10 English Colloquial Phrases or Words to Learn Before You Travel to Dublin

Aug 4, 2023 2:03:49 PM / by Julie Ritz

Every country has their own idioms that mean something totally different than what they first appear to. You might say to your friend, “Wow! That cost an arm and a leg.” If someone from another country heard you- well, let’s just hope they don’t take it literally or they may get worried! If you think about it, you can probably come up with quite a few other unique phrases you use in daily life.

This is a common phenomenon that you'll encounter no matter where you go. To help you out, we’ve rounded up 10 important English colloquial phrases to know in Dublin that will help you speak like the locals!


1. What's the craic? = What’s up?/ What’s the news?/ Hello!

This phrase has a lot of meanings that all mean pretty much the same thing- just wondering what’s going on! It’s a friendly way to greet someone and something you’ll hear often.

2. Away with the fairies = out of touch with reality

This phrase comes from old folklore about people who would go to visit fairies. They’d think they were only away for a few hours, but when they came back, they would have been gone for a long time.

3. Get your finger out = to hurry or get on quickly

Why would you need to use your fingers to hurry? This phrase has origins as a nautical term when fingers were used to pack powder into cannons, and you had to move them quickly to avoid getting hurt.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Dublin_Spring2017_From Nathan Overlock Craic 1.jpg

4. Bucketing down = raining hard

Although we use the phrase “it’s raining buckets out there” in the US, we don’t shorten it to “bucketing down”. Both phrases indicate that the rain is so heavy, it’s like it’s being poured out of a bucket.

5. Nearly never bulled a cow = close isn’t good enough

This is similar to a phrase used in the US, “close but no cigar”. It means something that has almost happened, but alas, was not able to be completed.

6. Donkey’s years = a long time

This might be similar to saying “dog’s years” in the US, but it used a lot more often in Ireland. If something takes a long time, it’s taking donkey’s years.

7. Hen's teeth = anything hard or impossible to find

Do hen even have teeth? The world may never know, since they’re so hard to find. If something is rare or valuable, it’s just like finding hen’s teeth.

8. A whale of a time = enjoying something a lot

Whales are big. If you’re enjoying something a lot, that’s a big feeling. Therefore, a whale of a good time is an extremely pleasing moment!

9. Acting the maggot = not being serious/ and/or annoying

If you like to mess around with your friends or have a careless attitude, then you often act the maggot. This can be interpreted as being annoying or irritating.

10. Sucking diesel = things are going very well

If you’re sucking diesel, things are looking up for you. It’s similar to saying you’re on a roll or in a groove. This phrase is a reference to syphoning fuel and successfully getting the valuable liquid.

There's so much more to learn than 10 phrases to speak like a Dubliner, so if you want to learn more, try going there and learning them yourself! 

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Topics: Dublin, Ireland, Language

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