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Denise Deegan

Extract Irishisms - Craic, grand, yokes; what our words say about us

Author Denise Deegan uses Irish sayings and phrases to look at the Irish soul.

IMAGINE YOU’RE AN American coming to Ireland. You touchdown in Dublin Airport.

Your cab driver tells you he’ll throw your case in the “boot”. Just when you learn – with relief – that a “boot” is in fact a “trunk,” the driver asks if you’ve any “craic.”

You’ve just got off a plane. You’ve been through security. Even if you were a drug dealer, you wouldn’t have any “crack.”

You haven’t even left the airport and you’re exhausted.

I was in New York City when it struck me just how colourful Hiberno-English is. Chatting to my American pal, Molly, I asked her to “Gimme that yoke.” She looked at me as if to say “What yolk? What actual egg?” It hit me that we were speaking two versions of the same language.


I started to collect Irishisms. For my own pleasure. Two years later, I have amalgamated them into The Little Book of Irishisms.

IrishismsCrispCover Denise Deegan Denise Deegan

With St. Patrick’s Day on the horizon, one section is particularly needed. It’s called, “Avoid These Like The Plague: Unless You Want to Sound Like a Non-Irish Person Trying To Sound Irish.”

Let me share an extract:

May the road rise with you/to meet you.
This is only ever said in the Irish language to wish you luck. We would never say it in English.

Top of the morning to you.
Only used by leprechauns.

Only heard in old Hollywood movies of Ireland. And let’s keep it that way.

St. Paddy’s Day/St. Patty’s Day
It’s either Paddy’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day.

Let’s keep the “Oirishisms” to a minimum. For the love of God.

I have supplemented the “Avoid These Like The Plague” section with one called: “Tricks To Make Your Sentences More Irish.” I’m helpful like that.

An extract if you will:

Use “fierce” instead of “very” e.g. “He’s fierce intelligent.”

Turn a sentence into a question e.g. “Sure, where would you be?” This particular one
means: “Could you be anywhere better than this?”

For emphasis, add “altogether” after a noun at the end of a sentence e.g. “Isn’t he a fierce eejit, altogether?”

Add “at all, at all,” to the end of a negative sentence e.g. “I’m not venturing out in that rain at all, at all.” Again, emphasis.

Repeat short sentences connecting them with “so” e.g. “I am so I am.” “I did so I did.” Emphasis is strong with us.

Make your verbs ongoing e.g. “What would you be wanting?” “I’m going to go.” “I’m going to have to do that again.” “Don’t be listening to him.”

Precede a sentence with: “God.” “Jaysus.” “Sure.” “Ah, sure, look.” “Yera.” “Here.” e.g. “Here, give me that yoke (thing).”

‘It’s grand’

I have dedicated a whole section to “grand” because no one uses the word quite like the Irish. It’s as if we’ve taken it and made it our own. It means so many things depending on where, when and how we use it. You’ve guessed it, an extract:

If you ask us how we’re doing and we tell you we’re “Grand,” we’re just doing okay, no better. In fact, we’re probably worse than that, just trying to be positive. However, if we tell you we’re, “Grand out” or “Grand, altogether,” then we’re feeling much better. We’re good. We might even be great. It’s all in our tone.

If commenting on the weather, we say something like, “Grand day, thank God,” this
is positive. The tone and, crucially, the “Thank God,” give it away. Having said that, we rarely have good weather. So, a good day for us would probably be a terrible day for most but we’ll be happy with it because it’s not raining right at that moment.

If someone makes us an offer and we tell them that we’re, “Grand,” we’re, very gently, saying no. We don’t like letting people down. So, we’ll say something like, “Ah, you’re grand.” If you apologise to us and we say, “It’s grand,” or “You’re grand,” then apology accepted. Don’t give it another thought.

If something’s impressive, say a magnificent building, we won’t use “grand,” to describe it. To us, grand generally means ordinary.

As the title might suggest, The Little Book of Irishisms contains… Irishisms. Many of them. Some of my favourites come from the Irish language. There’s “bockety” meaning “wobbly” derived from “bacach” the Irish word for lame. There’s “foostering” meaning, “busying oneself in an agitated way,” derived from “fústar” meaning “fuss.” And there’s “smithereens” meaning “little pieces” derived from “smitheríní” meaning little bits.

As I gathered Irishisms, I learned just how much our words say about us as a people. For example, how often we use “craic” shows how important “news” and “fun” are to us. We even greet each other with, “Craic?” all on its own.

The list of words we have for insults is outrageously longer than the one for compliments. But then so many of our insults e.g. “eejit,” “chancer,” “cute hoor,” can also be used as terms of endearment. Though it was not my intention, the book is a celebration of what it means to be Irish.

The Little Book of Irishisms: Know the Irish through our Words, by Aimee Alexander, is available from Amazon and can be ordered from bookshops. A free sample is available here. Aimee Alexander is the pen-name of Irish novelist and screenwriter Denise Deegan. It is illustrated by her daughter, Aimee Concannon.


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