Irish slang – the Gasping

old Irish man laughingSo you think you’ve got a handle on the English language. So ya think you’ll take a holiday (that’s vacation to you, Mr & Mrs USA) to Ireland and understand what folks are saying.

Think again.

Although Ireland is a predominately english-speaking nation, there will be moments when you’ll wonder whether that’s true or not. It’s not the Irish language, but the way the Irish use English that is truly unique. One of the things that tickled my ears the most when I first moved here and that tends to confuse our stateside guests is some of the slang. Below is the second installment in my series of common Irish slang that used to confuse us when we first arrived.

The gasping – When an Irishman sharply inhales in the middle of a conversation as if he’s startled . . . he’s not. That’s just his way of agreeing with what you’re saying.

This was a cause of an awful lot of confusion for us when we first moved here. We would be talking away and suddenly the person listening to us would gasp. Thinking he had a sudden pain or had seen something disturbing, we’d look around and, seeing nothing, ask our new friend if he was okay. “Yeah,” he’d reply, pleased and amused with our polite concern – not at all realising that he was the cause of our sudden pause.

We’d start up again and then shortly be interrupted by another gasp. We’d ask again if he was okay and, more amused this time and maybe a bit confused, would reply to the affirmative yet again.

Over time we discovered that, occasionally, if you’re listening closely to the gasp, you may discern a faint “eh-yah!” as the person gasps.

Once we discovered what was going on, our conversations were a lot more fluid. However, we remained in our opinion that this behavior was surpassingly odd until we realised that, at least in northern California, yankees do something quite similar to indicate their agreement with what someone is saying as they’re speaking, and it’s probably more strange and certainly more rude sounding: grunting.