By Alana Dore, inside columnist
Like many other students, I decided to embrace my global citizenship and study abroad this semester on the island of Ireland. Since arriving, I’ve learned that even though we all speak English, on this side of the pond, it sounds very different. Therefore, I’ll be spreading my cultural awareness and taking you all on a little international etymological exploration – try saying that 10 times fast – for a word you’ll hear in Ireland at least 20 times a day: craic (n. “crack”).
“You ready for a good bit of craic?” a flight attendant asked as I made my way off the plane at Dublin Airport. After rebuffing what I first thought was an invitation, I ran through the plot of Scarface in my head hoping to gain a few contextual clues. It took me a few moments to realize I may have been jumping to conclusions. She was the first of six people to use the term on my journey from the airport to campus. It was only a 40-minute bus ride.
Craic, pronounced like the word crack, is a term embedded in Irish culture that holds three definitions. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it is officially defined as amusement, but the term definitely means more than that. While craic is a term for an enjoyable time, it is also defined as news or gossip. Don’t worry, I triple-checked these definitions on Urban Dictionary.
Craic can also be used as a greeting in the same way we might use “what’s up?” or “how are you?” In a country where pubs are more common than pharmacies and everyone is always down for a good time, it’s hard not to use one of these definitions at least once per conversation. Now you’re starting to understand why it’s so prevalent.
If you’re wondering why the term sounds familiar but can’t quite place it, try running through the lyrics of your favorite Celtic band, be they The Dubliners, The Pogues, Dropkick Murphys or Flogging Molly. Prefer television over music? Perhaps, you remember hearing, “It’s all just a bit o’ craic,” while binge-watching a season of Chris O’Dowd’s “Moone Boy.”
Great, now you know what it means, but that’s not where the lesson ends. The interesting thing about craic is that no one is really sure where it comes from. It’s a bit of a mystery.
As far as everyone in Ireland is concerned – and by everyone I mean random people I asked on the streets – it’s an Irish term, born and bred. As far as most educational sources are concerned, it’s derived from the Old English word “crak” meaning “loud talking.” An older version of the Oxford English dictionary, circa 1979, claims that it’s not derived from Old English but does have cognate forms appearing in Old High German and Dutch, and that the word was adopted by English speakers in 1300 A.D. Meanwhile, the most recent edition of the Oxford English Dictionary claims it was introduced in Ireland by the Scottish. As you can see, there’s a bit of a bidding war going on.
The reason there’s so much difficulty surrounding the birth of this term is, in part, because of its spelling. Though craic has very distinct definitions, they share many similarities to the word crack used in Scottish, English and even American conversation – remember when everyone would say “What’s cracking?” While some believe the Irish were the first to use the word, others believe they merely scooped it up and changed the spelling. At this point, the argument is too similar to that of the chicken and the egg.
I’m sorry to say, there’s not much I can do to clear the very cloudy air on this issue, and though there may never be a winner in this ongoing custody battle, the word continues to thrive as an integral part of Irish culture.
-Alana Dore can be reached at Inside@HuntNewsNU.com.