Speaking of grá, Irish people also have their own term to define a French kiss or making out as Americans call it. The Irish slang for kissing with the tongue is “shift”. Just keeping you updated, not only with American dating vocabulary here.
Wee is an Irish slang word that describes something very small. For instance, “The baby's hand is so wee.”
Irish Slang Phrases From Locals
This is one of the most typical Irish slang phrases you can hear from any Irish person. “Sure look” fits practically everywhere because of its meaning. On one hand, people say it, meaning “it is what it is”. On the other hand, “sure look” is a perfect collocation to fill an awkward pause. It can indicate that you are uninterested in what someone's saying, or you've missed the point and have no idea what direction the conversation has gone.
I will yeah
If you want to get the gist of the Irish sarcasm, just listen to the intonation Irish folks say "I will yeah" with. It always has us in stitches because the collocation means "I definitely will not.” Of course, some people adore British sarcasm, but nothing is better than this Irish slang phrase.
C'mere to me
The «c'mere to me» is a short version of "Come here to me." However, as part of Irish slang, it differs from its literal meaning. When Irish people say it, they mean "listen to me" or "I've got something to tell you.” In such a way, they attract your attention and make you listen to what they are saying.
When you get the comment “fair play” from an Irish person, know that you've done something well. You can be proud of yourself.
G'way outta that
Every English learner should have a variety of quick responses to a compliment or saying, “you're welcome.” English teachers recommend expanding your vocabulary with different answers and letting go of that simple “thanks.” For example, the Irish way to respond to a compliment is «g'way outta that». Also, it can be a synonym for "It's no trouble."
This Irish slang phrase which stands for “go on” became popular because of the Irish TV show “Father Ted”. The character Mrs. Doyle used to say it a lot as an expression of enthusiasm or encouragement.
Apparently, Irish people love to joke around. They can spend a lot of time in good company, talk and laugh, drinking something at a pub. But, unfortunately, humor depends on mentality, so not everybody may understand some jokes, especially if there is a language barrier. In such case, Irish people will say, "I'm only coddin' ya," which means, "I'm only joking."
Acting the maggot
When Irish are in the mood for foolish games or messed up behavior, they "act the maggot."
Now we're suckin' diesel
We know you might be shell-shocked by this Irish slang phrase right now, but it's not our fault. First, to clarify, “now we're suckin' diesel” doesn't mean drinking fuel. Probably, you thought the collocation was connected to drinking again, but that's not the case. Instead, this Irish slang stands for making progress.
Effin’ and blindin’
You've already learned some insulting and swearing words from the previous chapter of this article. But in Ireland, they even have slang phrase that replaces verbs “curse” and “swear” - "effin' and blindin'."
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
Ireland has always been a historically religious country, so there is nothing bizarre for the Irish to use the Bible characters' names as exclamation. Referring to Jesus or Mary would be a half measure, but Irish people don't like that. That is why they use “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph” as an exclamation.
Wind your neck in
If Irish kids can't stop running around and screaming, you must use this Irish slang to calm them down. As you've already understood, “wind your neck in” means "be quiet!"
The following Irish slang phrase has nothing in common with the actual donkey or his average life expectancy. Initially, “donkey's years” belonged to dockers who worked in ports. They used a crank called a donkey to put things on a ship, but it worked very slowly. That's why when someone asked how long they would load the ship, they would answer “donkey's years.”
Divil a bit
The collocation "divil a bit" means "not much" or "nothing new." So it's a perfect response to another Irish slang phrase, “What's the craic?”
Phrasal verbs are one of the biggest pains of every English learner. Different prepositions or adverbs added to the same verb completely change the term's meaning. Memorizing each of them seems impossible. But as it turns out, native English speakers in different countries may have different phrasal verbs. For instance, the Irish slang “giving out,” which means “to complain,” is unfamiliar to British people. What a wonderful world of the English language!
Thanks a million
The meaning of this one is pretty obvious and literal. It correlates with the Italian “grazie mille.” Simply put, this Irish slang means “thank you very much.”
How To Build an Irish Slang Dictionary With Promova
Gaining English proficiency always starts by taking baby steps. You can't miss comprehending basic grammar, memorizing vocabulary, and improving well-rounded English skills for hours and move to speak English fluently with a great accent and slang words immediately. Unfortunately, that's not how language learning works. You need to achieve a certain level of English proficiency first and then add some spice, like Irish phrases and slang, to your speech. The process of learning any language requires patience and dedication.
To get a positive and resultative guided experience in learning English, you should try Promova. Promova is a one-stop language learning tool for achieving the highest level of English proficiency with a personalized approach. We offer our learners a safe place with good vibes where they can show their language potential, discover something new and get access to possibilities they've never even dreamed about. Moreover, Promova can help you prepare your English for your first trip abroad, studying or immigrating to an English-speaking country and working in an international company with natives.
Promova offers you a way to learn English through English with:
- the interactive mobile app, where you can find bite-sized lessons for any English level. Learn both grammar and vocabulary with cute flashcards using the spaced repetition method and show videos, practice basic conversations with the speaking simulator, and chat with fellow learners in chat;
- tutoring programs where you can choose the format - individual lessons or group classes. Either way, we work only with professional certified English tutors with several years of teaching experience. First, determine your English level with a placement test. Then, book the first trial lesson for free to set your goals and expectations. Finally, start improving your English skills with a personalized plan tailored to your level, needs, interests, strengths, and weaknesses;
- Conversation Club, which is free for any English learner. Every week we throw meetings for students who crave to practice speaking on various topics. We work in small groups of up to 5 people with a teacher who moderates the class. To join the Promova Conversation Club, all you need is to sign up in advance and have a B1 level of English fluency or above;
- educational blog where you can read a trendy article to expand your vocabulary, refresh your knowledge about grammar, and practice reading itself;
- social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok, where our managers post English language learning content for more effortless grasping.
If you are interested in Irish slang words and phrases and want to build your Irish slang dictionary, you can start taking private lessons with the Promova tutors. They will gradually collect all the necessary information on the topic and integrate it into your personalized learning plan. In such a way, integrating Irish slang into your vocabulary will go smoothly as butter. Your brain won't be overloaded with many unfamiliar Irish terms and phrases.
Irish slang is not a must-to-use thing for every English learner. However, Irish terms and phrases should at least be part of your passive vocabulary if you are planning to go to Ireland or have friends and acquaintances from there. Irish people love to use slang in conversation to feel more connected with English. And if you don't understand the meaning of what seems to be just a set of familiar words, you'll definitely end up having a language wall between you and your interlocutor. This article aimed to introduce Irish slang words and their meaning to you to Irish up your English and make communication with Irish people more understandable. We've done our part, so now is your turn. Don't forget to practice those Irish slang words.
What is slang?
Even though different English dictionaries do have definitions for the word “slang,” linguists still can't get on common ground about the meaning of the term. The reason is that slang constantly changes in different cultures, so defining it clearly is challenging. However, they all agree that slang is a linguistic phenomenon of a very informal type of speech that belongs to a particular group of people united by the same cultural or social background. According to linguists Bethany K. Dumas and Jonathan Lighter, the actual slang words and phrases have some common features.
- It can replace «a well-known conventional synonym».
- People of a higher social status don't use such terms or expressions.
- The individual who uses the slang belongs or is familiar with a particular group of people or whatever is referred to.
- It makes the speech or writing significantly less formal.
If a word or collocation meets at least two criteria, linguists will define it as slang.
What is the most Irish slang to say?
The most Irish slang word that became a signature term for people from Ireland is the craic. It has two meanings and can refer to both fun and news. You will be able to understand which one the person means only from the context. Earlier in the days, the spelling of the word was “crack” because it originated from the Middle English term “crak,” which means «a loud conversation.” If an Irish person says, “What's the craic?” they ask, “What's new?” But if it's a party and a host wants to check on you, “Is it craic?” means “Is it fun for you?” Be cautious to spell it correctly in the text or message when your gadget's language is set to American English.
What celebrities speak Irish English?
Quite a few celebrities in Hollywood speak Irish English and use Irish slang, but you would never guess them because of their work. You see, actors usually can switch accents to fit the character they are playing. So on the screen, you won't notice even a hint of Irish speech patterns, when in reality, those actors and actresses are Irish English speakers. Among famous people who speak Irish English are Cillian Murphy, known for his role in the Batman franchise, Jamie Dornan, who played a leading role in the 50 shades franchise; Fiona Shaw aka evil harry Potter's aunt Petunia; and the star of the film adaptation of the book Little Women Saoirse Ronan. By the way, the first name of the last actress is actually Irish, and it is pronounced SEER-sha.
What is the Irish slang word for toilet?
Yes, there is an Irish slang word that means toilet. The most common one is "jacks." It originated in Tudor England, and became commonly used in Ireland in the 1800s because of the funny life of Irish businessman Jack Power. According to the legend, the man had 38 kids, so he had to manage simultaneous toilet visits of all family members. But when he got fed up with that responsibility, he found a way to improve his family's domestic life. Jack invented and patented the first multi-toilet cubicles. However, the name "multi-poo" he came up with for his invention didn't catch on. So people decided to call it "jacks" in honor of the inventor.