The Irish for ‘no’ and ‘know’

The Irish for ‘no’ and ‘know’

Though my playing ability and arsenal of tunes still lack, I think I finally got a bit of session-ishness under my psyche. Early on, I realized the futility of posing a question of any kind to a sessioneer, for a straight answer will never come (pints or no pints imbibed). Instead, you’ll get a peculiar and evasive string of statements that asymptotically imply the answer but never quite express it. Whether it’s done on purpose or not, I’ve found it’s always the manner of speaking at a session, and I think it is the sole reason for new-comers feeling like they’re being handed their hat. Known to some as a form of "slagging," I’m not sure if it’s strictly session-ish or just Irish, or both, but it adds to the craic once you get over it; that is, unless you really are being handed you hat…

Here’s some words I had with a Punter at a session recently:
"What’er your favorite tunes to play?"
"Well, I have tunes I like to play, and then I have the tunes that I play well."
"What’s one you like to play then?"
"I guess I like to play ‘The Four Courts.’"
"So that’s one of your favorites?"
"It would be if I played it well."
"You don’t play it well?"
"It depends."
"So your favorite tunes are tunes you like to play and that you play well?"
"I’m not sure, because I can’t do both yet."
"So you don’t have any favorite tunes then?"
"I guess not."
Luckily, the waitress came around and that was that. I was beginning to feel like a jerk, though I meant no ill-will at all. I realized later that session-ishness had finally rubbed off on me, along with the stench of cigarette smoke.

I saw Ciaran Carson, the poet and musician from Belfast, speak here in Philadelphia several years back and I became a fan of his, despite the difficulty of laying hands on any of his books. In describing the meaning of the title of his book of poems _The Irish for No_ he said something like this, though it’s been a while, and I can’t remember exactly:
"We never really say ‘no’; if someone asks ‘Were you at the pub last night?’ we say, ‘Well, the wife needed me to fix something, and then I had to go to the store.’ but we never come right out and simply say ‘no.’"
I finally picked-up on this trait a few months ago, and once I understood, it helped me to relax at sessions, even if I’m really not welcome because, after all, the truth will never be known anyway. It reminds me of what I once heard somewhere before concerning the amorphous nature of sessions: There are no rules at a session, but the minute you break one, you’ll know. Maybe, but it won’t come in the form of a good, old-fashioned, decisive "no."

I did hand someone their hat later that evening…he’d forgotten it.
"You had on a hat when you came in, so you’ll have on a hat when you go out," I said.
"You’ll never get a head without your hat," said he.

Anyone else have some examples of this sort of session tomfoolery?

P.S.: Remove all doubt by leaving your hats at home.

Re: The Irish for ‘no’ and ‘know’

I tend to look at history for answers to stuff like this. I always chalk up this kind of session confusion to the nature (not stereotyping, but this is my understanding) of being Irish. I think it’s fair to say that Irish people tend to be a bit more laid back than Americans. This is tough for most Americans to understand, because even those who consider themselves laid back will still typically be checking their watches because they always have somewhere to be at a certain time. Looking back at the origins of Irish music and the lifestyle of many people at the time (farmers e.g.), there was no rush, and therefore (at least in my mind), no reason to give a straight forward answer for anything. The way I see it is, the general nature of being Irish involved talking and having an interesting way with words. Giving a straightforward answer can kill conversations, and may not be perceived as quite as enjoyable.

It is also my understanding that in the Irish language, there is no single word that translates to "yes". I have been told that the equivalencies in Irish would translate roughly to something like "indeed" or "I do". I know this tidbit of information doesn’t address the question of not saying "no", but it’s close in nature.

Hopefully all of this makes some sense. If I doesn’t make sense, I promise that I didn’t just pull this stuff out of my ass. Lots of what I said came from credible sources, and some of it is just my perceptions I’ve gained from practically immersing myself in the music and culture. Anywho, that’s what I have to say.

Re: The Irish for ‘no’ and ‘know’

yes, this is because in irish they do not have a word for yes or no. so, when you are asked, "an mbeidh deoch agat?" you would answer, "beidh" for yes, "ni beidh" for no ("will you have a drink?" "drink", or "no drink"). so, in hiberno-english (english in ireland)especially outside of dublin, people dont say yes or no. so, explainin the why would make more sense.

being laid back might be a factor, but its not the genesis of the overly long explanations.

Posted by .

Re: The Irish for ‘no’ and ‘know’

No.

I don’t know what I’m saying "no" to, mind. I just felt somebody needed to say it….

Re: The Irish for ‘no’ and ‘know’

In Irish, there is a straightforward way to answer yes or no to any given question (that begs a "yes" or "no" answer.) It’s just that the words used depend on the context. So, in answer to

"Do you think it’ll rain?", the straightforward answer would be either "I do" or "I don’t".

"Will the bus be coming soon?" — "It will" or "It won’t"

To: "Is there a stamp on the letter?", the possibilities are "there is" or "there isn’t"

So, the language has never been a barrier to directness. However, responsibility has. ("Hey, you said it wouldn’t rain, that the bus was coming soon, and that there was a stamp on the letter. Now look at the mess you’ve gotten us into: aren’t you ashamed of yourself?"

Posted by .

Re: The Irish for ‘no’ and ‘know’

yeah, straightforward. you ask a question, and you answer with the verb of the question in the affirmative or the negative.

Posted by .

Re: The Irish for ‘no’ and ‘know’

ar deoch is maith liom …anois le do thoil …YES

Re: The Irish for ‘no’ and ‘know’

The yes/no response formed by repeating the verb in the affirmative or negative is also found in Welsh (and presumably the other Celtic languages as well as Irish), and in Latin. To my mind this is a more precise kind of answer than a plain "yes" or "no", which can be ambiguous or imprecise.
Trevor

Re: The Irish for ‘no’ and ‘know’

Even in English I hardly ever use "yes" or "no" all by themselves. My mommy taught me I should say "yes, please" and "no, thankyou".

Re: The Irish for ‘no’ and ‘know’

well, if you want to be picky, chinese doesnt have yes or no, either. and what makes it even cooler, you often include this in the question:

ni hui zhongwen, bu hui?

you speak chinese, not speak?

then you say hui, for yes, or bu hui for no. (hui = have the ability to)

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Re: The Irish for ‘no’ and ‘know’

When people ask me if I speak Chinese I usually reply, "Boo Hoo."

Re: The Irish for ‘no’ and ‘know’

Thanks! This really helped me understand my Irish friend. He hardly ever gives me a straight "no" or "yes" and it’s annoying sometimes. I’ve been wondering why for months.