A Beginner's Northern-Irish-English to American-English Dictionary

In case you read my interview with Darryl yesterday and struggled with some of his word choice, or if you’re planning a trip to Northern Ireland in the near future, or for the just-plain-fun-of-it, I’ve listed some of the common words and phrases used in Northern Ireland and their appropriate American “translations.” I remember that in what was somewhat of a lonely year for me, noticing the language differences was one of the little joys I experienced every day. Yes, of course, the Northern Irish speak English, but as one would expect, they rely on different slang, pronounce words differently, use words that Americans would know but rarely use, etc. I suppose this is a bit of an informal linguistics project, which is funny because I tried to take a linguistics class in grad school, and I lasted all of one day before dropping it. I’m sure my list isn’t completely exhaustive, and the words and definitions are listed in no particular order:

legend – A generic compliment as in, “What a legend!”

slagging – insulting in a light-hearted way

rubber – This is one of those sexually-connotated confusions for an American. Here, it just means an eraser.

sorted – figured out

scheme – program

for ages – a long time

space button – space bar

biscuits – cookies

hiya – hello

have a go – go

trainers – athletic shoes

physio – doctor

keep her lit – A generic encouragement, as in “Keep going!”

sultanas – raisins

postman – mailman

tidied – clean

called – This word is used in place of “named” to describe someone’s name, i.e. “He is called Gary.”

craic – Another confusion, as this is pronounced the same way as “crack.” Very loosely, here it means “fun.” But the phrase “What’s the craic?” is also a generic greeting, much like “How are you?”

training – As a part of the sports world over here, I hear this one a lot. It means “practice.” As in, “Are you coming to training tonight?”

cheeky – mean, antagonistic

class – great, awesome

grand – good

burds – ladies

aye – yeah/yes

kits – uniforms

pandering – networking, sucking up, trying to impress

loads – lots

keen – in favor of

sweets – candy

bollocks – Literally, this means testicles, but mainly it is used as a profanity. So after I miss a free throw, I might yell, “Bollocks!”

shop – This is another funny one because of course we say this one a lot in the States, too. But here it can be used more generically for little stores, restaurants, etc. “Hey, let’s go down to the shop to get a Coke.”

pint – This word is more about the substance than the measurement. If someone asks you to go for a pint, they want to know if you’ll get a beer with them.

rubbish – trash, used either literally or figuratively

posh – ritzy

suit – Someone might ask, “Does this suit?” It means fit or work.

queue – Another common word here. Means “line.”

wanker – A swear word, something you would call someone, that means literally “a jerk-off.”

dead on – This phrase means right or good or set. So “I’m dead on” might mean I’m feeling fine or even better than fine.

mate – friend or buddy, very generically

bins – trash cans

toilets – So in the U.S., toilets are something you find in the bathroom or restroom. A very essential part, of course. But bathroom and restroom are not common terms over, so instead you ask someone where the “toilets” are.

petrol – gas

have a Chinese/an Indian – This refers, believe it or not, to a Chinese or Indian meal. Not to be mistaken with a person of those nationalities…

sporty – athletic

at the minute – right now

spuds – potatoes

windscreen – windshield

diary – planner/calendar

for fuck’s sake! – A favorite here, this phrase is used as a generic profanity.

jumper – sweater

mental – crazy

lads – guys

ginger – red-haired

postcode – zipcode

gift voucher – gift card

have a think about it – think about it, brainstorm

so it/she/he is – This phrase is used to reinforce something someone says about something or another person.

takin’ a piss – joking, messing with somebody

cinema – movie theater

fair play to (him/her/you) – good for him/her/you

fuck up! – yeah right/you’re full of shit/whatever

grammar school – a selective secondary school

primary school – elementary school

secondary school – middle/high school

college – high school

maths – math

brilliant – Another word used very generically. You can assume it means some version of great.

lie in – sleep in

passing wind – farting

brush the floor – sweep

cheers – thank you

boot – trunk of a car

on holiday – on vacation

happy Christmas – Merry Christmas

knackered – tired, exhausted

bap – type of bread

 elastic bands – rubber bands

yous guys – you guys

mess about – mess around

ball-greedy – a ball-hog

footpath – sidewalk

lift – elevator

trolleys – shopping carts

work away – Someone might tell you this about some food that’s left over. “Go ahead and work away at the pizza.”

wee – The meaning of this word is the same in the States: little. But it’s used so much more over here; it’s literally one of their favorite words, the best I can tell. I hear this word a bizillion times a day.

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