"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 Irish people.
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.
The word craic is an Irish language word. Let's explore its origins.
The Meaning of the Word Craic:
It is used so prolifically, I often wonder if tourists sometimes think the country is teeming with those who use some not so legal substances, 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.
Good craic involves chat, enjoyable conversation, social entertainment and sometimes music.
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.
You usually need at least one companion to have a wee bit of craic. It's a very social phenomenon.
The Term Craic In Different Phrases:
A speaker's meaning, when using the word craic, is totally dependent on phrasing.
Here are some examples of its use, 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.
There are all kinds of craic to be found in Ireland and parts of Scotland too.
Some Irish people speak of deadly craic, or mighty craic, or savage craic. There's nothing really savage happening here.It's all just good fun.
Ceol agus craic (pronounced k-yole ah-gus crack) is the Irish phrase for music and fun. Craic is often accompanied by Irish traditional music.
Bhí craic agus ceol againn (pronounced vee crack ah-gus k-yole ah-gwing) means we had fun and music.
Christy Moore, the Irish songwriter and musician, tells us that the "craic was ninety in the Isle of Man."
It truly is a versatile little word.
The Origins of the Word Craic:
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.
References to Craic in Literature
But fear not - all is not lost. There's a little more to theunusual history of this favorite Irish word.
Let's take a look at some references to English crack in some old literature, linking the word to Celtic culture.
In the early 19th century the word 'crack' was found extensively in Scotland and northern England.
Sir Walter Scott used the word in 1817. His character, Rob Roy, declares:
“I maun hai a crack wil an auld acquaintance here.”
The use of the word in Rob Roy stands for fun and good conversation.
Ebenezer Picken was a Scottish poet and songwriter who was known as "The Poet of Paisley."
His body of work includes in English and Scots Gaelic. He even created a dictionary of Scottish words which was published after he died. He wrote of "the friendly crack, and the cheerful sang."
The Scottish poet, Robert Burns used the term, and in a glossary where he defined the term as meaning "to chat, to talk."
The word is found in the works of Ulster-Scots weaver poets in the 18th century. John Hewitt produced a book called "Rhyming Weavers: And Other Country Poets of Antrim and Down." Once again our term appears in the glossary with the explanation that it means "to talk, to banter."
James Fenton, a 20th century linguistic scholar, includes the term in his book "The Hamely Tongue: A Personal Record of Ulster-Scots in County Antrim." He provides examples of its use and describes it as meaning "fun, entertainment and conversation"
Here's an example of how it was used in Ulster. "He's guid crack," with guid meaning good.
The good people of Belfast and Ulster had no need of the glossary in these books to understand the meaning of this cheerful little word.
In 1980, the Irish and Ulster playwright, Brian Friel, penned the line "You never saw such crack in your life, boys." It appears in his play Translations - which focuses on the topic of language.
And so, it is probably safe to say the origins of this favorite Irish word are found in Northern England and Scotland. Sometime around the middle of the 20th century, the word was borrowed and introduced into the Irish language To make it feel and look more authentic it was transformed using a Gaelicized spelling 'craic.'
Another linguist and journalist, Kevin Myers, has expressed his annoyance at this little contrived Irish language word. He described it as criticised it as "pseudo-Gaelic" and a "bogus neologism."
That's a big word for this little corner of the internet, so we'll settle to describe it as "fake Irish."
True or false, there's no turning back the clock. As the decades pass craic is becoming more and more accepted as an Irish Gaelic word.
Irish - An Evolving Language
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.
Irish Tourist Attractions Promoting the Craic
Of course, in the 1990's the Irish seized the opportunity to glorify the craic and fun to be found all over the island of Ireland.
Undeterred by this linguistic lie, the Irish transformed this favorite catchpharase into great cultural currency. It's pure gold for Irish pub owners.
Pubs all over Ireland bask in the limelight, jump into the craic fray and now tout their establishments as being havens ofwild craic, brave crack, and the very best places to find a little music, together with a smattering of Irish wit and humor.
So, as far as the term craic goes, we Irish are determined to use it, all 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
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