“How’s the craic?” is a friendly greeting used throughout Ireland. Heard in pubs, on street corners, and even in people’s homes, it is a question of extreme importance to most Irishmen.
Unfortunately the word is pronounced just like the English word “crack”, giving rise to potential awkward misunderstandings for tourists, especially those unaccustomed to an Irish turn of phrase.
It is used so prolifically, I often wonder if tourists sometimes think the country is teeming with drug addicts, searching high and low in every pub and meeting place for a bit of “craic”.
The most straightforward definition of the word is fun or enjoyment, but the true meaning encompasses something far greater than just a bit of fun.
True craic requires lively conversation and good times, in the best of company.
Craic is usually associated with Irish pubs, but alcohol is not a necessary ingredient, to experience the social essence of craic. Music, on the other hand, is widely known to enhance the craic.
A speaker’s meaning, when using the word craic, is totally dependent on phrasing. Here are some examples of its usage, with my best efforts at American English translation:
How’s the craic? / What’s the craic? / Any craic? = How are you? How are you doing? Any gossip?
Craic agus ceol = Fun and music
We had great craic last night = We had great fun last night.
She’s great craic altogether = She is great fun and great company.
The craic was mighty / The craic was ninety = The fun was brilliant.
At this point in my little story I planned to talk about the Gaelic origin and ancient meaning of this versatile, little word. To my great dismay, once I did some very basic research, I discovered I may have been under a grand illusion about its true origin.
My first port of call, like so many internet researchers of today, was Wikipedia. After reading just a few paragraphs, my ancient, craic-filled dreams were shattered.
According to Wikipedia, the word was borrowed from the English term ‘wisecrack’, meaning joke, as late as the mid-20th century, merely ten or twenty years before my birth. Newspaper articles from the 1950’s used the word, but spelled it ‘crack’. Not until the 1960’s was the Gaelicized version of the word ‘craic’ first seen. That’s the decade of my birth, so the Irish claim on the word may only be as old as I am. I don’t know if the ‘craic’ should feel young, or I should feel old.
Then to make matters worse, a language expert Diarmaid Ó Muirithe (Dermot Murray in English), is quoted as saying “crack as craic sets my teeth on edge”. In this Wikipedia article, it is even suggested the Irish Tourist Board and Irish pub owner’s are creating a stereotypical Irishness, by over-utilization of the word.
I paused for a while, to try to get my head around why we have all gone crackers over ‘craic’. It is part of everyday language, a word spoken throughout Ireland. It has become an integral part of modern Irish culture.
Then, I thought to myself, why can’t the Irish language claim a new word, proving to the world it is alive and well, evolving and changing just like English. The Oxford English dictionary has added new words like blog, FYI, threequel, cyberslacking and many, many more.
So what’s all this fuss about adding ‘craic’ to the Irish dictionary, Irish-English dictionary, or wherever it is we record the terminology of our crazy spoken language?
“Possession is nine-tenths of the law”, and oh boy, do the Irish claim possession of the ‘craic’.
Into the bargain another saying supports our claim: “If you don’t use it, you lose it”. The Irish have no intention of ever losing this precious new word, through lack of usage.
So use it we shall, across Ireland and throughout the world, even if we risk arrest by a New York cop, when inquiring about the craic in some Irish American bar.
But let’s face it, after so many years of Irish immigration to the Big Apple, most members of the NYPD are, by this time, fairly wise to the ‘craic’.
Slán agus beannacht!
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom