What does "You're as bad as the old Irish woman who took the two pills to be sure, to be sure..." mean? And if you know what it means, can you also specify the origin of this phrase?

To be more specific about the context, I've heard it here: http://youtu.be/BfI9rJ0toWA?t=1m2s

  • Sure it is supposed to be bad :) corrected, sorry...
    – RaS
    Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 21:00
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    It's an ethnic joke: the [Irish/Polish/Hoosier] woman who took two [birth control pills/laxatives/sleeping draughts] to be sure ... the second to be sure is a Stage Irishism. It's been floating around the internet for at least ten years. Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 21:09
  • @StoneyB - I, too, would have guessed two birth control pills (as one is bad enough in Irish Catholicism), but the lady is "old", hence she should not be fertile. Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 21:26
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    Nota bene: "what means X" is the exact opposite of "what does X mean". You are looking for the latter.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 21:34
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    @Susan Faith, an d'ye think that th' bosthoons that crack jokes o' this sort have the wit to see that? Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 22:05

2 Answers 2


"You're as bad as the old Irish woman who took the two pills to be sure, to be sure..." ?

Reduplication is an alleged trait of [Hiberno-English](to be sure, to be sure...) (Irish-English) strongly associated with stage-Irish and Hollywood films.

The first pill, she took to be sure, and the second, she also took to be sure, so together, she took two pills to be sure, to be sure...

There appears to be no idiom here. It must be from a book or other single source, wherein the meaning of this particular use may be found.

I can make a guess that it means one is as mistrustful as the old Irish woman who didn't trust that one pill would do the job, so she took two, but this is only a guess.

  • I believe, that it may be more like combination of ethnic joke and your anwer, I've heard it here: youtu.be/BfI9rJ0toWA?t=1m2s. What do you think @Susan?
    – RaS
    Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 21:32
  • @MartinDiner - what a fun clip! You're correct, to be sure, to be sure. :) Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 21:36
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    And though "You're as bad as ..." sounds critical, there's often a strong element of banter (humour, not sarcastic) intended and understood when the expression is used. Commented Jul 10 at 12:02

It’s most definitely an Irish joke about an old senile Irish Catholic woman who forgets she is too old to conceive children and taking birth control goes against her religion. Despite all this she takes the pill twice because she is so forgetful.

So it is a witty comical insult about being forgetful.

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    Mick, you've misunderstood the joke. She takes two pills (at the same time) because "to be sure, to be sure" is a pun on the Stage Irish expression. It's got nothing to do with senility, forgetfulness, religion or even the pill itself: the joke would still work if it was a young Irish Protestant male putting two seatbelts on. Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 4:43

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