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.
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.
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 Devil 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.
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-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.