English as we speak it in Ireland/II

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The various Irish modes of affirming, denying, &c., will be understood from the examples given in this short chapter better than from any general observations.

The Irish ní'l lá fós é [neel law fo-say: it isn't day yet] is often used for emphasis in asseveration, even when persons are speaking English; but in this case the saying is often turned into English. ‘If the master didn't give Tim a tongue-dressing, ’tisn't day yet‘ (which would be said either by day or by night): meaning he gave him a very severe scolding. ‘When I saw the mad dog running at me, if I didn't get a fright, neel-law-fo-say.‘

‘I went to town yesterday in all the rain, and if I didn't get a wetting there isn't a cottoner in Cork‘: meaning I got a very great wetting. This saying is very common in Munster; and workers in cotton were numerous in Cork when it was invented.

A very usual emphatic ending to an assertion is seen in the following:—'That horse is a splendid animal and no mistake.'

I'll engage you visited Peggy when you were in town‘: i.e. I assert it without much fear of contradiction: I warrant. Much in the same sense we use I'll go bail:—‘I'll go bail you never got that money you lent to Tom’: ‘An illigant song he could sing I'll go bail’ (Lever): ‘You didn't meet your linnet (i.e. your girl—your sweetheart) this evening I'll go bail’ (Robert Dwyer Joyce in ‘The Beauty of the Blossom Gate’).

‘I'll hold you’ introduces an assertion with some emphasis: it is really elliptical: I'll hold you [a wager: but always a fictitious wager]. I'll hold you I'll finish that job by one o'clock, i.e. I'll warrant I will—you may take it from me that I will.

The phrase ‘if you go to that of it’ is often added on to a statement to give great emphasis, amounting almost to a sort of defiance of contradiction or opposition. ‘I don’t believe you could walk four miles an hour’: ‘Oh don’t you: I could then, or five if you go to that of it’: ‘I don't believe that Joe Lee is half as good a hurler as his brother Phil.’ ‘I can tell you he is then, and a great deal better if you go to that of it.’ Lowry Looby, speaking of St. Swithin, says:—‘He was then, buried more than once if you go to that of it.’ (Gerald Griffin: ‘Collegians’: Munster.)

‘Is it cold outside doors?’ Reply, ‘Aye is it,’ meaning ‘it is certainly.’ An emphatic assertion (after the Gaelic construction) frequently heard is ‘Ah then, ’tis I that wouldn't like to be in that fight.’ ‘Ah ’tis my mother that will be delighted.’

‘What did he do to you?’ ‘He hit me with his stick, so he did, and it is a great shame, so it is.’ ‘I like a cup of tea at night, so I do.’ In the South an expression of this kind is very often added on as a sort of clincher to give emphasis. Similar are the very usual endings as seen in these assertions:—‘He is a great old schemer, that's what he is’: ‘I spoke up to the master and showed him he was wrong—I did begob.’

I asked a man one day: ‘Well, how is the young doctor going on in his new place?’ and he replied ‘Ah, how but well’; which he meant to be very emphatic: and then he went on to give particulars.

A strong denial is often expressed in the following way: ‘This day will surely be wet, so don't forget your umbrella’: ‘What a fool I am’: as much as to say, ‘I should be a fool indeed to go without an umbrella to-day, and I think there's no mark of a fool about me.’ ‘Now Mary don't wait for the last train [from Howth] for there will be an awful crush.’ ‘What a fool I'd be ma’am.’ ‘Oh Mr. Lory I thought you were gone home [from the dance] two hours ago’: ‘What a fool I am,’ replies Lory (‘Knocknagow’), equivalent to ‘I hadn't the least notion of making such a fool of myself while there's such fun here.’ This is heard everywhere in Ireland, ‘from the centre all round to the sea.’

Much akin to this is Nelly Donovan's reply to Billy Heffernan who had made some flattering remark to her:—‘Arrah now Billy what sign of a fool do you see on me?’ (‘Knocknagow.’)

An emphatic assertion or assent: ‘Yesterday was very wet.’ Reply:—‘You may say it was,’ or ‘you may well say that.’

‘I'm greatly afeard he'll try to injure me.’ Answer:—‘’Tis fear for you’ (emphasis on for), meaning ‘you have good reason to be afeard’: merely a translation of the Irish is eagal duitse.

‘Oh I'll pay you what I owe you.’ ‘’Tis a pity you wouldn’t indeed,’ says the other, a satirical reply, meaning ‘of course you will and no thanks to you for that; who'd expect otherwise?’

‘I am going to the fair to-morrow, as I want to buy a couple of cows.’ Reply, ‘I know,’ as much as to say ‘I see,’ ‘I understand.’ This is one of our commonest terms of assent.

An assertion or statement introduced by the words ‘to tell God’s truth’ is always understood to be weighty and somewhat unexpected, the introductory words being given as a guarantee of its truth:—‘Have you the rest of the money you owe me ready now James?’ ‘Well to tell God's truth I was not able to make it all up, but I can give you £5.’

Another guarantee of the same kind, though not quite so solemn, is ‘my hand to you,’ or ‘I give you my hand and word.’ ‘My hand to you I'll never rest till the job is finished.’ ‘Come and hunt with me in the wood, and my hand to you we shall soon have enough of victuals for both of us.’ (Clarence Mangan in Ir. Pen. Journ.)

‘I've seen—and here's my hand to you I only say what's true—
A many a one with twice your stock not half so proud as you.’
(Clarence Mangan.)

‘Do you know your Catechism?’ Answer, ‘What would ail me not to know it?’ meaning ‘of course I do—’twould be a strange thing if I didn't.’ ‘Do you think you can make that lock all right?’ ‘Ah what would ail me,’ i.e., ‘no doubt I can—of course I can; if I couldn't do that it would be a sure sign that something was amiss with me—that something ailed me.’

‘Believe Tom and who’ll believe you’: a way of saying that Tom is not telling truth.

An emphatic ‘yes’ to a statement is often expressed in the following way:—‘This is a real wet day.’ Answer, ‘I believe you.’ ‘I think you made a good bargain with Tim about that field.’ ‘I believe you I did.’

A person who is offered anything he is very willing to take, or asked to do anything he is anxious to do, often answers in this way:—‘James, would you take a glass of punch?’ or ‘Tom, will you dance with my sister in the next round?’ In either case the answer is, ‘Would a duck swim?’

A weak sort of assent is often expressed in this way:—‘Will you bring Nelly's book to her when you are going home, Dan?’ Answer, ‘I don’t mind,’ or ‘I don’t mind if I do.’

To express unbelief in a statement or disbelief in the usefulness or effectiveness of any particular line of action, a person says ‘that’s all in my eye,’ or ‘’Tis all in my eye, Betty Martin—O’; but this last is regarded as slang.

Sometimes an unusual or unexpected statement is introduced in the following manner, the introductory words being usually spoken quickly:—‘Now do you know what I'm going to tell you—that ragged old chap has £200 in the bank.’ In Derry they make it—‘Now listen to what I'm going to say.’

In some parts of the South and West and Northwest, servants and others have a way of replying to directions that at first sounds strange or even disrespectful:—'Biddy, go up please to the drawing-room and bring me down the needle and thread and stocking you will find on the table.' 'That will do ma'am,' replies Biddy, and off she goes and brings them. But this is their way of saying 'yes ma'am,' or 'Very well ma'am.'

So also you say to the hotel-keeper:—'Can I have breakfast please to-morrow morning at 7 o'clock?' 'That will do sir.' This reply in fact expresses the greatest respect, as much as to say, 'A word from you is quite enough.'

'I caught the thief at my potatoes.' 'No, but did you?' i.e., is it possible you did so? A very common exclamation, especially in Ulster.

'Oh man' is a common exclamation to render an assertion more emphatic, and sometimes to express surprise:—'Oh man, you never saw such a fine race as we had.' In Ulster they duplicate it, with still the same application:—'Oh man-o-man that's great rain.' 'Well John you'd hardly believe it, but I got £50 for my horse to-day at the fair.' Reply, 'Oh man that's a fine price.'

'Never fear' is heard constantly in many parts of Ireland as an expression of assurance:—'Now James don't forget the sugar.' 'Never fear ma'am.' 'Ah never fear there will be plenty flowers in that garden this year.' 'You will remember to have breakfast ready at 7 o'clock.' 'Never fear sir,' meaning 'making your mind easy on the point—it will be all right.' Never fear is merely a translation of the equally common Irish phrase, ná bí heagal ort.

Most of our ordinary salutations are translations from Irish. Go m-beannuighe Dia dhuit is literally 'May God bless you,' or 'God bless you' which is a usual salutation in English. The commonest of all our salutes is 'God save you,' or (for a person entering a house) 'God save all here'; and the response is 'God save you kindly' ('Knocknagow'); where kindly means 'of a like kind,' 'in like manner,' 'similarly.' Another but less usual response to the same salutation is, 'And you too,' which is appropriate. ('Knocknagow.') 'God save all here' is used all over Ireland except in the extreme North, where it is hardly understood.

To the ordinary salutation, 'Good-morrow,' which is heard everywhere, the usual response is 'Good-morrow kindly.' 'Morrow Wat,' said Mr. Lloyd. 'Morrow kindly,' replied Wat. ('Knocknagow.') 'The top of the morning to you' is used everywhere, North and South.

In some places if a woman throws out water at night at the kitchen door, she says first, 'Beware of the water,' lest the 'good people' might happen to be passing at the time, and one or more of them might get splashed.

A visitor coming in and finding the family at dinner:—'Much good may it do you.'

In very old times it was a custom for workmen on completing any work and delivering it finished to give it their blessing. This blessing was called abarta (an old word, not used in modern Irish), and if it was omitted the workman was subject to a fine to be deducted from his hire equal to the seventh part of the cost of his feeding. (Senchus Mór and 'Cormac's Glossary.') It was especially incumbent on women to bless the work of other women. This custom, which is more than a thousand years old, has descended to our day; for the people on coming up to persons engaged in work of any kind always say 'God bless your work,' or its equivalent original in Irish, Go m-beannuighe Dia air bhur n-obair. (See my 'Social History of Ancient Ireland,' II., page 324.)

In modern times tradesmen have perverted this pleasing custom into a new channel not so praise-worthy. On the completion of any work, such as a building, they fix a pole with a flag on the highest point to ask the employer for his blessing, which means money for a drink.