One of the most interesting things I have learned from being a teacher here on italki is that although books and language courses are an invaluable resource when learning a new language, sometimes they lack the accessibility of everyday speech.
It’s so frustrating, isn’t it? You’re learning a new language, growing in confidence—and then all of a sudden someone uses a phrase which completely makes no sense to you!
To help you with this predicament, here are some of the most common phrases you will hear in Ireland and the United Kingdom.
When I was studying in the UK, I was quite confused the first time someone called me Flower. I was in a supermarket, packing up my shopping, when out of nowhere the shop assistant said, “Here’s your change, Flower.” It’s actually a very nice, casual “endearment” to female passersby, but at the time I was quite shocked—and I’m a native English speaker.
“Do you know what I mean?”
Often pronounced “ju no wat I mean?,” this common phrase is used in Ireland to ask the person it is addressed to: “Do you fully understand what I am saying?” Another phrase used in everyday language that holds a similar meaning is: “Are you with me?”
“The Emerald Isle”
My homeland is often described as The Emerald Isle because the entire country is basically covered in grass, old stone walls, trees and hedges. Well, maybe not the entire country but ju no wat I mean?
In Ireland if you say someone is sound out, it means that they can be trusted and are of good character. When speaking about a person you don’t trust, you might say he’s dodgy or he’s up to something alright.
“Bob’s your uncle!”
This is another favorite of mine. Now, unless you actually have an uncle called Bob, this phrase is likely to be new to you and ever so confusing. It basically means the same thing as: “You’ve got it.”
“Sure look it”
We Irish folk are known to say “sure look it” before giving instructions or making an attempted intellectual observation. For example, “Sure look it, you did your best,” or, “Sure look it, I’m not going.” As I write about this, I realise how little sense that particular phrase makes, and yet, sure look it, it’s the way we talk!
Up in the North of England where I was staying during my university years, it was also very common to hear “any road.” And no, that is not someone looking for driving directions. “Any road” basically means “anyway.” Come to think of it, it could be considered the British version of “sure look it!”
“I didn’t do nuuuttttiinnngg (nothing)”
In Ireland, if you meet your friend on a Sunday morning and they ask What ya get up to last night? If you answer: I didn’t do nuuuttttiinnngg, it means that you stayed at home instead of going to the pub.
“I’ve to see a man about a dog”
This is another charming phrase you might hear in the UK which is wonderful and can apply to all manner of situations. Its meaning is simply: “I’m going somewhere and I’m not telling you where or why I’m going!” Gotta love it!
A common phrase that can easily be understood within context, this simply means, “I am very tired and will need to go to sleep before I get annoyed with you.”
“It’s raining cats and dogs!”
This is my personal all-time favourite. There is just nothing to compare it to; it means that it is raining heavily, but just the silliness of the phrase makes me laugh. To my knowledge, no one knows for sure where the phrase came from. Some say it dates back to the Middle Ages: when it would rain heavily, the poor cats and dogs would fall from the roof tops. Others say it relates to the rather unsavoury image of open drainage that was common at that time. Wherever it came from and whoever was the first person to utter these immortal words; the phrase lives on!
These phrases seem to have a life of their own, passing down from one generation to the next, with words added and removed. Their meanings change slightly with every alteration. Whatever your opinion is of this “type of speech,” there is no denying that it breathes fresh air into the language, adding colour, energy and most certainly—humour!