23 common Irish phrases that confuse overseas friends and family

Sally Gorman

If you’re not from Ireland, how well do you know your Irish slang and common phrases? And if you are from Ireland, how well do you realise that some of the phrases you take for granted can confuse the hell out of people for overseas.

Most people are probably familiar with words such as ‘craic’ or ‘eejit’ which have become well known over the years.

However, there are plenty of Irish sayings that can leave people from overseas totally confused.

That was a problem for Irishwoman Sally Gorman, who lives in Toronto, Canada.

Despite being surrounded by English speakers, she found that when she spoke, she would often utter a phrase that would leave her friends baffled.

To help them out, Sally has written a helpful list of popular Irish slang and phrases that translates them into more ‘understandable English’.

She wrote about her list in RSVP Live saying: “”I knew moving to Toronto meant that I’d have to make a lot of changes. I knew I’d have to learn to drive on the other side of the road.

“And more importantly, I knew I’d have to get used to life without Supermacs’ garlic cheese chips. But one thing I didn’t know was that I’d have to change the way I speak.

“Since moving to Toronto, there are a few Irish words and phrases I’ve had to kiss goodbye. I’ve come to realise – after some embarrassing mishaps – that Irish slang just doesn’t travel well.”

Here is Sally’s list of words and phrases – along with translations:

  1. The Jacks – Mainly used by Irish men to refer to the toilet.
  2. Sound – If someone is ‘sound’ or ‘sound out’ they’re a great person – it’s a big compliment.
  3. Come here to me -if you have something a bit gross to tell someone you might say ‘C’mere to me till I tell ya’.
  4. Cop on – To cop on to yourself or cop on to something means you have figured something out.
  5. Spuds – another word for potatoes.
  6. A press – A press is what many people in Ireland call a cupboard.
  7. Wrecked – To feel wrecked is to feel exhausted.
  8. Chips – Chips are what North Americans call fries. Chips in Toronto are what we call crisps.
  9. Jumper – In Ireland, you would put on an extra jumper when it’s cold – in Toronto it’s called a sweater.
  10. Awh sure look it – This expression of sympathy and acknowledgment means very little to those outside Ireland.
  11. G’way outta that – An Irish person using this phrase isn’t necessarily telling you to leave – It means ‘I don’t believe you’.
  12. I will yea – This means ‘no’ or ‘not a chance’ – even we can see why this one is a little confusing.
  13. Do the washing –Irish people call the laundry the washing.
  14. Craic – good craic is having a good time or a good laugh.
  15. Fair Play – this means ‘Good for you’ or ‘well done’.
  16. Yer man/yer wan – it just means ‘that’ man not ‘your man’. It can be used about a total stranger.
  17. Rashers – In Ireland bacon is sold in – and can be referred to as – ‘rashers’.
  18. Slagging – To ‘slag’ someone is to have a bit of a joke with them – another term that sounds worse than it is.
  19. Acting the maggot – Someone who is ‘messing about’ or ‘fooling around’ as ‘acting the maggot’.
  20. I’m only codding you – Another term for having a joke with someone.
  21. Eejit – A popular Irish word meaning ‘idiot’.
  22. Gas – Gas is something hilarious.
  23. Grand – Grand means good, although as long as something isn’t awful an Irish person still might say it is grand.

Who would have thought that a few little phrases could cause so much confusion, so we hope Sally’s list helps to clear up Irish slang for you. But if it doesn’t, awh sure look it, what more can we do. You need to cop on! You have already? Grand.


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Written by Michael Kehoe @michaelcalling