craic

I first encountered this word in Brian Friel’s play Translations, which was produced at the University of Calgary when I was a drama student there. There’s a scene where a character rushes in to report some goings-on; he introduces his narration with “You’re missing the crack!” In this case, crack is the English spelling of the Gaelic word craic.

The word was not defined anywhere in the play, and the context was a bit ambiguous, but we generally got the drift that it meant wild goings-on, or a cracking good time, or something hilarious going down, or or or. The director, Pat Benedict, spoke Irish Gaelic, so she was able to tell anyone who needed to know and didn’t seem to know.

I can now see this word in its Irish spelling whenever I pass by a particular pub here in Toronto, which has a sign proclaiming “Ceol, Caint agus Craic” – meaning ‘music, chat, and fun’. The phrase, it seems, was popularized by an Irish-language TV show of the ’70s and ’80s, SBB ina Shuí, which proclaimed “beidh ceol, caint agus craic againn” – ‘we will have music, chat, and fun’ (how to pronounce the Irish: kind of like “bay kyol, contch oggus crac a-ging”).

So this word really just means ‘fun’. Some people will tell you that it means specifically an Irish style of fun. Well, yes, when an Irish person is speaking Irish and speaking of fun, he or she will be speaking of the kind of fun Irish people have, and you may or may not find that they have fun differently in Ireland from how you are used to having it. Certainly if you’re using an Irish word in English you’re making a reference to Irish culture. But if you’re speaking in Irish about people in some other country having fun in their own way, you’ll still use the word craic. You just have no particular reason to refer to, say, Somali fun as craic if you’re speaking English.

Actually, lately, you’re probably well advised to be careful of the context in which you speak of having craic. If your audience knows you’re making an Irish reference, you can get away with saying “That was an evening filled with craic.” But you do have to recognize even then that crack, which the hearers may take it for, can refer to a range of quite other things. And any time you use this word, you’re going to get the full taste of all those kinds of crack. There’s the whipcrack and crackerjack kind of flavour, which gives a sharpness lacking in the word fun, but some of those different cracks may leave a bad taste in the mouth.

And if you’re a public figure, such as a politician, you certainly need to be wise about where and how you get your craic and how you speak of it. If you should happen to be getting crack for your craic, or even be thought to be getting it, it may leave quite the bad taste in your mouth and may cloud your reputation. You will become a new story – and, on Twitter and elsewhere, you will be the craic of the day, the target of many a wisecrack.

Thanks to Paul Jara for suggesting today’s word.

4 responses to “craic

  1. >> … you’re probably well advised to be careful of the context in which you speak of having craic. If your audience knows you’re making an Irish reference, you can get away with saying “That was an evening filled with craic.” But you do have to recognize even then that crack, which the hearers may take it for, can refer to a range of quite other things. <<

    Years ago when the NSA began using voice recognition software to monitor overseas phone calls, the opposite was true regarding an Irish reference. During such a phone call, my father asked me if he should make a deposit to my Individual Retirement Account, then known as an IRA but today called a 401(k). When he said IRA, the call was terminated and could not be placed again for a half-hour.

  2. Gearóid Ó Fathaigh

    The Irish Gaelic craic (Irish is my second language) is actually a borrowing of a northern England/Scots extra shade of meaning to ‘crack’; and it has probably acquired some new nuances in the re-borrowed form ‘craic’ – there’s a controversialist/journalist in Ireland called Kevin Myers (who despises the Irish language btw) who keeps reminding everybody that this is so…

  3. Gearóid Ó Fathaigh

    Kevin Myers once wrote the Irish languages is as dead as the Choctaw language – upon reading this I immediately checked Wikipedia (I know!) and Ethnologue to discover Choctaw is in fact still hanging in there… This was a pointed reference for Myers, as the Choctaw nation gathered a donation for Irish Famine relief way back in the 1840’s; something which is still remembered in Ireland to-day…

  4. When two of my five sisters, American born (100 % Irish, meaning, possibly, inbred) and i traveled to west ireland some few years ago seeking our roots, we enjoyed great, musical times in many a pub. We had terrific conversations with locals and bartenders. We were often complimented with the phrase “you give good craic,” and it took explaining the first time to learn the real definition. We were told it meant fun, lively conversation. And oh, we had many of them. And oh, did we have fun!

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