18 Funny Irish Sayings and Phrases That Confuse Americans

Irish slang, known for its distinctive charm, has gained international recognition through famous figures like Liam Neeson and Bono. Slowly, these colloquial expressions are seeping into everyday language worldwide.

What Is An Idiom?

confused female

An idiom is a phrase that means something different from what it says. What is unique about idioms is that they are commonly only understood by the area in which they are used.

For example, when pigs fly is a universal idiom, meaning that something will never happen, rather than actually commenting on pigs and their flying abilities. 

The Irish Love Idioms

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In Ireland, idioms form part of their everyday dialect, ranging from conversational to outrage. There is always a place for a good idiom, and the Irish are excellent at balancing them within their speech. 

Think you’re competent in Irish idioms? Below are some of our favorites.

1. I’m Grand

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Maybe one of the more common phrases, ‘I’m grand,’ is used regularly in Ireland to mean, ‘I’m doing just fine.’

In actuality, grand means large, and for those who don’t speak English as a first language, this could easily be mistaken.

2. Cop on to yourself!

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Telling people to stop messing around and take things more seriously, “cop on to yourself” is the ideal phrase to use.

Expect Irish mammies to shout this at their sons when they won’t do their homework and are acting the fool.

3. Heading To The Jacks

public restroom

Nothing to do with a man called Jack; ‘the jacks’ is a term used for the restroom. 

4. A Pint Of The Black Stuff

Craic Irish Slang

Ireland is famous for their Guinness, and if you are in a pub and ask for ‘the black stuff,’ be prepared for a pint of their finest. 

5. What’s The Craic?

fist pumping someone

Pronounced like ‘crack,’ if you were to ask someone how the craic is, it would be akin to asking how they are going. Confused yet?

6. Away With The Fairies

unhappy teen boy

Another one that has been mentioned in other countries, being ‘away with the fairies,’ does not indicate a change in a physical location, rather it means someone is mentally distracted.

7. She’s My Mot

happy in love girlfriend

The word ‘mot’ is derived from the Irish word ‘maith,’ which means good, well and like.

However, to call someone your ‘mot,’ is not to call them good. Rather, it is to call them your girlfriend. 

8. Sucking Diesel

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Don’t worry; there is no consumption of fuel here.

‘Sucking diesel’ only means that you’ve fallen into good fortune thanks to your own hard work. 

9. Acting The Maggot

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While maggots are known as pests, this phrase is not related to the baby flies.

In fact, if someone is ‘acting the maggot,’ they are getting rowdy and creating mischief.

10. Give It A Lash

studying learning online

Traditionally speaking, a lash might refer to a lashing, or a whipping.

In common times, however, to ‘give it a lash’ is to give something a go, irrespective of the subject.

11.  You’re Giving It Socks

business team working

Laundry is not part of the equation here.

If someone is ‘giving it socks,’ it means they are really going for it. Trying especially hard at a task? You’re giving it socks!

12. I’m Foundered

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Viktoria Sapata / depositphotos.com

‘Foundered’ generally refers to a sinking ship or perhaps a stumbling horse.

When an Irish person declares they are foundered, it means nothing like that. To be foundered means to be cold or exhausted.

13. Pure Haunty

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Haunty might be a lesser-known phrase in the English language meaning restless, but that’s not what an Irish speaker might mean here.

To say someone is ‘haunty’ is to imply that they are unattractive but cover it up with a lot of makeup. 

14. Talk The Hind Legs Off A Donkey

middle aged man chatting to teenager

No donkeys are harmed due to this saying!

If someone is talking the legs off a farm animal, it’s likely just an idiom to describe how chatty they are. 

15. Score The Face Off Someone

young couple

Another use of hyperbole, scoring the face off of someone is less aggressive than it sounds.

It means to kiss passionately, which, in most cases, will be a far more pleasant experience. 

16. All Over The Shop

why do you not want to have kids

No shops in sight. If someone is ‘all over the shop,’ it means they’re a bit of a mess.

17. Gone For His Tea

crying teenager

A sad idiom, if someone has gone for his tea, it does not mean they’re on the hunt for the kettle. Rather, it means they have died.

18. Could Skin A Cat Out There

school bus driving in snow

Cats are beloved pets in Ireland, and none of them are being skinned in honor of a phrase. ‘Could skin a cat out there’ indicates that it is very cold outside.

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Key Takeaway

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Idioms serve the purpose to inject a little color into everyday conversation. And with the background culture of Ireland to brighten your day, why not give one a try?

This article was produced and syndicated by TPR Teaching.

Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.

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