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 maybe 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.
In Ireland, the word “feck” is so commonly used it is generally considered acceptable even in the most rarefied company. “Arse” is another one that you would 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."
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
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
Lomadh an Luain ort
Woe betide you
Nár éirí an lá leat
That you may not be successful on the day
Go dtachtfadh an diabhal thú
May the Devil choke you
A chonách san ort
It serves you right!
Go bhfaighir 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 zDevil may kill you
Náire agus aithis 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
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-imí 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-imigh 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
Buinneach dhearg go dtigidh ort
That you may have red diarrhoea