Thursday, 18 February 2010

English! which English ?

English speakers and those who are domiciled in England come to Ireland often under the mis-apprehension that they will understand completely the English language that is spoken to them during their visit; allowing of course that it will be spoken in a different dialect and at a different speed.

Nonetheless they can make themselves understood without resorting to a phrase book. Unless of course it is their intention to speak As Gaeilge (Irish Gaelic).

So when I moved to live permanently on this island of Saints and Scholars. I bought a local newspaper to acquaint myself with what was going on in my neighbourhood and I came upon an article which sadly stated 'Man killed while cutting a ditch'. Further on it gave the dreadful details saying that 'he was knocked off his ladder by a passing vehicle'

After reading that I was very confused! As to why he needed a ladder to cut a ditch, unless it was perhaps a deep ditch and the top of the ladder was some how over hanging the road… ?

Sometime later a friend asked me if I was going to cut my ditch, perplexed again I came home looked at all of my boundaries and saw no ditch. I mentioned this business of the ditch when talking to another friend, who explained to me that a ditch in Ireland is a hedge in England. I asked "so you don't use the word hedge then? " "Yes, we do" he said and then explained that an Irish hedge consists of trees or shrubs of a single variety and that a ditch contains a mixed variety.

I was caught again by the use of the word 'bold' in a sentence. "John is a very bold

at times", to which I replied "Bold was not what I would describe him as, more of a wicked old devil ". My friend said "Exactly ! So why do you argue?"

Ah' the penny dropped. Bold in Ireland does not mean courageous.

In similar fashion I was caught again when at a fuel suppliers I asked for a couple of bags of coal. "How many do you want ?" said the man, to which I replied "Two of course".

The retort was "Then why didn't you say two in the first instance, I'm not a mind reader". We then had a quiet discussion and I discovered that colloquially "a couple" in Ireland can be any number and not the specific two as in England.

I was on a learning curve. The Barracks is where the Garda works from and rarely lives in and I would know it as a Police Station.

The towpath is not just a pathway alongside a canal, it can also be a roadside path.

Many are the differences in meaning that exist and therefore I will not remove a visitors' own pleasure be disclosing all.

Before signing off though I will relate a bit of boldness that I played on an Irish companion when we visited England. I had met a friend who invited us to come and have a cup of tea at 3.30pm. On the way I suggested that we had something to eat before visiting Kenneth, to which I was told " Sure, he has invited us to tea we'll get a bite with him" and so we arrived. Ken gave us two cups of tea and two biscuits each, we had a chat then Ken told us that he was due somewhere at 5pm to do some work. So we left, with my companion complaining to me that he was hungry and where the "F****** was the tea?"

The difference being that an invite to have a cup of tea over here is always accompanied by either a pile of ham sandwiches or a plate of fried rashers, eggs, sausages, black and white pudding with bread and butter and cups of tea or coffee!


  1. Great post!

    I have been to Ireland three times. In time I had a holiday romance with Paddy the fisherman in Carrigaholt Co.Clare. He was from Limerick and heavily accented and the only word that I was guaranteed to understand was the F word.

    Craic is a great Irish word innit!

    I camped in Ireland all three times...mostly on village greens and council land and was amazed by the hospitality...tea and toast was brought to us one morning. I had thought Ireland was going to be like England just rainier but I had an amazing experience based mostly on the - kindness, generosity and lack of suspicion that we received (hitched and were picked up by 80 year olds)- that I am pretty sure I would have to look harder to find in England!

  2. In Liverpool in my youth we spoke Irish English, so I then had the reverse of your problem when talking to people from the rest of the country!

  3. It is quite amazing that one language can be spoken in such various manners.
    But then, it is such a broadly-spoken language, that it would only make sense for it to evolve differently around the world.
    It took me a moment to realise your friend was looking to eat his tea...

  4. Oh, Thank you for a grand blog entry, Mr Heron.

    English has so many faces, variations around the British Isles & Ireland alone!
    What a rich linguistic patchwork reflecting the many local tongues - so beautifully healthy!

    You've tasted Irish hospitality. Now, if you were to come up to Shetland, and here, (since we are talking "broad talking"), you'd be hearing other variations of the word "tea" again. Whalsay's my favourite: "a cup o toy".
    It's something else again :))

  5. I thank you for this great post .I hope not being too lost in language in July /August considering Molly Potter comment.:))
    I agree with her about kind welcome in Ireland.

  6. Enjoyed this post. Although a lot of the differences have confused me greatly at times, there are many I like, such as 'the long fields'.

  7. My friends thank you for your comments.

    Ah' Molly, that Paddy gets around a bit, was it language lessons that he was giving ?

    Elizabeth thank you for pointing out the otherside of the coin, I should have known about Liverpool, with Mrs H spending her childhood there :)

    Nat I would love to visit Shetland & not just for a cup of toy ! they might have a good Malt too?

    Marie-Odile I doubt that you will have any problems at all at all :)

    liZZie the long fields? I think it is the Long Acre that you mean, all explained in the next post ;-)

    Lastly A warm welcome to recently new Followers, pull up a chair by the fire and make yourselves at home.

  8. Great post Mel really enjoyed reading it :-)

  9. Morgaine. So nice to see your back again (intentional photographic pun!)

  10. the good Malt, Mr Heron:'s in the making, my friend!

  11. Great post Mel, I really enjoyed the banter, thanks for posting this,


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