Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Just Because the Irish Speak English Doesn't Mean You'll Understand Them

When I first came to Ireland oh so many years ago, I was told the locals spoke English. They do, of course. That happens when you've been occupied by your English-speaking neighbors for a few hundred years. Prior to that they only spoke Irish, one of the many dialects of the Gaelic language. If you come here, don't tell an Irish person that they speak Gaelic because they don't. They speak Irish. In Wales they speak Welsh. In Scotland they speak Scottish. These other languages also have a foundation based in Gaelic but put a Scot, a Welshman, and an Irishman in a room together, ask them to converse in their mother tongues, and they'll barely understand each other.  Which is why most of the time they'll all speak English.

English and Irish are, of course, the official languages of Ireland. And when I stepped off the plane back in 1982 I assumed that I'd have zero trouble conversing with anyone in the country. How wrong I was.

English Irish is different, or can be depending on the words they use, and if you're planning to move or visit here you'd best be warned of this fact. To whit: when I first moved here I was asked by my brother-in-law to accompany him to the local watering hole for a few pints. "Ah, it'll be mighty," he said. But I was busy that day and wasn't sure that I'd have the time. "Fer feck sake, cop on to yerself," he responded, now annoyed. "The craic will be ninety!"

As you might imagine I was somewhat baffled by his choice of words. What, after all, did he mean by 'cop on'? Why was he swearing at me with his apparently offensive use of the f-word? And why oh why would I ever want to get involved with someone who was telling me that they were involved with crack cocaine and providing me with the price, as if I might be remotely interested?

Calling the local gendarme briefly crossed my mind. But before taking such drastic action I decided to consult my born-and-bred Irish wife. "'Cop on' means to get a handle on things," she said with laughing eyes. "'Craic' means to have fun. 'Up to ninety' means that you'll have a brilliant time. And as to 'feck', well you'd better get used to it is all I can say."

What she meant, I think, was that I'd better learn to speak English the way the Irish do. I had to in order to survive. And if you come here you will too.

The Fun of Irish English

Oh, there are so many differences to Irish English, particularly compared to the American version. Some words the Irish have inherited from England. Others would seem to be unique to this country and the people born and raised here.

Do you need some aspirin? Don't ask for a Pharmacy, rather look for a Chemist. Looking to purchase some French Fries? Then ask for Chips. And if you're looking for Potato Chips, you're really searching for Crisps. 

What happens if someone calls you a Comical Genius like my father-in-law (God Bless him) used to call me? Don't take offence. Rather, recognize that they are bestowing a compliment on you: that you are clever and knowledgeable. But what happens if someone calls you 'Thick'? In that case they are indicating to all and sundry that you're a silly, stupid person, rather as in 'thick as a brick'. And if someone looks you in the eye and calls you a 'Wanker' then be prepared to defend yourself. 

Other Irish English words can cause confusion and even great embarrassment. Assume that you're at work and you happen to be male. A beautiful woman - perhaps your boss - saunters over to your desk searching desperately, urgently for something. Trying to be helpful you ask, "Good morning, Sandra. How can I help?" And she might reply, "Oh, Tom. I need a Rubber. Right now! Do you have one?" 

I warn you: do not assume that she's flirting or somehow hoping to lure you to the nearest closet for a bit of slap and tickle. React inappropriately to this assumed invitation and you might land in jail or be accused of sexual harassment. Her search for a 'Rubber' means, of course, that she is actually looking for an 'Eraser'. So cop on to yourself before you get into hot water. 

Other words can be just as potentially embarrassing. Don't ever tell people that you're using a 'Fanny Pack'. A 'Fanny' is the Irish description for the female genitalia. Is someone looking for a 'Dummy'? Do not assume that they think you stupid. Rather, they are searching for a Baby's Pacifier. Never ask a female friend to 'get your pants on'. 'Pants' are woman's underwear, not trousers.

And as to the f-word: many versions of it pepper local language. It is not meant to cause offence. Hardly! Rather, it is a method to denote great interest or to emphasize a particular point as in: "Ah the fecking fire has gone out!" Or "For feck's sake. Will the rain never end?" Or "Those fecking b*tards, they should have scored a goal an hour ago!" 

The f-word is part of the language here. Take offense at your peril. 

The list of sometimes confusing, sometimes embarrassing, but always interesting Irish English words goes on and on. If you're determined to come to Ireland perhaps its best to talk to someone who has lived here for a bit of linguistic direction. Or, and I'm advertising here, I've compiled a comprehensive list of commonly used Irish English words and phrases in the 2014 edition of my book A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland. Simply click here to go to my Author's page, then ramp down to the Kindle edition of the book. And at only $8.99 for this ebook version, it might save you a great deal of bother before coming here.

Ah go one. Buy one before you end up in the back-of-beyonds, searching for a knob when you should really be looking for a nixer. I'm told the book is Mighty Craic, and I hope you'll agree.

A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland 2014 Kindle Edition Available Now
Want to learn more about living in Ireland? Are you thinking of traveling to Ireland or moving to Ireland? If so, you might consider the purchase of the 2014 Kindle ebook edition of A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland. Now 80,000+ words long, and having sold over 10,000 copies in its various editions, it could make the perfect gift for those interested in this wonderful country. Simply click on any of the links above to purchase this new Kindle version. You can also download various free aps to read this Kindle version on any PC or Mac. 

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