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English words of Irish origin



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This is a list of English language words from the Celtic Irish language. For English words which originated in Ireland from other sources see Hiberno-English.

Dictionary abbreviations:

  • AHD: The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, hosted at Bartleby.com
  • M-W: Meriam-Webster, hosted at webster.com
  • OED: The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English (7th ed. 1982)
  • RH: Random House Unabridged Dictionary, hosted at Dictionary.com

English words from the Irish language

alannah
from Irish a leanbh, "Oh, Child" (OED).
banshee
from Irish bean sídhe, "woman of fairyland" (M-W), "...of the fairies" (AHD) or "...of a fairy mound" (RH). The Modern Irish word for woman is bean /bæn/ and síd(h) (or in modern spelling) is an Irish term referring to a 'fairy mound'. (See Sidhe.)
bard
a poet. From Irish and Scottish Gaelic bárd and Welsh bardd. Originally from Old Celtic *bardos (OED).
bog
(from bogach, 'a bog', or bog, 'soft') a piece of wet spongy ground (OED).
boreen
(from bóithrín) a small country road
brogues
(from bróig, a shoe) A type of shoe (OED).
brogue
A strong regional accent, especially an Irish one. Presumably used originally with reference to the footwear of speakers of the brogue (OED).
callow
A low-lying meadow by an Irish river, liable to be flooded; a water-meadow. Also in adjectival use. This is the same as the English callow (originally, 'bald', or 'unfeathered', and now often 'inexperienced'), itself cognate with the Irish calbh (bald), and is a particularly Irish usage (OED).
colleen
(from cailín, countrywoman) girl (usually referring to an Irish girl) (OED).
craic (crack)
fun, used in Ireland for fun/enjoyment, often when mixed with alcohol and/or music. The word came to Ireland from Ulster or Scots dialects of English. The modern Gaelicized spelling craic, although preferred by most of the Irish people, is sometimes controversial, decried as faux-Irish.[1]
dig
to understand, as stereotypically used by American hippies, among others. From the Irish 'tuig', to understand.
drum
(from droim, 'back') A ridge often separating two long narrow valleys; a long narrow ridge of drift or diluvial formation (OED).
drumlin
(from droim, 'back' with a diminutive) A small rounded hill of glacial formation, often seen in series (OED).
esker
(from eiscir) an elongated mound of post-glacial gravel, usually along a river valley (OED).
Fenian
A member of a 19th century Irish nationalist group. From Old Irish fené, the name of an ancient Irish people, but confused with fíann, a legendary band of warriors (OED).
fiacre
a small four-wheeled carriage for hire, a hackney-coach. This derives from the Old Irish given name Fiacre (of uncertain meaning, perhaps 'battle king', perhaps 'little raven'). Saint Fiacre was a seventh century Irish saint for whom an inn in Paris that hired carriages was named. (OED)
galore
plenty, a lot. From go leor, Irish for to sufficiency. (OED)
gob
(literally beak) mouth. Perhaps from Irish. (OED)
keen
(from caoinim, 'to wail') to lament, to wail mournfully (OED).
kybosh (International English) kibosh (American English)
'To put the kybosh on' is to do for something, finish it off, or simply to end it or terminate it. The OED says the origin is obscure and possibly Hebrew Yiddish, but it may be from the Irish an cháip bháis, 'the cap of death' [2] or cabáiste, cabbage [3].
leprechaun
elf, sprite (from leipreachán, from lu 'small' and corp 'body') (OED). Alternate sources are leith bhrogain or leath bhrogan, "shoemaker", as the creature is often said to be a shoemaker by profession.
loch
(from loch) A lake, or arm of the sea; this has entered English by various routes; one derivation is most obvious (but then the spelling is usually 'lough'), and in Anglo-Irish and in various northern English dialects the origin is Gaelic.
poteen
(from poitín, 'small pot') hooch, bootleg alcoholic drink (OED)
Puck, pook, pooka
possibly related to púca (a pooka, a hobgoblin, a bogey, a sprite), poker, an evil demon, a mischievous sprite or spirit; a hobgoblin
shamrock
from seamróg ('trefoil'), a clover, used as a symbol for Ireland (OED).
Shan Van Vocht
from SeanBhean Bhocht (a poor old woman), "Poor Old Woman", a literary name for Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries
shebeen
unlicensed house selling alcohol, from Irish síbín, a mugful (OED).
shillelagh
a wooden club or cudgel made from a stout knotty stick with a large knob on the end
Sidhe
(pronounced 'she') the fairy folk of Ireland, from (aos) sídhe (OED). See banshee.
sleeveen
(also slieveen, sleiveen) an untrustworthy or cunning person, from the Irish slíbhín. Used in Ireland and Newfoundland. (OED)
slew
from sluagh, a large number; a great amount (OED). NB: as in a slew of new products, not as in slay.
slob
from slab mud (OED)
smithereens
small fragments, atoms. In phrases such as 'to explode into smithereens'. This is the word smithers (of obscure origin) with the Irish diminutive ending. Whether it derives from the modern Irish smidrín or is the source of this word is unclear (OED).
tilly
(from tuilleadh, 'an additional quantity, supplement') used in Ireland and places of Irish settlement such as Newfoundland to refer to an additional article or amount unpaid for by the purchaser, as a gift from the vendor (OED).
Tory
originally an Irish outlaw, probably from the Irish verb tóir, meaning "pursue" (OED).
whiskey
from uisce beatha, 'water of life' (OED). However, the diminutive of water, i.e. 'little water' (the same literal meaning of Russian vodka) is just as reasonable; -in, -an, -een, -i, -kin (most with long 'ee' or IPA /i/) are diminutive endings in Modern and Old Irish.

See also

  1. ^ Ó Muirithe, Diarmaid (1992-12-05). "The Words We Use", The Irish Times, p. 27. ; reprinted in Ó Muirithe, Diarmaid (October 2006). The Words We Use. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan. pp. 154–5. ISBN 9780717140800. 
  2. ^ Blenkinsop, Stanley (August 30, 2004). "Who or what is the kybosh?; Questions Answered". The Times. 
  3. ^ O'Hescain, Donal Og (September 1, 2004). "Who or what is the kybosh?; Questions Answered". The Times. 







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Published - January 2009


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