Category Archives: Irish Language

Cute hoors and chocolate teapots


As if the government weren’t making a sufficient hames of everything it touches, the BBC, NHS and various regulatory bodies have all got in on the act in recent weeks.  As I explained in a post some time last year, to make a hames of something means to make a mess of it. The expression is derived from a particularly complicated harness used for plough horses. Everyone screws it up.

A cute hoor is another creative Irish expression. Cute means clever, and hoor means exactly what it says on the tin. A cute hoor is a rogue or a charlatan, someone who seems respectable and upright but who never misses a chance to rip you off. In Ireland it’s applied to everyone from cowboy builders, to bankers, politicians, tax evaders – the whole sorry bunch of them. Sound familiar? Stand up and take a bow Dennis McShane, Starbucks and many more too numerous, and possibly libellous, to name. In the Emerald Isle they tend to be lumped together as ‘the Cute Hoor Party.’

Somewhat to my consternation I can’t find a specific slang term for bank or bankers. The Irish seem content with the British rhyming slang, which I have to admit, works. So why change it? Though they have in a sense; at least there’s a derivative. In Ireland they call it an Allied Irish, after the well-known bank of that name.

I’m always surprised to find myself surprised at the goings on, not simply in parliament but in local government, corporations and governing bodies. Just when you think no one could make a bigger mess of things, they make a bigger mess of things.  As far as I’m concerned they’re a bunch of amadáns, utter eejits. To use an expression that comes from Waterford, my own neck of the woods, I’ve seen better heads in a field of grass. I mean what are they up to? They don’t seem to have the sense they were born with. As much use as lighthouse on a bog, or a chocolate teapot. They won’t stop till the whole economy is banjaxed, even more than it is already. It’s enough to have you reach for the black stuff and drink yourself stocious.


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In Ireland, being petrified has nothing to do with being scared

When the Cute Hoor party finally drives you to drink, there are plenty of ways to describe the state you’re in. It’s hardly surprising that a country renowned for its great drinkers as well as for the richness of its language should have a wealth of expressions for drinking and being drunk.

Mangled, rat-arsed, cabbaged, hammered, ruined, scorched or trolleyed – and the rest. The list is pretty long.  Different counties have their own expressions. In Waterford, where I was born, you’re in the horrors, in Kerry you’re flaming, in Donegal steaming and in Limerick, you’re said to be out of your tree. There are, of course, degrees of drunkenness with corresponding attitudes to match. Someone who’s rubbered or flutered may be quite a jolly drunk although talking utter shite.  If you’re slaughtered you’ll be pretty much in bits, but still more or less coherent. On the other hand, if you’re ossified you’re likely to pick a fight.  Twisted is when you’re off your head and need help getting home. Poteen, home made potato spirit, will make you first polluted, then petrified and finally paralytic.

Many of these expressions have crept, or maybe I should say staggered, into everyday use in England and America.  Others are still found mostly among the Irish.  Locked is one of my favourites. Stocious is another great word, which I heard a lot when I was a kid though I’ve been unable to trace its origins. Perhaps the best of all is  ‘circling over Shannon’, derived from the visit of Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s president, to Ireland when he was apparently too drunk to get off the plane.  As his aides desperately tried to sober him up, the plane circled six times over Shannon airport before landing briefly, though Yeltsin never made it off the plane.  Ultimately pleading ill health, he might well have admitted to being ‘melted’ – in other words very tired.  Which is what you get when you have, as they say, ‘had the drink taken.’

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More Amadán than Leprechaun

One of my favourite words in the whole wide world is the Irish word amadán, often written as omadhan and pronounced as it looks – om-a-th-aan. It means fool or idiot (eejit in the vernacular!). Someone who steps straight in front of a bus, while texting – that’s an amadán. The cretin who drives at a steady 70 down the middle lane on the motorway, when there’s absolutely nothing in the slow lane. That’s an amadán. Anyone who does something daft or foolish qualifies. But somehow examples and translations fail to convey the real essence of the word. Maybe you just have to be Irish.

My mother had a desperate amount of great expressions and sayings. Desperate being Irish for terrible which could also mean great. Sometimes it could mean both, as in ‘he had a desperate thirst on him, sure he had.’ If someone messed up she’d say ‘he’s made a hames of it’. For a long time I thought this was something she’d invented – perhaps there’d been some friend of the family called Hames who was always screwing up. But no, I have recently discovered that it’s a genuine Irish expression, sadly falling out of use, with origins that are thought to date back to the days of working horses. A hames, it seems is a support for a part of the harness and if you put the wrong bits in the wrong places you end up in a mess.

‘Chancer’ was another favourite and could apply as equally to that eejit in the middle lane as to someone jaywalking, sailing close to the wind financially or just generally taking risks. Get me behind the wheel of a car and you’ll hear me mutter, or yell, ‘chancer’ whenever some fecker cuts in or overtakes stupidly. There are plenty of other possible examples – all those MPs who fiddled their expenses. They were chancers.

They were also ‘cute hoors’. I’ve only come across this one lately, and I love it. It’s a joy – beautifully illustrating the creativity and wit, as well as the scepticism, of my fellow countrymen and women. The description ‘cute hoors’ is usually applied to politicians. It implies deviousness and crookedness. In Ireland the word ‘cute’ means clever and hoor – well it means what it says on the tin, except with a different spelling.

A cute hoor is a rogue or a charlatan, someone who seems respectable and upright but who never misses a chance to rip you off. It’s no surprise that the phrase is used to describe cowboy builders, corrupt politicians, tax evaders, bankers, senior civil servants and the like. Indeed, currently, the whole lot of them are lumped together as ‘the Cute Hoor Party. The excellent blog, Crooked Timber, has a fascinating article about the sorry lot of them.

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