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Irish English

Irish-English terms


Comparative culture

Cursing in Ireland

It's always a bit of a comfort and relief to rediscover* that the Irish are a foul-mouthed lot. You don't have to worry about a natural phrase if the atmosphere is informal. And informality is a typical Irish characteristic.

The Irish have all of the normal "four-letter words," of course. But they have more; and some other ways of using the ones that everybody uses. Some of these draw from the more general European English, Some of them do not.

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In common with European English, the Irish use "shite" and "bollocks." "Shite" means "shit." "Bollocks" literally means "testicles," but is almost always used idiomatically:

European (British)-English American



Acting the bollocks

Being an ass

Give (somebody) a bollocking

Tear (somebody) a new one, scold, "yell at"

A bollocks

An asshole

"_, the bollocks..."

"_, that asshole..."

Don't give a bollocks

Don't give a shit

Made a bollocks of it

Screwed that one up

The dog's bollocks

Good stuff, the shit

On top of these, the Irish have added a few of their own:

Irish-English American

Ask me bollocks (or "ask me left one.")

Not a chance.

Me bollocks

My ass

I will in me bollocks.

I will not. ("You will in your fuck" is the second-person version.)

From the Euro-English term "shite" comes the Irish-English "gobshite," which basically means "shithead." "Gobshite" also has a diminutive, "gobsheen," which is acceptable for childrens' use. This, in turn, has the derivative "gobbaloonock."

In America, "bollocks" is a vaguely British term of no particular vulgar meaning. If you'd use it at all, it would likely be more of a comic-book-like verb, maybe spelled "bollix." In European English, "bollocks" is distinctly vulgar, though not obscene. In Ireland, it's just the way people talk.


A note on blasphemy

While it is normal to hear casual use of the name and title of Jesus Christ, you won't generally hear the Irish abusing the word "God" — for example, "God damn," "God dammit," etc.



"Getting pissed," in Ireland as in broader Europe, is "getting drunk." This is an important distinction, as the phrase has different meaning in American. If you want to talk about anger, you should use the full American term "pissed off."

An important use of the word "piss," in European-English, is "taking the piss." To take the piss out of somebody is to satirize them in a coy manner — to "bust their balls," in jest. "Are you taking the piss" means "are you being sarcastic? (ironic, etc,)" whereas "you're taking the piss" means "you're just fucking with me." "Taking the piss" It is also a way to describe taking advantage of a situation or acting deviously. You took the piss getting paid for hours that didn't work. The phrase is used broadly and variously in European English, but unheard in American.


"Cunt," in Irish-English, is the same as it is in Euro-English. Its primary use is vulgar, but not obscene. It is not primarily a rude term for "vagina" nor "bad woman," and its subject is usually not feminine at all. "Cunt" is just an irreverent way of referring to a fellow.

The word may also be used in adjectival form — "Cuntin'."


"Arse," the Euro-English word for "Ass," has its own usages in Irish English:

Irish-English American



[also used in English slang]

Can't be arsed

Can't be bothered

[also used in English slang]


Very drunk

[also used in English slang]


"Hole" is a common vulgarity in Ireland.

Irish-English American

In me hole

Not a chance; you must be joking

Also used in the form "x, me hole," where "x" = the statement contradicted.

Did you get your hole?

Did you get laid?

"Nat King Cole," in rhyming slang, "Nat" for short. "Did you get your Nat?"

Pain in the hole

Pain in the ass

[Couldn't] bother [one's] hole

Couldn't be bothered

Scratchin' me hole

Standing around with nothing to do

Soap for me hole

Hope for my soul

The Irish mind will unpack implicit humo(u)r, first scanning for the funny interpretation of any oddity. "Soap for me hole" translates itself in Ireland.


Of course, the principal swearword in the English language is "fuck" — and, naturally, the Irish have many unique ways of using it.

Irish-English American

A fucker for _

Pretty devoted to _

"... a fucker for the drink..."

Fuck-off [adj.]


"... a big old fuck-off hat..."

Fuck's sake

The same in U.S., but less common

Fuck it [out*]

Chuck it [out]

*Out, over the fence, etc.

[Hurry up,] the fuck

[Hurry] the fuck [up]

Thanks be to fuck


Can't be fucked [with it]

Can't be bothered [with it]

Also, "can't be arsed."

You will in your fuck

You will not.

"I will in me bollocks" is the first-person version.

Effin' and blindin'

Really cursing — in anger, and with conviction

Normally considered "ignorant."

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The author lived in the Republic for donkey's years. During this time there are two usages of the word "fuck" that I heard only once each.

Jusus fuck

This is a simple curse, heard over a pool table. Blasphemous, elsewhere. I'd thought it was my own, and I'd amused a friend with it years earlier. But no — it's Irish, of course.

Fuck up

(Imperative grammatical voice)

"Shut the fuck up." Heard from a Romanian friend who'd been in country for several years, but whose English was mediocre. I corrected him, but was subsequently corrected by a mutual Irish friend

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In common with European English, "fuck-all" in Irish English means "dick, squat, jack," as in "I got paid yesterday; today I have fuck-all."

The word "fuck" in Ireland even has a diminutive form. "Feck" is mild. Kids can use it [with limitations] and you can say it on TV and on the radio. And, of course, sometimes it's just more appropriate — in polite company.

In other countries, you'd consider not cursing in polite company. In Ireland, there might be a word for the occasion.

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* "Gobshite" also has a diminutive, "gobsheen," which is acceptable for childrens' use. This, in turn, has the derivative "gobbaloonock."

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  ↑ Return to "gobshite" ...

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*The Dutch are generally opposed to coarse language.

  ↑ Return to "the Irish are foul-mouthed"...