Irish Slang – Porter
Of all the countries in the world that commonly speak English, the Irish are known particularly for their deft command of the language.
What you may not know is that the language arrived on some strange shores when it crossed the Irish sea. While visitors may understand most everything that’s said (aside from a few extremely thick local accents), it’s usually the little bits of slang and mild differences in certain words that confuses visitors.
This is the thirty-eighth in a series I’ve been publishing of some common Irish slang that used to confuse wifey and myself when we first arrived.
This is a fairly old-fashioned term for “that black beer y’all drink” (as John Wayne referred to it in The Quiet Man). On occasion Irish people will, usually whimsically, refer to their pint of stout as “porter.”
The exact etymology of the term has been lost to time, but it was originally a slang term from London for the new type of blended ale that was being served in the 1720s.
The drink in question was the first industrial drink, a blend of different brews with a resultant dark brown colour. Ale (beer brewed with preservative hops) had just come on the scene, but was too expensive for the working class to drink on a daily basis. The solution was for the working class in London to ask for a bit of ale to be blended in a pint glass with the other styles on tap (usually cheaper stale beer and two penny ale [a second, weaker brew from an original ale batch]). This new mixture became so popular, brewers in London began mixing the different brews directly at the brewery and sending a single cask of this new pre-mixed “porter” drink directly to the pubs.
How the drink itself became to be called porter is unknown. It either refers to the sort of man who used to bring the new mixture to the pub (the porter) or the sort of man who used to drink the new mixture (working as a porter was a pretty common occupation in 18th century London). In any case, porter became so popular many pubs stopped carrying any other type of drink – it was a phenomenon.
It was at this time that Arthur Guinness brought the new style over to Ireland and began brewing it for the Irish masses. Lucky for him, porter proved just as, if not more, popular in Ireland as it had in London. So much so that, even though porter eventually evolved into a different type of brew called “stout,” many Irish still refer to their Irish stout as “porter.”