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We’ve written a fair amount about British slang over the years, but there’s an equally strong pot of lexicographical gold on the other side of the Irish sea from the U.K. and as it’s St. Patrick’s Day, it seems a good time to pay tribute to the glories of Irish slang.
Try and work at least four of these expressions into your conversations today. You’ll be a better, stronger, Irisher person for it.
Acting the maggot
A decent quip to put an annoying person in their place is worth my weight in gold (and that’s a lot of gold), and acting the maggot is a doozy. And it’s versatile too: you can use it behind your victim’s back or to their face, depending on your willingness to engage in fisticuffs. And even if you’re in a room full of people who have never heard it before, they will instantly understand what you’re driving at.
One of those words that has such a multiplicity of potential meanings over time—from ignorant woman to lower class oik—that it’s hard pinpoint a definitive use. Suffice to say it’s not a compliment; you’d only use to to describe someone who is (in your view at least) an inferior person. Whether that’s intellectually, socially, morally or financially, is up to you.
Note: there’s some debate as to whether this should be spelled skanger or scanger. Let your own taste be your guide.
With more and more products being sold that have a planned obsolescence, and less and less chance of being fixed when they break, a term like banjaxed—which simply means really, really broken—is becoming more and more useful. Your first generation iPod that will no longer play more than 10 seconds of a song? Banjaxed. The car that costs more to fix than it would to buy a replacement? Banjaxed. Lance Armstrong’s chances in next year’s Tour de France? Banjaxed to the moon and back.
The wish to avoid perpetuating cultural stereotypes prevents us from listing all of the many colorful Irish slang terms for getting drunk—although bolloxed is a firm favorite—but you’ve got to admire the silky sleekness of a word like fluthered. It’s an artful side-step away from belligerence, aggression or shouting. To describe yourself has having been fluthered is to suggest you’re aware you made something of an ass of yourself and to try and twinkle your way out of the trouble caused by your antics. And which of us can truthfully say we’ve never been there?
Boxing the fox
Granted, this is one you may not be able to apply to your everyday life, unless you’re in the business of growing apples or pears, or indeed stealing them from orchards. But we’re not here to judge or make assumptions, so let’s just say if you’re planning a fruit raid, you’re about to commence boxing the fox, or scrumping, as the English would call it.
Because slang can sometimes be counterintuitive; in Dublin a chiseller is neither someone embarking on woodwork activities or a swindler or cheat (despite both of these definitions also being true), but a small child.
Another particularly cute term, this time used to affectionately describe non-essential activities. So if you’re pulling yourself together on a Sunday morning, after a big night out, just sort of gathering your wits and making a mess of getting your breakfast, you’re foostering. If you’re waiting for someone to get ready to go out, and they’re taking ages, you’d be within your rights to accuse them of foostering. As a word in encompasses everything between procrastination and indolence, and does so with great charm.
The first time you use one of these delightful expressions in your everyday speech, it may make you blush a little. An expert in Irish slang may then accuse you of taking a reddener. And that’s because you have.
Not, as you may have thought, a monster from Doctor Who, a sleeveen is an untrustworthy sort, the kind of confidence trickster that would con you out of your life savings just for sport, and then blow the lot on an unwise wager.
Stop the lights!
Because the world can never have enough exclamations of surprise. File this next to such eternal classics as holy moly!, hot damn! or cheese and crackers!
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See more posts by Fraser McAlpine
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic