Separated by a Common Language

There’s a saying that the English and the Americans are two peoples separated by a common language. Not surprisingly, the same can be said about the Irish and the Americans.

As you probably already know, I usually write about the Irish language (sometimes referred to as “Irish Gaelic”). But points of culture are fascinating as well, and no more so than where they crop up in the words people use.

In this post then, just to mix things up a bit, I’m going to talk about English words and expressions used in Ireland that may be unfamiliar to Americans. Some of them may be unfamiliar to people from other English-speaking countries as well.

First, some basics

Here are some basic terms that differ between Ireland and the U.S. Many of these terms are also used in England, but some are uniquely Irish. For each, the American term comes first, followed by the Irish term in italics:

Dishwashing liquid or dish soap: Washing-up liquid or “Fairy” liquid. “Fairy” is actually being a brand name that has become associated with the product, much as “Coke” and “Jello” have in The States

Q-tips: Cotton buds

Eraser: Rubber

Liquid Paper: Tippex (another brand name)

Sanitary napkin/pad: Sanitary towel

First floor: Ground floor

Second floor: First floor (And so on. The American third floor would be the Irish fourth floor, etc.)

Soda/Pop/Coke: Mineral

Ride*: Lift

Jello: Jelly

Cookie: Biscuit (unless it’s chocolate chip…then it’s a cookie!)

French fries: Chips

Chips: Crisps

Panty hose: Tights

Men’s underwear: Pants

Pants: Trousers

Sweater: Jumper

Jumper: Pinafore

Fanny*/backside/ass: Bum/arse

Cupboard/cabinet: Press

Restroom: Toilet

Traveler*: Tourist

This list is by no means exhaustive (it doesn’t even begin to get into slang, for example), but it’s a good start!

* Be extra careful with these starred terms…they can get you into trouble. Read on below:

Problem terms

Some common terms in American English are words you want to be extra careful with in Ireland:

Ride: In Ireland, offering someone a “ride” has sexual connotations. If you want to offer to take someone somewhere in your car, offer him a “lift.”

Fanny: “Fanny,” in Ireland, refers to female genitalia. If you want to refer to the part of your anatomy on which you sit, please pick just about any other word!

Traveler: Spelled “traveller” in Ireland, this word is used to refer to the traditionally nomadic people sometimes referred to as “tinkers” (“tinker” should also be avoided, as it’s considered a derogatory/racist term). You’re better off referring to yourself as a “tourist.”

Some other words you may encounter

Immersion: Instead of on-demand hot water from an always-heated tank, some Irish homes use an immersion water heater that needs to be switched on in advance of needing hot water for bathing (and, of course, switched off when not needed to save electricity).

Hot Press: The cupboard (press) where the immersion lives. Actually more like a closet. Often used for drying and storing linens.

(Des Bishop, an Irish-American comic who has lived in Ireland since he was a teenager, does a great comedy routine on immersions and hot presses here. Warning: some strong language.)

Electric shower or Instant shower: An electric shower is a shower that heats the water as it is dispensed rather than drawing it from a central tank. Like an immersion heater, it needs to be switched on and off, but there’s no waiting for the water to heat.

Turf: Turf is dried peat, which is still very commonly used for heating in Ireland (if you ever visit Ireland, the wonderful smell of a turf fire is a memory you’ll carry with you forever!).

In some rural areas, turf is still dug and dried as it has been for centuries, but it’s also available commercially as compressed bricks.

Gardaí/Garda: This is actually an Irish word, and is used to refer to the national police force. “Gardaí” (pronounced GARD-ee) is plural; “Garda” (GARD-uh) is singular.

The best part of traveling!

One of the best things about visiting another country is experiencing and enjoying the differences between it and your home country!

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