Thursday 28 July 2011

11 - 'Stan'in' wi' yer two arms the one length!'

Donkey @ Rademon Mill, Co. Down
October 10, 2009

It's not just the use of words and our different accents that distinguish people from Northern Ireland. As one local comedian used to say, 'It's the way we tell them!' We have our own way of phrasing things, often derived from the Irish Gaelic language, but just as often from Elizabethan English.

One thing visitors can find it hard to get used to, is our sense of humour. We tend to major in black humour, understatement and - especially when a number of men are gathered together, (for instance at their work) - we often indulge in what's known as 'slaggin'', which means baiting, or making derogatory remarks about, someone.

Ulstermen tend to excel in this sport and we have a lot of local expressions that are useful when slaggin' one another off. For example, we might say, 'Ye buck eedjit, ye! - (which is how we pronounce the word, 'idiot'). Or, 'Yer man's an awful eedjit, isn't he?' We'll ask someone, 'Yer lookin' awful well - are ye sick?' or, 'Yer funny, but yer face bate's ye!'

Often these expressions are meant in innocent fun, though sometimes they can provoke a reaction from the victim. The general idea is not to react at all, but to quietly respond in kind - a sort of verbal contest, where keeping cool is paramount. If you 'lose it', that is, your temper, you also lose face.

In this part a' the world, we might say to someone, 'Are ye alright there, ye slobber?', and mean it as a term of endearment - much as an Australian might call his friend a bastard, and mean no harm by it!

We have a wealth of adjectives and descriptive phrases which are used in this sort of good-natured banter, or 'coddin' about', as we might say. We might refer to someone as "a bit of a head the ball", meaning a bit of a fool; a 'gaunch' is a stupid, ignorant or rude person, 'crabbit' means cross or snappy, 'gormless' means you don't have a clue, while a 'hanless' person is clumsy, or just not very good at working with their hands.

To 'dither' means not able to make up yer mind, 'dour' is somber, while a 'sleekid' person is slippery, sneaky, not to be trusted. A 'bit of a blether', is someone with a lot of empty talk. A lazy man might be described as, "Stan'in' around there wi' yer two arms the one length!" A talkative man, or woman, "could talk the hin' leg off a donkey, so she could!" Or alternately, 'He's a dacent enough aul' craythur', or, 'a right oul' spud', or 'Yer a dacent maun, yerself!' - all meaning something quite positive.

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