A guide to American lingo for the Irish living in the U.S.

TransferWise content team
3 minute read

More than 144,000 Irish expats live in America and more than 33 million Americans claim to have Irish-descent.

This makes the population of Irish-Americans living in the States actually 7 times greater than Ireland itself and Irish-Americans the second most common ancestry in the country.

But it's not always plain sailing moving to a new country. For those of you who've made the move to the States, we’ve rounded up 6 of the most confusing words and phrases commonly used only in America.



In America, the term “swol” is used to describe a very muscular or fit person and is usually someone who you wouldn’t want to mess with. Swol comes from the word “swollen,” meaning puffed up and inflated.

Kieran, an expat living in Boston explains:

“I wanted to talk to this girl at the pub one night, but my friend stopped me before I could approach her. He explained that he’d seen her boyfriend with her earlier and wanted to warn me that the guy was “swol.” Needless to say - I had no idea what he was talking about … until a guy the size of Hulk Hogan joined her twenty minutes later.”

Shoot the Breeze


The expression “shoot the breeze” can be a confusing one if you've never heard it before.

If an American tells you that they don’t mind you being late because they took the opportunity to “shoot the breeze” with their neighbour, they don’t mean that they went to the shooting range in the meantime. Instead, “shoot the breeze” here simply means that they were killing time with idle chit-chat.

The term comes from the olden times, where cowboys in the Wild West had nothing better to do than shoot at random targets for no particular reason.

John Hancock

In Ireland, it’s pretty standard to ask someone for “their autograph” when you need their signature on something.

But in America, the term “John Hancock” is widely used as an alternative. The expression comes from a prominent Patriot from the American Revolution, John Hancock. His large and stylish signature was one of the most memorable names to mark the Declaration of Independence and his name is now synonymous with the word “signature.”


In America, we use the word “janky” to describe something that’s unreliable or of extremely poor quality. It’s a pretty common word, especially if you’re a computer programmer or hardcore gamers.

Lame Duck

In America, a “lame duck” refers to the President who remains in office for the transitional period before leaving office, after the his successor’s been named. During this time, the lame duck has less political influence but greater political freedom to issue unpopular opinions, decisions or appointments to Congress.


While you might be quick to assume that “clutch” refers to a women’s hand bag, all sports fans in the US know that clutch means getting "exactly what you need, exactly when you need it.”

“There were only 2 seconds left in the game when he hit that jump shot. LeBron James is so clutch.”

Send money back to Ireland or over to the U.S.? Don't let your bank use confusing lingo to hide their fees.

Your bank might say "free" or offer a "fixed fee" to send money home but they hit you with as much as 5% on the exchange rate mark-up they use.

TransferWise charges just 1% or 0.7% over $5,000 with no mark-up - far less than that wire fee your bank offers.

How does it work? Watch Bloomberg explain:

TransferWise is the smart, new way to send money abroad.

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