28 Weird and Wonderful Irish Words

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iStock.com/trabantos

Around 1 million people in Ireland—as well as 20,000 people in the United States—can speak Irish. It’s an ancient and unfamiliar-looking language in the Celtic group, making it a linguistic cousin of other ancient languages like Welsh, Scots, Manx, and Breton. To English speakers though, it’s a tough language to master. It has a relatively complex grammar that sees words inflected in an array of different contexts that are typically ignored in English. It uses a different word order from English that places the verb, rather than the subject, at the head of the clause. And it uses an alphabet traditionally comprising just 18 letters, so words are often pronounced completely differently from what an English speaker might expect. Depending on the context, for instance, a B and H together, bh, make a “v” sound, while a G followed by an H, gh, is usually pronounced like the Y in yellow.

Irish also has a fantastically rich vocabulary that extends far beyond the handful of Irish words—like sláinte, craic and fáilte—that have found their way into English. Here are 28 weird and wonderful Irish words we could really do with importing into English.

Note: True Irish pronunciation is hard to replicate in English, not least because Irish has so many local variations and uses several sounds not normally found in English. But for more information on how to pronounce these words, check out the University of Dublin’s online Irish speech synthesizer here.

1. ADHARCÁILÍ (“ay-er-KOH-li”)

The Irish verb adharcáil means “to gore” or, in relation to animals like bulls or goats, “to attack with horns.” The derivative adharcáilí is used to refer to an animal in heat—or, figuratively, to a lustful young man.

2. ADUANTAS (“ah-dWON-tes”)

The word aduantas doesn’t really have an English equivalent, but describes that feeling of unease or anxiety caused by being somewhere new, or by being surrounded by people you don’t know. It’s derived from aduaine, the Irish word for “strangeness” or “unfamiliarity.”

3. AIMLIÚ (“AM-lyu”)

Aimliú is the spoiling or ruining of something by exposure to bad weather. Not that it only refers to things like plants and timber, however—you can also use it to describe soaking wet clothes, or the health of someone caught out in the rain.

4. AIRNEÁNACH (“ARR-nen-ech”)

In Irish, airneán or airneál refers to the traditional custom of “night-visiting,” in which everyone in a village or area would turn up at one local person’s home for an evening of music and entertainment. An airneánach is someone who takes part in just such an evening, but the word can also be used more loosely to refer to someone who likes working or staying up late into the night.

5. AITEALL (“AT-ell”)

A rainbow over the Irish countryside
iStock.com/Bob_Christian

The perfect word for the spring—an aiteall is a fine spell of weather between two showers of rain.

6. AMAINIRIS (“ARM-an-erish”)

The second day after tomorrow.

7. ASCLÁN (“ash-KLAWN”)

As well as being the Irish word for the gusset of a pair of trousers, an asclán is the amount of something that can be carried under one arm.

8. BACHRAM (“BOCH-rum”)

Bachram is boisterous, rambunctious behavior, but it can also be used figuratively for a sudden or violent downpour of rain.

9. BACACH (“BAH-cakh”)

As an adjective, bacach means “lame” or “limping”—Gaelige bhacach is broken, faltering Irish speech. But it can also be used as a noun to describe a misery or beggarly person, or, idiomatically, someone who outstays their welcome or who drags their heels.

10. BÉALÁISTE (“bay-al-ASH-tuh”)

Friends share a celebratory toast with pints of beer
iStock.com/ViewApart

A drink or toast used to seal a deal.

11. BEOCHAOINEADH ("bay-oh-keen-yu”)

An “elegy for the living”—in other words, a sad lament for someone who has gone away, but who has not died.

12. BOGÁN (“BOH-gawn”)

A bogán is an egg without a shell, although the word can also be used of soft, unsteady ground, as well as mushy, overcooked food—and, by extension, a spineless person.

13. BOTHÁNTAÍOCHT (“BOCH-an-TI-ucht”)

Another Irish word without an exact English equivalent, bothántaíocht is the practice of calling on all your neighbours just to catch up on all the gossip.

14. BREACAIMSIR (“BRAH-cam-SHUR”)

Related to the Irish word for “dappled” or “variegated,” breacaimsir describes the weather when it is neither particularly good nor particularly bad.

15. BUNBHRÍSTE (“bunya-VREESH-ta”)

iStock.com/mediaphotos

Those jeans you’ve got that are nearly worn through but are still wearable? They’re a bunbhríste—namely, a pair of worn but still usable trousers. A worn out but still wearable shoe is a bunbhróg, incidentally, while a man’s second best suit is his bunchulaith.

16. CLAGARNACH (“CLOY-ger-nach”)

Literally meaning “clattering”, clagarnach is the sound of heavy rain on a rooftop.

17. CODRAISC (“COD-reeshk”)

As well as referring to a riff-raff or rabble of people, a codraisc is a random collection of worthless or useless objects.

18. DÉLÁMHACH (“TEE-lay-wah”)

Délámhach or dólámhach literally means “two-handed” in Irish, but it can be used idiomatically to mean “working all-out,” or “giving your best.”

19. DROCHDHEOIR (“DROCK-ywee”)

The Irish prefix droch– is basically an equivalent of the English prefix un–, in that it effectively reverses the meaning of the word to which it is attached. In Irish, though, droch– is often used to describe something bad or unfavorable, or is used to imply dangerousness, maliciousness, or poor quality. Drochairgead, for instance, is counterfeit money. A droch-cháil is a bad reputation. A droch-chumann is a malicious or plotting group of people, or an illicit love affair. And a drochdheoir—literally a “bad drop”—is a negative or unflattering character trait that a child inherits from his or her parents.

20. FOISEACH (“FAR-sha”)

Old Homestead in Ireland
iStock.com/SabrinaPintus

Foiseach is grass that can’t easily be reached to be cut, so is often used to describe the longer grass around the edge of a field or lawn, or to the overgrown grass on a hillside or verge.

21. IOMBHÁ (“OM-wah”)

Derived from iombháigh, the Irish word for “to swamp” or “submerge,” an iombhá is either a sinking boat half submerged in the water, or any place where there is a danger of drowning.

22. LADHAR (“LAY-yer”)

The gap between your fingers or your toes is your ladhar. A ladhar bóthair is a fork in the road.

23. MAOLÓG (“MAY-loag”)

When you fill something up to the brim but then keep on adding more, the part that lies heaped above the top of the container is the maológ. The same word is also used for someone who sticks out from a crowd, or for a small knoll or hill in an otherwise flat expanse of land.

24. PLOBAIREACHT (“PLOH-ber-acht”)

When you’re crying and trying to speak at the same time but can’t make yourself clear, that’s plobaireacht.

25. POCLÉIMNIGH (“POH-claim-nee”)

Man jumps in the air for joy
iStock.com/MoreISO

Pocléimnigh is closest in meaning to English words like “frolicking” or “gambolling.” It literally means “buck-jumping,” and is a one-word name for an energetic, excitable leap into the air, or a jump for joy.

26. RAGAIRE (“RA-gerra”)

Ragaireacht is an Irish word for late-night wandering, or for sitting up talking long into the early hours. And a ragaire is someone who enjoys precisely that.

27. SABHSAÍ (“SAWH-see”)

Someone who works outside no matter how bad the weather is a sabhsaí.

28. STRÍOCÁLAÍ (“SHTREE-care-LEE”)

Stríocálaí literally means “scratcher” or “scraper” in Irish, but can be used figuratively to describe someone who works hard but is not particularly well-skilled.

50 Collective Nouns for Groups of Animals

WLDavies/iStock
WLDavies/iStock

You know which animals move in packs, schools, and herds, but what about a wake, a business, or a flamboyance?

1. A CACKLE OF HYENAS

A group of hyenas on a rock.
JRLPhotographer/iStock

While clan is the much more accepted term, there's something very appropriate about cackle. And though their laughs and giggles sound entertaining, they're really how spotted hyenas express anger, frustration, and warnings to stay away.

2. A SHREWDNESS OF APES

Group of chimps in a tree.
guenterguni/iStock

This term has around since the late 1400s—at the time, shrewdness referred to the mischievous nature of apes, though knowing now how intelligent they are, the term still works.

3. A RAFT OF OTTERS

Otters floating in the water in a large group.
Dougall_Photography/iStock

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, many aquatic animals, such as ducks or puffins, also form rafts.

4. A MURDER OF CROWS

Silhouette of crows at night.
Renphoto/iStock

In the 15th century, crows were considered to be omens of death and messengers from the devil or evil powers.

5. A SCURRY OF SQUIRRELS

Squirrels lined up on a log.
Jef Wodniack/iStock

Scurries are fairly unusual since squirrels are not pack animals by nature, so the more commonly used dray refers to a nest consisting of a mother squirrel and her young.

6. A WAKE OF VULTURES

Buzzards and vultures coming over to a carcass.
Steve Allen Photo/iStock

For vultures, a wake specifically refers to a group feeding on a carcass. The less morbid terms kettle and committee are reserved for groups that are flying and resting in trees, respectively.

7. A BATTERY OF BARRACUDAS

A battery of barracuda swimming.
armiblue/iStock

Just one barracuda is intimidating, but a battery of them? Time to retreat!

8. A MUSTER OF STORKS

A muster of storks in a flower field.
Javier Conejero/iStock

A muster can also be used for groups of peacocks/peafowl (though an ostentation of peacocks is much more illustrative).

9. A WALK OF SNAILS

Group of snails.
Grotmarsel/iStock

Considering walk is one of the things a snail cannot do, this seems like an unusual choice. Perhaps the lesser-known (but still accepted) escargatoire would be more accurate.

10. A PARLIAMENT OF OWLS

A group of owls on a branch.
tariq sulemani/iStock

It's unclear when this phrase was invented, with examples dating to the late 19th century. But its origin is likely an allusion to Chaucer's poem "The Parliament of Fowls," alongside the use of parliament as a collective noun for rooks.

11. AN AMBUSH OF TIGERS

Three Bengal tigers walking along a path.
guenterguni/iStock

Since tigers tend to be solitary creatures, a grouping of them would certainly feel like an ambush.

12. A COTERIE OF PRAIRIE DOGS

Prairie dogs standing on a mound.
HenkBentlage/iStock

While full towns of prairie dogs are called colonies, the close-knit, individual family units are called coteries.

13. A MUTATION OF THRUSH

Thrush birds in a nest.
Stephen Barnes/iStock

An ancient and medieval belief that thrushes shed and regrew their legs each decade led to the collective term of a mutation of thrush.

14. A MEMORY OF ELEPHANTS

A herd of elephants with a couple of babies in front.
johan63/iStock

Sure, a herd of elephants is the more common collective, but a memory is also a recognized term. We're not sure why a pack of pachyderms didn't catch on though …

15. A SKULK OF FOXES

Four little red foxes in a grassy field.
taviphoto/iStock

This term likely came about because mother foxes raise their young while burrowed underground.

16. A SCOLD OF JAYS

Jays sitting on a ledge.
SHSPhotography/iStock

Jays also hang in bands and parties.

17. A COVEY OF QUAIL

Quail in the grass.
SteveByland/iStock

While they can also group as a flock or a bevy, a covey of quail sounds much more poetic.

18. A HOVER OF TROUT

Trout in the water.
emmgunn/iStock

Since trout tend to swim in groups near the bottom of a lake or river, they likely look like they're hovering over the bed of the waterway. Alternately, it may come from an old term for an overhanging rock where fish—like trout—can hide.

19. A BALE OF TURTLES

Group of turtles in the water.
dinozaver/iStock

Supposedly, a group of turtles who are cozy in their shells would look like a field of round or squarish hay bales.

20. A RHUMBA OF RATTLESNAKES

Couple of rattlesnakes.
User10095428_393/iStock

Because, perhaps under circumstances that didn't involve a large number of snakes, that many rattles in one place would make you want to dance.

21. A CHARM OF HUMMINGBIRDS

Hummingbirds flitting around a feeder.
Missing35mm/iStock

If just one hummingbird is charming, can you imagine how charming a whole group of them would be?

22. A BUSINESS OF FERRETS

A basket of ferrets.
JuergenBosse/iStock

The Book of Saint Albans gave ferrets the collective term busyness ("besynes"), which today has become "business."

23. A STUBBORNNESS OF RHINOCEROSES

Rhinoceroses drinking water.
CornelisNienaber_/iStock

They can collectively be called a crash of rhinos as well.

24. A PRICKLE OF PORCUPINES

Porcupines eating some food.
photomaru/iStock

Could this term be any more apt?

25. AN IMPLAUSIBILITY OF GNUS

Gnus and wildebeests jumping into the water.
ANDREYGUDKOV/iStock

Who knew?

26. AN UNKINDNESS OF RAVENS

Silhouette of ravens in a tree.
MRaust/iStock

Ravens aren't exactly friendly fowl. They will often gang up on their prey or animals that enter their space. And because of the impression that they are an ominous presence, an unkindness of ravens can also be called a conspiracy.

27. A HAREM OF SEALS

A large group of seals.
evenfh/iStock

Specifically, when you have a group of females with a dominant male, it's a harem. If it's just some breeding seals hanging out, it's a rookery.

28. A MOB OF KANGAROOS

Kangaroos in a field.
leelakajonkij/iStock

And just like in human mobs, there's usually a leader (a "boomer," or adult male) who is only in power for a short while before being challenged and defeated by a rival boomer.

29. A GAM OF WHALES

Group of whales swimming in the ocean.
solarseven/iStock

Gam is a possible derivative of the word "gammon," meaning talk intended to deceive. Considering scientists have only just recently begun thinking they could decipher whale calls, we'd say the gam's gammon is pretty effective.

30. A POD OF PELICANS

Pelicans swimming on the water.
hartmanc10/iStock

They can also be called a squadron.

31. A GENERATION OF VIPERS

Two vipers hiding in the leaves.
Mark Kostich/iStock

A group of snakes is generally a pit, nest, or den, but they're generally thought of as solitary creatures, so collective nouns for specific types of snakes are more fanciful. A "generation of vipers" likely originates from the King James translation of the Bible, in which Matthew 23:33 reads "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?"

32. A DESCENT OF WOODPECKERS

Three woodpeckers in a tree.
RT-Images/iStock

Woodpeckers are far more known for their wood-pecking style of foraging for food, but another method some have is to quickly dive-bomb anthills and termite mounds.

33. A RUN OF SALMON

Salmon swimming upstream.
sekarb/iStock

A salmon run isn't just the mass migration of salmon up the river—a run of salmon is also the name of a grouping of the fish.

34. A KALEIDOSCOPE OF BUTTERFLIES

One blue butterfly with a lot of orange butterflies.
borchee/iStock

Groups of butterflies can also be called flutters.

35. A WISDOM OF WOMBATS

Couple of wombats in a field.
yellowsarah/iStock

Wombats have large brains and are incredibly playful, which is often viewed as a sign of intelligence.

36. A ROUT OF WOLVES

Large pack of wolves.
Cloudtail_the_Snow_Leopard/iStock

While pack is definitely the better-known term today, a very old term for wolves is rout, a word that ultimately came from the Middle French for company.

37. A SHIVER OF SHARKS

Group of hammerhead sharks in the ocean.
Janos/iStock

The term shiver applies a bit more to nervous humans when they see a large group of sharks, which is perhaps why the term has caught on in recent years.

38. A SCOURGE OF MOSQUITOES

Mosquitos flying against a yellow light.
Nataba/iStock

They're more commonly called a swarm, but a scourge sounds just as accurate.

39. A SLEUTH OF BEARS

Four bears climbing a tree.
Chilkoot/iStock

This isn't a reference to any detective work bears may or may not do—it's derived from the Old English word for sloth, meaning slow (and sloth itself is sometimes used as a collective noun as well). 

40. A GAZE OF RACCOONS

Three raccoons in a tree hole.
stanley45/iStock

The males are called boars and the females sows.

41. A SIEGE OF HERONS

Herons standing in a field.
joesayhello/iStock

When herons pick a new lake or river to rest at, the fish there would certainly feel under siege.

42. A FLAMBOYANCE OF FLAMINGOS

Flamingos flying and standing in the water.
mantaphoto/iStock

Kudos to the creator of this perfect term.

43. A DESTRUCTION OF CATS

Black and white cats hanging out along a street.
lilagri/iStock

A destruction refers specifically to a group of wild or feral cats. A group of domesticated cats is a clowder.

44. A FEVER OF STINGRAYS

Stingrays swimming under the water.
EXTREME-PHOTOGRAPHER/iStock

At the very least, swimming with a fever of stingrays would surely cause your blood pressure to rise.

45. A SKEIN OF GEESE

Geese looking at the camera.
Melbye/iStock

A skein is used specifically when geese (or other wild birds) are flying, while the alliterative gaggle is the term for grounded or domestic geese.

46. A BUNCH OF WORMS

Pile of worms in the dirt.
Ben185/iStock

Not terribly creative, but when in doubt, just say "a bunch" of whatever.

47. AN EXALTATION OF LARKS

Larks flying across a field.
Supercaliphotolistic/iStock

An exaltation of larks also dates back to the 15th century Book of Saint Albans (which, because of its heraldry section, also happened to be the first book in England to be printed in color).

48. A FAMILY OF SARDINES

Sardines swimming in a large group.
Donyanedomam/iStock

There are more than a dozen fish who can be labeled "sardine" in the supermarket. So in this case, family means a large grouping, rather than parents and children.

49. A BARREL OF MONKEYS

A group of monkeys gathering around a banana.
Gilitukha/iStock

Not just a game—it's a real term. Monkeys can also congregate as a carload, troop, or tribe.

50. A DAZZLE OF ZEBRAS

Zebras grazing in a field.
Photoservice/iStock

They're more commonly called a herd, but a zeal or dazzle of zebras has such a nice ring to it.

Why Do We Call the NCAA Basketball Tournament 'March Madness'?

A euphoric Villanova men's basketball team brandishes the championship trophy after defeating the Michigan Wolverines in 2018's NCAA tournament.
A euphoric Villanova men's basketball team brandishes the championship trophy after defeating the Michigan Wolverines in 2018's NCAA tournament.
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Beginning on March 19, the nation’s 68 best college basketball teams will battle for the chance to take home the NCAA championship trophy after a high-energy, single-elimination tournament aptly nicknamed “March Madness.” While the winner might not always come from an unlikely place—California, for example, has a total of 15 championships across four schools, and North Carolina has an equally impressive 13—the nickname itself definitely did.

Back in March 1939, an Illinois High School Association (IHSA) administrator and basketball coach named Henry V. Porter penned an article titled “March Madness” for the association’s magazine. In it, he discussed the excitement surrounding the annual statewide basketball tournament, suggesting that a “little March madness may complement and contribute to sanity and help keep society on an even keel.” As TIME points out, 1939 also happened to be the first year that the NCAA held a championship game, which the University of Oregon won against The Ohio State University.

Porter’s enthusiasm for youth basketball was so great that he followed up his article with a 1942 poem called “Basketball Ides of March,” which included the line “A sharp-shooting mite is king tonight / The Madness of March is running.” The catchy, alliterative nickname caught on throughout the state, and Illinoisans continued to use it without interference for the next 40 years.

According to Slate, it was CBS broadcaster Brent Musburger who first co-opted the moniker for college basketball while covering the NCAA tournament in 1982. By the end of the decade, IHSA had submitted a trademark application for “March Madness,” and the organization butted heads with an NCAA partner over its use of the name on a computer game in 1996. To prevent further legal conflicts, they formed the March Madness Athletic Association and decided the IHSA could use “March Madness” for high school sports, and the NCAA could use it on the collegiate level.

While Porter is usually credited with coining the phrase, Dictionary.com reports the idea of “March Madness” had been around for centuries before he made it all about hoops.

The earliest known record of the aphorism “mad as a March hare,” which refers to hares’ noticeable aggression during breeding season, is in some versions of Chaucer’s 14th-century magnum opus, The Canterbury Tales. The phrase and its derivatives, including “March mad” and “March madness,” appeared intermittently through the next several centuries; perhaps the most memorable of these mentions was Lewis Carroll’s character, the March Hare, in his 1865 book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. (The Hatter was also mad, but for a different reason.)

By the time Porter printed it in 1939, the phrase was no longer so closely associated with hares—though basketball players, of course, can jump just as well.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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