The next three weeks may be the most important in the recent history of the state. It’s your duty to keep yourself informed about the election process. Here is some of the terminology you will encounter and need to understand.

Single Transferrable Vote: this is the mechanism by which elections in Ireland are turned into three-day festivals. Don’t worry too much about understanding it – just go to the polling station and keep your head down and everything will be fine.

Voting: Either a) A profoundly emotional experience where you exercise a hard won right to self-determination and freedom which was fought for by generations of patriots or b) a profoundly emotional experience where you go back to your old primary school for the first time and spend an hour looking in the windows and saying “aww, the chairs are so tiny!”

Tallymen: A mysterious race of superhumans who count votes unofficially as the ballot boxes are opened and provide an early indication of the result. These people actually understand the Single Transferrable Vote system. They are not to be confused with ‘Come Mr Tally Man, Tally Me Banana’ – though both are found in banana republics.

Electronic Voting: A brief experiment for the sole purposes of settling the age-old question: How many broken Electronic Voting Machines will fit in that warehouse in Monaghan? The reason for the machines’ malfunction has never been fully established although eyewitnesses have said that a number of tallymen were observed leaving the scene giggling.

Baby Monitor: During the campaign, this is a member of a candidate’s entourage whose job is to spot infants that are not in mid-tantrum and could therefore be kissed on the cheek when the cameras are rolling.

Swing voters: Voters with open marriages who join a group of other consenting voters for adult fun. Swing voters may also use the single transferrable vote system, but in a different way.

The Double-Take: A type of handshake peculiar to politicians. While on a ‘walkabout’, the politician will stride purposefully up to a voter. Before the unfortunate civilian has a chance to react, they will find their right hand gripped by both the politician’s hands. This type of handshake is designed to convey sincerity and familiarity. The politician will then move quickly on before the familiarity breeds any contempt.

Handshaken: The sensation a voter experiences following a handshake with an election candidate. It has been likened to meeting a ghost. The voter is left feeling inexplicably cold.

Yeeewhooooo HupYaBiya!: The official noise made by supporters when their candidate is elected and they are raised shoulder-high. It is a good opportunity to see grass-roots activists on TV. They are also to be found standing behind an All-Ireland-Winning manager in Croke Park shouting “Yeeewhooooo HupYaBiya” every time he mentions the word “supporters”

Vote Management: Driving ‘auld wans to the polling booth whether they want to go or not.

Fianna Fáil: The small print at the bottom of some election poster. It’s similar to the Terms and Conditions apply… at the end of an ad for a financial institution.

Doorstep stage-fright: The phenomenon whereby a voter swears to anyone within earshot that if a candidate so much as steps inside the front garden he’ll set the dogs on them. However when the candidate actually arrives, the voter is struck dumb and politely makes a brief inquiry about a local issue – “There’s latchicos coming into the estate setting fire to the green bins”

What they say and what they mean

Over the next three weeks the airwaves and doorsteps will be thick with the sound of politicians cajoling, promising, defending and saying anything to get your vote. It’s important to be able to see through the words and know what they really mean. Here’s a handy pocket translator to help you navigate the spin-cycle.

“I’ll take a note of that.”

Translation: “If it’s about a medical card, I’ll see what I can do. If it’s about the IMF, tell you what, why don’t I give you their number and you can ring them yourselves and see where that gets you.”

“The economic situation we found ourselves in…”

Translation: “The economic situation we created.”

“We will ensure every point on our manifesto is part of a programme for government”

Translation: “We’ll see what jobs are on offer first in the cabinet and spend hours looking at the optics.”

“We take full responsibility for any mistakes we made!

Translation: “We don’t really. If we did we have to pay a fine and face criminal charges.”

“I’m stepping aside to let the younger generation of politician through.

Translation: “I’m a bit long in the tooth now to be going around the town listening to voters moaning at me.”

“People are engaged in the election process.”

Translation: “On one doorstep they threatened me with a large bucket of cat-litter.”

“Voters are making their feelings clear and I welcome the opportunity to talk with them.”

Translation: “Although the man was arrested after punching me, I did not press charges on condition he give me a first preference vote.”

“We have a job of work to do.”

Translation: “We have work to do.” (The phrase job of work is meaningless but politicians sometimes used to make the work sound more manly. As if the work involves a shovel, a sledge hammer and a dumper-truck and stopping for a breakfast roll around ten o’clock.)

“Our leader, Micheal Martin has brought a renewed focus and determination to the party and we are confident in defending our position when speaking with the voters.”

Translation: “See? He is not Brian Cowen.”

“Enda will lead us into government.”

Translation: “And then we’ll lead him out of it.”

“Our proposals are fully costed!”

Translation: “Our proposals are not fully costed.”

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