English as we speak it in Ireland/X
|←IX. Exaggeration and Redundancy||English as we speak it in Ireland by
|XI. The Memory of History and of Old Customs→|
Some of the items in this chapter would fit very well in the last; but this makes no matter; for 'good punch drinks well from either dandy or tumbler.'
You attempt in vain to bring a shameless coarse-minded man to a sense of the evil he has done:—'Ye might as well put a blister on a hedgehog.' (Tyrone.)
You're as cross all this day as a bag of cats.
If a man is inclined to threaten much but never acts up to his threats—severe in word but mild in act:—His bark is worse than his bite.
That turf is as dry as a bone (very common in Munster.) Bone-dry is the term in Ulster.
When a woman has very thick legs, thick almost down to the feet, she is 'like a Mullingar heifer, beef to the heels.' The plains of Westmeath round Mullingar are noted for fattening cattle.
He died roaring like Doran's bull.
A person restless, uneasy, fidgety, and impatient for the time being, is 'like a hen on a hot griddle.'
Of a scapegrace it is said he is past grace like a limeburner's brogue (shoe). The point will be caught up when it is remembered that grease is pronounced grace in Ireland.
You're as blind as a bat.
When a person is boastful—magnifies all his belongings—'all his geese are swans.'
She has a tongue that would clip a hedge. The tongue of another would clip clouts (cut rags). (Ulster.)
He went as fast as hops. When a fellow is hopping along on one leg, he has to go fast, without stopping.
Of a coarse ill-mannered man who uses unmannerly language:—'What could you expect from a pig but a grunt.' (Carlow.)
A person who seems to be getting smaller is growing down like a cow's tail.
Of a wiry muscular active man people say 'he's as hard as nails.'
A person who acts inconsiderately and rudely without any restraint and without respect for others, is 'like a bull in a china shop.'
Of a clever artful schemer: 'If he didn't go to school he met the scholars.'
An active energetic person is 'all alive like a bag of fleas.'
That man knows no more about farming than a cow knows of a holiday.
A tall large woman:—'That's a fine doorful of a woman.' (MacCall: Wexford.)
He has a face as yellow as a kite's claw. (Crofton Croker: but heard everywhere.)
Jerry in his new clothes is as proud as a whitewashed pig. (MacCall: Wexford.)
That man is as old as a field. (Common in Tipperary.)
'Are you well protected in that coat?' 'Oh yes I'm as warm as wool.' (Very common in the south.)
Idle for want of weft like the Drogheda weavers. Said of a person who runs short of some necessary material in doing any work. (Limerick.)
I watched him as closely as a cat watches a mouse.
He took up the book; but seeing the owner suddenly appear, he dropped it like a hot potato.
'You have a head and so has a pin,' to express contempt for a person's understanding.
How are your new stock of books selling? Oh they are going like hot cakes. Hot cakes are a favourite viand, and whenever they are brought to table disappear quickly enough.
He's as poor as a church mouse.
A person expressing love mockingly:—'Come into my heart and pick sugar.'
An extremely thin emaciated person is like death upon wires; alluding to a human skeleton held together by wires.
Oh you need never fear that Mick O'Brien will cheat you: Mick is as honest as the sun.
A person who does not persevere in any one study or pursuit, who is perpetually changing about from one thing to another, is 'like a daddy-long-legs dancing on a window.'
A bitter tongue that utters cutting words is like the keen wind of March that blows at every side of the hedge.
A person praising strong whiskey says:—I felt it like a torchlight procession going down my throat.
A man with a keen sharp look in his face:—'He has an eye like a questing hawk.' Usually said in an unfavourable sense.
If any commodity is supplied plentifully it is knocked about like snuff at a wake. Snuff was supplied free at wakes; and the people were not sparing of it as they got it for nothing.
A chilly day:—'There's a stepmother's breath in the air.'
Now Biddy clean and polish up those spoons and knives and forks carefully; don't stop till you make them shine like a cat's eye under a bed. (Limerick.)
It is foolish to threaten unless you have—and show that you have—full power to carry out your threats:—'Don't show your teeth till you're able to bite.'
Greasing the fat sow's lug: i.e. giving money or presents to a rich man who does not need them. (Kildare.)
I went on a visit to Tom and he fed me like a fighting cock.
That little chap is as cute as a pet fox.
A useless worthless fellow:—He's fit to mind mice at a cross-roads. (Kildare.)
How did he look? Oh he had a weaver's blush—pale cheek and a red nose. (Wexford.)
When a person clinches an argument, or puts a hard fact in opposition, or a poser of any kind hard to answer:—'Put that in your pipe and smoke it.'
'My stomach is as dry as a lime-burner's wig.' There were professional lime-burners then: alas, we have none now.
I want a drink badly: my throat is as dry as the pipe of Dick the blacksmith's bellows.
Poor Manus was terribly frightened; he stood shaking like a dog in a wet sack. (Crofton Croker: but heard everywhere in Ireland.)
'As happy as the days are long': that is to say happy while the days last—uninterruptedly happy.
Spending your money before you get it—going in debt till pay day comes round: that's 'eating the calf in the cow's belly.'
He hasn't as much land as would sod a lark; as much as would make a sod for a lark in a cage.
That fellow is as crooked an a ram's horn; i.e. he is a great schemer. Applied also in general to anything crooked.
'Do you mean to say he is a thief?' 'Yes I do; last year he stole sheep as often as he has fingers and toes' (meaning very often).
You're as welcome as the flowers of May.
'Biddy, are the potatoes boiling?' Biddy takes off the lid to look, and replies 'The white horses are on 'em ma'am.' The white horses are patches of froth on the top of the pot when the potatoes are coming near boiling.
That's as firm as the Rock of Cashel—as firm as the hob of hell.
That man would tell lies as fast as a horse would trot.
A person who does his business briskly and energetically 'works like a hatter'—'works like a nailer'—referring to the fussy way of these men plying their trade.
A conceited fellow having a dandy way of lifting and placing his legs and feet in moving about 'walks like a hen in stubbles.'
A person who is cool and collected under trying circumstances is 'as cool as a cucumber.' Here the alliteration helps to popularise the saying.
I must put up the horses now and have them 'as clean as a new pin' for the master.
A person who does good either to an individual or to his family or to the community, but afterwards spoils it all by some contrary course of conduct, is like a cow that fills the pail, but kicks it over in the end.
A person quite illiterate 'wouldn't know a B from a bull's foot.' The catching point here is partly alliteration, and partly that a bull's foot has some resemblance to a B.
Another expression for an illiterate man:—He wouldn't know a C from a chest of drawers—where there is a weak alliteration.
He'll tell you a story as long as to-day and to-morrow. Long enough: for you have to wait on indefinitely for 'to-morrow': or as they say 'to-morrow come never.'
'You'll lose that handkerchief as sure as a gun.'
That furrow is as straight as a die.
A person who does neither good nor harm—little ill, little good—is 'like a chip in porridge': almost always said as a reproach.
I was on pins and needles till you came home: i.e. I was very uneasy.
The story went round like wildfire: i.e. circulated rapidly.
Of a person very thin:—He's 'as fat as a hen in the forehead.'
A man is staggering along—not with drink:—That poor fellow is 'drunk with hunger like a showman's dog.'
Dick and Bill are 'as great as inkle-weavers:' a saying very common in Limerick and Cork. Inkle is a kind of broad linen tape: a Shakespearian word. 'Several pieces of it were formerly woven in the same loom, by as many boys, who sat close together on the same seat-board.' (Dr. A. Hume.)
William is 'the spit out of his father's mouth'; i.e. he is strikingly like his father either in person or character or both. Another expression conveying the same sense:—'Your father will never die while you are alive': and 'he's a chip off the old block.' Still another, though not quite so strong:—'He's his father's son.' Another saying to the same effect—'kind father for him'—is examined elsewhere.
'I'm a man in myself like Oliver's bull,' a common saying in my native place (in Limerick), and applied to a confident self-helpful person. The Olivers were the local landlords sixty or seventy years ago. (For a tune with this name see my 'Old Irish Music and Songs,' p. 46.)
A person is asked to do any piece of work which ought to be done by his servant:—'Aye indeed, keep a dog and bark myself.'
That fellow walks as straight up and stiff as if he took a breakfast of ramrods.
A man who passes through many dangers or meets with many bad accidents and always escapes has 'as many lives as a cat.' Everyone knows that a cat has nine lives.
Putting on the big pot means empty boasting and big talk. Like a woman who claps a large pot of water on the fire to boil a weeny little bit of meat—which she keeps out of sight—pretending she has launa-vaula, lashings and leavings, full and plenty.
If a man is in low spirits—depressed—down in the mouth—'his heart is as low as a keeroge's kidney' (keeroge, a beetle or clock). This last now usually said in jest.
James O'Brien is a good scholar, but he's not in it with Tom Long: meaning that he is not at all to be compared with Tom Long.
If a person is indifferent about any occurrence—doesn't care one way or the other—he is 'neither glad nor sorry like a dog at his father's wake.' (South.)