Irish Slang Glossary


(Most items are sourced to the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Study Guide for their 2004-05 season production of Stones in His Pockets. Others were contributed by the director of the 2009 EMU production).

Aisling – (pro. ASH-ling) Popular girl’s name. From aislinge which means “a vision” or “a dream,” Aisling is the name given to a popular poetic genre from the 17th and 18th centuries in which Ireland is personified as a beautiful woman in peril.

R.U.C – The Royal Ulster Constabulary was the police force in Northern Ireland from 1922 to 2001. It was renamed the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in 2001 in conjunction with reforms that emerged from the Good Friday Agreement of 1996.

Special Branch – the arm of the British, Irish and many Commonwealth police forces that deals with national security matters. Originally called the Special Irish Branch, part of London’s Metropolitan Police, it was formed in March 1883 to counter the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

Ballycastle —a small town in County Antrim in Northern Ireland. Its population is around 4,000.

have a wee butchers  – have a quick look (“butcher’s hook” = “look” in rhyming slang).

run like the hammers —a slang expression deriving from “run like the hammers of hell (were chasing you).” It means to run hard and fast.

hures —idiomatic pronunciation of “whore.” It is a term of abuse, applied to either gender.

gob —mouth

Extra Vision (Xtra-vision Limited) – Ireland’s largest chain of video rental stores, founded in 1979. They have over 200 stores across both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The Quiet Man —a 1952 film starring John Wayne and directed by John Ford. Filmed in Ireland. Also starred Maureen O’Hara, Barry Fitzgerald, Victor McLaglen. Ward Bond, and Arthur Shields.

quid —slang for one pound sterling, which is the basic unit of currency in the UK. The Irish pound is also referred to by this name.

yoke —a thing; an unspecified object

boot —the trunk of a car

arse —backside

Blasket Islands —a group of islands off the southwest coast of Ireland, forming part of County Kerry. They were inhabited until 1954.

scrake —used like “break” as in “the scrake of dawn”

the Jacks —the bathroom

jumped up —to dress up or make fancy in a tawdry, garish way

slag —a prostitute or promiscuous woman (also occasionally heard with reference to such men)

piss off —a vulgar invitation to depart rapidly; chiefly British

buck—lad, playboy

waster / tosser / wanker— derogatory terms for an uninteresting, irrelevant person (usually male); a person you don’t like

on the dole —receiving money provided by the state; receiving a share of money as charity

go on the pints  —to switch to drinking ale/beer

haring off —to move hurriedly, as if hunting a swift quarry

riggers —a person or company which specializes in the lifting and or moving of extremely large and/or heavy objects, esp. on a film set. (TJ)

whacki backi —a euphemism for marijuana

minders —slang for the aides to someone in public life, especially a politician or political candidate, who keep control of press and public relations.

Seamus Heaney—a famous contemporary Irish poet who won the Nobel Prize in 1995. The lines quoted (and misquoted) in the play are from Heaney’s 1973 poem, “Exposure,” as excerpted below:

                            Who, blowing up these sparks

                            For their meagre heat, have missed                           

                             The once-in-a-lifetime portent,

                            The comet’s pulsing rose.

Gee up —British slang for a practical joke, or to encourage

skiff —a very light covering

the heavy —the showoff; braggart

feckless —careless and irresponsible

Shagin’ / eff / fek / feck —strong, vulgar expletives.  (RTSL)

boy o —a young person; lad

Da—an affectionate and respectful term for Dad

coddin ’ —deception; to joke and make fun of or tease

bollicks —foolish; somebody one does not like or feels is stupid

cunas, cunas —A Gaelic Irish phrase meaning “quiet, quiet.”

muy hu agus sigi sio—a phonetic representation of the Gaelic (Irish) phrase meaning “well done and sit down”

gargles —alcoholic drinks

R.T.E. –Radio Telefis Eireann. The national television and radio broadcasting service of the Republic of Ireland.

Dib Dib I was in the Brownies – The phrase “Dib Dib Dib” stands in for DYB – Do Your Best as part of the opening and closing ceremonies for English/Northern Irish scouting organizations. Brownies are, as in the US, the first phase of scouting for girls 7-10 years.

Matt Talbot – Ireland’s most famous reformed alcoholic. Talbot was inner-city Dubliner with a life-long drinking problem. In 1884, a priest gave him a prototype of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous that he used to achieve and maintain sobriety. His death in 1925 made him an icon for the Irish Temperance Movement. The Church is considering him for sainthood.

Jasis —an expression of surprise (idiom for “Jesus”)

wobbler —erratic or neurotic behavior; a fit of temper

gobshite —a person regarded as contemptible or stupid; chiefly used as British slang

knock it on the head — “cut it out,” as in to stop doing something

stall the ball —stop for a moment (usually spoken as a request)

“The West’s Asleep” (Mickey’s song) – a 19th century Irish patriotic ballad written by Thomas Osborne Davis, one of the chief organizers and poets of the Young Ireland movement. Mickey alters the words in the third line of the first verse from “Alas! and well may Erin weep” to “Alas! And well my Aisling weep.”