We may not know it, but Irish is an American language. Not the way it is in the Irish Gaeltacht, where it is spoken as the primary language, although Americans did play a part in the Irish language revival movement, and more than 22,000 Americans are fluent in Irish.
This is, instead, a list of Irish words that have been used in America, sometimes by recent Irish immigrants, sometimes by second- and third-generation Irish-Americans. Some of these have fallen out of fashion, are rarely used, or have grown obscure, while some are still widely popular. Every single one of the words can be used immediately by anyone who wishes to use them, put into an English sentence to make the sentence more Irish. Every single one of them communicates something about the Irish and the Irish-American experience, and below you’ll find essays about the history of the word, how it traveled to America, and samples of how it was used here.
Note: This section is still under development. If a word doesn’t currently have a link, check back; it will be added as it is completed.
YOUR FIRST FIVE IRISH WORDS:
Words of greeting, comradeship, National pride and abuse. If you’re Irish-American, you probably already know many of these. Here are their stories.
1. ERIN GO BRAGH
It’s the Anglicized version of Éirinn go Brách, and means “Ireland forever.”
It’s the universal Irish-American toast, a rousing cry of “health” before the drink goes down.
The perfect word of greeting.
More than just a word for a good time, it’s a word for a worldview.
5. POGUE MAHONE
Any Pogues fan knows this phrase is where the band got its name, and what it means: Kiss my ass.
It’s an ancient war cry and a modern cheer. Abu rules ok?
It doesn’t really mean anything, but, like a lot of words that don’t really mean anything, it’s immensely useful.
The Irish don’t say it, by God, but that doesn’t mean we can’t.
It’s not polite, but, my goodness, is it useful.
What you say after someone sneezes.
It sounds like a very rude oath, but is in fact a somewhat mild oath.
You’ll hear it shouted out in Ireland when congratulations are due, but this phrase needs an advocate in the US.
There are a lot of ways to express grief; this is one of the more ambiguous options.
Used to express surprise or annoyance, but what does it mean?
Everybody has their own oy, their own uff da, their own ay yi yi.
An expression of grief.
Yes, it’s an English word. The Irish use it differently.
Another English word that the Irish have claimed for their own.
Expression of dismay.
An expression of surprise.
Do you need one word to express “Don’t worry?” This is it.
WORDS FOR FAMILY, LOVED ONES, AND FRIENDS
A romantic thing to call your beloved.
Literally “son,” but used when talking to just about anybody, son.
A nice thing to call your sweetheart.
Your family, defined both narrowly (the people you are related to) and broadly (the people you have close associations with)
MAMAI AND DADI
What you call your parents.
MAIMEO AND DAIDEO
What you call your grandparents.
It’s what you call yourself.
WORDS FOR DRINKERS
If you’re feeling affectionate toward your alcohol, here’s a pet name for the stuff.
What do you keep your whiskey in? In a cruiskeen, of course.
A small drink of whiskey.
The modern Irish word for whiskey.
Intoxicated, but this is an unexpectedly flexible and rude term.
If regular whiskey isn’t exciting enough, here’s the illicit stuff.
Where you get your potin.
These are the words that the word whiskey comes from.
There are all sorts of sticks to hit someone with. This is a good one.
A boxer in the language of the Irish Traveller.
If it’s not just a fight, it’s a donnybrook.
To beat, mishandle.
Violence against Irish Travellers.
There are all sorts of sticks to hit someone with. This is the most famous.
TYPES OF PEOPLE
When you have to call someone an idiot, this is a useful word to have on hand.
The Irish had a lot of wild young men, so, of course, they had a word for it.
A country person.
A shady wheeler-dealer.
Nobody else uses himselg the way the Irish do.
We all go a bit hooligan now and then.
A learned person, a teacher
An insignificant person.
A lanky, raw-boned person.
A bandit or brigand.
An untrustworthy bumpkin.
Because we need a plural form of “you” when addressing a group.
A very pious person.
It means one, but it’s used very precisely.
You know those little clay pipes the Irish used to smoke? Well, now you know what they’re called.
An extra given to a customer.
WAYS OF EXPRESSING YOURSELF
Noise, fuss, bother.
THE SUPERNATURAL WORLD
A curse or obligation
Magic, a spell
WORDS FOR AND ABOUT IRELAND AND IRISH
Traditional Irish music.
Ireland, of course.
A pin representing people’s willingness to speak Irish.
Irish arts and cultural festival/
The Irish don’t call Irish Gaelic or Celtic. They call it Gaeilge.
What Irish sounds like.
SHAN VAN VOCHT
Another word for Ireland.
DAIDI NA NOLLAG
LA ‘LE PADRAIG
St. Patrick’s Day
LA BREITHE SHONA DUIT
The Irish Halloween.
To understand, a phrase adopted by American hipsters, who twigged to it pretty quickly.
A little bit.
A day trip.