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Look who's talking

You know us Irish don’t shut up, but you may not always know what we’re saying.

The languages spoken in Ireland are Irish, Ullans and, of course, English. But not your typicalEnglish.

In Ireland, we’ve taken the English language and moulded it around our requirements to what they call Hiberno-English. We’ve stretched some of the phrases and re-imagined sayings. We’ve invented our own words and broadened existing ones. We’ve almost completely eradicated the letter ‘t’!

We’ve made linguists and visitors shake their heads.

We know it can be confusing. So that’s why we’ve whipped up this handy phrase list to explain some of the more curious Hiberno-English sayings.


Why use many words when one will do? ‘Stor-eeey?’ (that’s ‘story’, with emphasis on the last syllable, twinned with an question mark) is the Dublin shorthand for, “Oh, how charming to see you! And how is everything going in your life? Please divulge everything in the most minutely microscopic detail…”. Sometimes, when we’re feeling particularly generous with our words we’ll opt for ‘What’s the story?’.

Devil the bit

Or in our vowel-mangling dialect: ‘divil the bit’. Basic research turns up little about where the phrase came from, but our thoughts go out to anyone who was bitten by the devil. Nasty, nasty thing to happen. Anyway… What it means to us today is simply ‘Nothing much’. As in, say someone inquires whether there is anything interesting happening in your life. Say, for the sake of the example, there is very little, or even nothing happening of any interest. Your answer would then be: devil the bit.

Janey mack!

A watered down version of an expletive that would see you warm the naughty step for a large part of the day. Part of a rhyme that went something like “Janey mack, me shirt is black, what’ll I do for Sunday”. You can always rely on the Irish to bring mass into it.

Fair play

None of your forcing reluctant sports people to shake hands, here. Fair play is the charmingly understated way of congratulating someone. It could be earned by someone stepping onto the moon, becoming president or finding a fiver in an old pair of jeans.

“You won the Nobel Prize for Literature yesterday? Fair play to you!”

Bleedin’ deadly

“Fair play, that’s bleedin’ deadly!” = Well done, that’s excellent.


Possibly the closest synonym for eejit is ‘goof’. Idiot and fool are all way too strong. Calling someone an eejit is usually said with fondness: “You didn’t have to buy me a Tiffany necklace for my birthday, you big eejit!” [ruffles hair].

Are you right?

One of the more popular Irish phrases this one. Easily confused for someone questioning your mental stability or indeed whether you are generally correct. In this case, ‘Are you right?’ means ‘Are you ready?’ Imagine the scene: woman in front of mirror, holding earrings up to her ears while husband paces to and fro in the hall tapping his watch and wiping beads of sweat from his temple.

“Maaaaary! Are ya right?!”

 Note: in Dublinese, the ‘t’ will be a light, barely-audible whisper.

What about ye?

You’ll hear this one in Northern Ireland. It might be tough to decipher when you first hear it, but it will eventually sink in as the Belfast equivalent of ‘Story’.


This is one of those words we’ve skewed for our own unfathomable reasons. ‘Only’ actually means ‘absolutely’, in our own understated way. As in “I was only raging” (I was totally furious) or “she was only gorgeous”, which brings us to…


1. Move
2. “Move” something commercially; to sell it
3. Ahem. Bit of a cheeky one here, but for some of you, perhaps the Lisdoonvarna crowd, this might be essential phraseology. Shift can mean to kiss, in a continental manner, if you know what I mean…

So now, you can kiss, or shift, that confusion at our phrases goodbye!

About the author

Raised in the Wicklow countryside, David is country through and through. He loves reading, especially Sebastian Barry and Roddy Doyle, and cooking (burning?) up a storm in the kitchen. You might find him bouncing around a tennis court on weekends before retiring to a quiet pub with friends for a long lazy afternoon. David writes about sport, food and nature and is fascinated by the Titanic. Favourite Walk:The Lambe Hill (for thinking) and Beal Ban beach in Ballyferriter (for romancing).