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28 Sep 2015

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'I'll be there now, in a minute!' The best Irish phrases from 'The Big Survey of Irish Time.'

Have you ever been asked to 'hang on a minute'?

If you're reading this from Ireland, we're going to hazard a guess that you have. But have you ever wondered how long exactly you are being asked to hang? Because we have a sneaking suspicion that in Ireland, this 'minute' is not exactly 60 seconds.

Or perhaps you have heard a friend casually exclaim, 'I only saw John the other week!'

You may secretly have paused, uncertain as to when John was in fact seen. Was it 2 weeks ago? Was it only last week? Yes, there is a pattern here.

The Irish have a very unique relationship with time. So much so, that we have our own language to describe it. And to make it more unique, most Irish people haven't got a bog how these units of 'Irish Time' translate into real time.

We can only hope they're reading this. Because for the first time, this and other questions of national importance have finally been revealed.

Why did we want to get to the bottom of all this? Because at EBS, when we say we'll meet for a mortgage appointment anytime, we really mean anytime. This inspired us to explore Irish people's unique relationship with time in the 'Big Survey of Irish Time'*.

We wanted to communicate this cultural relationship with time in a light-hearted and humorous way, and so we asked illustrator Rob Stears to visualise the most used and loved (even though a little nonsensical) Irish phrases about time.

1. A million years

The Irish people love talking about things that happened 'a million years ago'. But they're not referring to a historical debate or lesson (like you might expect). They are talking about things that might have happened last week or the week before. Confusing? Yes. Endearing? We like to think so. (Not to be confused with 'ages' or 'donkey's years' ago).

2. Hold your horses there now a minute


When an Irish person insists for you to 'hold your horses', there's no need to look around for an equestrian centre. They are simply asking you to slow down, or chill out, a good sturdy tip taken from the horse and cart days.

3. Give us a second 


The first time a tourist hears the phrase 'Give us a sec' they probably peer behind the shoulder of the speaker in a confused fashion, looking for the rest of the party. This phrase makes the top 3 'most used' too, with 56% of Irish people using it in the last month. But you might try holding your tongue in front of someone from Monaghan or Westmeath – as half of the people from these counties find it the most annoying phrase of the lot.

4. The other week (and the other day)


When you hear an Irish person mention 'the other day' or 'the other week' – they could be referring to any stage in the past, really. But now when you hear this phrase, you can nod smugly, safe in the knowledge that this is exactly 2 weeks ago (well, according to 46% of our respondents). Unless you're in Westmeath, where 33% think this was over a month ago. Try explaining that to aliens.

5. Donkey's Years 


Many Irish people simply use this phrase with aplomb, not giving much thought to how long this actually is (or what a donkey has got to do with anything). Now we can rest easy. Our study revealed that:

1 Donkey's Year = 14 years and 5 months.

However this changes depending where you are Ireland: in Louth a donkey's year is perceived to be exactly 24 years and 1 month, while in Kilkenny it is 21 years, 1 month and 3 weeks. If you find yourself using the phrase 'Donkey's Years' you may be in the 46-49 year age bracket (where 18% have used it in the last month).

6. Ages 


It's official: if you're visiting Ireland, you won't have to wait 'ages' before you hear the phrase 'ages'. That's because EBS has discovered that it's the most used time-related phrase in Ireland, with 70% of the population using it (a nation of exaggerators!). Women are more prone to pop it into their conversations than men, with 81% of women using it in the last month compared to 59% of men.

7. Meet up soon 


So it's finally been exposed – 'Let's meet up soon' really means 'never' for one-third of Irish people (29%). They were just saying it to be nice, you see. And if you're talking to the 30-35 age group or someone from Monaghan, you may as well put away your diary, as 39% of people within this age-group and 67% of people from Monaghan never intend to meet.

8. I'm in the taxi 


Irish people love being polite – so much so, they would rather tell a white lie than lose face. 'I'm in the taxi' is an example of a phrase spoken by many who are not, actually, located within a taxi (or any type of automobile, in fact). It usually means in reality 'I'm still getting ready, or 'I'm doing my hair'. Just one-third of Irish people who text to say 'I'm in the taxi' are fibbing. 17% haven't left yet and 12% are still ages away (go ahead and order for them).

9. I'll be there now, in a minute


Spoken in this manner, a 'minute' is a dubious measure of time in Ireland – the person making the claim really does not mean they will make it 'there' in 60 seconds. However, not to worry – EBS uncovered the real meaning of an Irish minute. We have finally revealed that in the Irish language of time:

1 minute = 4 minutes and 59 seconds

However the exact length of this minute will change depending on the county you're in. You'll be left hanging for 5 minutes and 32 seconds in Dublin and aptly even longer in Longford, 5 minutes and 45 seconds.

In Galway you can expect to see the person sooner, where 'a minute' is exactly 3 minutes. You'll be waiting till the cows come home in Carlow (11minutes and 30 seconds) and Limerick 7 minutes and 4 seconds exactly.

10. Dead late


This phrase communicates a level of lateness like no other (perhaps suggesting that a person will want to kill the late-comer upon their arrival). But how late exactly is 'dead late'?

Dead late = exactly 43 minutes and 39 seconds.

You especially wouldn't want to be in a major rush if you were waiting down in Limerick, where dead late is an hour and 1 minute. However your wait time wouldn't be so bad in Kilkenny, where 'dead late' is 33 minutes – or Kildare, where it's just 35. Hats off to those counties.

11. Until the cows come home


Where are those cheeky cows? Will they ever just get their hides back home? If you're in Ireland, this is unlikely, we assure you. This phrase is used to communicate a case of hopelessness or impossibility. Just take example (a) 'You can keep sulking till the cows come home, I'm not subscribing to Sky Sports'.

12. It will be a while yet (crocodile!) 


If a friend is honest enough to admit they're not in the taxi, they might just tell you they'll be 'a while yet'. This is not to be confused with 'in a while crocodile' used to playfully say goodbye. In a while yet is not quite a donkey's year, or even ages, but somewhere in between. Confusing. But you'll eventually get the hang of it.

EBS Anytime means Anytime

Irish lingo is a delicate and complex structure, where a native expression such as Donkey's years could span anything from 1-50 years. EBS has cleared up this 'ages' old question once and for all, revealing the exact units of time for each vague phrase.

Why did we go to this trouble? All because EBS will meet to discuss mortgages anytime. In a mo, a min, on weekends, or even in a donkey's year. Why not arrange a friendly chat with one of our mortgage advisors now?

To check out all the juicy insights and to see how your county-people compared, head over to the infographic and full report.

* To find out when was the best time to meet for our Irish customers, EBS surveyed just over 1,000 respondents from a nationally representative sample of the Irish population on the 15h August 2015.

The content of this blog is expressed in broad terms and is limited to general information purposes only. Readers should always seek professional advice to address issues arising in specific contexts and not seek to rely on the information in this blog which does not constitute any form of advice or recommendation by EBS d.a.c..

EBS d.a.c. neither accepts nor assumes any responsibility in relation to the contents of this blog and excludes all warranties, undertakings and representations (either express or implied) to the fullest extent permitted under applicable law.

EBS d.a.c. is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.

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