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Irish slang – Bye bye bye . . .

old Irish man laughingBegorrah! Top of the morning!

Yes, two phrases you may have heard on Darby O’Gill and the Little People but that you will never actually hear spoken in Ireland. Most people have heard the Irish speak, but there are a lot of little things about their slang and turns of phrase that are often misunderstood by visitors.

Irish slang is definitely the thing that tickled our ears the most when we first moved here and that frequently tends to confuse our stateside guests. Below is the fourteenth in a series I’m publishing of some common Irish slang that used to confuse us when we first arrived.

Bye bye bye . . . – It is impolite to a single goodbye when ending a conversation with an Irish person on the phone.

Wifey and I were astonished the first time we heard an Irish person end a phone call. It went something like this,

“Yeah? I’ll see ya then, so. Okay. Bye. Bye. Bye, bye. Bye. Bye-bye-bye. Bye. Bye-bye. Bye.”

Seriously. It’s impolite here to say “Bye,” and then hang up the phone. The more pleased you are with whom you are talking, the more goodbyes herald the end of the conversation. It’s simply exponential. If the person at the other end chatters off a dozen “bye-bye-bye-bye…”s at ya, you’d best reciprocate lest you appear curt and unfriendly.

The way this is usually handled is this: as the “bye”s start rattling off the tongue, the person slowly moves the phone away from their head, eyeing the hang-up button as it comes into sight, and then pushes it mid-“bye” so as not to appear as if they hung up willingly, but that a longer string of affectionate “bye”s was forthcoming, had they not been cut off by some disconnection fault.

At first we found it a bit odd, all these “bye”s at the end of conversations. Then we realised that the musical “buh-bye” used stateside probably sounds equally silly.

A friend once explained this behavior as a modern compression of the old Irish way of saying farewell. He asserts that Irish people would say goodbye about an hour before they actually physically left someone’s house. It would happen like this: They would say goodbye, talk a bit more. Say goodbye, stand, talk a bit more. Find the coat, say goodbye, chat a bit more. Move to the doorway when saying goodbye, then stand and talk there for a bit. Of course there are some words and affections to be exchanged on the porch along with more goodbyes. Motorised transportation was almost unheard of, so people would still be talking as they slowly moved to the gate, onto the path, and then away down the road, calling goodbyes the whole time until they were out of shouting range.

Nowadays, all this happens on the phone in a few seconds:

“Bye bye bye bye. Bye. Bye. Bye, bye. Bye. Bye-bye-bye. Bye. Bye-bye. Bye.” *click*