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Irish Slang – The head wag

old Irish man laughingSo you think – hey, I speak English. I’ll take a holiday (that’s vacation to you, Mr & Mrs USA) in Ireland and get on just fine!

Sure, you think, there might be some problems with understanding accents from time to time, but there’s not going to be any REAL problems communicating; if I don’t understand something, I’ll just ask them to repeat themselves.

Well, you’d be mostly right. Ireland is, after all, a predominately english-speaking nation. You will encounter bits of Irish here and there (more on that later) but the thing that tickled my ears the most when I first moved here and that tends to confuse our stateside guests is some of the slang. So, below is the fourth in a series I’ll be publishing of some common Irish slang that used to confuse us when we first arrived.

The head wag – When an Irishman passes you on the street and quickly wags his head as if to say “no,” he’s just saying “hi.”

Upon our arrival here we would be walking through the streets and be shocked by how unfriendly some of the Irish were. Often men would be walking toward us on the street, make eye contact and then shake their head in disapproval. Even stranger, sometimes they’d be smiling as they did it!

Obviously, they were neither disapproving nor unfriendly – quite the opposite. The head wag is just a gesture of greeting here. If you’re stateside and you think this sounds strange, consider that Californians often nod their head downward quickly (as if to say “yes”) as a way of saying “hi” when passing someone on the street.