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Book of the Irish Eager to explain what we really mean with words like ‘notions’ or ‘dote’, Aimee Alexander tells us about her book

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Denise Deegan, whose pen name is Aimee Alexander, with her daughter Aimee Concannon, who illustrated the book

Denise Deegan, whose pen name is Aimee Alexander, with her daughter Aimee Concannon, who illustrated the book

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Denise Deegan, whose pen name is Aimee Alexander, with her daughter Aimee Concannon, who illustrated the book

What makes us Irish? Our words definitely help. Where else in the English-speaking world does the word “grand” mean so many things?

In Ireland, if we tell you we’re grand; we’re just okay. If we tell you we’re “grand out” or “grand altogether”, we’re much better. If someone offers us something and we reply, “Ah, you’re grand,” we’re letting them down gently – such an Irish thing to do.

If someone tells us they’re sorry and we tell them they’re “grand”, they are forgiven. No one speaks English like we do. I love that so much that I wrote a book about it, The Little Book of Irishisms: Know The Irish Through Our Words.

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It all started with “yoke”. I was in New York visiting a pal and asked her to “pass me that yoke.” She looked at me as if to say, “What yoke? What actual egg?” It hit me that we were speaking two very different versions of the same language. I started to gather up Irishisms, just for my own entertainment. I had no idea they would end up in a quirky book illustrated by my daughter.

Here are ten of my favourites:

Craic: If one word could sum up what it means to be Irish, it would be “craic”. That we use it so much to mean “news” or “fun,” shows just how important both are to us. Note to Americans: If an Irish person asks you if you’ve “Any craic?” they are not looking for illegal substances. They are asking if you’ve news or, actually, just saying hi.

Notions: In Ireland, probably the worst thing you can have are notions, believing yourself to be a cut above the rest. You might hear: “The notions on that one!” Or just “Notions!” If you do have notions, chances are someone will feel it their public duty to “take you down a peg or two,” so you don’t get a “swelled head”.

Bockety: Why say “wobbly” when you can say “bockety?” This little gem comes from the Irish word “bachach” meaning lame. Don’t let this word die out.

Holy Show: Where else does “You’re a holy show” or “You’re making a holy show of yourself,” mean “You’re an embarrassment?” I thought that this expression was on the way out. My daughter tells me it’s making a comeback. This thrills me.

Making a Bags of It: “Making a bags of it,” was one of my dad’s expressions. And though he was breaking the news that I was making a mess of something, it was always delivered with warmth. One of the most special outcomes of writing The Little Book of Irishisms has been hearing from readers who have been reminded of loved ones by sayings in the book.

Pass-remarkable: If someone comments that someone else is “pass-remarkable” they mean that they are verbally judgmental – which is, in itself, a judgement. I love the irony of that.

Ructions: This word for a “quarrelsome outbreak” originated during the 1798 Rebellion.

Smithereens: Smithereens comes from the Irish word “smitherini” meaning little pieces.

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Banjaxed: If something is “banjaxed,” it’s broken beyond repair. If someone is “banjaxed”, they’ll probably recover from their hangover. It just mightn’t feel like it.

Dote: It’s hard to find a word that sums up all that “dote” does. It’s more than a sweetheart. It’s the ultimate compliment, implying great fondness and admiration. You’d never tell someone they’re a “dote” if you didn’t mean it.

In addition to what we say and, maybe even more importantly, what we don’t say, The Little Book of Irishisms offers tips on how to Irishify sentences e.g. put “fierce” in front of a noun and “altogether” after it. It shares our many words for rain, drunk and mother. And gives the pronunciation and meaning of Irish first names.

The Little Book of Irishisms (€11.30) is available here from amazon.com

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