|How a Yank with a Boston accent copes with the Irishism that abound in the auld sod
I really enjoyed Seán Brosnan’s recent, witty IrishCentral piece, “Top ten signs you’re losingyour Irish brogue as Americanisms creep in.” It was interesting for me, in particular, in that I am one of a relatively small number of people having the converse experience on the other side of the Atlantic.
Although my Boston accent remains undiminished – I just can’t pronounce the letter “r” – there is no doubt but that my speech pattern and the expressions I use regularly have changed after more than a decade of living here. This leaves me in something of a “no win” situation. In Ireland, I’ll always be the Yank with the Boston accent. When I go home to Boston, however, both American and Irish friends tell me I’m picking up an Irish twang.
With this as context, I thought I’d compile my own top ten list of areas where my native American (or Boston) English is fighting Irish English for survival and let you know which is winning.
10. Footwear: While we Americans would never call them anything but sneakers, in Ireland, depending on where you are and who you’re talking to, they’re either “runners” or “trainers.” Moreover, the athletic shoes with spikes for extra traction are known as cleats in the US, but as “boots” in Ireland. American English wins on footwear. The use of sneakers is too deeply engrained in my head. And referring to footwear that doesn’t rise above the ankles as a “boot” is, quite frankly, bizarre.
9. Household appliances: Many things we use in the house on a day to day basis are called the same on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet there are two big differences in Ireland.
First is that what we in the US know as a vacuum cleaner is called nothing but a Hoover here. Hoover would certainly kill for such brand loyalty in the US market!
Second is that what we use to keep food cool or frozen is never, ever called a refrigerator in Ireland; it is always and only a fridge. Anytime I say the word refrigerator, I can count on it being repeated back to me in a drawn out, exaggerated American accent. When it comes to household appliances, therefore, Irish English has won out.
8.Furniture: Most items are labelled the same in Ireland. The one term that left me totally blank, and which I still cannot fathom, is the term “press.” When I first moved to Galway in 2001, a housemate asked me if I would retrieve something from the “hot press.” I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. Again, to this day, I’m puzzled by the use of the term. If you’re equally puzzled, a “press” is what we Americans call a closet or a cabinet, depending on whether it holds clothes or cookware. American English is a clear winner here.
7. Pants vs. Trousers: Only the haughtiest of Americans would regularly use the term trousers to describe what we wear to cover our legs. But it remains common parlance here. While I mostly say it mockingly to my wife and son, I do now use trousers more and more when talking with relatives, friends and colleagues. I’m afraid Irish English is slowly winning out.
6. Soft drinks: This is more of a Boston English, than an American English, battle. Growing up just outside Boston, whether it was Coke, Pepsi, Mountain Dew or Ginger Ale, it was all tonic. Now that word provoked strange looks from those Americans from outside the Boston area, for whom it was all soda. Here in Ireland, anytime I ask someone if they’d like a tonic, I get the same reaction. My wife thought I was talking about hair tonic the first time I said it to her. So despite being a proud Bostonian, my references to tonic are getting fewer and further between. Irish English wins.
5. Brilliant vs. Awesome: Because I know how Irish people react to the use of the word, both directly to the person who says it and in murmured disparaging comments to one another afterward, awesome has been wiped from my vocabulary. Period. Irish English wins.
4. Alcoholic drinks: While we Americans would commonly say to one another that we’re going for a few beers, in Ireland, it is always for a few pints. Indeed, the use of beers is probably more appropriate in the US because many drinkers do not go out to drink pints (the quality of which varies widely in bars). Here in Ireland, however, it is pints, and I now say pints wherever I am. Irish English wins again. One quick cautionary note: the posh American phrase that I and my friends on both sides of the Atlantic despise, “going for drinks,” is creeping in here.
3. Greetings: My standard means of greeting anyone for the first twenty five years of my life was quintessentially Bostonian. “Howahya?” In Ireland though, I’m usually asked to repeat it when I do say it, so that the recipient(s) can have another chuckle at my accent. As such, I’m afraid, I’ve started to greet people here with “How’s things?” or “Any craic?” I still revert to “Howahya?” though and always say it when I’m back in Boston, though I might jokingly use Irish greetings on Irish friends there. American English is hanging tough.
2. Sandwiches: Something I will never get used to in Ireland are the miserable, always underwhelming sandwiches with one slice of meat on them, a grossly disproportionate amount of starch and a vile combination of butter and mayonnaise. They compare horribly with the wide array of delicious, heaping, hot and cold sandwiches I grew up eating and stuff myself with every time I’m back in Boston. The big distinction here would be that what we call a sub is called a “roll.” To make myself understood and, if nothing else, to not dishonour American subs by likening them to Irish “rolls,” Irish English is winning out.
1. Baby: My wife recently had a baby and our lives are now dominated by the needs, wants and bodily functions of little Larry. These precipitate an epic linguistic conflict between my wife and me when we are scrambling to attend to him. Pacifier vs. “soother”; crib vs. “cot”; cradle vs. “Moses basket”; diaper vs. “nappy”; nozzle vs. “teat”; baby carriage vs. “pram” or “buggy”; and so on. While I admit to using Irish English sometimes in this context, I am claiming this as a victory for American English because my wife often uses US terminology to deny me the chance to feign ignorance and evade my responsibilities!
That makes for a tally of 6-4 in favour of Irish English. Professionally and personally, Ireland has been my land of opportunity and I love this country at least as much as I love the country of my birth. The tally, however, makes me sad in one way. I’ll always consider myself a Bostonian on the inside, yet I’m beginning to wonder what those who see me from the outside will think in future as that which makes me American slowly but inevitably fades from earshot and view.