Friday, June 9, 2017

Learning to Talk Like the Irish

A good number of years ago when my dear mother, God bless her, still strode this good earth she came to visit. It was her first time on these shores and to give her a bit of fun I brought her to the local Mall. 

Back then a Mall in Navan County Meath wasn't exactly like Woodfield Mall in suburban Chicago in which she spent a good deal of time when I was a boy. We did not have a Macy's or a Sears or a lineup of expensive boutiques. I warned her but it was sort of lost in translation and she insisted on going.  "I need a small pouch in which to pack my various valuables and potions," she smiled. "I'm sure they'll have exactly what I need." 

So we climbed into my small jalopy (a falling-apart 1978 brown Ford Escort that would never start) and bounced our way through the rain to the Mall.

I followed her into the local Dunnes Stores, an emporium of rather cheap and tatty goods but all we had back in those days and found a young clerk, and as I stood at my mother's side she asked,

"Excuse me. I wonder if you could show me a fanny pack?" And I wanted to die. I glanced at the girl, a real stunner, who glanced back with a confused face bright as a polished red apple. She took off to parts unknown, possibly to call the manager, who would in turn call the Garda, and have my mother thrown out.

"What's wrong with her?" my mother sniffed. "Doesn't she know what a fanny pack is?"

"No," was my answer and led her as quickly from Dunnes as I could. I never did explain to my mother what caused the confused kerfuffle. As her son, and as you will soon understand, I simply could not utter the reason for my embarrassment. 

For you see a Fanny in Ireland is not a pack nor is it a fashionable method for hauling unguents, passports, money and change, or any other item. 

In Ireland a Fanny is the descriptor used to define the female genitalia. 

So be warned: should you come to Ireland come prepared for a new way of speaking and woe to the person who misunderstands.

A Short Guide to Irish Slang

The Irish may talk in English (as well as As Gaeilge) but that does not necessarily mean they speak the same language as you do. Here are a few worrisome examples of what to expect.
  • Rubber - is not a prophylactic. Should you decide to go frolic in wild Irish undergrowth with a new mate and desire to protect yourself from the unexpected get yourself to a Chemist and ask for a condom. A Rubber is an eraser, as in the gob of pink at the end of a pencil. 
  • Flute - okay I'll stick with the sexual but just for moment. if a fella approaches you and says he wants to show you his flute, do NOT go there.Ditto with Langer. Though Langerous means something else entirely.
  • Yoke - should someone ask to "hand me that Yoke" do not think you have suddenly relocated to a farmyard. No, you are not being asked to bridle the cattle. Yoke is the equivalent to that wonderful term "thing-a-ma-bob" and a great word it is too.
  • Jacks - should you want to use the toilet asking for the bathroom can be somewhat misunderstood because a bathroom holds just that - the bath. "Bathroom" is a word rarely used outside the home. If in a restaurant or other public place you suddenly hear the call of nature, ask pleasantly using any number of words: The loo, The lady's, The  men's, the Gents, The Pisser (if you've had a few) - and yes, The Jacks - though the term is mostly used by males.
  • Banjaxed - should someone make the observation that "You are Banjaxed entirely" you might consider hitting him or her in the nose. "Banjaxed" means broken. 
  • Scoops - yes the word is used when asking for ice cream as in "Can I have a scoop of vanilla please?" However, should you be asked by a stranger: "Let's run up to the pub and I'll buy ya a Couple of Scoops", immediately accept the invitation. It means the fella has just offered to pay for a few rounds of Guinness. 
  • Deadly - should someone say, "See that fella over there? Isn't he deadly!" do not panic.The term does not mean the 'deadly fella' is about to blow up the world. Deadly is in fact a term of affection and praise. 
  • Feck -  is an oft-used iteration of the usual 4 letter word. You must understand: the Irish swear and they swear quite a lot. They pepper most sentences with some sort of sometimes mis-understood pejorative. However, "feck" is not necessarily a negative comment. "Feck it, let's have another feckin' pint anyway" is just such an example.
  •  Wanker - in the US the term 'Wank' if used among good friends can make eyebrows soar. In Ireland 'Wanker' has a quite separate meaning. Truly a pejorative, if someone calls you a Wanker they think you an eejit, fool, or much worse.
Why Should You Care?

Many is the time I've met tourists who don't seem to have an ear for foreign tongues and don't want to. These poor folks are not only missing all the fun, they could well be on the road to making grave errors simply because they've misunderstood their Irish brethren.

As an example: when I first moved here I found work selling electronic Cattle Weighing machines (don't laugh - it was the only job I could find). One early morning at the office the receptionist, a gorgeous young thing named Cheryl, sashayed over to my desk, batted her deep brown eyes at me and asked,

"Tom can you hand me your Rubber?"

As you can imagine I was stupefied. As a happily married father of one at that point, I wondered how I could possibly let her down without embarrassing the two of us.

Me (gulping): "Cheryl I'm sorry but I didn't bring one this morning. In fact we don't use them."

Cheryl (confused): "We don't use them? But of course we use them. We've always used them."

Me (very very confused): "WE'VE used them? I don't think so. In fact I'm sure of it. (speaking very confidentially)  Cheryl, I know nothing has ever happened between us. If my  wife comes in I hope you won't ever say anything like this."

Cheryl (now annoyed): "What the feck are you talking about. All I want is the bloody Rubber."

And she reached past me, across my desk, and grabbed - of course - the erasure.

So be warned. Language here does make a difference. Take time to learn it and enjoy it and revel in it. If you do you'll have learned one way to survive in Ireland just as I have.

(P.S. I've a complete guide to Irish Slang in the book below. So if you're traveling to Ireland any time soon you might want to buy the feckin' thing.)

If this blog interests you and you want to learn more about Ireland why not consider purchasing A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland 2017 Edition. Are you thinking about living and working in Ireland? Would you like to move to Ireland? Do you want to know how to get an Irish work visa in this country? Do you need to know how Brexit and Trump policies may affect your plans? If so, consider purchasing the 2017 edition of A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland by Tom Richards. Now almost 90,000 words long, this book could make the perfect gift for  those interested in this wonderful country. Over 14,000 people have now learned how to live, laugh, and drink like the Irish by reading this Kindle ebook. I hope you enjoy, and my very best - Tom

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