Writing With “Norn Iron” Words & Phrases

Harland and Wolff cranes, Belfast 2009
Harland and Wolff cranes, Belfast 2009 copyright M.McGoverne

“What’s Norn Iron?” I hear some of you ask; Wikipedia defines Norn Iron as “an informal and affectionate local nickname used… to refer to Northern Ireland, derived from the pronunciation of the words “Northern Ireland” in an exaggerated Ulster accent (particularly one from the greater Belfast area). The phrase is seen as a lighthearted way to refer to Northern Ireland, based as it is on regional pronunciation.”

The Northern Irish accent is distinctive, some say unique, and is unmistakable; as such it poses a challenge to writers who need to write Northern Irish dialogue. A similar issue faces writers of broad Scots dialogue. I read Trainspotting in 1994, and was transfixed by the stories, but I was also impressed with Irvine Welsh’s use of Scottish vernacular and phonetic spelling to convey the sounds of the words as they would have been spoken by the characters.

From the inception of my novel And The Buntings Flew, which is based largely in Belfast, I planned to include as much local dialect, both street vernacular and the peculiarities of Ulster-English dialect in my story; I want to reflect the way the people who inspired the book spoke, and still speak. I also want to make the story accessible to all; I have a couple of friends who didn’t finish Trainspotting because they struggled with the language used, whch is a great pity. So I’ve decided to use the key phrases and words I recall from my own childhood in Northern Ireland, and those ones that I hear most frequently whenever I return. Hopefully I’ve captured an authentic slice of Northern Irish dialogue without overusing words that many readers may be unfamiliar with.

My use of “Norn Iron” is therefore in no way exhaustive! If you’re interested in finding out about more Norn iron words, In Your Pocket has a great introduction, with lots of very colourful and expressive phrases! 🙂

Having said that, I’d love to hear from you if you can suggest any more common words and phrases I may have overlooked. All of the phrases below are used somewhere in And The Buntings Flew; I hope you enjoy them and don’t have to refer back to this glossary too much!

Norn Iron Word/Phrase Meaning
Are you getting? Are you being helped/served?
Away in the head Stupid
Away on! You’re kidding!
Amn’t Am not (e.g. “Amn’t I? – Am I not?”
Aye Yes
Bake Mouth (from beak)
Baste Beast
Bout Ye/What About Ye How are you? Greeting
Catch yourself on! Wise up!
Chile Child
Craitur Creature
Dander A walk
Dead On Agreed, absolutely, OK, or great, perfect
Fillum Movie
Founder/ed Cold
Fry Fried breakfast (Ulster Fry)
Is that you? Are you finished/ready?
Lifted Arrested
Messages Shopping (usually for groceries)
Murdered Annoyed/stressed/pestered
Norn Iron Northern Ireland
Ould/auld Old
Peelers Police
Poke Ice cream cone
Quer A lot, very
See you? Here’s me! That’s what you think/say, but here’s my opinion
See (this thing/person/situation) An exclamation of annoyance/frustration, calling attention to something
So it is/do it does! Yes it is/yes it does
The day/The night/The morra Today/tonight/tomorrow
The dogs on the street know Something which is common knowledge
Themuns Those people
Thon That
Thonder There
Til To
Wait till I tell you I must tell you this
Wee Doll Girl, woman
Tortured See “murdered”
You Quite often in a sentence where not grammaticality required, e.g. ‘shut you your bake!
Yous/youse/yousons/yis Plural of “you”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s