Christmas is coming and kids everywhere are on their best behavior to ensure they make it onto the good list before Christmas arrives.
All through December the mere suggestion one of Santa’s elves might be on the lookout is enough to bring about a dramatic change in my kids’ bad behavior.
But alack and alas for the other eleven months of the year, when I don’t have any help from spying elves, my motherly warnings are usually drawn directly from the maternal lingo I listened to as a child in Ireland.
I frequently utter a litany of my own mother’s, ever-so-Irish reprimands and instructions.
I only have a few more years before my kids will be teenagers, and then the threat of Santa’s naughty list will have absolutely zero positive effect. By that time, I will have revived the whole repertoire of motherly words of caution I heard in my formative years.
Irish mothers employ a turn-of-phrase that is quite unique, and probably only found where the Irish speak fluent Hiberno-English. I call this maternal language, the Irish Mother Tongue.
And so today, I thought it might be entertaining to take a look at how Irish mothers warn their children to behave, since we’re right in the midst of the season for being good.
Don’t Be Bold For Boldness Sake:
We all know Santa Claus is coming to town very, very soon and in one of the most beloved Christmas songs of all time, we are well warned to be “good for goodness sake.”
I was listening to my own kids singing these ever so famous words the other day, and I couldn’t help but think how different the words might be if they reflected the true behavioral warnings of a typical Irish mammy. Let’s face it! An Irish mammy would have worded the last line:
“Don’t be bold for boldness sake.”
And in some parts of Ireland’s fair isle, this would be….
“Don’t be bould, for bouldness sake.”
pronounced bow-ld – like a bow taken on stage.
When I was a little girl we were never advised against being ‘naughty’. Our warnings all centered around boldness. You see, in Ireland, being bold has absolutely nothing to do with bravery.
Irish people use the word ‘bold’ frequently and with a very different meaning to the rest of the world’s utilization of the term.
The Irish have embraced the fourth and final meaning for the word ‘bold’ found in the Chambers English dictionary. There, to be bold is explained as “not being shy, especially in a way that shows no respect.”
When an Irish mammy issues the warning words “Don’t be bold,” I’m quite sure Santa would agree, and his Irish counter part Santee would definitely concur.
The Plethora Of Phrases Irish Mothers Use To Encourage Good Behavior:
The Dublin mammies of my childhood utilized many, many phrases to warn us children to be good. “Don’t be bold” was merely the phrase of choice when an Irish mom was warming up.
One of my favorite cautions was ….
“No acting the maggot.”
How poor old maggots ever got dragged into the intimidating world of good behavior is a complete mystery to me, but trust me, this phrase is used quite a bit in Ireland.
Perhaps some wise old Irish woman saw her child twisting and twitching around, grew irritated, and thought these playful movements were just like the wriggling and jiggling of maggots.
And ever since Irish children have known the cautionary words, “stop acting the maggot,” mean no boisterous behavior.
Well, that’s my Geary Theory on the whole maggot affair.
Here’s another good one, uttered in every corner of the Emerald Isle.
“No messing now.”
This edict has nothing to do with making a mess. In this preferred Irish phrase the word “mess” has been transformed from a noun to a verb.
When an Irish mom states there is to be no messing she usually means ….
Officially the Chambers English dictionary explains the term playacting as “being theatrical and over-dramatic, or acting in an artificial manner.”
But when your Irish mother told you not to be playacting, it had nothing to do with the stage or acting. You knew you had to be on your very best behavior.
And if you chose to disregard her advice, then you would definitely need an Oscar-winning performance to justify why you did not heed her warnings about ….
There was plenty “divilment” and trick-acting when I was a little girl in Dublin.
Words Of Advice For Visiting:
And then of course, there were the motherly words of advice reserved especially for times when visiting neighbors or relatives.
You could be a house devil, and be up to all of your old “divilment”, but you always had to be a street angel.
Here’s one of my favorites ….
“No making a show of yourself.”
And then if your were going somewhere extra special, you were warned …
“Don’t make a holy show of yourself.”
‘Twas a thin line indeed between being “a show” and “a holy show.”
On Staying Calm And Sitting Quietly:
There were other phrases solely dedicated for the purposes of advising energetic kiddos to sit still, and not “be tearing around the place”. Here’s one I often heard on the way to bed….
“There’s to be no high jinx!”
In our house this meant there was to be no jumping on the beds, or else we’d “burst all the springs in the mattress.”
Perhaps, you heard a few of these classic warnings when your were a little one …
“None of your tomfoolery!”
There was an endless supply of terms to describe our childish shenanigans….
“No bedlam while I’m gone!”
And then goats got dragged into the whole good behavior affair, just like the poor, old innocent maggots….
“No acting like giddy goats!”
Even horses weren’t safe from the Irish Mother Tongue ….
Now don’t worry – our Irish mammies didn’t think we were going to take a quick trip to a betting office to have a little flutter on the horses. No! Horse-play was simply a bit of rough play.
Usually boys are more inclined towards a bit of horse-play, loving to push and shove. But trust me, when I was growing up I was a fair hand at a bit of mock wrestling, despite my mother’s warnings.
I remember getting into a little horse-play with my cousin when my folks had gathered in a relative’s house after my grand uncle’s funeral. I broke my arm, but tried not to cry. I sat holding my arm, but finally realized it wasn’t getting any better. I kept thinking of another favorite Irish mothers’ saying ….
“If you fall and break your two legs,
don’t come running to me!”
However, it’s amazing how you’re granted absolution for all kinds of malarkey when you have a broken bone.
Mother Knows Everything:
And just like Santa knows everything about who’s been good or bad, you can never pull the wool over an Irish mother’s eyes.
And how do I know this! Well! I was often told ….
“I have eyes in the back of my head.”
I seem to have developed those same rear-view eyes in the past few years of motherhood.
Now, Santa Claus depends on his elves to inform him who’s been acting out of line. But an Irish mother has her very own spy, and it’s none other than a little birdie. How many times did you hear?????
“A little birdie told me…”
Those Irish birdies told our mothers everything. There was nothing she did not know.
Nowadays, I make sure to keep my bird feeder full, and keep those little birdies happy.
Ah! The edicts of our Irish mothers. Perhaps they didn’t encourage good behavior, but instead discouraged bad behavior with all their warnings.
As I reminisce about the lingo of my childhood I can’t help but think today’s psychologists would probably denounce the negative intonations of these Irish motherly phrases.
But negative or not, I recall these phrases fondly. And even if we are now supposed to approach our corrections with a more positive phrasing, I for one can vouch for the effectiveness of these Irish maternal warnings. And why is this? In all the years of my Irish childhood, I never once got a single wallop from the dreaded wooden spoon.
Irish Terms That Crossed The Atlantic:
I wonder how many Irish American readers of my blog heard some of these phrases in their childhood years. Did Irish immigrants to the United States bring their parenting lingo with them?
Two terms with Irish roots, I have heard frequently in the US, are shenanigans and malarkey. These words have definite Irish origins, but were used less in Dublin, Ireland, than Dublin, Ohio, when I was growing up.
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town:
And so, I hope children all over the world are being very good this year. Fingers crossed parents won’t need to resort to the Irish Mother Tongue to ensure their kiddos make it onto the good list.