Irish for Americans

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.”

2. SLAINTE
It’s the universal Irish-American toast, a rousing cry of “health” before the drink goes down.

3. FAILTE
The perfect word of greeting.

4. CRAIC
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.


GENERAL EXPRESSIONS

ABU
It’s an ancient war cry and a modern cheer. Abu rules ok?

ARRA, ARRAH
It doesn’t really mean anything, but, like a lot of words that don’t really mean anything, it’s immensely useful.

BEGORRA
The Irish don’t say it, by God, but that doesn’t mean we can’t.

CAC
It’s not polite, but, my goodness, is it useful.

DIA LINN
What you say after someone sneezes.

FECK
It sounds like a very rude oath, but is in fact a somewhat mild oath.

MAITH THU
You’ll hear it shouted out in Ireland when congratulations are due, but this phrase needs an advocate in the US.

MAVRONE
There are a lot of ways to express grief; this is one of the more ambiguous options.

MUSHA
Used to express surprise or annoyance, but what does it mean?

OCH
Everybody has their own oy, their own uff da, their own ay yi yi. 

OCHONE
An expression of grief.

SLAN
Goodbye

SO
Yes, it’s an English word. The Irish use it differently.

SURE
Another English word that the Irish have claimed for their own.

WHIST
Shhh.

WIRRA
Expression of dismay.

WISHA
An expression of surprise.

YERRA
Do you need one word to express “Don’t worry?” This is it.


WORDS FOR FAMILY, LOVED ONES, AND FRIENDS

ACUSHLA-MACHREE
A romantic thing to call your beloved.

AGRA
My love.

AVIC
Literally “son,” but used when talking to just about anybody, son.

AVOUNEEN, MAVOURNEEN
A nice thing to call your sweetheart.

CLANN
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.

ME FEIN
It’s what you call yourself.


WORDS FOR DRINKERS

THE CRATUR
If you’re feeling affectionate toward your alcohol, here’s a pet name for the stuff.

CRUISKEEN
What do you keep your whiskey in? In a cruiskeen, of course.

DANDY
A small drink of whiskey.

FLUTHERED
Drunk.

FUISCE
The modern Irish word for whiskey.

LANGERS
Intoxicated, but this is an unexpectedly flexible and rude term.

POTIN
If regular whiskey isn’t exciting enough, here’s the illicit stuff.

SHEBEEN
Where you get your potin.

UISCE BEATHA
These are the words that the word whiskey comes from.


FIGHTING WORDS

ALPEEN
There are all sorts of sticks to hit someone with. This is a good one.

BUFFER
A boxer in the language of the Irish Traveller.

DONNYBROOK
If it’s not just a fight, it’s a donnybrook.

MALAVOGUE
To beat, mishandle.

RAHOONERY
Violence against Irish Travellers.

SHILLELAGH
There are all sorts of sticks to hit someone with. This is the most famous.

TIPPERARY LAWYER
A cudgel.


TYPES OF PEOPLE

AMADAN
When you have to call someone an idiot, this is a useful word to have on hand.

BRINE OGE
The Irish had a lot of wild young men, so, of course, they had a word for it.

COLLEEN
Girl.

CULCHIE
A country person.

GLUNTERPECK
Fool.

GOBDAW
A simpleton.

GOMBEEN
A shady wheeler-dealer.

GURRIER
Scoundrel

HIMSELF
Nobody else uses himselg the way the Irish do.

HOOLIGAN
We all go a bit hooligan now and then.

LUDAR, LUDRAMAN
Loafer.

OLLAV, OLLAMH
A learned person, a teacher

OINSEACH
Female fool.

OMADHAUN
Simpleton

PINKEEN
An insignificant person.

RACAN
A lanky, raw-boned person.

RAPAREE
A bandit or brigand.

SEANCHAI/SHANACHIE
Storyteller.

SHAUGHRAUN
A wanderer.

SLEIVEEN
An untrustworthy bumpkin.

SPALPEEN
A rascal.

YOUSE, YIZ
Because we need a plural form of “you” when addressing a group.

VOTEEN
A very pious person.

WAN
It means one, but it’s used very precisely.


THINGS

BOG
Toilet.

DUDHEEN
You know those little clay pipes the Irish used to smoke? Well, now you know what they’re called.

FAWNEY
A ring.

PRATY, PRATIE
Potato.

TILLY
An extra given to a customer.

YOKIBUS
A thingamajig.


WAYS OF EXPRESSING YOURSELF

BLARNEY
Clever nonsense.

RAMEISH
Foolish talk.

TATTERARA
Noise, fuss, bother.

KNAWVSHAWL
To complain.


THE SUPERNATURAL WORLD

GEAS
A curse or obligation

PISHOGUE
Magic, a spell

SIDHE
Supernatural creatures.


WORDS FOR AND ABOUT IRELAND AND IRISH

DIDDLEEIDIE
Traditional Irish music.

ÉIRE
Ireland, of course.

FAINNE
A pin representing people’s willingness to speak Irish.

FEIS
Irish arts and cultural festival/

GAEILGE
The Irish don’t call Irish Gaelic or Celtic. They call it Gaeilge.

MAHOGANY  GASPIPE
What Irish sounds like.

SHAN VAN VOCHT
Another word for Ireland.


HOLIDAYS

BELTANE
May Day

NOLLAIG
Christmas 

NOLLAIG SHONA
Merry Christmas!

DAIDI NA NOLLAG
Father Christmas

LA ‘LE PADRAIG
St. Patrick’s Day

LA BREITHE SHONA DUIT
Happy birthday 

SAMHAIN
The Irish Halloween.


OTHER WORDS:

CEILI
Dance

GOB
Mouth.

BANJAXED
Ruined.

QUARE
Strange.

TUIG
To understand, a phrase adopted by American hipsters, who twigged to it pretty quickly.

GOBSMACKED
Astonished.

BITEEN
A little bit.

HOOLEY
A party.

DARGLE
A day trip.

OULD, AULD
Old.