THE LAND OF SAINTS AND SCHOLARS has been pioneering the written and spoken word ever since the English outlawed education, forcing our countrymen to squat behind hedges listening to some auld fella shite on about Catholicism or bread or whatever cos we weren’t allowed to use books. But even being bestowed with the ability to chat your arse off does not necessarily mean that the complex lexicon of Irish-isms is navigable. Here’s a quick guide to Irish idioms that will save you from any embarrassing lost-in-translation scenarios.
1. State = Disgrace
Outgoing as we are, years of repression by either England or the Catholic Church has left us somewhat reliant on the social lubricant of booze to keep the banter flowing. However, this crutch is a cruel mistress, and can often leave us cowering under a duvet on Sunday, the fear induced by the inevitable loss of dignity the night before.
“Fucking state of you last night, you puked on my cat.” = “You were a disgrace last night, you were sick on my cat.”
“Oh my god, she was an absolute state. Did you see her taking a piss in front of the Garda station?” = “Oh my god, she was a disgrace. Did you see her going to the toilet in front of the police station?”
2. Session = Party
This is a blanket term for any kind of social gathering that has the potential to get a little loose. How loose will depend on the demographic. If we’re talking trad session, expect typical Irish music played by some auld fellas with bodhrans whilst the auld ones croon “She walks through the fair” to a reverential silence. If we’re talking college students frequenting the Pyg, then expect copious amounts of Class As and a queue for the early house on Tara St. Ew.
“Fair auld session last night there lads, great to get the lock in.” = “Great night of merriment and music last night boys, delighted to be able to stay after hours in the pub.”
“Fucking chewed the face off myself at that session last night.” = “I gurned a lot at that drug-fueled party last night.”
3. Shite on / Talk the hind legs off a donkey = Talk at length
We can talk. About anything. Give us a topic; we can talk about it. Again, the degree of shiting on is determined by age and / or consumption of alcohol / drugs. Usually used in a negative context, like someone going on and on and on and on and on and on…
“God yer one would talk the hind legs off a donkey.” = “That girl would bore you to death with her incessant talk.
“He spent the whole night shiting on to me about his gout. Insufferable bastard.” = “He talked to me the whole night about his gout. Insufferable bastard.”
4. Shift = Kiss (with tongues)
This phrase was popularised in more rural parts of Ireland and entered into common usage in the ‘90s. Often heard at discos, down the tennis club, or at lunchtime if you were lucky enough to go to a girls’ school close to a boys’ school (If you were lucky enough to go to a mixed school, this was probably the only word you ever used, ever), the mere mention of this word would set pheromones secreting and pulses racing, and eventually, saliva swapping.
“Here, will ye shift me mate?” = “Hey, will you kiss my friend?”
“Yer man’s a great shift.” = “That guy’s a really good kisser.”
5. Yer man / Yer one = That guy / that girl
Everything will make so much more sense once you understand this. The Irish always have a wide circle of friends, and there are about 2 degrees of separation between every member of the population. So you can see how it could be challenging to remember everybody’s name. To compensate for this, we have come up with a useful shorthand for describing someone that you may know, but can’t think of their name, or for referring to any stranger in general. Enter yer man / yer one.
This causes the most confusion when people think that these are actually people’s names. Just ask any Polish immigrant how long it took before they realised that Yerman wasn’t some social wunderkind who was connected to absolutely everyone they met.
“You know yer man, the ginger fella who’s friends with Cathal.” = “You know, that ginger guy who’s friends with Cathal.”
“You know yer man, he’s going out with yer one.” = “You know that guy, he’s going out with that girl.”
“Jaysus, yer one over there is looking fairly rough.” = “Wow, that girl over there has seen better days.”
6. Ride = Good looking person / sex
So important a word they gave it two meanings. Get your coat luv, you’ve pulled.
“Did ye get the ride off yer one last?” = “Did you have sex with that girl last night?”
“OMG, Brian O’Driscoll is suuuuuuuuuuuuch a ride.” = “Brian O’Driscoll is hot.” (Most likely heard in Dublin 4)
7. Good man / woman yourself! = Well done!
We love a bit of auld reflexive pronoun action to illustrate how much we really mean something. It’s all about emphasis. That coupled with a bit of well deserved praise for, say, winning the ploughing championships on an banjaxed Massey Ferguson, results in shouts of the above as well as lots of back slapping.
“Jaysus bai, you did well there, good man yourself!” = “Jesus man, well done, congratulations!”
“Sure didn’t you look great in the Lovely Girls contest, good woman yourself!” = “You looked great in the rural beauty pageant, congratulations!”
8. To score the face off someone = To kiss passionately
Every sexual act needs a euphemism because Catholicism has beaten us into a repressive state of denial about our libidos. This particular idiom sounds slightly aggressive, and it can be, so watch out for that ginger stubble. Ouch.
“My mouth is red raw, he was scoring the face off me for hours at Coppers.” = “I have sandpapered my skin off my passionately kissing someone for hours in the local meat market.”
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