How to insult somebody in Northern Irish

Let’s have a look at regional words that arise in the distinctly creative sphere of insults. In particular, we will be investigating words used in Northern Irish English, though due to its strong links with other regional varieties—especially Scottish and Irish—some of these terms will be familiar to people hailing from other parts of the world.

Thick as poundies

In Northern Ireland, a plate of poundies would undoubtedly be welcome—poundies are potatoes mashed with butter, milk, and spring onions, and earn their name from the pounding (or mashing) of the potatoes in the making of the dish (the same dish is also known as champ for the same reason). However, not all of the associations with the word poundies are positive. The phrase thick as poundies is an informal one used to describe someone whose intelligence leaves much to be desired. While thick might be a positive word to describe the texture of mashed potatoes, here, as in thick as two planks, this isn’t the case.

Heads and nose

Just as thick as poundies depends on the understanding of the word poundies to see quite what is being said, the phrase your head’s a marley becomes clearer when you know that marley is a nickname for a marble. Big brains are a supposed mark of intelligence, and so small heads are seen as an indication of its opposite. Likewise, a bit of background knowledge—this time knowing that neb refers to one’s nose—makes the meaning of the word nebby entirely obvious: a person who is nebby is quite simply nosy.


Though it is right there in its name, it is probably less clear that pass-remarkable is an adjective used to describe someone given to passing remarks on others, i.e. someone who is gossipy and over-critical. The opacity is doubtless due to the fact that when it occurs on its own, remarkable generally denotes something positive.

The link between bogging and bog is more transparent, so it will likely come as no surprise that someone or something described as bogging is filthy; no one thinks of bogs as the freshest of places, and to find either yourself or your home compared with one is far from complimentary.

Hallion and millie

The term hallion is similar enough to hellion that on first encountering it, one might assume that ’a rowdy or mischievous person, especially a child’ might be meant, and with some affection. However, this etymon carries a little more weight than the North American word it spawned. While hellion is a mild epithet typically applied to a child, a hallion is usually an adult—often a man—who is considered to be utterly contemptible.

Present day use of the word millie has moved some distance from the word mill from which it is derived, suffering, in the process, from pejoration—the development of more negative meanings or connotations of a word over time. In the 1960s, millie simply referred to young women working in mills. Over time, the word was associated with young working class women in general, and eventually came to be used to exclusively describe young lower-class women considered to be brash or loutish. For young men, an equivalent term might be scobe (or skobe), which may be short for scobe-gatherer, a person who collected rods for binding thatch.

Gulpin and targe

A stupid or foolish person of either gender—one who is without the negativity implied by millie or scobe—may be referred to as a gulpin. This word is evidenced as far back as the 19th century, and is potentially an alteration of the word galopin meaning ‘errand boy, page’, ultimately from French galloper ‘to gallop’. This shows for a third time the development from a type of worker to an insult.

If the woman you are insulting is older, on the other hand, and of an angrier nature, one word to describe her could be targe. This comes from the dialect verb targe meaning ‘to reprimand, scold, or beat’, all of which you might expect an old targe to do.

Rebecca Juganaru March 1 2016

Rebecca Juganaru is a senior assistant editor for Oxford Dictionaries.

Categories: Varieties of English
Tags: insultNorthern Irishpopularregionalregional EnglishregionalismVarieties of English
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