Another Russian


My parents were both pure Irish. Indeed our family roots are Irish way back to the coming of the Norsemen and subsequently the Armada. Except for one recalcitrant ancestor, reputed to be related somewhat tentatively to some English landed gentry. It’s quite possibly a myth, given that it originated with my Granny Bugger, who was renowned for her snobby aspirations. But that’s another story entirely.

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, I grew up listening to and using Irish expressions, without being aware that our vocabulary was any different to regular English. Indeed even now, researching the subject, I am often startled to find that words and phrases I’ve been using for years have their roots in ‘the awld sod,’ to add another to the pile. So here’s a sort of mini-glossary, though it’s by no means exhaustive.

A whale of a time – one day I must look up the etimology of that one.

Was it any use? – Was it any good.

Donkey’s years – A very long time.

Quare – Very. As in it’s quare cold today.

A press – A cupboard. The biscuits are in the press.

Wrecked – Very tired. Or very drunk.

Wet the tea – Make the tea.

Hen’s teeth – As in ‘rare as hen’s teeth’.

Chips – Crisps.

French fries – Chips.

I will yea – I won’t.

Fierce – All weather is fierce. Fierce wet, fierce cold, fierce warm, fierce damp.

Jumper – Not a suicide but a sweater or pullover.

Do the washing – Do the laundry.

Messages – Groceries, shopping. I have to do the messages.

As to the expression, ‘another Russian’. I have no idea of its origins. I don’t know if it was peculiar to my family or a common expression among Irish people of my parent’s generation. They used it to describe any Irish person who came to their attention. So, for example, if they read a newspaper report about a drunken Irishman, or woman, they’d exclaim ‘Oh no, another Russian.’ Or if, for instance, they heard of the appointment of a US Senator, or an official or indeed anyone with an Irish name, you’d hear them say ‘Another Russian.’ If anyone does know the origins, I’d be ‘delighted and excited’ to hear it, as they say in Dublin.

Circling over Shannon

ShannonBrowsing through a variety of websites, looking for Irish words and expressions, I was struck by a couple of things. By the amount of words we have for being drunk. And by the fact that, being drunk apart, there are far more words for bad things than there are for good. Nevertheless, most of these expressions are savage. No, not running round in grass skirts with spears; it means really brilliant.

I noticed another thing this time round. Many of these expressions are so familiar to me that at first I was surprised to discover that they are Irish. I guess because I grew up in an Irish family, albeit in England, I assumed that the words we spoke were the words everybody spoke. Not so. Having ‘a whale of a time’, ‘donkey’s years’, ‘rare as hens teeth’ – these are all Irish. As are ‘bang on’ and ‘earwigging’. Others though, indisputably and gloriously, could have no other source than Holy Ireland. Lets start with the drink – or for those who ‘have the drink taken’, as we would say.

There’s a rich vocabulary to choose from, much of it describing various degrees of inebriation. If you’re rubbered you’re in a fairly jolly and inoffensive state. Someone who is flutered is also a good-natured drunk, though talking a lot of gobshite and not in control of his or her legs. Even when you’re slaughtered you can probably still string two sentences together. If you become twisted, though, you’ll be off your head and need help even to get home. Plastered has become fairly widely used in England – this is another one I hadn’t realised had it’s roots in the old country. Then there’s jarred, stocious, gargled, legless, polluted, blethered, smashed, pickled, lashed, mouldy, banjaxed, soused and ossified. To say nothing of locked, trousered, elephants, transmogrified, mortal and bolloxed.

But my favourite of all time is and still remains – ‘circling over Shannon’. It originates, some years back in the visit to Dublin of Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Yer man had, as we say ‘the drink taken’. Indeed so much drink had he taken that he was legless and not fit to get off the plane. Which was obliged to circle over the airport while attempts were made to sober him up. Meanwhile the Taoiseach and members of the government waited on the ground – and yet another brilliant expression was added to the Irish vocabulary. Do you have any brilliant expressions to share? They don’t have to be Irish. We’re not the only ones who like a jar or five! Please share in ‘comments’ below.