Thursday, August 28, 2008

Talk Irish To Me

posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy

It's certainly no secret that I love a man with an accent. Any old accent will do, but I especially love a man with a lilting brogue. A charming Irish rogue could talk me into just about anything!

The Irish have a very distinctive form of diction. For example, they often turn a statement into a question simply by inflection, or end a sentence with the word "then." I worked hard to replicate speech patterns in all my Irish characters in The Wild Sight, and make them sound distinctive from non-Irish speakers (like my American heroine).

But sometimes it's not only how an Irishman says something, it's the words used. Slang and euphemisms can be so much fun! I loved listening to all the unique turns of phrases when we were in Ireland, and I tried to recall as many as I could. Unfortunately my memory is sometimes faulty, so thank goodness for the internet! I found all kinds of great websites for things like Irish slang, Irish proverbs, and even Irish curses.

So here are some of my favorite nuggets from my research. You may or may not find them in one of my books someday.

Modern Irish Slang --

Banjaxed: A generally irreversable state of disrepair

Hames: A spectacular mistake

Neddy: A fool

Stall the Ball: Wait a Moment

Wrote off: Very drunk indeed

A few Irish curses --

May the seven terriers of hell sit on the spool of your breast and bark in at your soul-case

But may she still be alive till everyone’s sick at the sight of her

May the devil cut the head off you and make a day's work of your neck

May you be afflicted with the itch and have no nails to scratch with

And last but not least, some Irish proverbs --

Neither give cherries to pigs nor advice to a fool

You'll never plow a field by turning it over in your mind

A silent mouth is sweet to hear

It's for her own good that the cat purrs

Now it's your turn! Do you have some colorful sayings? Maybe something you remember your Grandma or Grandpa used to say? Please share them with us!


  1. Cindy, this is great. The Irish curses are priceless, and I plan to use a few of them. "May she still be alive til everyone is sick of the sight of her" is one I plan to make part of my vernacular right this minute. Got a little Irish in me, myself, maybe that's why they hit home. I'm still chuckling.

  2. Some of your Irish curses are priceless, and the proverb, "You'll never plow a field by turning it over in your mind," is true, true.

    I love colorful expressions too! I'd say it's the writer in us, but I think a lot of people love them.

    My favorite area to troll for sayings is military slang. I love the wry, understated humor.

  3. Cindy,
    As a Sullivan from the Fifth Ward of Newport, RI, I say Top O the Morning to you! I love this post! I can't wait to get to Ireland some day. My cousin is working in Dublin right now and I know I should get over there while I can, but alas, life is busy!

    Since I have just now had my first sip of coffee I'm coming up lame in thinking of favorite old expressions. However, I do recall the more colorful expressions coming from the Portuguese side of my family!

    And to Christina, since you are embracing that particular saying, I'd suspect you have a teenaged daughter, but I don't think you do....

  4. Loucinda,
    I too love a man with an accent. My husband is a Cockney. lol

    His best friend, who married my sister, came from an Irish family. I could listen to his father talk for hours, and talk about kiss the blarney stone, that man was chaaarming.

    I only remember one Irish saying along the lines you posted and it is a blessing, but a bit on the backhanded side: May you be in Heaven an hour before the Divil knows you are dead.

    Fun post.

  5. What a fun post, Cindy! Having just read your book, I'm considering saying 'tis in everyday use :)

  6. Morning Christina,
    Yes, that living til everyone is sick o the sight of you is an absolute favorite of mine! Back in the day when I was a first level supervisor, it was true of sooo many of my employees!

    But then, as my Gramma use to say, "Honey, when they're talking about you, they're letting someone else rest."


  7. MM,
    I loved that never plowing by turning it over in your mind because it is SO TRUE with writing!

    Why is it that I can hear those perfect phrases rattling around in my head, but I can't get them down on the page???

    My father was in the Navy and he had quite a few colorful sayings. Alas, none that I can post here since we are a "family friendly" blog. ;-)


  8. Top O the Mornin to YOU, Missy Sullivan! My hero's brother-in-law happens to be named Sean Sullivan. Did I tell you that? And he's originally from Dublin!

    Ah but the Portuguese have almost as wry a sense of humor as the Irish. A college friend married a Brazilian and he had some great sayings that didn't always translate that well. For example, his nickname for me translated to razor-blade tongue!

  9. OOOO Michele!
    You married a Cockney? I can totally understand why (Michael Caine anyone?). I'd probably never let him stop talking.

    The Irish really seem to have a "thing" about the devil. So many of their sayings, especially the curses, involve the devil:

    May the devil swallow him sideways,
    May the devil take him by the heels and shake him,
    May God's army protect me from the devil's snares...

    My Gramma used to say, "You scared the devil outta me!" My characters say that too. :-)


  10. LOL Danielle on the 'Tis and 'Twas. I hope I didn't drive the poor copyeditor... well, to the devil! :-P

    But my Irish relatives really do say both of those a lot. Another weird speech pattern that I didn't use (I figured I was pushing my luck with 'tis, 'twas, and all those "thens") is "after." The relatives tend to stick after in strange places in sentences like: I'm after going to the pub.

    OOOOkay, I didn't want to try and explain that one.


  11. And "How are ya" this fine morning, Cindy?

    I asked a young fellow on my first trip to Ireland if the "Top O the mornin was what they said". He gave me a very patient look and said the above greeting.

    And I found that true through my subsequent four trips.

    The lilt is magical and touches something deep in my DNA Irish roots. In April we went to the Aran Islands. There was a rattletrap van soliciting trips around the island. I said "no thanks" to the first guy.

    But then the second had a young lad with blue eyes, a killer half smile who met my gaze and said "I've been waitin' all day for ye, Darlin'"

    I hopped right in :-)

  12. Oh Joanie!
    So glad to see you my fine Irish lassie!

    You're right, I think Top O the Mornin was invented by some American advertising exec. :-P "To be sure" that's another phrase I heard a lot, and "Is it now?" usually asked with an ironic undertone or raising of the eyebrow.

    I'd have hopped in that van too! (very big grin) Especially after you shared the piccie of the laddie in question.


  13. Cindy, I love this. I had a similar experience when creating an immortal Irish character.

    One of my favorites is: ask my arse. LOL

    Another is: thick as a ditch

    And I think it's great that you made an extra effort to make your characters 'sound' different. Too many times we're (the readers) are just told 'he had an English accent' and it's left at that.

    I used to love the BBC show 'Ballykissangel' I could listen to those Irish accents for hours ;)

  14. I love the Irish curses and the slang they use. When researching my last book, I found some that I loved and worked so well with my characters and their lack of understanding them.

  15. I loved your post, Cindy!

    Most of my sayings are Italian. My absolute favorite is "Get off the cross, we need the wood."

    I grew up with a lot of curses -- there are only a few I know in english that I can repeat in polite society. "May the earth open up and swallow you whole." and "May you die in a pool of blood."

    I know, I come from a really interesting family.

    Robin :)

  16. Hi Cindy,
    I just finished your book and need to write the review but know that my favorite word in the entire book was going to the loo! It's just too cute and sounds so much better than potty or bathroom.

    Anywho, my grandfather was born in Drogheda Ireland and even though I never got to meet him I did pick up some of the lingo through my da. And of coarse my da was a six foot tall red head with blue eyes so don't tell me he wasn't pure Irish. LOL!

    God Bless my da as he passed away last November and I miss him much. He trained my youngest daughter good though with the gift of gab and somehow snuck her to kiss the blarney stone cause man can she spin the tales. Poor kid is blonde too boot.

  17. Fun post, Cindy. I have Irish characters in The Magic Knot, and I did the same thing as you, used the rhythm of the language and some words to give a feel for the Irish dialogue. Some of my fave sayings are:
    You can take the man out of the bog, but you can't take the bog out of the man.

    And refering to being wise after an event: in the heel of the hunt.

  18. Fun post, Cindy. I have Irish characters in The Magic Knot, and I did the same thing as you, used the rhythm of the language and some words to give a feel for the Irish dialogue. Some of my fave sayings are:
    You can take the man out of the bog, but you can't take the bog out of the man.

    And refering to being wise after an event: in the heel of the hunt.

  19. OOO Nancy, Irish Immortals...
    I MUST read your book!

    Ah yes, ask me arse. Or just about anything with arse cracks me up. It just sounds so much more lyrical than *ss. ;-)

    Love "thick as a ditch" too!

    Thanx a bunch for sharing!

  20. Hi Vicki,
    Appreciate you popping by!

    Here's a great site for Irish slang directly from Ireland:
    But be forewarned, a vast majority of the saying are profane, so not for young or sensitive ears. But most of the time quite hilarious.


  21. "You'll never plow a field by turning it over in your mind" ...

    Hmm, has someone been watching me as I pretend to work? This saying suits me to a "T" today. :-)

    Fabulous post, Cindy!!

  22. Keli,
    Thanx a bunch for stopping by!

    LOL! "Get off the cross, we need the wood" sounds Irish to me! And a lot of the curses are blood-thirsty too, with eye gouging, festering in the grave, and various animals devouring your innards.

    But in Italian I'm sure it sounds so much better! Italian is one of those beautiful sounding languages. It just sounds so lovely that I don't mind being cursed in it. :-)


  23. Terra,
    ACK! Is it a bad sign that "loo" was your favorite word?!?! Seriously, I hope you enjoyed the book.

    What a shame that you never got to meet your Grandda, but your da sounds like he was a wonderful character. And just calling him Da is a very Irish thing. :-)

    As for kissing the Blarney Stone... Did you know they make you bend over backward to do it? And it's about 4 stories up? As Robin's relatives would say, "FERGITABOUTIT!"


  24. Helen
    I LOVE "in the heel of the hunt!" Never heard that one before. Thanx for sharing!

    I've heard variations on the bog saying, and calling someone a "bogger" is derogatory slang for a country bumpkin.

    I'm looking forward to reading "The Magic Knot."


  25. KATE!!! Another Bandita swinging by!

    Don't worry, we won't rat you out to anyone at your DDJ (dreaded day job). Keep plowing that fertile imagination of yours!


  26. Hi Cindy

    Here's to hoping that one day you will be able to read my books (working on a series) as 2 of them are under consideration with Sourcebooks

    *fingers crossed*

  27. Hi Cindy,
    I just finished your review and have posted it to my blogs. Hope you like it.

  28. What a great post, Cindy! I love the curses...always looking for new, interesting things to spew at fellow drivers and the like:-)

    I'm a sucker for an accent too, which is why I write Scotsmen. One of my grandmas is from England, and she's got a big, colorful family that is a hoot to listen to. My lorry-driving cousin Geoff (lorry being a truck) has a very thick Cockney accent, while my dancing cousin Peter has a crisper accent. I love them all...the Yorkshire accents are beautiful, I think.

    Lots of Irish in my family, and a lucky cousin who works in Dublin, but I haven't been yet. One of these days!! My sister has kissed the Blarney Stone. Sounded like it involved too many heights for me, ugh!