Irish English

by Adam Bieganski, 5 years ago

The Irish have their own characteristic version of English - called Hiberno-English.

If you're wondering if you've ever been given out to, or seen the dog's bollocks, read on...

Although Ireland follows British spelling rules, it has its own distinctive and rather charming version of English, called Hiberno-English (Hibernia means Ireland in Latin) or simply Irish English.

Apart from the multiplicity of accents, ranging from perfectly clear and understandable to a foreigner, to obscure and verging on incomprehensible, Irish English (mainly in speech, but not only) is characterised by its own words and expressions as well as some grammatical constructs, which might seem peculiar even to native English speakers from other countries.

I am by no means an expert in Irish English, nevertheless - I will try and highlight some of the more interesting bits.

Give out to

Have ever been given out to? Chances are - you have, you just don't call it that.

Me boss has just given out to me again about the feckin' missed deadline.

Note: In many places in Ireland people say 'me' instead of 'my'

I remember a colleague of mine asking me if I had learned English in Ireland, after I said something like the above. I thought it was perfectly normal (international), because I'd heard that many times.

Turns out you will hear this a lot, but only in Ireland - hence the colleague's question.

And it means: to chastise, berate, rebuke or criticise someone.

You can easily see that these synonyms are of too-high-a-register ('Me boss has just chastised me' - are you serious???), while 'The old bollocks gave out to me' sounds perfectly casual.

It is distinctively Irish because it is a literal translation of the Irish: 'Tabhair amach'. It has just struck me that this is why said colleague was so surprised...

Give a bollocking

This is similar to the previous expression, except it's slightly more vulgar, and you can be sure it's not any kind of even pretend-constructive criticism.

I'm after getting a serious bollocking from the boss.

I'm after

'I'm after talking to Ronan.'

This means what you think it does: "I've talked to Ronan", but sounds a bit too circumlocutory (roundabout way) - why do you have to use a preposition ('after') when you have a tense specifically for this purpose?

Turns out this construction also comes from the Irish language, where it is perfectly grammatical and in fact the only way to say 'I've done something':

Tá mé tar éis ...

I'll spare you the details, but 'tar éis' is the 'after' part, while 'tá mé' is something like 'it is on me' (which means 'I am' or just 'I' - it makes the speaker the subject).

Funnily enough - most Irish people using the 'I'm after' construction don't necessarily know the Irish counterpart or do not realise the Irish origin of it; the Irish language is not really as popular nor spoken as its defenders would like you to think.

As useful as a chocolate teapot

This simply means 'useless'. But just say it out loud to see how much more colourful and expressive it is.

Yer man, yer wan, yer woman

Be aware that you must pronounce these as they are written. It's not 'your man', but 'yer man' or even 'ye'man'.

These are Irish renditions of 'your man', 'your one' and 'your woman'. And they don't mean someone's man or woman, but are used as a placeholder (pronoun?) for someone whose name you don't remember or don't care to remember, or when you're sure you and your interlocutor know who's being mentioned (if you're not completely sure, you can wave your hand in the general direction of where yer man usually sits or lives).

'I'm after speaking with yer man, you were right, he's as useful as a chocolate teapot.'

It roughly corresponds to "the guy" or "this guy" in more standard English.

C'mere. G'wan!

OK, so these are short for 'Come here' and 'Go on'. Usually the exchange looks something like this:

C'mere, now, I meant to tell ya'... G'wan, mate!

'C'mere does not literally mean 'come over here, it is rather a discourse marker that is supposed to get the other person's attention. It's something like 'listen' or 'look' or 'look it' (the last one is another Irishism).

'G'wan' does mean 'go on' to a large extent, but I've also heard it used as the equivalent of 'come on, as in:

Oh, g'wan now, mate, don't be such a bollocks!

Which leads us to:


This word is actually known in so-called Euro-English, meaning it is used in the UK as well as in Ireland. It is sometimes spelled 'bollix' or 'bollox'. It's literal meaning is 'testicles' (or 'balls').

In its basic form it is equivalent to American 'bullshit' (or the neutral word 'nonsense'):

Bollocks! = Bullshit! What a load of bollocks! = What a load of bullshit! Stop giving me those bollocks! = Stop giving me this bullshit! He talks bollocks = He talks nonsense

However - it is much more universal. You can say, for example:

Ask me bollocks = Not a chance


I will in me bollocks = I will not

It is also quite tricky, because it can be a singular countable noun:

He's just an old bollocks! = He's just an idiot!

Also, it is an antagonym to some extent:

That was bollocks = That was rubbish (not good) That was the dog's bollocks = That was the shit (the best, the bee's knees)

So, Irish managers sometimes use it when making motivational speeches:

OK, so we've got this next project; the other team made a bollocks out of it, but I'm sure we're gonna make a dog's bollocks out of it!

and it means that the other team screwed up, but we're going to save it and make it awesome.

There is also a more recent alternative, which sounds a bit less vulgar: the mutt's nuts.


The above is but a minuscule sample of the Irish approach to English. And we haven't even touched words and expressions like 'craic', 'Jaysus', 'couldn't be arsed', 'Story?', 'eejit', 'cute hoor', 'hot press', 'deadly', 'brutal', 'yoke'...

We'll definitely come back to this in another post.

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