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Finally noticing expressions in Ireland — and then hearing them everywhere


A Dutch friend in Ireland mentioned the Irish phrase "thanks a million."

I'd never noticed the expression. Then I heard it everywhere.

"Thanks a million" is a normal phrase in standard English. I'd never noticed its prevalence* in Ireland.

But I've noticed my own failure to hear many unique local expressions while apparently exposed to them constantly.

I first experienced the phenomenon when I noticed the Irish grammatical use of the word "after." I heard someone say he was "after pulling a muscle" in his leg. In Irish-English, "after" conjugates past tenses. It's every-day common. In the autumn of 2001, I "was after" living in the country for nearly five months. I had surely been exposed to the expression frequently. It's imminently notable — unique amongst English speakers and ubiquitous. I had not noticed.

But even that was only a few months in.

In the Spring of 2006, having spent more than four years in Ireland, I first noticed somebody say that there was a "grand stretch in the evening." This is a comment about the lengthening of the day, and is a staple of Irish weather talk, which is the basis of the all-important Irish casual conversation.

It was not until after a few years that I noticed the use of the word "out" in adjectival phrases. Now, I know it's common. A car is "dirty out" if it's entirely filthy. "Happy out" means generally pleased. (The expression "tired out," common elsewhere, is used here with that same Irish inflection.)

One day, about eight years into my time in Ireland, I was trying to correct a Romanian friend's use of the phrase "fuck up," which he used in the sense of "shut the fuck up." I thought he was confused between that phrase and "fuck off."

I mentioned it one day when a Kilkenny friend was present — I said "shut the fuck up," in a helpful tone. The Kilkenny friend corrected me. He said that's a normal expression here. I'd never heard it — had never noticed it.

A couple of evenings later, I heard it from an Irishman — after eight years, heard it for the first time.


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* The Irish word for "thousand" is (as in many European languages) similar to the English-language "million."

The expression "thanks a million" derives from a translation of "one thousand thank-yous" — "Go raibh míle maith agat" ...

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