Irish-English vs. American-English

August 12, 2016

 

After living in Ireland for a few years, we seamlessly switch between Irish-English and

American-English. OK, it’s almost seamless. Despite accompanying many of our guests, we’ve encountered a few times when they ask for one thing and get another, and listening to the interaction, we only realized the potential misunderstanding after the fact. At the risk of taking away some of the Irish language encounters that would add to your vacation memories, I will attempt to give you a minimal guide to Irish English ... Definitely different from American English.

There are famous quotes attributed to Winston Churchill and Oscar Wilde that apply here that go something like: “Britain and America are two countries separated by a common language”. This is also definitely true for the Irish and the Americans. These differences add to your foreign country experience, but can also be a little frustrating, especially during the first couple of days before you have become used to the Irish accent and still have jet lag. 

 

BTW, the accent thing goes both directions. You also have an accent! The Irish (at least in the Republic) are much better at understanding your accent because of American TV shows, but you still have an accent. You do not have the advantage of watching Irish TV, or at least not much Irish TV. You don’t necessarily need to speak slow and loud as you may have seen in many sitcom TV episodes, but you need to keep your speaking pace at your normal-slow speed and not your double-espresso speed. 

 

Some of the issues Americans have with immediately understanding the Irish Accent is actually the structure of the sentences. It's not what an American would "expect" to hear.  At least in the West of Ireland the sentence structure tends to mimic the sentence structure of the Irish language. Remember the Irish language, a dialect of Gaelic, is the official language of Ireland. Irish is a required subject in school and many of the schools teach in Irish. That said, every Irishman speaks English, but some with a very heavy accent compared to Americans.

Below are a list of American English words and some Irish phrases. Some are words that have a different meaning in Irish English and some are words that are not commonly used in American English but are commonly used in Irish English. I’ve grouped the list by category. Using these words can help the Irish to understand you and being familiar with the list can help you understand the Irish ... but just a little bit.

 

After your first couple of days, don't get too cocky about acquiring an ear for the Irish accent. There are several distinctive Irish accents and you WILL encounter a new distinctive accent at your next stop.

Many town and city names are anglicized versions of the Irish name and are quite a challenge for North Americans to pronounce. My town of Athenry is a good example. Many from North America would start with the "Athen" (like a city in Greece) and add the "ry", probably pronounced ree ... WRONG! The proper pronunciation is Athen (as in the city) + rye (as in the grain or whiskey). Another proper variation is close to At+hen+rye with a very muted "t" sound and "hen" pronounced more like "hn"(For the english teachers out there, no I don't remember the dictionary symbols that show pronunciation 🤔). Another interesting city name is Ballina. My best way of explaining the pronunciation is Bal + i + naw, with the accent on the first syllable. I will leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out how to pronounce Oughterard. Good Luck, you'll need it!

An Irishman suggested I would have a better chance of pronouncing the city and town names correctly if I just dropped the vowels and put the accent on the first syllable. Try it! It mostly works. 

 

Despite this blog and possibly doing some additional prep, like watching a few Irish movies (see the Pre-trip Homework blog), you will at times still have a hard time understanding someone along the way. If you are near my age, close to or in retirement, play the “my hearing is going” card. If you are younger, you might try “the truck passing outside kept me from hearing you” line, otherwise you young people are out of luck. If you  travel to the North (Northern Ireland), this prep and these tricks won’t be close to enough for a Belfast taxi driver. Remember the language misunderstandings are adding to the tapestry of your trip experience 😀

If you've visited Ireland, please let us all know the word or phrase that added to your Irish experience by posting at the comments section below.

 

FOOD and RESTAURANT
  • Cream - Whipped Cream; if you order cream with your coffee, whipped cream will arrive. You want milk with the "l" pronounced. It will be full fat milk which is close enough to cream.

  • Chips - French Fries or Steak Fries

  • Crisps - potato chips, the default flavor is cheese and onion

  • Jug - pitcher; you would ask for a jug of water in a restaurant if you want tap water

  • Brown bread - whole wheat bread or Irish brown bread, it depends on the context. For toast it usually mean whole wheat bread.

  • Soda bread - Irish Brown bread

  • Irish brown bread - Soda bread

  • Biscuit - Cookie

  • Digestive - Cookie

  • Savory Scone - Biscuit

  • Bacon - A cut of pork that is salted but not necessarily smoked

  • Rasher - A thinly cut slice of Irish bacon served at breakfast. American bacon is referred to as streaky bacon is very rarely available.

  • Darn - Fillet, as in a salmon darn

  • Goujon - Fingers, as in chicken fingers

  • Filtered Coffee - Drip Coffee, what you usually get in the US

  • Coffee - Americano, espresso thinned with hot water, now my favorite

  • Minced Beef - Ground Beef

  • Minced Lamb - Ground Lamb

  • Fillet - same as in US English but with all the l's and t's pronounced

  • Chipper - Restaurant that serves deep fried food like Fish & Chips

  • Booking -  reservation

  • Till - cash register

  • Quid - slang for euros, pound sterling

  • Toilet - place to pee (not the bathroom, the place where you bathe)

  • Take Away - I'll have a take away coffee versus I'll have a coffee to go.

 

SPORTS
  • Pitch - playing field

  • Fixture - schedule

  • Football - Gaelic football

  • Match - Game

  • Fair Play - Congratulations

  • Up Galway - Used to urge on your favorite team instead of Go Galway

  • Equalizer - tying goal or point

  • GAA - Gaelic Athletic Association

  • Kit - Uniform or Clothing that supports a team

 

CARS/TRANSPORTATION
  • Petrol - gasoline

  • Boot - trunk

  • Livery - fixed price taxi

  • Coach - Bus

  • Car hire - car rental

  • Excess - Insurance deductible

  • Cover - Insurance

  • Motorway - freeway

  • Slip road - Entrance ramp or road that bypasses a round about when making a left.

  • Round About - traffic circle

  • Signaled Junction - intersection with a traffic light

 

LEGAL/GOVERNMENT
  • Garda/Guards - Police

  • Solicitor - Lawyer

  • Oireachtas Éireann - Equivalent of Congress or Parliament 

  • Taoiseach - Prime Minister 

  • Dáil Éireann - Equivalent to House of Representatives 

  • Seanad Éireann - Senate , closer to house of Lords

  • TD - Deputy or Member of Dáil Éireann

  • Republican - Someone whose political leanings call for reunification of Ireland

  • Scheme - Road Scheme, Insurance Scheme, and Tax Scheme versus Road Layout, Insurance Plan, and Tax Plan.

 

HOUSE/HOME
  • Lift - elevator or ride

  • Semi-detached - House with single shared wall

  • Terraced House - House with shared walls on both sides

  • Detached - House with no shared walls

  • Auctioneer - Real Estate Agent

  • Garden - yard (front or back) or garden

  • Residential Estate - Housing Development

  • Press - closet

  • Bath - tub

  • Hoover - vacuum cleaner

  • Immersion - electric water heater versus the boiler associated with the heating of the house

  • Hot Press - Closet with Electric water heater that tends to be hot and where towels and sheets are usually stored

  • Footpath - sidewalk or other walking path

 

CLOTHING
  • Jumper - sweater

  • Pants - underpants

  • Trousers - pants

  • Runners - tennis shoes

 

MEDICAL
  • 999 - 911

  • A&E - emergency room (Accident and Emergency)

  • GP - General Practitioner Doctor, not a specialist

  • Consultants - Specialist Doctor

  • Surgery - Doctor’s Office

  • Plaster - Form of Band-aid

  • Tablets - Pills

 

MISC
  • Perfect - Great

  • Grand - Great or Fantastic

  • Brilliant - Awesome or Excellent

  • Film - movie

  • The Craic - The general Vibe in a pub or entertainment venue

  • Halfpast/Half (for time) - A very common Irish way of saying 7:30 is half-seven or halfpast seven

  • Holiday - Vacation

  • Bank Holiday - Holiday

  • Queue - Line

  • Quay - Pronounced “key”, A place where a boat can/did dock

  • DIY - Do It Yourself, DIY Store is similar to a US hardware store

  • Single ticket - One way ticket

  • Return ticket - Round Trip ticket

  • How are ya? - General greeting like Hi or Hello, a response is not necessarily expected, other than a return of the same.

  • How are ye? - Plural of How are ya?

  • Your man - This phrase is hard to explain. Maybe the closest in American English is “that guy”

  • Give Out - Yell at or harass or generally give someone a hard time

  • Soft Day - Nice Day

  • Close Day - Hot and Sticky, but probably not hot by American standards

  • Eijet - idiot

  • Culchie - Country bumpkin

  • Lad- any male

  • Lass - female version of lad, not used as much as lad and definitely not lassy 

  • Hamper - basket

  • Lough - A lake, pronounced like "lock"

  • Traveller - An Irish Gypsy, usually not a good reference

  • Blow In - Similar to transplant in North America but extends multiple generations

  • Custom - As in thank you for your custom or business

  • Diary - Similar to calendar. I'll put you in my diary (or calendar)

 

PHRASES
  • As sure as there's a God - Many times in response to a "Can I have" question in a restaurant

  • God Bless - A general goodbye

  • God Willing - Many times in response to "I'll see you tomorrow/next week/next month"

  • Cheers, bye-bye - Telephone goodby, even in a professional setting

  • Thanks a Million - Preferred way to say Thank You. Mimics a Gaelic phrase a míle buíochais, a thousand thanks

See You In The Pub!

 

Jet Lag Jack

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kylemore Abbey, Co Galway