Our lingo for love: how the Irish talk about sex

From ‘shift’ to doing a ‘line’, we have always found colourful ways to describe love and sex

Few things get people more animated than asking what language they've heard used for "relations" – the sexual ones, not the familial ones. There's not a huge amount of entertainment in announcing that you sometimes spice up your familial life by calling your gran "the maternal forebear". But when I asked on Facebook what local sexual lingo people hold in their arsenals, the response was . . . enthusiastic.

My page blew up with all the weird and wonderful ways we Irish have of saying we got lucky. People I hadn't spoken to in years got in touch with their regional contributions to the Irish shifting industry. The list became so large that it read like an Irish parody of Paul Simon's 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, reworked as 50 Ways to Say You Rode Her.

Surprisingly for a country as compact as ours, we can be so cinched into our own little boroughs, our own accents and mating rituals. I’m not implying that the midlands make love like whiptail lizards while Dubliners swallow each other whole after intercourse, but light mating rituals do vary. As a result there seem to be a million ways to say you got physical with someone – and the more creative the better. We love wordplay or a clever analogy. “I wouldn’t ride them if they’d pedals” is currently having a moment in the east of the country.

Usually we'll announce that we got 'the ride', like it were a stand-alone thing, as if we seduced a good-looking genital we found in a bar

But “shift” is still our favoured term for some tongue-on-tongue action. “Shift” is so close to our hearts that, even though we as a nation turn over a lot of love lingo, “shift” has survived the cultural cull of so many other terms. “I got off with them”, “met them”, “wore them” and “fleeked them” are all still alive in some parts, but they have generally dissolved out of mainstream love chat and been replaced with more modern terms, such as “score” and “smooch”. (“Smooch” sounds to me like that thing babies do to biscuits: fine to watch but not something I want done to my face.)


Elsewhere in the world, "who are you wearing?" is asked of celebs as they glide around red carpets, answering with the names of designers such as Alexander Wang or Karl Lagerfeld. In Dublin, however, the answer is more likely to be "A mot from Chapelizod".

When it comes to the full how’s your father, there are various ways of announcing your news to friends. In Cork you could say you “flahed” someone, which sounds like corporal punishment. But as for the country’s top answer, there’s only one way we roll, and that’s “riding”. Usually we’ll announce that we got “the ride”, like it were a stand-alone thing, as if we seduced a good-looking genital we found in a bar – just an easy-going penis, sitting there, enjoying his paper and a pint.

It should also be mentioned that, in some parts, “fleek” and “shift” can also mean the whole hog, but this feels like the result of intentional resistance to change.

I went lunching with my mother and my aunt to find out how their generation spoke about bumping uglies.

Mom went straight in with the stock mom response. “Well, in our day, Joanne, there was very little in that way, because of course we would have been married before anything like that happened, and so we didn’t really talk about . . .”


My aunt cut across her, as if objecting in court.

“We’d say ‘I jagged him,’ or we’d say ‘Did ye smell diesel off him?’ because if he stank of diesel it meant he’d a car, so you’d go with him for the wheels.”

'Squitching'! We'd say we squitched him!"

She paused, and then her eyes lit up again. "Oh, and if he'd nathin' much going on in the trouser department you'd say, 'Oh, he's got no ballroom like Athenry, ' because everyone knew Athenry had no ballroom."

My aunt sat back, delighted with herself.

My mom was trying to look like this was all news to her by keeping her eyes bizarrely wide.

“Really, Margo? This is all news to me.”

“ ‘Hussy’ was another one!” My aunt was off again. “Or we’d say, ‘She was some wan,’ or we’d ask, ‘Is it a serious line or a casual line?’ Ye know, a once-off.”

“Well now, Margo . . .” My mother put down her cappuccino and tried to remain calm. “It was always a serious line, wasn’t it? We wouldn’t have been involved in anything ‘casual’, now, would we?”

She was speaking through a gritted smile and throwing daggers at my aunt, who was too busy time-travelling back to 1960s Ireland to take any notice of it.

“‘Squitching’! We’d say we squitched him!”

“All right now, Margo. That’s enough!”

The language of love is fertile ground in Ireland.