|Celtic brooch sculpture, outside St. Patrick's Centre, Downpatrick|
Well, it's the time of year for a wee bit a' celebratin' of all things Irish. I've had a very busy week, so I'm just getting to record this show at the last minute. We've covered a fair bit of history and culture in the last couple of shows, so maybe I should vary the theme a bit the day? It often occurs to me how incomprehensible our way of talkin' must sound to most outsiders. Maybe if you have some Irish background then at least some phrases might be familiar to you?
For instance, a week ago a friend mentioned having had some Swedish people over visiting, when his wife came out with, "Throw yer eye along that there and see if it's straight!" Apparently, the Swedes looked at one another with no idea of what she was saying. To be honest, I find it fairly amazing that strangers can understand us at all! It's not as if we're being deliberately difficult – in fact, most Irishmen probably have a built in need to communicate, to want you to understand them. Though we'll be likely to phrase it, "Do yez undtherstann' me now, like?" – which probably doesn' help!
Take "Wud ye howl yer whissht?" for example, literally meaning 'hold your breath', or "Would you be quiet?" Now ye could possibly have known that one from the song, 'There was an aul' woman from Wexford Town'. If yer behavin' like a bit of an eedjit, now, someone might tell ye to, "Have a wee titther a' wit, now!" And if that doesn't do it, ye might be towl' to "Catch yerself on!" If somebody asks ye, "How's she cuttin' now, byes?" wud ye undtherstann' them? Mebbe ye would if they said, "How are yez doin' there, lads?"
The answers could possibly be a mite hard to grasp, too: "Ach, I'm bravely, like." Or, "I'm doin' rightly, so I am." More than likely we'd answer, "Ach, I'm dead on, ye know?" If ye were referring to someone who'd recently been ill ye might be heard to say, "Ach, 'e's powerful failed, altogether, so he is." If ye were talkin' about yerself and ye'd been badly, ye might say, "I'm as w'ake as watther, so I am," "I'm not worth tuppence at the moment," Or, "I'm not worth three ha'pence," – which is even worse, obviously! If ye were short of a bob or two – especially if somebody's askin ye to sub them (to lend them a poun' or two) – ye might say, "Listen, I haven't three ha'pence meself to rub together, so I haven'."
A great deal of our time is spent in "havin' a wee bit a' craic." It's a way a' "puttin' yer day in," isn't it? If ye're later home than expected from the pub, or some other event, ye can always report, "Ach, sure the craic was grann'" or even, "The craic was ninety, so it wuz." If it was crowded ye would say, "Thon place was hivin' the night." Or, "It was packed to the gills." If yer "Rarin' ta go" it means ye're anxious to be off somewhere. And if a woman is dressed up to go out for the night she might be "all dolled up to the nines."
On the other hand, someone who never makes any effort to tidy themselves up could be described as, "As througho'rr as they come," or "As rough as purty oaten," – which is actually a mixture of potatoes and oatmeal. If he's rude as well, he might be described as "an ignorant sort of a ganch." An' if he's mean with his money, "He wouldn' give ye daylight, so he wouldn't!" Or, "That fella wouldn' give ye the time a' day." If someone is a bit greedy, or an awkward person to deal with, ye might say, "I'd rather have that body a week, as a fortnight!" If he's a big fella, ye could say, "If he was chocolate, he'd be some 'atin'!"
Many years ago I spent a few weeks doing some building work on a friend's farm near Belfast. Every day his mother would feed ye up to the gills with spuds an' stuff at lunchtime. Then when you went back to work the dad would come over to see how ye were gettin' on and he'd say the same thing every time, "You know, a full sack doesn't bend!"
If you are listening to a conversation that ye know is in the Irish language, which you don't understand, you could always say, "Ni higim." – "I don't understand." If it's in English, but ye genuinely can't follow what they're sayin', ye could say, "I have no idea what yer bletherin' on about." If you want to be a little bit more forceful – not to mention, risky! – you could say, "Are you talkin' ta me, or chewin' a brick?" Not that I recommend that one, ye undtherstand!