Cavanese: English as spoken in Cavan.



Most people are sensitive to the fact that the English spoken in Cavan (along with that spoken in any region of Ireland) contains some non-standard words and phrases. I have said and written on innumerable occasions how Cavan stands at a type of geographical and cultural crossroads; this is reflected in its particular argot by the juxtaposition of elements from Irish, Ulster Scots and English, sometimes archaic. The frontiers of the county embrace many different sub-comital identities broader than the parochial, so it is possible to isolate elements from different areas, along with differences of enunciation

I am a passionate devotee of the use of ‘good English’, but this must be separated from the concept of a ‘correct’ English. By virtue of the fact that English is so widely spoken, the idea of a ‘standard’, homogenous form is absurd, though one fears that a standard based on American usage (should this be 'abusage'?) is slowly assuming supremacy. I am saddened by the disappearance of local words from popular discourse, for in their own way they are ‘good English’; they have sprung from the hearts and mouths of people using language to communicate their hopes, fears, emotions, reflections on the world around them, or maybe just the latest piece of gossip. What could be better? ‘Bad’ English is the careless, sloppy use of English, found especially in the local press. This arrogant incompetence is an abuse of language, no matter what vernacular it uses. For one thing it lacks elegance: it is just plain shoddy. Don't get me wrong: I'm not some pedantic linguachondriac subservient to hide-bound "rules" of grammar and usage. It is just that sometimes I feel some local word peddlars might as well be dealing in a form of discourse more fitting the animals of the fields.

Some of my illustrations of use are whimsical, but I do not want to give the impression that the use of these words is in some way quaint. They are as vital a part of an area's identity as an accent. The vast majority of the words, phrases and idioms reproduced here are still in current use. Yes, they are under danger, but they are not museum pieces and should never become them. They will survive through use.

Some of the following have been used throughout Ireland, and I have given references to such use from Terry Dolan’s Dictionary of Hiberno English. I have also made use of the Oxford Concise Ulster Dictionary (Ed. C. I. Macafee). It is my hope and desire that people who know more examples of Cavan English will communicate them to me, so that they may be included here.

I am aware that some votcheens (and male votcheens) may express horror at the inclusion of ‘bad’ language. This is not gratuitous, but I’m not censorious in matters of discourse. While there may be inappropriate language in particular situations, there is no such thing as ‘bad’ language per se. Indeed it is an oxymoron. I have indicated that some of these are vulgar and are best avoided in ‘polite’ company, to the extent that such a concept is not a misnomer here.

          Please visit the Hiberno-English website and database.   


       Aftergrass /'æ:fþrgræ:s/ n. The crop of grass which grew up after the main crop  had been cut. In Cavan and Leitrim it has been extended to the colour of the grass, usually a rather pale and naemic greeny-yellow, or to the     colour of the dung left by cows after eating it

    Amadan /' m d n./ n. A fool, from Irish amadán.

    Arcan, n. The last piglet of a litter.   

    Arse /a:s/ see below.         

    Article. n. Individual or person e.g. 'You’re a right article'.

    Ashypet n. A sickly, delicate person who sat close to the fireside..

    Awful. /' f l/ a. Intensifying adjective and adverb.

    Axed or Axt /'ækft/  v. Asked. While this usage, common throughout Ireland, may appear at first to be an Irish mispronunciation, it originates in archaic English dialects. It has been used in Ireland since the sixteenth century at least, for one of the earliest examples of its use that I have found is in John Bale's Vocacyon of the 1550s.


    Bachelor's button. n. A nail used to replace a button for holding together articles of clothing, for example the dungarees of unmarried labourers.

    Bardog (also pardog) /bar'dog/ n. A basket, usually of wickerwork, used for spreading dung on potato ridges. From the Irish.

    Basin. /'be:s n/ A style of haircut that suggested a basin had been put on the person's head and the hair cut around. For a long time the most popular "cut" in Co. Cavan, especially for children.

    Batter, On the batter. A drinking session.

    Bee (or sometimes Pea) in the Ponger. Pregnant, especially outside of wedlock and attended by some secrecy.

    Bleechin'. Moving quickly.

    Blitridge or Bletridge n. A mass noun, indicating a large number of people or animals, especially birds. This may be related to Irish bleacht.

    Blow /'blo/ n.  A boastful person. e.g. 'She’s an awful oul’ blow'.

    Boast. /'bost/ sometimes /'boft/ a. A turnip or other root vegetable that had swelled. From the Scots bose 'hollow, empty'.

    Bohillans. /'boh l n/ a. Ragwort, from the Irish buachallain buí.

    Boot. /'bu:t/ A means of exchange at markets. Now obsolete.

    Brabs /bræbs/ n. Lumps of used or disagreeable material. 'Brabs o' skitter'. Probably from the Irish brablach refuse.

    Breechin'. The reins etc. put on a horse.

    Broiler./'br il r/ n. A chicken, usually reared in a broiler house.

    Brusey /'bru;zi/ nA dish of cooked potatoes mashed by bruising. It was a dish given to convalescents.

    Bruss. A mess, as in the phrase 'to make bruss of it'.  

    Brussnagh. n. Brushwood and sticks for firing.

    Buck Nun. n. Similar to a votcheen (see below). A very devout woman, who has missed  her vocation in life.

    Buddley./'b dli/ (vulgar). n, The clitoris or the un-erect penis..

   Bullman. n. Someone who is involved in the artificial insemination of cattle.

    By-Child. n. A child born outside of wedlock.


Caboose a shimozzle, To. v. To make a mess out of something.  

    Cant. n.  A stall or booth selling second-hand or irregularly acquired articles, especially clothes. The name was also given to a jargon or 'secret language' used by stall-holders at markets. From the Old French encant.

    Card, To leave a card. To defaecate in a public place, applied usually (though not universally) to non-humans, especially pets; e.g. 'The footpaths round here are all destroyed with dogs leaving their cards'.

    Cardboard sandwiches. Sandwiches prepared for a social event and left around  for some time without eating, usually causing the ends to curl up. The standard fare in fact along with the ubiquitous "could tae an' doddy buns."

   Carn. Local pronunciation of SE ‘carrion’, e.g. 'There’s a smell of carn in here.'

    Carffufle or Curfuffle: n. A minor disorder, e.g. 'I got into a bit of a curfuffle on me way home from the match'. From the Scots carfuffle.

    Calving (vulgar).  Somebody having a difficult delivery on the toilet, accompanied by sounds indicative of discomfort. Also used to refer to human childbirth.    

    Caw n. An unpleasant expression, a frown, though not necessarily transient.e.g. "She's got a horrid caw on her this mornin' "

    Cessman. A rate-collector. Probably from Elizabethan English.

    Chancer. n. A person ‘on the make’.

    Charity. n. A term encapsulating Cavan schadenfreude. A negatively fortunate or auspicious turn of events e.g. 'Well isn’t it a charity they didn’t win today'. There is a related idiom As could as charity..

    Chat. n. A portmanteau word applied to any article whose name is not known or too complicated i.e. a telephone receiver, a television remote-control unit etc. I have also heard it used for parts of the body, especially female breasts. For example, a former member of Cavan County Council described seeing her nemesis on the TV coverage of the Party Leader’s address at the Bring-a-Bottle party annual convention in these terms: 'There she was in front of the camera with the chats hoppin’ up and down on her, screaming "Good man Charlie".'

    Chicken – She’s no chicken. She’s not as young as she used to be or tries to appear..

    Clat, Clatty.n. & a. Mess or dirty and messy. The domestic staff of St Patrick's College, Cavan were long called by students 'The Clatties". May also be applied to the weather; e.g. 'That's a clatty night'. Macafee vs states that the word comes from Scots and dialectal English, ultimately from the same root as clot. He surmises that it may originate from the Middle Dutch clatte, a splotch and the related verb clatten to daub.

    Cleggs. n. Horseflies. From Scots and North English usage.

    Clift. n. A stupid person, of below-average intelligence, a village idiot. Macafee vs considers that this term, widespread in Ulster, comes from the Northern English cleft.

    Clocker. n. A broody hen, maybe sitting on her eggs. From Old English clucian.

   Clownie. n. A relative, especially a distant one or one by marriage. From Gaelic cleamhnaí.

    Cobeen. n. A hat, no doubt from the Irish diminutive caipin little cap.

    Cogg-dye, On a cogg-dye. A version of coggle. On an unsteady balance, e.g. 'The tile that fell off the roof was on a bit of a cogg-dye'.

    Collogues, To be in. v. Talking to one side, apart from the rest of the group. Macafee points to the use of collogues in Scottish and Lancashire dialects. He surmises that it may come from the French en colloques.   

    Core, In Core. When a farmer with only one horse borrowed a neighbour’s animal to help with ploughing, he had the horse ‘in core’ with his own. From Gaelic comhar.

    Cottage house. A cottage, specifically one for a labourer. It is found in the deprecatory statement: 'Yan fella's only from a cottage house.' It is the Cavan equivalent of the Shot-gun Shack of the American south.

      Cow Cabbage. Any type of unappealing brassica; an echo of when cabbage was grown as a fodder crop. Typical ‘cow cabbage’ had tough outer leaves, and was often planted alongside potatoes in ridges.

    Crow. A deprecatory description of a woman in later middle age.

    Crow-shit. Killeshandra area pronunciation of crochet.

    Crabbit. Cantankerous and argumentative. Standard English ‘crabbed’, modified through pronunciation.

    Creepin’ Jesus. Someone who moves stealthily and silently around a house.

    Croil. A version of crowl. A dwarf or under-sized animal. Sometimes extended to humans. Macafee believes that croil originates, via Scots, from the Middle Dutch adjective kriel dwarfish.

    Croochan. A humpy, uneven piece of land. From Irish cruachan a mound.

    Cuggerin’. Whispering, maybe conspiratorially. From the Irish cogar a whisper..

    Cunt (vulgar). A quarrelsome old woman, used especially in the phrase Oul’ cunt. Cf Rip. In the Kilnaleck area, and perhaps elsewhere, it is used for disreputable males. e.g. 'Yan fella's an evil cunt'. Also found in the phrase Cunting around e.g.'The oul' lassie was cuntin' around somthin terrible before the doctor came.'

    Curlies n. Kale or borecole. A reflection of the vegetable’s curled leaves.

    Cuttin, How's she cuttin'?. A rather dated form of greeting.


    Diddies (vulgar). Female breasts. e.g. 'She had a pair o' diddies on her as white as snow'.

    Divil a hate. Nothing at all. From the early modern English The Devil ha’ it.

    Do, To Do. Swindle, cheat. e.g 'Last time I went into that shop they did me out of a  pound'. Standard English, meaning expanded.

    Doddy a. Adjective used to describe undercooked buns and scones. e.g. 'Light Refreshments!? Could tae an' a couple of oul' doddy buns!'. Maybe related to a high content of dough.

    Dose n. An annoying person. Standard English, meaning expanded. Australian slang meaning unknown in these parts.

    Drany. /’dra:ni As in a drany voice, i.e. in a monotonous tone. Probably onomatopoeic or possibly related to the English dialect verb drant to speak slowly.

    Drawky. a. Damp, cold and miserable; a weather description as in 'a drawky day'. The adjective, according to Macafee, comes from Scots, though it ultimately comes from the Norse drakja.

    Dreel. Used in the expression Comin’ in dreels. - Coming in substantial numbers.

    Dreep, Doin' a dreep. Urinating. Scots version of SE drip.

    Droosle. Any cold, non-alcoholic liquid. Can also be used as a present participle adjective as drooslin’, implying a slurping manner of drinking tea or soup.

   Drooky a. Applied to a person, especially a young girl, of low spirits.

    Dry. Humourless. No association with alcoholic consumption. Standard English, meaning expanded.

    Dunkle, n. A dung-heap. A pronunciation of dunghill in which the 'gh' is pronounced as /k/.

   Dunky. Cavan pronunciation of SE donkey.

    Dust. Argument, row. Standard English, meaning expanded.


    Eegit (/'i:git). Cavan version of ‘eedjit’.

    Eggbag out, Putting your eggbag out or burstin' your eggbag.. Making a great effort to achieve a result. Probably related to hens. Also used in Cos. Leitrim and Longford.


    Faffelin’. Footering.

    Fairies. The ‘wee folk’. Also used in the singular in the phrase Seen a fairy – to have conceived a child.

    Fairy Feet. The stealthy movements of a Creepin' Jesus vs.

    Feed o’ drink. A binge.

    Fer-gorta. Hunger, from the Irish fear gortach or hungry grass.

    Fierce /’fi:yers/. An intensifying adverb.

    Flittin’. The process of moving from one abode to another, and the attendant removal of furniture, articles of clothing etc.From Scots, though ultimately from the Old Norse flytja cf Modern Swedish flytta to move..

   Foamy or foamin' turf. Turf taken from just below the surface. It tended to crumble when dry and did not burn well.

    Footless. a. Drunk

    Fork  The crotch or flies. Somebody whose trousers aren't fitting properly is deemed not to be fork fare. The second meaning is seen in the remark 'He's goin' round with his fork open'.

    French fiddle.n. A mouth-organ.

    Fuck (vulgar). An adjective usually devoid of meaning apart from a sense of deep contempt towards the objective. e.g. the expression: "As could as fuck". When someone is attempting to expel a bee, wasp or fly from a room the insect may be told to "Get to fuck out o' here" or "Get out to fuck!"

    Fucker (vulgar). Disrespectful term for an individual (usually male) as in Oulfucker – an old-age pensioner, and in phrases such as The laziest/ meanest /most useless  fucker alive.

    Fuckface. An equivalent to the anonymous Joe Bloggs, as when reading or describing a form letter's salutation: "Dear Fuckface". This is common in both counties Cavan and Leitrim.


    Gahilla. n. A young teenaged girl.

    Galloot.n.  An awkward, stupid person. Probably from archaic English.

    Ganderin'. Loitering or acting irresolutely.

    Gandyfaced. Jaundiced.

    Gaum. A stupid person: from northern English.

    Gimp. A foolish, badly-behaved youth.Maybe the same as the Scots gamph.

    Girnin’. Laughing senselessly, especially by children or young teenagers. From a northern English dialect.

    Gistard or Gistara. Used in the phrase a dry gistard, a mean person, the type who would not ask you ‘had ya a mouth on ya.’ or someone lacking a sense of humour. Maybe from Irish giostaire.

    Glaw. Mud. A version of Glaur. Origins may be in the Irish glar, or the English dialect glaur.

    Glommin'. Fooling around.

    Gommaluther. The same as gaum.

    Go-boy. A lad of bad repute, often used in a generally deprecating manner. I once heard my mother speak of her disapproval of the Catholic church and its ministry by saying ‘Ya wouldn’t bother goin’ to mass at all when ya see the go-boys that are on the altar nowadays’. Maybe a masculinisation of ‘go girl’.

    Gods, In the Gods. Receiving alcoholic rehabilitation treatment, usually in the Hospital of St John of God, Dublin..

    Grape. A two-pronged agricultural implement used especially for moving dung, but it could have other uses. I remember hearing of my grandfather's displeasure about an insurance salesman whose visits were far from welcome. He is supposed to have said: "If yan fella comes around the house again I'll stick the grape into his yalla hide'. The word comes from Scots and northern English usage, ultimately from the Old Nose greip.

    Greesheen. A delicate person with a hyperchondriacal concern for their health and comfort. In the Bawnboy area such a person is visualised sitting close by the fire with their feet in the ashes. From the Irish grios embers.

    Gripper. n. A bailiff or any of his agents distraining property..

    Gub n. Mouth or sometimes face e,g, 'What've ya got yan gub on ya for?"

    Guff. Abusive language or disparaging commentary. e.g. 'Ah will ya shut up yer oul' guff'.

    Guggerin’. Planting potatoes. The implement known elsewhere as a steeveen was termed a guggering stick. From the Irish gogaireacht.

    Gunk. A nasty surprise, from Scots..

    Gypsies, The. Travellers, members of the Itinerant Community..


    Hairy Box (vulgar). The female pudenda.

    Hairy Ned. A rough rope, originally of hay or straw, but increasingly used for any binding material. It was said that some males, lacking belts, held their trousers up with 'a lump o' hairy ned'.

    Hallion. n. An uncouth individual. Also found in Fermanagh as hellion. According to Macafee it comes from Scots.

    Hames. A mess; e.g. 'He's made a right hames of that job'. According to Macafee vs, the hames were 'the two curved pieces resting on the collar of a horse to which the traces were attached'. From the Scots hems.

    Hapes n. Cavan pronunciation of SE heaps (of potatoes etc.) Used especially in the idiom for describing cold weather: 'It's cowld for hapes.'

    Hasky a. Cold. As in 'a hasky day.'

    Haverill. n. An uncouth person. Dolan vs is of the opinion that this is related to the obsolete English dialect verb haver – to talk senselessly, though Macaffee states that it is from Scots.

    Headcase or Header. Eccentric or odd person.

    Hen. An abusive description of a house-husband, who may be left looking after children while their mother is out or away.

    Highogious. Outrageous, v. Ogious.    

    Hoghelin'. A version of houghelin'. Twisting or making a mess of something. From Scots hough. Also Houghelin' about. Stumbling.

    Horrid. An intensifying adverb.

    Horrors, In the horrors. In the Delirium tremens.

    Howaya. Common form of greeting; the local contracted form of ‘How are you?’. It does not anticipate a response.

    Hurdle. A high shelf used for storing miscellaneous items.


    Idleset.. Habitual laziness. Also a state of mind e.g. 'There's nothin' wrong with yan fella only pure bloody idleset'.

    Ignorant. Boorish and uncouth. Also used in neighbouring counties. For example, a former captain of the Fermanagh GAA team told an interviewer: ‘Ya can’t get on in this life unless you’re ignorant’.


    Jandies. The jaundice.

    Jaw work. Labour or work for which there is little if any financial renumeration. Origin unclear.

    Jorum. As used in Cavan it refers to a quantity of alcohol brought as a present or gift. 'Ya won't be welcome there if ya don't bring a jorum with ya'.


    Ketch, ketchyin’. Loitering e.g. 'Yan fella’s always ketchyin’ around after free drink'. Also a man who stays about the house. cf Hen.

    Kilt -‘killed’. As in ‘'kilt with the hunger’ (very hungry) or ‘kilt with the cowlt’ (very cold).

    Kippeens. Sticks for burning; from the Irish cipín.little sticks.


    Leathering. A beating or thrashing administered with a leather belt, or sally rod;  sometimes any physical admonition of a child, such as a sharp slap.

    Liar, The Liar. A ‘pet’ name for the local paper.

    Lick-me-lug. A sycophant or lickspittle.   

    Lie up. v. Spend too long in bed, maybe as a malingerer.

    Line, Doin’ a line. Involved with a member of the opposite sex in a relationship which may or may not have gone quantum. I remember, during the visit of a French delegation to Cavan, how a member of the County Council informed a Frenchman (who spoke fluent English) that his brother was ‘doin’ a line with a girl from Saint Malo’. The Frenchman looked at me puzzled for a French translation. He then exclaimed: ‘Ah l’argot!’

    Lock. A mass noun indicating a largish but indeterminate amount of a physically small item; e.g. 'I put in a lock of onions into yan field earlier in th'year'. An aspirant senator from a neighbouring county successfully acquired the support of electors by promising to get them 'a lock of Oireachtas envelopes' - official pre-paid envelopes..

    Look-at and Look-ad. The imperative of the verb ‘look’. The same as the German separable verb imperative seh an. This is not particular to Cavan, though in some areas one will here it pronounced as lu:k’d, in the same way that 'door' is pronounced du:r.

    Lorryin’ (pronounced lurryin’). Giving someone a lift in a vehicle (including a car), though indicating that this is done under a certain amount of duress and that the recipient of the favour is abusing the generosity of the driver. Also used generally in ‘loryying around’ or 'lorrying about' .

    Loy. The large heavy spade / hand plough used in west Cavan and Leitrim. From the Irish lái. Because many loys were over a metre and a half in length and were often as long as their users were tall there was the idiom suckin' the loy. This had nothing to do with fellatio but referred to men standing against the loy with the tip of the handle coming up to their mouth. A friend from County Sligo told me of a variant adjective from the county: breast-feedinig, applied to local authority road builders who frequently spend extended periods lying against their horizontal spades.

    Lug. Ear

    Luggin’. Dragging a heavy load, such as a large suitcase.

    Luggy. A term used when addressing a stupid person, or abusively, say to a Gaelic footballer who has missed an easy opportunity to score (on the pitch). Macafee mentions a children’s game of the name, played by pulling the ears.

    Lunder. An unassociated and unsorted mixture of different items.


    Mar dhea. An expression implying that what preceded is not to be taken at face value and may even be disbelieved. It is often used when quoting the statements of others.

    Meas /'mæ:s/ n. Value or importance, e.g. 'He puts no meas on it at all'. From Irish.

    Merns. Border or lie alongside e.g. 'His land merns on mine'. From Northern English mearing. (I am indebted to my good friend Keith Good, originally of Miltown Co. Cavan, now of California, for bringing this usage to my attention.)

    Monther. Incoherent in speech. e.g. 'When he arrived home from the pub he was talkin' monther.' > Irish mantach

    Mossy Bottom. A cut-away bog in the Glangevlin area.

    Mowlogs. A fool or idiot..

    Mummy. Potatoes that had disintegrated or been transformed into a soft, moist and usually inedible puree due to being boiled for too long, e.g. 'The spuds had gone into mummy'.

    Mushroom-man. A social parvenu, someone who ‘came up’ overnight.


    Nuckeen. A two-faced person..   

    Nuthouse. Psychiatric hospital.   


    Ogious. Really a version of SE odious. An intensifier, as in ' Ya can tell by lookin'  at yan fella that he's an ogious eegit'.

    Oulfashoned. Cheeky.


    Palatic. Very drunk. Probably a contracted form of SE paralytic.

    Pierty. Used to describe people with a long, thin face.

    Perished. Very cold. From the Archaic English. Not necessary for the person who is perished to be in any real danger of perishing.

    Pip, the pip. An ailment suffered by hens, turkeys and other poultry. Sometimes used to describe a chronic cough in humans, though this usage is general throughout Ireland.

    Pissmires. Ants. From piss with the addition of the Old English mire 'ants'.

    Piss-the-beds. Dandelions: a reflection of their diuretic quality v French pis-en-lits.

    Pissin’ (vulgar). Raining heavily (especially common on the Cavan-Leitrim border).

    Piss-pot (vulgar). Someone with too great a liking for drink and who is frequently drunk; a lush.

    Plamawser. n  A flatterer, from Irish plamás.

    Playin’ in the fife-and-drum (vulgar). Pregnant.

    Poochin'. Searching for something.

    Pot-child. A child born with some form of disability, who was concealed in and brought up (at least initially) in a large pot.

    Pruheen and pruhoge, A cabin or small house. From the Irish pruchach a hovel.

    Pruhin'. Coughing.

    Pulled. Apprehended by the police for an offence or misdemeanour.


    Queer. Nothing to do with homosexuality. It is an intensifier cf. awful, horrid, used with both adjectives and nouns; e.g. 'Yan fella's a quare chancer'. It will be appreciated, from the foregoing example that Co. Cavan does not have to wait for Maunday Thursday each year for the appointment of a new batch of QCs!

    Quilt. An uncouth individual, usually old, often accompanied by adjectives such as  ‘rough’ and ‘ignorant’. Dolan vs cites its origin in the Middle English quilte.


    Red Roarin’ (vulgar). A serious and acute form of trake or diarrhoea; often used in  the curse. ‘I hope he gets the red roarin’, sometimes extended as ‘the red roarin’ skitter’. Origins probably agricultural, related to a form of bovine complaint.

    Residenter. n. A person, usually advanced in years, who had been resident in an area for a long time.The word's meaning has been extended to old cars that continue in use well after it is safe to put them on the road; e.g. 'Isn't it a wonder he wouldn't buy a new car instead o' goin' ev'rywhere in yan oul' residenter'. A popular model for this was the Volkswagon Beetle, some of which remained on the roads for over three decades, until finding their Dammerung as hen houses.

    Riby. a. Stringy, especially with regard to plants and vegetation; e.g. "Them flowers I put in earlier in the year got horrid riby in the summer." Macafee considers that the word originates from the south-west Scots adjective ribe, used to describe either a stringy cabbage plant or a long-legged thin person.

    Ride n.v. The most common euphemism in Cavan for the sexual act. Viewers of French television may recall the famous encounter between the late Serge Gainsbourg and the then clean Witney Houston, in which the visibly tired and emotional Gainsbourg adopted a no-frills method of seduction, telling her: "Witney, I want to fuck you". Had Serge been from Cavan he would have said: "Well ar'ya on for the ride Witney?" Even l'ivre Serge would not have plumbed the depths of taste to use the expression used by a drunken Cavanman in a local hotel recently. "D'ya want the cock?"

    Rift.n. A fart or belch, from Scots and Northern English. This use may be peculiar to Cavan. I remember a serving member of Cavan County Council denouncing a press photographer who ‘...went along to all the receptions where he got free drink and let big rifts.’ Touché!

    Rip. n.A quarrelsome, argumentative woman, usually elderly.. Cf Cunt.

    Root. v. To rummage. Nothing to do with the Australian slang meaning.


    Scalded Day. Weather in winter, late autumn or early spring characterised by extensive cloud cover and maybe sharp wind, but which is otherwise dry.

    Scaldie. n. A nestling. From Old Norse skalle bald.

    Score. Plant potatoes in prepared holes in ridges.

    Scran. mn. A crowd, most usually associated with children, and implying a largish family. e.g. 'They have a scran o’ childer by now'.

    Scutty. a. Short, as in scutty hair i.e. hair cut very short.

    Sheugh. a. A drainage ditch. Derived from Old Dutch via Scots.

    Shower. mn. A collective noun for a group of people denoting disregard or contempt; e.g. 'The GAA? Don't talk to me about yan shower ...'

    Sick o’ the foalin’ (vulgar). A woman in labour pains who is probably shoutin’ out. i.e. in labour..

    Sickner. n. A disagreeable sort of person.

    Sit up. v. To outstay one's welcome e.g. "We don't want yan' fella sittin' up on us for a fortnight'.

   Skin, In his/her/their skin. Naked.

    Skite. n. A slap or other physical remonstrance meted out to a disobedient or badly-behaved child. Also used in ‘a skite of water’ – a short burst of water.

    Skitter (vulgar). Either a bout of diarrhoea e.g. ‘to have the skitter’ or the product thereof. Probably a version of the English squitter. Also a child, especially one badly behaved. I have heard it used in the curse 'I hope he gets the skitter for three days’ – surely a stunning survival of Celtic triplism! Obviously of Norse origin.

    Slopin'. Loitering, as in the phrase slopin' about. Readers may be reminded of Trollope's Mr Slope in Barchester Towers!

    Slutherin'. Sliding, usually with the feet. I have heard it used to describe an old man "slutherin' along in an an oul' pair o' shoes". It is obviously related to the version of slither found in some English dialects mentioned by Dolan vs.

    Snipy. a. Crooked or hooked, as in a snipy nose.

    Sparrow. n. Very early in the morning, at dawn or even before. e.g. "We'll have to be up at sparrow". Supposedly a truncated form of sparrow fart.

    Stickin’. pres. part. Collecting branches, brushwood and kipeens for fuel.

    Stingers. n. Nettles.

    Stocious. a. Drunk.

    Striddlies. n. Sticklebacks.

    Sugarhouse n. A small lean-to shed or other hut housing an outside toilet.

    Sugeen. A pointed hat..

    Sweet. a. Used ironically to describe an insincere, two-faced person. e.g. 'Yan fella’s a sweet hoor'.


    Tant. v. Local pronunciation of SE taunt.

    Tatter, On the tatter. id. A high-octane drinking session. The same as On the tear or the Australian On the tiles.

   Thon or tone. A fright.

    Thunderin'. An intensifying adjective, especially used in Cavan in the phrase "a thunderin' eegit' signifying a simpleton who, not content to hide his imbecility under a shroud, indulges in ostentatious and idiotic acts drawing attention and ridicule to himself. e.g. "Yan fella in the museum's a horrid thunderin' eegit". cf Clift.

    Tiggeen. n. A cabin, especially one occupied by a settled family of the Travelling community. From Gaelic tigín, 'a small house'.

    To it an' at it. Involved in an altercation.

    Totherly a Slovenly and untidily. The perennial, ever-green form in which the women of Cavan wear their clothes. Skirt hems may go up or down, or pleats multiply, but the garments will always appear as if the wearer grabbed them at random from a cupboard and donned them in a hurry. Macafee states that this is the same as tattery or tatterly, coming from the Scots tat or taut, and ultimately either from the Old Norse tattur or Old English taettrec.   

    Trake.n. A minor illness, usually though not exclusively related to a virus or food poisoning e.g.' It looks like yav picked up some oul’ trake somewhere'. It can also imply a contagious infection e.g. 'There’s an awful trake goin’ round'. In Co. Leitrim it refers to non-human, especially poultry ailments e.g. 'The hens have the trake; they're not layin' '.  From Scots. Macafee vs traces the word back to Dutch and Norwegian dialects.

    Trick. n. A dishonest businessman, e.g. Yan fella’s a horrid trick. Cf. Chancer; (vulgar). Spunk; sexual intercourse  e.g. '...didn't he catch the two of them last night up in the room at the oul' trick.' Sometimes used as a portmatnteau term for anything for which the speaker feels contempt.

    Tricks (vulgar). n. Children’s term for human excrement.

    Tundish.n. A glutton. Also in the idiom ‘to drink like a tundish’ – to drink a lot. According to Macafee vs. it is a small cylinder attached to barrels, especially those containing beer.


    Vext..a. Annoyed. Local pronunciation of SE ‘vexed’.

    Votcheen. n. A pious woman, used rather disrespectfully. The term as used in Cavan has no notion of a fanatic, though there may be an attribution of hypocrisy.


   Weels. n. Fairly deep scratches on the skin.

    Weftin'. Moving quickly and forcefully by foot though not running, cf bleechin.

    Wettin’ rain. Rainfall that is not terribly heavy but persistent.

    Wild tea. Tea that is both strong and excessively acidic, e.g. 'This tae’s awful wild'.


    Yan.a.  Demonstrative adjective ‘that’. Obviously related to German jener.

    Yoke. n. A common Hiberno-English portmanteau word, e.g. 'Have ya brought the yoke for doin’ the hedges?'

Phrases and Idioms.

    Away with the band or Away with it (vulgar). Pregnant   

    He’d go through ya for a short cut. A rough, badly behaved person.

    As crooked as a ram’s horn. Self-explanatory.

    As mean as cat shite. (In pronunciation, equal accent is placed on the last word as on the penultimate.)  Excessively parsimonious.

    As straight as a rush.  A tall person.  

    He wouldn’t give his piss to the dog. A very mean person.

    Get the lug up. To take exception or offence.

    Give him a pig-powder. A reaction to a long-winded speaker.

    A face that’d stop a clock. Very ugly. The type of female whom I would describe as 'aesthetically challenged'. I remember thus describing a female to a friend from the New Inns area of the county who, knowing the woman in question, responded: 'A face like hers isn't a challenge; it's a threat.'

    A face that’d turn milk sour. A disagreeable, pouting face.

    A face like a fiddle. Ditto.

    A wind that’d whin oats. A sharp wind.

    The piss is near their eyes. Someone with a propensity to tears.

    A nose that’d pick a pipe. A hooked nose.

    As red or burnt as a grisset. Sunburnt.

    To foal a fiddler: To become excited or annoyed over something.

    He/She's gone down like a cow's tail. He/she has become smaller, or of less height, especially through old age.

    I'd buy water to drown him/her/them. Said when expressing a fairly strong dislike of someone.

    He'd take the cross off an ass's back. A very mean person or 'sharp' businessman. From the notion that donkeys carry the sign of the cross on their backs.

    I wouldn't piss agin her for shelter. Said dismissively of an unattractive but otherwise "available" woman.

    I couldn't lift a herrin' off a coal. Said by someone who feels exhausted.

 Ars gratia artis

There are quite a number of idioms in Cavan related to the human posterior. While these are invariably vulgar, it is only fair to reproduce them, though this is not done out of a gratuitous desire to offend.

   Arse /’a:s/, Useless e.g. 'When it comes to runnin' a household she’s me arse'. If one wishes to speak in a deprecating manner about someone's lack of ability or skill, one might say: 'Yan fella knows me arse about paintin' a house'.

    Sicken yer arse. Said of a disagreeable person or situation. "Yan fella'd sicken yer arse with his picshur in the paper ev'ry week." A variant is "to sicken a dog's arse".

    Arse-hole, The arse-hole. Back-of-beyonds, as in phrases such as …up out of the arse-hole of Leitrim.

    Arse-ways. Incorrectly. I remember a very good school friend expressing his disagreement with our Mathematics teacher’s explanation of a theorem: 'You’re doin’ it arse-ways Miss'. The maths teacher, from Co. Mayo, was temporarily outraged. The same meaning was expressed by 'to do something   arse about front'..

    Afraid of yer arse. Very timid. e.g. 'The problem with the fuckers around here is that they're all afraid of their arses of offendin' someone'.

    Arsin’ about or 'round. Wasting time. Acting without resolution. .

    Left on me arse like a churn o’ dryin’. To fall on one’s bottom.

    To throw up one’s arse. To give up, e.g. 'He never finishes anything he starts. All goes well for a while an' then he throws up his arse'.

    Gone up the cook’s arse. Disappeared.

    Up each other’s arse. Friendly, well-acquainted (and no more), Can be used in a singular form e.g. 'Don’t say anthin’ about yan fella in front o' him; he’s up in the manager's arse.'. It can also be used to refer to an associate or co-conspirator, as well as someone acting sycophantically towards another, supposedly more powerful or influential individual.

    A bee up his arse. Someone who is always 'on the go'. e.g. 'Yan fella must have a bee up his arse; he never sits down'.

    An arse like a creel. A large posterior, especially on a female.

    He had it stuck up in his arse. Said in response to a person making a compliment of providing a favour. Say an auctioneer was seeking £10,000 for a field, but intimated that he'd take £9,500 for cash, a person might respond: "Well he had it stuck up his arse". Alternatively, someone whose husband had a liking for "the drop" might say: "It's impossible to keep drink round the house. If ya had it stuck up in yer arse he'd find it".

    She’d go up a dog’s arse for news. Said of an inquisitive gossip, not always a woman.

    Kiss-me-arse. Nothing or anything e.g..' She never said thanks or kiss-me-arse'.

    To have a face like a monkey's arse. Very ugly. A version of this idiom, not from Co. Cavan but from the Drogheda area of Co. Louth, goes 'Yan fella has a mouth like a duck's arse turned inside out an' whitewashed.'

    Talkin' through yer arse. Verbal diarrhoea, especially common amongst Cavan's 'chattering classes'.

    To put the arse up someone. To give someone a fright.

    Ye can go up the high hole of yer arse. Dismissive phrase, equivalent of ‘Be gone!’

    Cut stones or sticks with yer arse. To be very annoyed: e.g. 'When I got home and saw the mess the place was in I could’ve cut stones with me arse'.

    Eat the arse off someone. Give someone a good dressing down.

Copyright Ciaran Parker 2002.

If anyone in this county tries to steal any of the above i.e. tries to pass off this research as being the result of their own vainglorious efforts, well let us just say that I hope they get the red roarin’ for longer than three days; indeed I hope they get it that badly that they will have to appear alone in photographs in the local rag, for none shall be able to stand near them because of the smell.

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