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Irish English

Irish-English terms


Comparative culture

Cursing in Ireland

It is always a bit of a comfort and a relief to rediscover* that the Irish are such a foul-mouthed lot. I don't have to worry too much if I let slip a natural phrase every now and then, given that the atmosphere is fairly informal. And informality is a typical Irish quality.

The Irish have all the same "four-letter words" that we have in America, of course. Additionally, there are a few others, and some usages that are different. Some of these are in common with the more general European English, and some are uniquely Irish.

In common with European English, the Irish use "shite" and "bollocks." "Shite" means "shit." From this latter term comes the Irish-English "gobshite,"* which basically means "shithead."

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"Bollocks," in Euro-English,* means "testicles," literally, but is used in various idiomatic expressions. The Irish have a few of their own adaptations.

Irish-English American
Me bollocks My ass
Ask me bollocks (or "ask me left one") Not a chance.
*Bollocks! Bullshit!
*Acting the bollocks Being an ass
*Give a bollocking Castigate, chew out, scold, "yell at"
(Don't) give a bollocks (Don't) give "a shit," or "a rat's ass"
*"A bollocks," or "the bollocks" "An asshole," or "that asshole"
I will in me bollocks I will not. (See "you will in your fuck.")
*Made a bollocks of it Screwed that one up
The dog's bollocks Good stuff; "the shit"

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, and likely spelled "bollix." In European English, "bollocks" is distinctly vulgar. In Ireland, it's just the way that 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." "Are you taking the piss?" means "are you being sarcastic? (ironic, etc.)" To "take the piss out of (someone)" is to lampoon them, or satirize them. It is also a way to say you took advantage of a situation, or acted cleverly in a devious way. You took the piss, getting paid for hours that you spent not working. The phrase is used broadly [& in various ways] in European English, but unheard in American. At least, I never heard it in America.


"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 refering 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
Arsewise Screwed-up
Can't be arsed Can't be bothered [also used in English slang]
Rat-arsed 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 — or, for short, "Nat." "Did you get your Nat?" Irish English is not sexy.
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


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.] Fuckin,' "... 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 Thankfully
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. See also "I will in me bollocks."
Effin' and blindin' Really cursing — in anger, and with conviction Normally considered "ignorant."

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Also, 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 the radio. And, of course, sometimes it's just more appropriate — in a polite situation, for example.

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

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

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Return to "gobshite" ...

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* I wrote this page soon after I'd
returned in 2005 to Ireland from Holland, where I'd gone for about a year and a half.

The Dutch are generally opposed to coarse language.
Return to "the Irish are foul-mouthed"...

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