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.
I am slightly puzzled because a number of the phrases you cite are quite familiar to me. My mother’s family were Irish, though they had been established in the NW of England for I don’t know how many generations and my mother was Lancashire through and through, but I don’t think that has anything to do with it as I was brought up in the SE of England.
In my youth, we always wore a “jumper”, not a pullover, and the animal vocabulary (whale, donkey’s and hen’s) is equally familiar. In the UK, “chips” (for crisps) and “French fries” (for chips) would be regarded as Americanisms.
I think differences in vocabulary can be owing to generational differences as well as to ethnic partitioning.
Your granny could be right about ancestry. We are so racially mixed in these islands that whatever we think we are we probably aren’t. The one way to get an accurate notion of our antecedents is by DNA testing. Anything else is speculation when not wishful thinking.