Irish Glossary of Confusing Terms on Menus, Bathrooms, Road Signs, Etc




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Irish Glossary of Confusing Terms on Menus, Bathrooms, Road Signs, Etc.:
About a million-and-a-half of Ireland's five million inhabitants speak some Irish Gaelic, though 95% of the population uses English as their primary language. Americans should be aware, however, that Anglo-Irish (also called Hiberno-English) speakers use some phrases differently from Americans. Here is a quick glossary of Irish Gaelic terms and Hiberno-English terms to help you avoid confusion and embarrassment in conversations, menus, and bathrooms.
Amble: What in America would be called a "hike." An ambler is a hiker.

An Lar: city center (Gaelic)

An Post: post office

Bangers: Sausages

Bar: In Dublin, bar refers to a street (from the Old Norse bar). Thus, "Temple Bar" is a region around Temple street, not an establishment selling alcohol. What would be a "bar" in America is a "pub" in Ireland.

Barn Brack: Cake-like bread

Bob: slang for money. See also quid and sterling.

Bonnet: car hood

Boot: car trunk

Bord Fáilte (pronounced bord fal-cha): The Irish Tourist Board (Gaelic, "Board of Welcome")

Boxty: potato pancakes filled with meat and vegetables. Yum.

Brilliant: cool. neat.

Cheers: "thank you"

Chipper: a shop or stand that sells fast-food, especially fish-and-chips.

Chips: Americans would call these "French Fries"

Class: great (as in "Catherine is class at playing the guitar")

Craic (pronounced like crack in English): Good times, fun, good conversation. No, you're not being asked to take cocaine, and if anybody invites you to have some craic, just say yes.

Crisps: Americans would call these "potato chips"

Cute Hoor (pronounced like "cute whore"): A positive term (applied almost always to men rather than women) suggesting that a particular fellow is clever, tricky, or devious--often used in reference to effective politicians. If someone calls you a "cute hoor," it does not mean you are a good-looking prostitute.

Darne: a slice of fish, often still on the bone

Deadly: cool or neat.

Dear: expensive

Dodgy: suspect, possibly bad. (Usage: "I wouldn't eat that fish. It smells dodgy to me.")

Dublin Coddle: thick stew made with onions, sausages, bacon, and potatoes.

Euro: Euro-dollars. Note that the Irish use this as both singular and plural, i.e., they always say "seven euro" and they never say "seven euros." The same rule applies to "cent."

Fáilte (pronounced fal-cha): "welcome!"

Gaeltacht (pronounced gale-tokt): an area or building where Gaelic is spoken rather than English.

Goujons: small strips or chunks of chicken, fish, or red meat.

Green Road: former highways crisscrossing the landscape in inaccessible areas--created during the famine as make-work projects for starving locals. These old, unused roads are now popular with amblers.

Fir: "men" (Gaelic, often used on restroom doors)

Flaming: drunk, intoxicated

Footpath: Americans call this the "sidewalk"

Garda: police officer (plural: gardaí, pronounced gar-dee)

Go away (also "Go 'Way): This expression doesn't mean, "get lost" or "get out of here." It is a favorable exclamation of surprise or amazement similar to "Wow!"

Gaff: house

Grand: "great" or "excellent." Example: "Would you like some water? Thanks, that would be grand."

Hackney: Both taxis and hackneys drive passengers to a location and collect a fee at the end of the trip. Hackneys, however, are not allowed to display a sign on top of the cab and they cannot wait at taxi "ranks." Hackneys use no meters, and are largely unregulated. The price can be more or less than that of a taxi.

Hash: Americans call this the "pound sign" (#) on telephones and computer keypads

Jab: an inoculation shot. Usage: "Have you had your tuberculosis jabs before entering the country?"

Lads: a group of people regardless of gender, used much like the way Appalachians or Texans use "y'all".

Lift: an elevator

Marie Rose sauce: ketchup-and-mayonnaise-based sauce.

Mash: mashed potatoes

Minerals: soft-drinks (note that soft-drinks are about twice as expensive in Ireland as in the U.S.)

Mna (pronounced muh-nah): "Women" (often used on bathroom doors)

Petrol: gasoline--note that the price listed is per liter, not per gallon.

Ploughman's Lunch: a lunch of cheese, bread, and pickles

Press: cabinet

Poitín (pot-cheen): Irish moonshine whiskey distilled from potatoes.

Quay (pronounced like key): waterfront or wharf

Queue: a line. Also called a "rank." Usage: "Queue up here."

Quid: slang for money

Rank: A line. Also called a queue. Usage: "Form ranks here."

Rasher: Canadian-style bacon. (American-style bacon is called "crispy bacon" or "American bacon.")

Resident: An overnight guest at a hotel or youth hostel.

Ring: to telephone someone. Usage: "You should ring in case of an emergency."

Sambo: slang for a sandwich

Screwed: drunk

Slag: to tease

Slainte! (pronounced slon-cha): Cheers!

Snog: to kiss

Starter: an appetizer

Sterling: slang for money, especially British pounds.

Stroke: a slash, the written character (/).

Sultanas: What Americans would call raisins.

Take-away: Fast food, food to go

Take the piss out of: to tease someone or mess with someone. Usage: "We were just taking the piss out of you."

Till: what Americans call the cash register.

VAT: Value-added Tax, typically 13.5% for lodging, meals, and car rentals, but 21% for souvenirs or gifts

Windscreen: what Americans call the windshield on a car.
Dangerous English terms to avoid. Note that some words that are considered curse-words in American English are perfectly acceptable in Irish English, and vice-versa. Here are the American English terms that are verboten and Irish terms that shouldn't shock you:
Bloody: Bloody is a mild profanity in British and Irish English. Avoid saying it in polite society.

Crap: Crap is a stronger curse word in British and Irish English than in American English. Avoid saying it in polite society.

Fag: A cigarette. Don't freak out if an Irishman asks if you have a fag he could borrow. Also, remember that Irish pubs, hostels, hotels, and restaurants are legally smoke-free since 1996.

Fanny pack: The term fanny in Irish is applied exclusively to female genitalia, so whatever you are wearing, it isn't a fanny pack; it's a waist-belt or a waist-pouch.

How the #$*! are ye? If the word f-ck offends you, don’t speak to anyone. The Irish use the F-word (or its equivalent, fecking) in every grammatical way possible: noun, adverb, adjective, etc. It’s a cultural statement equivalent to Guinness, and it is only considered a mild curse-word--not nearly as strong as it is in American English (treat f-ck like saying "darned"). Make up your mind to overlook the Irish usage now, and watch your language when you get back home . . . . it’s contagious.

Ride: Used exclusively in Irish to refer to sex or to an attractive person. If you want someone to transport you, ask for a lift, not a ride.

Stuffed: The term has sexual connotations in Irish English. If you have eaten your fill, say "I am full," never "I am stuffed." The latter phrase will lead to blushing and tittering at the table.
Other Controversial Terms:

Irish Republicans refer to "Londonderry" as "Derry." Ulsterfolk separatists refer to the region as "Londonderry." Everyone else refers to it as "Londonderry/Derry" to avoid making a political statement. Use "Londonderry/Derry" when you speak of it.

Similarly, the region of "Dingle" is called "An Daingean" by folks who want to designate it as a Gaeltacht

(Irish-language region), but most local residents prefer "Dingle."


Note that Catholic/Protestant relations can be a sore point in Ireland. In general, the northern regions (Ulster) have more Protestants and many of the residents are loyalists to England. In general, the southern regions are more nationalistic and Catholic, and want English control out of the North. Wearing green and orange is often linked with Sínn Fein, a terrorist group now become a political party. Sínn Fein that traditionally has wanted the North and South of Ireland to be reunited under Republican control.
Some Odd Traits of Irish Syntax, Grammar, and Semantics (Primarily of Interest to English Majors and Linguistic Nerds):
In addition to taking loan-words from Irish Gaelic (like blarney, galore, smithereens), Irish English has been strongly influenced by the stress patterns and grammar of Irish Gaelic. Some of the more unusual semantic structures appear in A. C. Baugh's A History of the English Language, 5th edition, pages 318-19. I've summarized Baugh's list below:


  1. Use of the suffix -een as a diminutive. Irish speakers will add this suffix to another word to render it small or insignificant, thus maneen means "tiny man" and boyeen and girleen mean "little boy" and "little girl" respectively.




  1. In pronunciation, speakers in the far northern parts and the far southern parts of Ireland will often substitute /sh/ for /s/ before a long /u/. For instance, P.W. Joyce quotes the remark of one Dan Kiely: "That he was now looking out for a wife that would shoot him" (i.e., suit him).




  1. The past perfect tense (e.g., "had got") and the present perfect tense (e.g. "have got") in English have no equivalent in Irish Gaelic. Accordingly, many Anglo-Irish speakers will convey this idea by using the preposition after, the verb to be, and a present participle. For example, "He knew that I was after getting lost" would be the Irish equivalent to American English phrase "He knew that I had gotten lost."




  1. Irish Gaelic does not have the equivalent of an indirect question introduced by if and whether. Instead of the declarative word order of Standard English, these sentences use a different interrogative word order. For example, Standard English speakers would say, "the waiter wanted to see if he would get something to drink. In Anglo-Irish, this would be rendered "the waiter wanted to see would he get something to drink."




  1. For prepositions of time, many Anglo-Irish speakers use with rather than for when they mean "for the duration of." For instance, "He's dead now with many a year" or "She didn't come back with twenty-eight years." This unusual English phrasing follows the prepositional pattern of Irish Gaelic.




  1. In terms of indefinite pronouns, Irish speakers often do not use the expression no one, but prefer to use anyone. For instance, when an English speaker would say, "No one attends that church any more," an Irish speaker would say, "Any one attends that church any more," meaning nobody goes there. Again, this unusual use of indefinite pronouns follows the pattern of Irish Gaelic.


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