Tag Archives: English slang from Irish

Irish Words in English – A List

The fantasist Daniel Cassidy, in his absurd book How The Irish Invented Slang, pretended that there had been a conspiracy against Irish words among English-language dictionary-makers. He did this to cover up the incompetence of his ‘research’. At the same time, he invented hundreds of ridiculous fake Irish expressions like pá lae sámh and sách úr and claimed that these were the origin of common English expressions. However, while packing his book full of imaginary rubbish, he was far too lazy to research the subject properly, so he missed dozens of Irish words which are in the mainstream dictionaries. Here is a list of Irish words in English. I have spent a couple of months compiling it. It is probably not exhaustive and if anyone can think of any I’ve missed, please let me know!


banshee = bean sí, fairy woman. A spirit which appears before a death in an Irish household.

barmbrack An Irish fruit loaf. From bairín breac, speckled loaf.

bodhrán.  A winnowing drum used as a musical instrument.

bog  (from bogach meaning “marsh/peatland”) a wetland (according to OED).

bonnaught  A type of billeting or a billeted soldier. From Irish buannacht, billeting or billeting tax.

boreen (from bóithrín meaning “small road”) a narrow rural road in Ireland.

brat – a cloak or overall – now only in regional dialects (from Old Irish bratt meaning “cloak, cloth”)

brehon  A judge of ancient Irish law. From Irish breitheamh.

brogue  (from bróg meaning “shoe”) a type of shoe (OED).

brogue  A strong regional accent, especially an Irish or one. Not as the OED says, a reference to the footwear of speakers of the brogue, but from barróg, an Irish word for a lisp or accent.

callow A river meadow, a landing-place, from Irish caladh.

camogie  From Irish camóg, small hooked object, a camogue. The women’s equivalent of hurling.

carrageen moss. From Irish carraigín, ‘little rock’.

carrow  An ancient Irish gambler, from cearrbhach.

caubeen  An Irish beret, adopted as part of the uniform of Irish regiments of the British Army. From cáibín.

clabber, also bonny-clabber (from clábar and bainne clábair) curdled milk.

clarsach  An ancient Irish and Scottish harp, from Irish cláirseach.

clock  O.Ir. clocc meaning “bell”. Probably entered Germanic via the hand-bells used by early Irish missionaries.

coccagee Cac na gé, goose shit. The name of a type of cider apple found in Ireland, so called for its green colour.

colcannon A kind of ‘bubble and squeak’. Probably from cál ceannfhionn, white headed cabbage.

colleen (from cailín meaning “a girl”).

conk Slang term for a big nose. The term Old Conky was a nickname for the Duke of Wellington. Dinneen gives coinncín as ‘a prominent nose’ and this seems to be related to terms like geanc, meaning a snub nose.

coshering Nothing to do with Jewish dietary law. Coshering (from Irish cóisir, feast) was when a lord went round staying with his subjects and expecting to be entertained. Because of this cóisireacht can mean ‘sponging’ in Modern Irish, though cóisir usually just means a party.

coyne. A kind of billeting, from Irish coinmheadh.

cross  The ultimate source of this word is Latin crux. The English word comes from Old Irish cros via Old Norse kross.

cudeigh  A night’s lodging, from Irish cuid na hoíche.

curragh  An Irish boat made from skins or tarred canvas stretched over a wooden frame. Irish currach.

drum, drumlin, from Irish droim, droimlín. A ridge or small hill of glacial origin, such as in the landscape of Down.

drisheen is a type of black pudding associated with Cork. From drisín.

dudeen  A clay pipe, from Irish dúidín.

dulse  From Irish duileasc, originally meaning water leaf. A type of edible seaweed.

erenagh A hereditary holder of church lands. Irish aircheannach.

esker  From eiscir, an elongated ridge of post-glacial gravel, usually along a river valley (OED).

Fenian From Fianna meaning “semi-independent warrior band”, a member of a 19th-century Irish nationalist group (OED).

fiacre  a small four-wheeled carriage for hire, a hackney-coach, associated with St Fiacre area of Paris.  Named for Saint Fiachra.

fiorin  A type of long grass, derived from Irish feorthainn.

Gallowglass  (from gallóglach) a Scottish Gaelic mercenary soldier in Ireland between mid 13th and late 16th centuries.

galore (from go leor meaning “plenty”) a lot.

gillaroo  A type of fish. From Irish giolla rua, red lad.

glib  An obsolete term for a kind of haircut associated with warriors (because it protected the forehead) banned by the English. Irish glib, fringe.

gob  (literally beak) mouth. From Irish gob. (OED)

grouse  In slang sense of grumble, perhaps from gramhas, meaning grin, grimace, ugly face. (Not from Cassidy’s cráite!)

griskin  (from griscín) a lean cut of meat from the loin of a pig, a chop.

hooligan (from the Irish family name Ó hUallacháin, anglicised as Hooligan or Hoolihan).

keening  From caoinim (meaning “I wail”) to lament, to wail mournfully (OED.

kern  An outlaw or a common soldier. From ceithearn or ceithearnach, still the word in Irish for a pawn in chess.

Leprechaun a fairy or spirit (from leipreachán)

Limerick (from Luimneach). The limerick form was particularly associated in the 18th century with a group of Irish language poets called Filí na Máighe.

lough  (from loch) a lake, or arm of the sea.

madder  Also mether. A traditional square-sided wooden drinking vessel, Irish meadar.

merrow  An Irish mermaid. Irish murúch.

moiley  An ancient breed of Irish hornless cattle, from maol, bald or hornless.

ogham Ancient Irish alphabet. The Irish is also ogham (pronounced oh-um).

orrery A mechanical model of solar system, named for the Earl of Orrery. This is an old Irish tribal name, Orbhraighe.

pampootiepampúta A kind of shoe with good grip worn by men in the Aran Islands.

phoney (probably from the English fawney meaning “gilt brass ring used by swindlers”, which is from Irish fáinne meaning “ring”) fake.

pinkeen  From pincín, a minnow or an insignificant person. This in turn comes from English pink + Irish diminutive –ín.

pollan A fish found in Irish loughs, Irish pollán.

pookawn A fishing boat, from Irish púcán.

poteen (from poitín) hooch, bootleg alcoholic drink.

puck  (in hockey)  Almost certainly from Irish poc, according to the OED.

puss  As in sourpuss, comes from Irish pus, a pouting mouth.

rapparee An Irish highwayman, from ropaire (a stabber)

rath  A strong circular earthen wall forming an enclosure and serving as a fort and residence for a tribal chief. From Irish rath.

shamrock (from seamróg) a shamrock, diminutive of seamair, clover, used as a symbol for Ireland.

Shan Van Vocht (from seanbhean bhocht meaning “poor old woman”) a literary name for Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries.

shebeen (from síbín meaning “illicit whiskey, poteen”, apparently a diminutive of síob, which means drift, blow, ride) unlicensed house selling alcohol (OED).

shillelagh (from sail éille meaning “a beam with a strap”) a wooden club or cudgel made from a stout knotty stick with a large knob on the end.

shoneen  A West Brit, an Irishman who apes English customs. From Irish Seoinín, a little John (in a Gaelic version of the English form, Seon, not the Irish Seán).

Sidhe Modern Sí, the fairies, fairyland.

slauntiagh An obsolete word for sureties or guarantees, which comes from Irish sláinteacha with the same meaning.

sleveen, sleiveen (from slíbhín) an untrustworthy or cunning person. Used in Ireland and Newfoundland (OED).

slew (from slua meaning “a large number”) a great amount (OED).

slob (from slab) mud (OED).

slogan  (from sluaghairm meaning “a battle-cry used by Gaelic clans”). I think this is more likely to be of Scottish origin.

smithereens small fragments, atoms. In phrases such as ‘to explode into smithereens’. This is the Irish word smidiríní. This is obviously Irish because of the –ín ending but the basic word seems to be Germanic, something to do with the work of a smith.

spalpeen  A migratory labourer in Ireland. From spailpín.

spunk  Tinder, from Latin spongia via Irish or Gaelic sponc. It later acquired the meaning of ‘semen’.

tanist  The deputy and successor of a chieftain or religious leader. A term used in anthropology. From Irish tánaiste, secondary person.

tilly (from tuilleadh meaning “a supplement”) used in Newfoundland to refer to an additional luck-penny. It is used by Joyce in the first chapter of Ulysses.

tory Originally an Irish outlaw, probably from the word tóraí meaning “pursuer”.

trousers  From Irish triús.

turlough  A seasonal lake in limestone area (OED). Irish turloch ‘dry lake.’

uilleann pipes. Irish belows-blown bagpipes. Uilleann is Irish for ‘elbow’.

usker From Irish uscar, a jewel sewn into an item of clothing.

whiskey From uisce beatha meaning “water of life”.