People in Ireland speak English, but not exactly the “Queen’s English.” With a little help from the Gaelic language—called Irish—the populace of the Emerald Isle has devised its very own collection of weird and wonderful words and phrases. Here are a few Irish colloquialisms to help you understand the next person you meet from Derry, Dublin, or Donegal.
Craic is pronounced “crack,” and it means general banter or fun. Originally, the word was spelled crack when it was used by Ulster Scots; the Gaelic spelling wasn’t widely used in Ireland until it was popularized as the catchphrase in the Irish-language TV show SBB ina Shuí starting in the 1970s.
There’s more than just one craic in Irish slang. According to Irish Central, the craic was 90 signifies “the nirvana of craic,” though it can also be used sarcastically when something that was supposed to be a good time ends up being the opposite. No one is quite sure where the phrase originated, but theories abound: One has it that the phrase originated with the Christy Moore song “The Craic Is Ninety in the Isle of Man,” while others believe the 90 represents speed.
A phrase used when a good time goes bad and no fun is had at all. Other craic terms include good craic, mighty craic, deadly craic, and what’s the craic, meaning ”how are you?”
This term is used to describe something that is very small.
Pronounced “wayne,” this word means “child.”
The word lethal is mainly used in northwestern Ireland and means “great.” You can also abbreviate lethal into leefs.
Pronounced “kware,” this word can be used in a variety of ways to mean “great,” “very,” and “terrific.”
Quite possibly Ireland’s greatest linguistic achievement, this phrase is the perfect way to curse without technically cursing. Replace the e with a u, and you have what this slang term means.
A short, or wee (see above), walk.
Act the maggot is a verb that means “to mess around,” by behaving foolishly, for example, or by avoiding work.
You can say aye for yes and naw for no.
While it might be confusing, yes means hello.
This term means it’s raining heavily. If it’s lashing rain, you may want to just stay inside.
This word is used as a verb and it means to make a joke at someone else’s expense.
You know that feeling you get when you’ve enjoyed a fairly big Tuesday night in a club, and then stumble into work the next morning after downing six espresso shots at the nearest Starbucks? That’s what some might call being wired to the moon. (Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang says the phrase means “crazy.”)
You can use this word to say something is bad or awful. According to Ireland Calling, it’s most likely short for the phrase cat on a melodeon. A melodeon is a small organ, so we can imagine a feline walking across one would not sound that great.
You can also use this word to describe something that’s bad.
If you’ve had a few too many pints of Guinness (also known as the black stuff) in Ireland, you might be described as langered, or drunk.
A way to describe a person who is a bit stupid, or at least very annoying.
Gas, when used by the Irish, means ”funny.”
If you’re looking for a new way to say “I have no idea,” try this phrase on for size.
The perfect way to take someone who is overly arrogant down a peg or two? Tell them to wind their neck in. It basically means “be quiet!”
Donkey’s years is a phrase Irish people use meaning ”a long time” (as in, ”I’ve known him for donkey’s years,” an example given in the video above), as is yonks.
This is a word for face.
A quick, or wee, look.
Another way to say you’re feeling delighted.
Culchie is the term people who live in Dublin use to refer to someone who lives in the rural areas outside the city.
The origin of banjaxed, which was first used in 1939 in the Irish novel At Swim-Two-Birds, is unclear—the Oxford English Dictionary posits it may have been Dublin slang—but it means “damaged,” “ruined,” or ”broken.”
Another way to refer to a toilet.
A version of this story ran in 2019; it has been updated for 2023.
Jack Adam Gallagher