“For more than two centuries, America has been made and remade by striving, hopeful immigrants looking for a chance to pursue their dreams. Millions among them were born in Ireland, separated from our shores but united by their belief in a better day. This month, we celebrate the Irish-American journey, and we reflect on the ways a nation so small has inspired so much in another.” ~ President Barack Obama
On February 28th, President Obama, who himself boasts ancestral ties to Moneygall, designated March as Irish-American Heritage Month. If you’re interested, his entire (yet brief) proclamation, excerpted above, can be read on the White House website.
So, in honor of Irish-American heritage, let’s celebrate more than green beer and Guinness this month! For instance, did you know that much of our current day slang was brought to us from Ireland? In his book, How the Irish Invented Slang, Daniel Cassidy eloquently traced the etymology of hundreds of words derived from Irish (Gaelic).
I’ve included a short selection from Cassidy’s work here. The list features the American slang word followed by the Gaelic/Irish word and its meaning. It is important to note that while the spellings may not resemble the slang words, the pronunciations are dead on.
A Selection of Slang ~ From the Irish
- Babe – Báb (a maiden)
- Bees Knees – Béas núíosach (fresh new style, novel manner)
- Boogy – Bogadh (moving, stirring, shaking, rocking)
- Boss – Bas (boss, best, a very good)
- Brag – Bréag (lie, boast, exaggerate)
- Cahoots – Comh-údar (a co-author, co-originator, co-instigator)
- Dig – Tuig (to understand, to comprehend)
- Dork – Dorc (a small, stupid person)
- Dude – Dúd (a foolish-looking fellow, a dolt, a numbskull)
- Fluke – Fo-luach (a rare result)
- Gibberish – Geab ar ais (back talk, backward chat)
- Growler – Gearr-ól úr (a fresh quick-drink, a fresh short-drink)
- Mayhem – Maidhm (a violent eruption)
- Slacker – Slabhcar (a slouching fellow, a spiritless person)
- Snazzy – Snas (polish, gloss, elegance, style)
- Sock – Sac (stuff, shove, poke, whack)
- Stool Pigeon – Steall béideán (to spout rumors, to spill out lies and calumny)
- Twerp – Duirb (an insect, a worm, a dwarf)
Poker fans may be surprised to discover that most of the game’s terminology is derived from Irish, even the name of the game itself!
- Poker – póca (pocket or purse)
- Beat – bead (loss, injury)
- River – ríofa (reckoning)
- Mark – marc (a target)
- Nut – n’art (power, strength)
- Muck – múch (turn over and smother)
- Button – beart t-aon (one dealing) – In Hold‘em, the one with the button deals.
- Stud – stad (stop) – In stud poker, the house deals — the deal stops with the house
- Jack (as in jackpot) – tiach (pronounced j’ac – money)
- Scam – ‘s cam (fraud, trick)
Fore more Irish music, check out Tunigo’s Irish Imports playlist!
Meg Tarquinio Roche