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June 2019
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2002-10-09 The Irish have a phrase for it

"Is it yourself thats in it? Wait til I tell you, how the hell are you at all at all?" "Sure Im grand, thank God! In all fairness, and Ill be honest with you now, youre wearing well."


Did you ever really focus on some of the phrases, or Irishisms we use? For example, we often feel the need to pre-empt a sentence by assuring someone that we are going to be honest with them or that we will tell them no word of a lie. It implies that everything up until now has been a pack of lies. And the habitual use of thank God and please God seems indicative of the place of the Church in our society.

"If you run across that road and get killed, you neednt come running back to me crying." A physical impossibility of course, but yet, how many times have we heard this from the mouths of Irish Mammies? Or what about  "Do you want a slap, do you?" Is the child expected to deliberate for a few moments and then reply  "Well actually, yes, I wouldnt mind one."

"Sorry, is that seat taken? Is there anyone sitting there?" "Yes, there is someone there, but they are so miniscule, you cant actually see them, so dont sit there or they may be history."

Of course, the wealth of Dublinisms could fill a volume. I says "Mary". Mary turns round to me and says "What?" I says "Mary, have you seen John?" "I have not," says Mary, "sure Im only after havin comin ". In the telling of the story, the first few exchanges could be left out, and skip straight to the main enquiry. And why was Mary rudely facing away anyway, having to turn round?

"Come here to me, do you know what?" "No, what?" "Theres a grand stretch in the evenings all the same." Even though some of these phrases when highlighted seem a wee bit silly, they are the phrases which enrich the way we speak in Ireland, making us the eloquent , poetic and animated nation we are, and I, for one, wouldnt lose them for the world.

Of course, other cultures have phrases which are indigenous to their way of conversing. My favourite Scottish saying has to be the very roundabout way that is sometimes taken to express a like or dislike. For example, rather than saying "My husband hates mince," a Scottish wife might say  " See me, see my man, see mince, hates the stuff."

The double negative common in the Cockney dialect always amuses me  "I dont want none of that," the implication being that "you want some then"? The often nonsenical use of "innit" is one of my all-time favourites  "I has to go shopping, innit?". When entering a London shop one is often greeted with "Alright?" to which you respond "Yeah alright, you alright?", and the reply comes  "Yeah, alright thanks." In Northern Ireland, I love the use of but at the end of sentences  "Och, shes lovely but."

But I think we Irish win on road directions. "Well, if I was going there, I wouldnt have started from here." "Go straight down the road and theres a turning on your left  well, ignore that  then its the next left." The overuse of the word "Now!" always amuses my visiting friends; I had never even noticed it before. When a shopkeeper gives you your change in a shop they say "Now!"or when a waitress gives you your meal in a restaurant, she says "Now!". And you say it yourself too, go on, admit it!

Speaking on the intake of breath is something that I think is only common in Ireland, though I have been told (and I jest not) that it does exist in Eskimo speech too. The word "Yes" is often heard on the intake of breath (I do it myself), but I have often heard full phrases on the intake of breath.

While diligently working on my laptop on the Sligo train, an auld fella leaned across to me and whispered "Jesus, hes a queer buck the computer all the same." I have, in my time, been described as "one hell of a f***in singer" (it was a compliment, I think). "Go away out of that", says I. "Sure the whole thing is gas!"