Say What? Understanding Common Irish Phrases

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Ireland is a rich and varied place, for sure. Language being no exception. It all makes perfect sense to us who grew up with it, but we know some of the things we say can often leave visitors scratching their heads.

Here’s a quick intro into common Irish phrases, so you don’t end up feeling like a total eejit (idiot or fool) when you’re out and about.

Common irish phrases

Sláinte – you’ll need this in the pub. Pronounced ‘slancha’ it means health and is a way of saying ‘cheers’ as you raise your glass.

Pint of the Black Stuff – Guinness of course. If you don’t want a pint, you might prefer a glass of Guinness which would be a half pint.

Sure look – it’s a bit noncommittal. People might say this when they’re not really interested in what you’re saying, when they don’t know how to respond otherwise, or simply in acceptance of something they can’t change, such as manky weather.

Manky – dirty, rotten, unappealing, unpleasant. Could be the weather or even your bathroom!

Up to 90 – if you’re ‘up to 90’ you’re going flat out, just about at your limit. You could be up to 90 with work, or you might be in a tearing temper.

Give it a lash – means you’ll give it a go, whatever it is.

On the lash – different from above, this one means going out for some serious drinking or partying.

Banjaxed – something that’s broken, ruined or just doesn’t work anymore. Could also be used to describe someone who’s had one too many in the pub.

Culchie – usually refers to someone living and brought up in the country as opposed to the city, especially Dublin.

Jacks – the toilet.

Acting the maggot – playing the fool, being silly, messing about.

Giving out – moaning or complaining.

Craic – generally fun or lively, but can also be used in greeting as in ‘what’s the craic?’ meaning ‘what’s going on’ or ‘how are you?’.

Minus craic – not surprisingly, it’s the opposite of craic. Something or someone that’s minus craic is uninteresting or boring. It’s pronounced ‘crack’.

The messages – this is one that you wouldn’t guess if you didn’t know. The messages are the groceries or the shopping.

Will I, yea! – there’s nothing like a bit of sarcasm, so when you say this you’re usually referring to something you definitely won’t be doing.

Jammy – lucky.

Gaff – where you live.

Savage – something that’s excellent, great or just really cool. Deadly is used in a similar way.

There are loads of ways to describe bad weather. I wonder why? Here are some you might hear:

Mizzling – light rain.
Dirty – wet and rainy.
Lashing – pouring down.
Rotten – generally miserable.
Spitting – light rain.

On the other hand, perhaps it’s sunny, in which case ‘it’s a good day for drying’ (referring to your laundry) or ‘a grand aul day’.

Out and about and greeting people, you might hear ‘how’s the form’, ‘how’s she cutting’, ‘what’s the craic’, ‘howsitgoing’, ‘howaya’ or ‘story horse?’ (when you really want to know what’s the story of something going on in someone’s life),

There are a million or more other common Irish phrases, slang, or colloquialisms you’ll hear and a fair few that aren’t as tame as those mentioned here. They’re nearly always fun and colourful, and are sure to add to the cultural richness around you when you visit Ireland.