54 Irish curses you won't have learned in school

If your store of swear words as Gaeilge is lacking, try some of these old phrases

Call your kitty into service with the phrase, ‘Mallacht mo chait ort’ – My cat’s curse upon you. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Call your kitty into service with the phrase, ‘Mallacht mo chait ort’ – My cat’s curse upon you. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

 

One question I am sometimes asked as a native Irish speaker is why Irish has no swear words or slang associated with it. The answer of course is that it does, but such words and sayings are rarely, if ever, taught in our schools. Rightly or wrongly, the degree to which we are able to curse and swear with any degree fluency will never be measured in an exam.

And perhaps we are the worse for it. I can’t think of many better ways of learning a language than by celebrating its aesthetic characteristics.

Of course in most cases, the swear words, curses and slang many of us encountered in our formative years first reached our ears outside the classroom.

I remember as a child returning to school after our summer holidays in the west of Ireland armed with an arsenal of words such as crabadán, bobarún and búbaire and, to the amusement of the teachers, phrases such as buinneach shíor ort and a dhiabhal de phogaí among others.

Can you imagine the opprobrium if cursing and swearing were to suddenly feature on the curriculum?

Perhaps we are indeed missing out when it comes to the vocabulary we learn in school. After all, what better measure of determining how proficient we are in a language, than by gauging the varied degree to which we can express our emotions in the heat of the moment when we really want to make a point.

Naturally enough, double standards apply when it comes to cursing or swearing in our everyday speech. As with many social conventions, there are ways around the rules allowing us to forgive ourselves the occasional use of the profane.

Irish-speaking peasants

In Ireland, the word “feck” is so commonly used it is generally considered acceptable and even in the most rarefied company, “arse” is another one that you would probably get away with.

Flann O’Brien once joked in a column in The Irish Times that the average English speaker gets along with a mere 400 words while the Irish-speaking peasant uses at least 4,000.

“Your paltry English speaker apprehends sea-going craft through the infantile cognition which merely distinguishes the small from the big,” he wrote.

“If it’s small, it’s a boat, and if it’s large, it’s a ship. In his great book, An tOileánach, however, the uneducated Tomás Ó Criomhthain uses perhaps a dozen words to convey the concept of varying super-marinity – áthrach long, soitheach, bád, naomhóg, bád raice, galbhád, púcán and whatever you're having yourself.”

Flann O’Brien once joked in an Irish Times column that the average English speaker gets along with a mere 400 words while the Irish-speaking peasant uses at least 4,000.
Flann O’Brien once joked in an Irish Times column that the average English speaker gets along with a mere 400 words while the Irish-speaking peasant uses at least 4,000.

He went on to suggest that in Donegal there were native speakers who knew so many million words that it was a matter of pride with them never to use the same word twice in a life-time.

While he was mostly writing tongue-in-cheek, he did have a point. Language communicates a culture’s most important norms and influences how we see the world. Irish is no different in this regard and boasts a versatile lexicon symptomatic of a rich oral tradition.

As if to illustrate the point, one word I was delighted to be called recently by my three-year-old nephew was “priompallán”. Look it up in focloir.ie.

For those who prefer be more illustrative in their use of Irish, I recommend a visit to dúchas.ie. The National Folklore Collection there includes the Schools’ Collection an archive of folklore and local traditions compiled by pupils from 5,000 primary schools between 1937 and 1939. A short time spent reading the online collection will have you in stitches.

Loscadh is dó ort

That you may be burned and scorched

Droch chrích ort

Bad ending upon you

Imeacht gan teacht ort

That you may leave without returning

Go dtuitfeadh an tigh ort

That your house will fall upon you

Go mbrise an diabhal do chnámha

That the Devil will break your bones

Droch áird chúgat lá gaoithe

That you may be badly positioned on a windy day

Nár chuire Dia ar do leas thú

That God will never grant you peace

Mallacht mo chait ort

My cat’s curse upon you

Mallacht na baintrí ort

A widow’s curse upon you

Mallacht Dé ort

God’s curse upon you

Go mbrise an diabhal do dhá chois

That the Devil may break your legs

Go ndéana an diabhal dréimire do chnámh do dhroma

That the Devil will make a ladder out of your spine

Fán fada ort

Long may you be astray

Léan ort

Sorrow betide you

Go mbrise an diabhal cnámh do dhroma

That the Devil may break your spine

Go dtitfidh an oíche ort

That night will befall you

Briseadh agus brú ort

Strife and stress upon you

Go ndéanfaidh an diabhal cipín dod’ dhá chois

That the Devil makes splinters of your legs

Dó agus bascadh ort

May you burn and be severely injured

An áit thíos atá ceapaithe duit, a dhiabhal.

It is the place below that is meant for you, you devil

Go ndalladh an diabhal thú

That the Devil may blind you

Lagú cléibh ort

Weariness of heart upon you

Breith i bpoll cúng ort

That you may be caught in the grave

Go stolladh an diabhal thú

That the Devil may lacerate you

Go séideadh an diabhal san aer tú

May the Devil blow you into the air

Lomad an Luain ort

Woe betide you

Nár eirigh an lá leat

That you may not be successful on the day

Go dtachtfadh an diabhal thú

May the Devil choke you

29. A chonách san ort

It serves you right!

Go bhfaghaine bás gan an sagart

I hope you die without a priest

Galar an bháis ort

The disease of death upon you

Nára bheire an mhaidin ort

That you may not see the morning

Nár thagair abhaile slán

That you may not come home safe

Imeacht gan do thuairisc ort

That you may never be heard of again

Go marbhaí an diabhal tú

That the Devil may kill you

Náire agus aithir chugat

That you may be shamed and disgraced

Ualach sé chapall de chré na h-úire ort

Six horseloads of graveyard clay upon you

Imeacht go fánach ort féin is ar do chnapán miúlach

Off with you and your lousy lump

Tuirse ort

That you may tire

Go n-ullamhuighe an diabhal teinne dhuit

That the Devil may prepare a fire for you

Nár a cuire Dia aon crích cóir ort

That God does not grant you a proper end

Go n-imi an droch aimsir leat

That the bad weather leaves with you

Dul go h-olc ort

Bad luck to you

Go mbeire an dá dhiabhal deag leo tú

That the twelve devils take you with them

Go n-imi na seacht diabhail deag atá i n-Ifrionn i’d dhiaidh.

May hell’s 17 devils go after you

Nách mór an diabhal thú

Aren’t you the devil

Is ceann de’s na h-óinseacha diabhail thú

You are one of the Devil’s fools

Mullach do chinn fút

That you may fall on your head

Go dtachtar le d’anáil thú

That you may choke on your breath

Buineach dhearg go dtigidh ort

That you may have red diarrhoea

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