During the short time I’ve been pontificating on these hallowed pages I have touched upon varying topics ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, however today I return with glee to one of my favourites; that being the national gibberish that the universities decided to call ‘Hiberno-English’.
In an earlier mindless monologue I outlined how we as a nation single-handedly rescued ourselves from incomprehension by tweaking the language to distinguish the second person plural from singular, (yiz/you)
Today, I’m delving not into our powers of linguistic redemption, but rather our acute knack for total linguistic mutation. We were given English like a fresh pack of marla a few short centuries ago, but instead of playing with it like good colonial subjects and making nice scenes of farmyards and trees while keeping the colours untainted by each other, we were the messy child who mashed all the strips together until they were irrevocably mixed into that drab greenish-grey shade; you know the one, it’s the colour of arts and crafts failure.
Our way with words, shaped by the echoes of our largely forgotten native tongue and our true passion for swearing like dockers, has left the plains of the language undulating with our often bat-shit crazy, but always entertaining, colloquialisms.
In an effort to bring some structure to what would most likely become an unregulated rant, I have listed a few classics here.
For this chestnut, the vowel filleting knife has been expertly applied to the words “Come here to me” to bring us an exclamation that, despite appearances to the contrary, is exclusively reserved for people standing in one’s immediate vicinity. It’s grammatical facade as an order for physical movement, it is in fact aural call to arms deployed immediately prior to the impartment of important news or salacious gossip. More often than not uttered in a conspiratorial whisper, the recipient of this exclamation knows to open their ears for something juicier than an orchard full of mid-summer apples.
Example: “C’mere’t’me! Did ye hear Sharon Curley is up the pole for Georgie Burgess”…
Leading us neatly to our next hiberno-englishism…
Once again we have what appears to be an order for physical movement in the direction away from the speaker however this is not the case. But far be it from us to deliver a straightforward exclamation. We like to keep things counterintuitive for some ungodly reason, something to do with Celtic mysticism or some shite.
Instead of meaning “Go Away and leave my company”, the term “G’way” does in fact mean, “I am in disbelief at your sordid gossip, come closer to me and tell me more and in greater detail”. For this reason it’s a natural and common response to anything that was delivered following “c’mere’t’me”.
We don’t have to look far to find more phrases that, when said on our linguistically playful shores, completely contradict their intended meaning. Give out is a perfect example. When taken away from the Irish context, the term giving out conjures (for this misty eyed scribbler) images of a rosy-cheeked and benevolent people altruistically handing out gifts and sweets to whomever they pass (yeah, you’re right, there’s a full-on fantasy land going on between my ears). However we beleaguered folk know that giving out is nothing to do with benevolence and everything to do with getting an earful off someone you’ve irritated. Be it (to use some historical examples) your Ma for not doing well in school, your Bean An Ti in Irish college for speaking English; or in a more current setting, your boss for falling asleep at your desk or your other half for having eaten all the Crunchies out of the sweet press. Speaking of which, this brings us to one of the most confusing of all our unique colloquial terms…
To the unhibernified, the above word has a number of meanings. It’s a multi-functional verb and also exists as a noun to denote the mainstream print media or a device to cause compression. How in the name of jayzus it came to denote the common household shelved storage unit with doors, we will never know but it remains in the bedrock of Irish vocabulary unchanged by years of exposure to British and American culture. Occasionally, someone who’s spent too long working in London or has English parents might ask for something out of the “cupboard” and will draw grimaces of distaste at the jarring of the word in the air.
These are only a small handful of examples but they are ones that are still in very active use. There are others that have faded with time as the older generations died out. For example, though it’s often joked about, you would rarely hear the word minerals used for soft drinks anymore (outside of the deep countryside), nor messages for groceries. And more’s the bloody pity, two of my absolute favourite ridiculous Irish terms.
We unconsciously revel in the awkwardness our lexical differences create. We’re baldly belligerent in the implementation of our unique take on the language, and so we should be. It’s our linguistic fingerprint, and in the face of the inevitable (but not unwelcome) ebb of multiculturalism in our ever-increasingly cosmopolitan little ccountry, we are likely to lose these nuances and end up speaking some sort of bland homogenized transatlantic/anglo-irish version of international English.
Sure every time we hear an automated voice on the phone it’s usually an English accent or US one. The iPhone gives us the option of having Siri talk to us in English with an accent that can be from the UK, US, Canada, India, Australia or New Zealand accent, but not an Irish one. (ah HERE!)
To be fair to one of our native companies though, when there’s an unexpected item in my bagging area in SuperValu, I’m informed in a reassuringly midlands accent.
So let’s preserve and encourage our poetic mutations to our given tongue, the colourful semantics only found coming from the mouths of native speakers of our dialect and allow Hiberno English to evolve and remain distinguishable within the white noise of the acceptable lingua franca.
Sure what else would we be doin’?!