Common features between Irish and Spanish speaking manners

What’s the craic with Irish sense of humour?


Irish sense of humour is well-known worldwide and there are different ways in which this sense of humour is displayed.

It is possible that the beginning was just an informal chat in a pub drinking a pint of Guinness but the Irish have developed their ability to make people giggle in many other circumstances. According to Brendan Behan ‘It’s not that the Irish are cynical. It’s rather that they have a wonderful lack of respect for everything and everybody’.

When it comes to describing the different ways in which this sense of humour is rendered, there are five ways to do it that seem to be the most popular:

  • Making witty comments about other people’s life

    Oscar Wilde was well-known for his sharp sense of humour and it is easy to find witty remarks from this prolific Irish writer. These are several quotations by the author: ‘True friends stab you in the front’, or the following one with a similar approach: ‘There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.’

  • Saying something embarrassing or funny about oneself

    Another remark by Oscar Wilde said: ‘I never put off till tomorrow what I can do the day after.’

  • Talking about reality as hard and plain as it is −this one would be seen as funny just if the people listening appreciate black sense of humour−

    Irish writer George Bernard Shaw said once ‘My way of joking is to tell the truth. It’s the funniest joke in the world.’

  • Making wordplays, puns and sayings

    The Irish writer James Joyce wrote this poem:

    If you see kay
    Tell him he may
    See you in tea
    Tell him from me

    When one reads this poem aloud, the sounds phonetically resemble different swear words.

  • Breaking the boundaries of the correctness and act on the fringes of the established rules

    W.B. Yeats said once ‘Being Irish I have an abiding sense of tragedy which sustains me through temporary periods of joy.’


Oscar Wild
Oscar Wild


Irish writers have shown their mastery in the art of making humorous remarks, whether they are speaking about others or they are speaking about themselves. But people from many different backgrounds and professions use the powerful weapon of humour to defuse the daily quarrels and cope with stress. In a culture where social life around pubs has such a social impact, it is also undeniable that most of the jokes are related to the Irish fondness for a cold drink. This skillfully way of making jokes plays with the bilingual background of the Irish and their Gaelic roots. This way, we can find many Irish proverbs translated into English related to this topic:

Drink talks

(GA) ‘Nuair a bhíos an braon istigh bíonn an chiall amuigh.’→ (EN) ‘When the drop is inside the sense is outside.’
(GA) ‘An rud nach leigheasann im ná uisce beatha níl aon leigheas air.’→ (EN) ‘What butter or whiskey does not cure cannot be cured.’
(GA) ‘Is túisce deoch ná scéal. → (EN) ‘A drink precedes a story.’




What do Spaniards like the most from Irish?

As a Spanish citizen living in Ireland, I find very appealing this ability to make jokes about oneself and laugh even under the worst circumstances. This characteristic that makes us survivors of our own experiences and helps us build friendly ties with other members of our community. The Irish sense of humour is one of the main features that makes Spanish people identify with Irish people, besides their welcoming character.
When looking at sayings in both cultures, it doesn’t take long to realize that we both are prone to make statements about any aspect of our life, which the elders will recite on every occasion. In Spain, we even have a saying for people who normally say a lot of sayings ‘gente refranera, gente puñetera’, which means ‘people who say many sayings are bugging people.’ Both cultures share several common proverbs which don’t always translate literally but which are very similar.


Similar Spanish and English sayings

‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.’ This expression finds its equivalent Spanish words in ‘Más vale pájaro en mano que ciento volando’.

Another example is the old Spanish proverb saying ‘Ver la paja en el ojo ajeno sin ver la viga en el propio’, which in English is conveyed as ‘Seeing the mote in one’s brother’s eye without noticing the beam in one’s own.’

We can find similar ways to address a person who ‘has his head in the clouds’ by saying ‘live in cuckooland’ and that in Spanish you can refer to the same as ‘tener pájaros en la cabeza’.

It is said ‘do not look gift horses in the mouth’, and it’s also a very common expression in Spanish ‘a caballo regalado no le mires el bocado’.

One can find a good correspondence between the expressions ‘to make a mountain out of a molehill’ and the Spanish one ‘hacer una montaña de un grano de arena’.

Or the famous ‘When poverty comes in at the door love flies out of the window’ that in Spanish is rendered as ‘cuando la pobreza entra por la puerta el amor sale por la ventana’.

There is a great fondness among learners of English to know all these common sayings, but one can find similarities even in the informal chatting as when Irish mothers say they go to the city ‘to do the messages’, and it happens that this expression is not far away from what Spanish mothers often say when they go ‘a hacer los recados’, meaning ‘go for shopping’.

Sarcasm is a resource used very often by Irish people, the expression ‘I will yeah’, meaning that they won’t do something is a good example. In Spanish we use the expression ‘sí, espera sentado’ in the same way; this expression means that we have no intention to do something. Even though these two phrases aren’t equivalent, they are used in the same context and have equal purpose.

Learning a language consists not only on knowing the grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation but also the culture and the way in which sarcasm, double meanings and sense of humour are used. People communicate in different ways according to their culture, and in this sense is interesting to find the common traits in speaking manners even if we are talking different languages. There are many differences between communication in English and Spanish, of course, but it is undeniable that we have common points inherited from the links between Spanish and Irish culture.

by Gabriela Díaz

Note: Find out more sayings, proverbs and Irish expressions in the following pages:



If you like this article, read also 8 Reasons to Learn a Foreign Language


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