Someone just told me they were getting more and more scorpy the older they get. I told him to get up the yard and that he was already a scorpy auld bowsey. His reply was to say that I might be living in Kildare but I’d a mouth on me like a true Jack, followed by him imploring me to go on te’ feck with the big Dublin head on me. Ah words, aren’t they great?
The Irish have a particular fondness for bastardising the English language. We are said to speak the best English (in some parts) even better that the English themselves – whether you’d want to believe that one now is entirely up to you. That being said, we have more accents than you can shake a stick at and you can literally cross a street to find a different local accent in some parts of Dublin
Now accents are one thing, but words, well we like to make them up as we go along. The yis, yisser and youse group of pronouns are a classic example of Dublinese for example. “is that yisser bike?” for example, or does da belong to youse?”
Grammar, now that has its own special treatment in the city of my birth. How can I describe it? Well what you do is take the rules of grammar and then apply them to words that they don’t have any business being associated with, so that you create new words within the context of a pretence at speaking the ‘proper’ way. Let me give you an example… Work this one out if you’re not Irish, if you are then you’ll be familiar – “Woh’en e noh?”
Here you have a whole range of confusion starting with the fact that I’ve spelt this phonetically. It should read, wonten he not? Any better? You could bring it closer to the source by trying ‘won’t he not’ or ultimately ‘will he not.’ Double or even multiple negatives abound in this part of the world. ‘Doesn’t he not be doin’ nothin.?’ There is nothing like a little local flavour to spice up a language.
“I will in me” or “you will in your” followed by an appropriate part of the anatomy, hole for example, is a good way to say no. Why use one word, when five can do the same job more effectively. Some words have gone out of fashion and when I hear them occasionally, I get quite nostalgic. An older generation than mine can still be heard using the word Idle for people who are unemployed. While it may sound politically incorrect, if not downright offensive, it was a term used without any disrespect intended, in the not too distant past. “I remember when my Mick was idle for a couple of months.” From the mouths of an octogenarian this would simply be explaining that the person was unemployed not lazy, as it would be perceived today.
There are a million and one made up words, colloquialisms and mangled words that you would find hard make sense of, but every language has these. There are terms and words that come from folklore, tradition, stories etc. and they are often the most fun.
Skinny Malink was a name I was often called as a chiddler. I remember the rhyme from whence the term came. “Skinny Mallink melodeon legs, umbrella feet, went to the pictures and couldn’t get a seat. When the picture started, Skinny Malink farted, Skinny Mallink Melodeon legs umbrella feet.” Skinny Malink being a thin person of course, melodeon legs referred to the shape of his legs and the pictures is of course what we all called the movies as kids.
My Ma used to make us walk away from walls or railings for some reason. If someone walked along by a wall she’d refer to them as “Go be the wall and tiddle the bricks.” She’d use the full expression in a disapproving tone ,to indicate that it was not a behaviour she wanted to see replicated as if it was demonstrative of some mental illness perhaps. “There’s go be the wall and tiddle the bricks” she’d say if she saw a fella doing just that and maybe even throw in a tut or two.
Things can be rapid (Cool) deadly (great) banjaxed (Broken) bollixed (again broken), people can be gombeens , gobdaws, gobshites, eejits, hoors, scuts or wagons. The best part of it, is that depending on the relationship and context, many of these words can be either insulting or complimentary.
“Sure, he’s a cute hoor.”
“He’s a hoor for the drink.”
“That feckin’ hoor of a bollix, wait till I see him next.”
If one girl embarrasses her friend she might laugh it off with “I’m scarlet -ya wagon” On the other hand if she doesn’t like a girl, then she’s “a wagon.”
“C’mere ‘till I tell ya.” While it is not strictly necessary for you to actually come here, this is an invitation for you to listen to what I have to say and it is a particularly common phrase in this part of the world where we all love to talk.
“Would you ever” can be followed by “feck off” and the word feck of course is typically Irish and is the acceptable form of the more vulgar ‘F’ word. Fr. Jack in the series Father Ted made it more familiar to a global audience. “Would ya” is certainly a useful precursor to a favour or a brush off. “Would ya give us a hand.” or “Would you ever go and ask me Bo**ix.” Even “Would ya go away out of that” if you want to express disbelief in something. Honestly, we can be hard to understand sometimes.
As a writer, I love words and language in general. The problem of course is that it is a difficult thing to put into the mouth of a written character, for unlike speech, the written word doesn’t have the same natural ease, flow, rhythm and cadence, so much of what a writer wants to get across can easily be lost in translation. I have to consider an International audience and as I always say books are more radio than television, so much should be left to the imagination. Everyone imagines characters in books differently to some degree. Their speech is very much a part of that. If I wrote some of my Irish characters speaking like much of the above in any detail, many readers would tune out. There is a delicate balance to be achieved and if done correctly it shouldn’t even be noticed.
I’m not fond of the phonetic approach. I prefer to sprinkle my books with occasional colloquialisms to give the flavour of a character’s origin, but then let the character and story direct my readers to the accent. I think it is more comfortable to sneak the accent into a reader’s head than to try to place it on the page to be read. Sometimes it misses the mark completely.
But look at me rambling on. I guess that’s probably the key factor in how us Irish speak. Yep, I admit it… I do talk a whole lot of Sh*te. Everywhere I travel, people have their own little twists on their own language, whether it’s Swabish in Germany, a good northern twist on the world in England or Glasgow v Edinburgh, we all have our own idiosyncrasies. But look at me, I’m still rabbiting on, I do like a good auld ramble now and then even if it is only on paper….
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5 thoughts on “C’mere ’till I tell ya…”
I empathise, Patrick. When I first arrived in Catterick from Glasgow in ’69 (that’s 1969, not 1869), very few of the other recruits understood me. Not a great start for somebody venturing on a career in communications.
It is so true, when you look at your country, mine, or some of the Europeans – we all tear our language apart and rebuild it as we see fit.
I noticed a mention of such things in our writing. As I pointed out to a fellow author a while back, it’s not a good idea to have a character dropping into a native dialect unless the author is prepared to spend a lot of extra time on it, and it’s bloody hard work – I tried is as an experiment in a short story. Nightmare.
Great post as always. 🙂
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Roddy Doyle does it in some of his books and to be honest it puts me off.. Thanks Tom.. There is nothing like a Scotsman to play with the English language.. I once spent a rather drunken night in a Spanish bar with 2 Glasgow lads watching Rugby highlights… long story… we were the only ones who knew what we were saying …
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“Now accents are one thing, but words, well we like to make them up as we go along.” This is the mark of the creative, the artistic, the writer. John Steinbeck, whose mother was the daughter of Irish immigrants, wrote in East of Eden that the Irish were the gifted storytellers of the world. I like to think our sense of whimsy with and love for the language plays a major role.
And I wholly agree with your “I’m not fond of the phonetic approach. I prefer to sprinkle my books with occasional colloquialisms to give the flavour of a character’s origin, but then let the character and story direct my readers to the accent.” The Brian Jacques “Redwall” series was a misery to read aloud to my kids for that reason. So we read Lemony Snickett’s “Series of Unfortunate Events” instead, from which I still fondly recall a ditty: “Tra la la, Fiddle Dee dee, Hope you get well soon. Ho ho ho, hee hee hee. Have a heart shaped balloon.”
So, invent away. A thing is what it is because we call it so.
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Love your observation
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someone not a million miles away on this blog hated my Cinderella story as I wrote it in dialect. I did want the reader to remember what a vulgar creature she still was, but it can be off putting I admit.
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