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Welcome to The Mad Logophile. Here, we explore words; their origins, evolution, usage. Words are alive. Words are born, they change and, sometimes, they die. They are our principal tool for communicating with one another. There are over one million words in the English language yet only an estimated 171,476 words are in common current use. As a logophile, I enjoy discovering new words, using them and learning about their origins. Please join in.

Well, St. Patrick's Day is this coming Wednesday. I thought that we could get ourselves up to speed on Irish words we use every day. Plus, we'll learn a bit of Irish slang. So, come with me below the fold for some good craic...

The Irish were among some of the earliest emigres to America and were well-established here before the Revolutionary War. Immigration nearly stopped with the outbreak of the revolution. The Napoleonic Wars prevented travel across the Atlantic. When immigration resumed during Monroe's presidency, it was relatively slow. Many early Irish emigres were skilled laborers, who worked on the canals and railroads. Then, in the 1840s, the Potato Famine drove hundreds of thousands desperately poor Irish to our shores. Unlike the people in the earlier migration, these people had no skills, no previous experience in adapting to a new country, no money, few clothes, no education and very little hope. But they did have a wealth of folklore, music, dance and a lively culture. They also brought their language, Gaelic. As America is wont to do, we adopted some of all the Irish had to offer.

These are words that the Irish gave us, that have become part of the American lexicon. The Gaelic word, where applicable, is given in parentheses:

A banshee (bean sidh)is a spirit or faery, often associated with a family. She is said to wail or keen before a death.

The city of Baltimore got its name from the Irish baile an tí mhór (Baala on tee wore). It translates as town of the big house.

Another word for a wetland, bog comes from bogach, meaning marsh or peat land.

We often say that the Irish accent is a brogue. This is a reference to shoes; a brogue is a coarse leather shoe once worn in Ireland and Scotland.

When I said this would be good craic, I meant that it will be fun, a good time. The words itself is from the English crack, which was re-spelled Gaelic fashion to become craic.
The hand-held drum of the Irish is a bodhran (baw-ran). The word drum itself is also Irish, from drom/druim meaning ridge.

On Wednesday, we'll see green beer galore. Fittingly enough, galore is from go leor meaning til plenty.

From Irish folklore we get the little man known as a leprechaun. The word is thought to derive from leipreachán, from lu (small) and corp (body). Or it may be from leath bhrogán, half-shoer, as the leprechaun is often said to be a shoemaker.

Another kind of Irish folkloric being is the pooka. It is possibly related to púca (spook). It also relates to poc (billy goat) as in County Kerry's famous Puck Fair.

The shamrock is the floral symbol of Ireland. It's derived from seamróg meaning trefoil.

A shillelagh is a wooden club made from a stout stick with a large knob on the end. It comes from sailéala meaning a club. This could be the wizard's staff that Nanny Og likes to sing about. ;)

From seán tí (small house) we get shanty, a description of a small, sometimes poorly built, building.

On Wednesday we will also see a slew of shiny green beads. A sluagh is Gaelic for a whole lot.

Action movies would be boring if things didn't get blown to smithereens. The word smithers (of obscure origin) is combined with the Irish diminutive ending. It may derive from the modern Irish smidrín or may be the source of this word. Etymologists are not sure.

The Irish (and the Scots) love their whiskey. The drink itself may have originated in either place but the word we know it by is Irish; uisce beatha, (ishka baha) which means water of life. This, in turn, is a translation of the Latin aqua vitae, meaning the same. The Scots argue that their uisge beatha (note the difference of one letter) is the basis of whiskey. I'm not getting involved... BTW, the Irish spell it like we do (whiskey) but the Scots drop the "e" (whisky).


Like their English neighbors, the Irish have some colorful slang. Some of it came to our country with the influx of Irish immigrants. But, to hear an Irishman use these words is a truly fascinating experience for any logophile or linguist. I had the pleasure last summer, when we visited the Emerald Isle. Once you get used to the accent and they get used to you, the slang flies!

If an Irishman tells you that you are doing something arseways, you'd better straighten up and do it correctly, whatever it is. You done that arseways, ya twit! If you aren't doing it at all, you are arsing around. Ye better stop arsing around, boyo or I'll whack ye with my shillelagh!

If you hear aul man and/or aul wan, the speaker is referring to his father and mother, respectively. If they speak of the babby, they're talking about the next generation. I'm glad my aul man and aul wan lived to see the babby. I love this word! My friend in Belfast has a wee tot whom she referred to as "the babby" and to hear that in an Irish accent is charming as heck!

Something very good is often called a bag o' swhag. That Guiness was a bag o' swhag.... gimme another!

Despite the stereotypical use of begorrah (by god), I have never heard a real Irish man or woman use it. The same goes for bejappers. They do, however, use the word boyo in reference to a male of any age, but usually younger than the speaker.

A thing or situation that is banjaxed is screwed up beyond measure. Ah bollocks, the roast is banjaxed!
A little saucy here.... The part of a man's body between his balls and arse is, fittingly enough, the barse. His face looks like John McCain's barse!

Like any culture, the Irish have a special word for food. In their case, beak does the job. Got any beak? I'm fair dyin' of hunger.

Bettys is a term for women. Didja see those fair Bettys in that booth?

Someone who comes from the country, a rube or unsophisticated person will gain the moniker, bogger. That fella has no manners -- feckin' bogger. Also, a culchie or mucksavage.

Looking for a new and fun insult? Try Bombay shithawk.

If you have all your ducks in a row, the Irish would say that you are all boxed off. Ready to go then -- all boxed off are ye?

We all know someone who pushes their luck, so we all know a chancer or two. Oh that Boehner, what a chancer!

A great or brilliant thing is cla. That diary by mcjoan today was cla, wasn't it?

A clatter is a punch or smack. I'll give ye a clatter in the jaw if ye don't stop arsing off!

The act of being seriously injured, particularly when participating in a sporting event is known as being creamed out of it. Did ya see that tackle? That poor guy is creamed out of it!

Someone who has what we might call horse teeth has delph in Ireland. Look at the delph on that one! She could eat an apple through a box!

A doxie is a lady of the evening, especially one who plies her trade on the docks. Another term for a hooker is brasser.

An ordeal or trial is known as a dose. This is often used to describe several bad things happening at once or in a short period of time. She's had a dose that one. Lost her whole family in a car crash.

The Irish call deserving individuals an idiot, but it's more eejit in their parlance. That boyo is a right eejit!

Commendable behavior is known as fair play. This is similar to well done or bravo. The KOScars was a great idea, fair play folks.  

The F-word gets a work out by the Irish but fek or fekking is an acceptable substitute. Like when you're Da or Ma is in the room. Oh fek! The fekking water's boiled over! Fek!

If you watch Lost, then you are used to a foiler-upper, a show or movie that is to be continued. That bloody show is a real foiler-upper... and I can't help but watch.

Gaff is a term for one's house. I'm off for gaff, boyos!

The female genitalia has its own term, too. Gee (with a hard "g" sound) is a lot better than certain other words, IMHO. That one keeps scratching her gee. I think I'll pass. A geebag is an unpopular woman. I'll let you use this word in your own sentence (coughColtercough)

The gob is the mouth. It's the root of a gobsmacked (awed) and gobshite (moron). Shut your gob, Malkin, ya gobshite!

There's always a hardchaw around. Those folks who will fight at the drop of a hat. That Limbaugh is a real hardchaw.

Those culchies have names for city-folk, in return for their nickname. For example, a Jackeen is a Dubliner. Didja see that Jackeen trying to ride a horse? Jayzuz! A more general term is Townie.

Instead of that'll never happen, the Irish say jam on your egg. Why? Why not? A Pagan president? Ha! Jam on your egg, that.

On the train from Dublin up to Belfast, we witnessed some Travelers, the Irish equivalent of Gypsies. The Irish call them knackers, padjo or pikey. They weren't on the train for too long as they didn't have tickets. When the conductor finally came to our car and saw they were ticket-less, he threw them off at the next stop.

A colorful insult or a descriptive term, langer means penis. He tried a Viagra and we thought his langer would blow up!  

One's best friend can be me ould segotia (seh-go-sha) or me ould sweat. Have a drink, me ould segotia, it's on me.

The act of sneakily taking other's drinks at a social gathering is known as minesweeping (that's mine, that's mine, that's mine). Oh she's a real minesweeper, that one. Watch your drink.

Something mingin' is not nice to look at. It can be a person or a thing. He's mingin' but not as mingin' as that carpet.

A neddy is a fool. That guy's such a neddy, he thinks Markos and Keith are the same person. A complete idiot is Fecky the Ninth.

If you are leasing a car or renting furniture, you are on the never never. She got that Jaguar on the never never. She'll never really own it.

When in Dublin or Belfast (or any port town, really) be sure to order a one and one -- fish and chips. They told me to try the one and one on the ferry but I thought it was fekkin' awful!

The Irish have many interesting terms for having sex; oats is the cleanest. Others include feak, flatten, knock one off, lamp it, rattle, ride, root, scuttle and throw it in.

You may think you're gaining weight but the Irish would just say it's pie retention. This pie retention has me in the next size jeans, fek it!

They may be weeds, but do dandelions really deserve to be called piss in the grass?

When you are in the local (pub) unless you want to be laughed at for drinking poof juice, best to order a Guinness or lager. Oh, look at that poof juice -- a daiquiri!? (followed by riotous laughter and catcalls).

A large amount of something is a rake. We ate a rake of onion rings with our Guinness last night.

If an Irishman tells you to relax the cacks, he doesn't mean anything more than calm down or chill. That stain will come out, relax the cacks, boyo.

We've all seen a guy with a thin, greasy-looking mustache. Next time you see him, refer to that as a ronnie. He was about 6 foot tall, with a ronnie that looked like someone shat on his fecking lip.

If an Irish man calls you a rosspot, it's not an insult, ladies. Look at that rosspot there... she's prettier than Halle Berry!

From the song Mustang Sally, they Irish use sally to describe an easy woman. She's a real sally, that one. All night!

Even better than brilliant or cla, savage means something is fantastic. That drum solo was savage. Who'd know he was almost sixty?
Over on the other side of the pond, a scab is much different. In Ireland, it refers to someone who constantly borrows or tries to get freebies. That Sarah Palin was a real scab at the swag rooms.

One of the neatest words for money I've ever heard is schnozzlewoppers. Can ya lend me a few schnozzlewoppers, mate?

A very small amount of something is said to be screed. There wasn't a screed of food left after they came through the buffet.

Here's a new word for being embarrassed: scundered. I was so scundered, I ran out of the room.

That sneaky, sly person (maybe he has a ronnie) is a sleeveen. He's a real sleeveen, that fella.

To leave a party without telling anyone (often due to inebriation), is to shlunk. I saw her at 8 but then she was gone -- must've shlunked.

The act of looking amongst the ones left at the end of a drunken night for one to take home is known as skimming. You know, at 2:00 AM, when the bar closes and everyone looks better than they did when you arrived. He's skimming for a girl to share his bed. You might end up with a slapper (an easy lay) but be careful you don't get knob-rot (for the guys). And you gals remember your smarties (birth control pills) or be sure to have a johnny (rubber) at hand.

Many of us a skint at the moment, we are broke. I'm skint at the moment, I can't even afford bus fare.

Two fun ways to say "hold on a minute" are stop the lights and stall the ball.

An outcome to one's satisfaction could bring the expression that's the shot. Free munchies? That's the shot!

It's a universal game to ring a doorbell and run away. The Irish call this thunder and lightning or knick-knacking. I'm bored. Wanna play at some thunder and lightning?

If you are losing your temper, you are up to ninety and might blow up completely. I'm up to ninety over those fekking GOPers!

The meaning of uppity is much different in Ireland. Though many right wingers would like to think it means disagreeable here, it doesn't. That receptionist was right uppity and rude. Assuming the uppity person is female, one can substitute wagon. That ditzy blonde on Fox and Friends is a wagon.

A very colorful term, Willy Wonka refers to a man's overuse of his penis. I appear to have a rather serious case of Willy Wonka after that one last night.

The Irish have a word for weak-looking individuals. If one (usually a male) is windy, they are appear fragile, weakly or effeminate. Can it, ya windy tool!

Stereotypical as it is, even the Irish admit to being prodigious drinkers. They have many slang terms for being drunk: flaming, langers, motherless, paraletic, plastered, shitfaced, steamboats, stocious and wrote off are a few examples.


I'll leave you with a couple of my favorite Irish recipes.

Irish Soda Bread
Ingredients :
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar, plus additional for sprinkling on top
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup raisins
1 teaspoon caraway seed
1 egg
approximately 1/2 cup buttermilk (or soured milk)
Preparation :
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a bowl, mix together flour, salt, sugar, baking soda and baking powder. Cut in butter, then add raisins and caraway seed. Break egg into a measuring cup and add enough buttermilk to equal 3/4 cup. Add the egg mixture to the flour. Mix until blended and knead dough. Shape into one large or two small rounds. Make a cross on top with a knife and drizzle with melted butter. Sprinkle lightly with sugar. Bake in a greased iron skillet, or on a greased cookie sheet, until golden (approximately 30 minutes).      

Irish Colcannon

1 1/2 pounds peeled and quartered russet potatoes
3 - 4 cups shredded kale or cabbage
1/2 - 2/3 cup light cream or milk
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup melted butter or margarine
2 green onions, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

Boil potatoes in salted water until tender. Drain. Blanch kale or cabbage in boiling salted water for 2 - 3 minutes; drain. Mash potatoes; beat in enough cream or milk to make them smooth, not too ""soupy"", butter will lighten them more. Place pan over low heat; stir in kale or cabbage, melted butter and onion. Beat together until well blended and hot. Taste for seasoning; add salt and/or pepper if desired. To serve; spoon out a mounded portion, make a well on top and put a generous pat of butter or margarine in the well.

Irish Cream
1 cup Irish whiskey (I recommend Tulamore Dew)
14 oz. sweetened condensed milk
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. chocolate extract
1 Tbsp. coconut extract
1/2 Tbsp. powdered instant coffee or expresso

In blender, mix all ingredients at low speed. Transfer to bottle with a tight cover or cork. Refrigerate 8 hours until ready to serve. Shake well, serve cold over cracked ice.


And a few Irish blessings...

May you always have
Walls for the winds,
A roof for the rain,
Tea beside the fire,
Laughter to cheer you,
Those you love near you,
And all your heart might desire!
May those who love us, love us
And those who don't love us,
May God turn their hearts
And if he can't turn their hearts,
May he turn their ankles
So we will know them by their limping!

'Tis better to buy a small bouquet
And give to your friend this very day,
Than a bushel of roses white and red
To lay on his coffin after he's dead.

Have a great St. Patrick's Day, everyone! Go mbeannai Dia duit
(May God Bless You)

Rec List? Ya'll must think I kissed the Blarney Stone . Thanks :)

Originally posted to The Way The Wind Blows on Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 06:16 PM PDT.

Also republished by Shamrock American Kossacks.

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