In defense of the word “craic”

In defense of the word “craic”

Reading an earlier thread* there was a mention of the contentious nature of the word "craic." I must admit that when I first heard it used by fellow musicians in the States, I didn’t believe Irish people actually said it. This is probably because all the Irish people I grew up with in my family had left Ireland in the 1950’s. I later found, as Jack Guilder has as well, many Irish people using the word in Ireland, especially in the connotation of describing that something special of a night of good tunes and friendship.

My defense, I suppose, is not of the word, but rather the spelling. Some content that "craic" is pseudo-Irish and therefore the term should be relegated to being spelt crack and left as is. Besides the fact that I do agree it is an imposter insofar as it is definitely an English rather than goidelic word. However, there are two reasons that I think that the word merits its own spelling. 1.) it has attributed a unique meaning, above and beyond the connotation "crack" has in the British isles of fun and excitement, 2.) "craic" is much less likely to be confused for crack cocaine.

So, it was not completely accurate to say that I had never heard of the term before adulthood. There is a story in my family of one of our Irish relations visiting in Chicago. They had rented a car and decided to drive to Ohio to visit some of my grandmother’s relations. Naturally, enjoying the 6 hour drive through the Midwestern plains requires driving at excessive speeds. Naturally, the cops in Indian are WELL AWARE of this and have funded their state police for generations by pulling over people from Chicago who are speeding on their way westward.

The officer asked my relations where they were headed, and of course, they truthfully said to Ohio. And when asked why, they answered truthfully as well: "For the crack." This, needless to say, caused great disturbance for the officer. He thought they were at best taking the piss out of him, but more likely he thought they were high and told him the truth! Some careful and heated questioning later quickly resolved this dispute as being dialectical. I think after all that the officer was so relieved he didn’t have some international drug traffickers on his hands so he just let them go without a ticket.

So, perhaps this is not a great defense of the word. A more tenable defense would be to defend its unique connotation, as in reason #1. However, I think that as an American there are real consequences to me using the word "crack" in any sort of written communication, as we are unfortunately the progenitors of the crack cocaine problem. In spoken discourse, I can clarify what is meant by "crack" (after all, there is no differences in pronunciation between crack and craic), but in written communication I prefer to be misunderstood by my compatriots (who do not know what "craic" may be) than assumed to be making references to hard drugs.

I guess I could just not use the word, but with repeated visits to Ireland there are some words and phrases that have crept into my speech on accident. I tend to say that I "have something sorted" rather than "fixed the problem." I also say "fair play" and from time to time the word "shtuff" even pops out when I am being rather emphatic.

To those who live in a context where "crack" is understood to be fun, well… I guess my dialect and culture should not impose on your petty arguments. As a student of discourse studies and psycholinguistics, I take a descriptive rather than descriptive approach to correct usage. To me, the correct spelling is the one that is being used, rather than the one that has the most provenance. However, petty squabbling about language is all par for the course, so carry on, if it suits your fancy. I just thought it might be of interest to some who may share my affinity for nuanced opinion on inane topics such as cultural differences in the perception of alternative spelling.

To all else, enjoy your ceol agus crack, :-P.

*https://thesession.org/discussions/32611#comment697523

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Re: In defense of the word “craic”

In Australia, Irish comedian Jimoen, made a film called ‘The Craic’. I’m not sure that he spelt it like that or not, but whatever it was pronounced ‘The Crack’,which in Oz had no reference to either drugs or partying. It was seen more as reference to an anatomical naughty bit . I still think that most Aussies wouldn’t grasp the Irish meaning of the word as it’s pronounced. Same as we have a large missunderstanding of the American word ‘Fanny’ (different anatomy over here). Sorry if this appears rude to anybody but it’s just the truth.

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Re: In defense of the word “craic”

Just to add to Gobby’s comments, if you’re ever "on air" in Oz, "rooting" for your team has a different meaning in Oz, more to do with procreation etc. And if you ask for a some Durex you’ll be given a roll of adhesive tape. But surely this is what cultural diversity is about!

Re: In defense of the word “craic”

What’s the difference between ‘descriptive’ and ‘descriptive’? We need to know. In the meantime, crack on.

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Re: In defense of the word “craic”

That’s true Tony, but take my word for it, that sticky tape makes a useless contraceptive. And not very comfortable at that.

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Re: In defense of the word “craic”

"I didn’t believe Irish people actually said it. This is probably because all the Irish people I grew up with in my family had left Ireland in the 1950’s."

This is key… all languages are in flux.

Re: In defense of the word “craic”

Probably more contentious is your use of the term ‘British Isles’ ;)

Re: In defense of the word “craic”

"I do agree it is an imposter insofar as it is definitely an English rather than goidelic word."

If you are going to follow its roots, it is Proto-Germanic. Used in this context, it is apparently Lallans/Northern English in origin. Possibly finding its way into Irish via Plantation folk.

Re: In defense of the word “craic”

" I tend to say that I "have something sorted" rather than "fixed the problem."

I don’t think that’s an "Irish" thing to say. It would be well understood and not unusual at all to hear someone say this where I live. Maybe it’s just not used often in certain American regional dialects, perhaps??

Re: In defense of the word “craic”

When I was a kid in the the 1940s the expression was used a lot around rural Co Cavan. That is the first place I heard people used expressions such as ‘he or she was the best of craic’ or we had great craic’ meaning fun. Another expression around that time was ‘He or she was the best of value’ pronounced ‘Val-ya’ also meaning they were great fun

Re: In defense of the word “craic”

daiv

Ohio is East of Chicago, unless the relations were picked up by the Indiana cops on the way back! Many of my Freinds had had their wallets lightened on that run :-)

Just nudging LOL.

Were they headed to Dublin Ohio? One of my regular stops on business. I find their Irish theme certainly characteristic.

Re: In defense of the word “craic” ;)

Good to know who is writing off Fintan Vallely’s wit, daiv.

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Re: In defense of the word “craic”

Hello Sensibleken

RE: British Island

Good One! Thanks for the smile. Awesome is the latent energy of words.

Re: In defense of the word “craic”

@gam: i meant "descriptive rather than proscriptive"

@sensibleken: haha, that was intentionally incendiary, but in good fun, :-P

@christopher: i think the way irish people use this is different. like, they will say, "are you all sorted?" in america we tend to say "sorted out." there are differences in meaning, but the most striking difference is that they use the term in contexts americans would never. they will also use it to mean "figured out," "set straight." i had a teacher once use it to describe my musical ability: "i have you almost sorted," he said.

@free reed: that’s interesting! the only family i have in cavan are recent transplants from mayo. it is possible that my grandparents, their siblings, and their cousins had heard the word as well but never used it or lost it. they still kept many expressions and unique hiberno-english grammatical features, though.

@damian: i’m not sure i get the reference, though i did seem to say "Indian" instead of Indiana. could you clarify? as far as i know they were off to one of the bigger cities, but it could have been columbus, near dublin.

@na éisc: i can’t say i like the term seisiún or however you spell it. but, i find it being used in the States by those who have good intentions…

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Re: In defense of the word “craic”

I first saw "seisiun" used in Ireland in 1990. I hadn’t seen it used anywhere in the US before that.

Re: In defense of the word “craic”

Well I do hope you get that craic sorted!

Re: In defense of the word “craic”

http://williedrennan.blogspot.com/2013/09/whats-crack-with-craic.html

From Willie Drennan (an Ulster-Scots musician/cultural advocate):

"Now, I’m not trying to challenge the legitimacy of this word being considered ‘Irish’: that’s just the way languages work. New words are introduced to most languages on a regular basis and it wouldn’t surprise me if some wee man, or wee woman, in Oxford will introduce ‘craic’ into the Oxford Dictionary sometime soon. They may have already done so but I don’t care: I will continue to use the spelling ‘crack’ as commonly used in rural County Antrim when I was a wean. Everybody else can spell it whatever way they want. I really do not care that much."

I think that’s a pretty healthy way to look at it. If you are used to "craic," spell it that way. If you’re not, don’t.

Re: In defense of the word “craic”

"Or on a Sunday afternoon, if I chanced to be at home, I heard the cronching of the snow made by the step of a long-headed farmer, who from far through the woods sought my house, to have a social ‘crack’…"

Henry David Thoreau, Walden, Chapter 14, 1854.

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