In Ireland, Gaeilge, the baroque and bygone Irish language, is a compulsory subject in school. The average student is hopeless at it (myself included), but, perhaps due to this academic obligation, many words, phrases and grammatical quirks have seeped into the local collective consciousness.
Thus, it’s not unusual to slip a little Irish into casual English conversation. This is sometimes called cúpla focal – a phrase which literally means “a couple of words” and sounds something like “coopla fuckel”.
Here are a few complete sentences I’ve managed to retain. (Approximate pronunciation in parentheses. The ahs are schwas.)
Cén t-am é?
(kayn tom ay)
What time is it?
Cad é an plean?
(kod ay on plan)
What’s the plan/what will we do?
Cad a tharla?
(kod ah hoar-lah)
Níl a fhios agam.
(neel ah iss ah-gum)
I don’t know.
And, for good measure, a highly useful classroom phrase:
- An bhfuil cead agam dul go dtí an leithreas?
(on will kyad ah-gum dul guh dee on leh-riss)
May I go to the toilet/restroom?
Rydell got his bag of cornflakes out of the cupboard and carefully unrolled it. About enough for a bowl. He opened the fridge and took out a plastic, snap-top, liter container with a strip of masking-tape across the side. He’d written MILK EXPERIMENT on the masking-tape with a heavy marker.
‘What’s that?’ Hernandez asked.
‘Why’s it say “experiment”?’
‘So nobody’ll drink it. I figured it out in the dorm at the Academy.’ He dumped the cornflakes in a bowl, covered them with milk, found a spoon, and carried his breakfast to the kitchen table. The table had a trick leg, so you had to eat without putting your elbows down.
‘How’s the arm?’
‘Fine.’ Rydell forgot about not putting his elbow down. Milk and cornflakes slopped across the scarred white plastic of the tabletop.
‘Here.’ Hernandez went to the counter and tore off a fat wad of beige paper towels.
‘Those are whatsisname’s,’ Rydell said, ‘and he seriously doesn’t like us to use them.’
‘Towel experiment,’ Hernandez said, tossing Rydell the wad.