“Craic” on Twitter

A Cracked EggCraic (pronounced “crack”) is a word used in various Irish dialects which puzzles me. I understand the general meaning of the word, which roughly translates to “something enjoyable.” Therefore a good craic is synonymous with “a good time.” Craic can be replaced with “party,” “movie,” “date,” or some other kind of fun event.

But there are other meanings of craic that are less clear to me. For example, I was riding in a van with an Irish pub owner a few years back (long story). I had recently begun dating my now-significant other, a fact which prompted the question “What’s the craic with you and Caitlin?

In this sense, craic seems comparable to the American use of “deal” (as in what’s the deal with that?). Craic can therefore mean something like “situation.” Or, as in the phrase “What’s the craic?” it refers to  some type of news.

To illustrate further uses of “craic,” I decided to do a little experiment on Twitter. I ran a search for “craic,” and found the following uses in various tweets:

“Might have a wee small flutter for the craic of it.” (i.e. craic = “fun”)

“What’s this “moving to Paris” craic about?” (i.e. craic = “nonsense/gossip”)

“I imagine it’s a Guinness and twee craic-fest that would nauseate me” (i.e. craic = “drunken rowdiness?”)

“It’s gonna be the craic!” (i.e. craic = “the best time ever!”)

Although the meaning of all these uses hovers around “fun” or “news,” they’re used in very different ways, grammatically-speaking. I might also draw your attention to  this Tweet:

“Wanna take a craic at Irish Pres engagements?”

Americans will notice that craic is used here in pretty much the same way that an American would colloquially use “crack.” This is most likely because Irish craic and American/Southern British “crack” (in the abstract sense of the word) seem to have a similar derivation.

Craic, despite its Irish-type spelling, is not a term native to the Irish language, but rather a dialect word from Northern England and Scotland that passed into Irish vocabulary at some point.  All of these “crack/craic”-type words have an even earlier ancestor: you can find indications of this in American terms such as “to crack up,” “wisecrack,” or to “crack a joke.”*

And yet, despite the non-nativeness of craic, it seems to have become an unlikely symbol of Irish identity. Craic may eventually be the Irish equivalent of Swedish lagom or Hawaiian Aloha, words the very untranslatability of which becomes a source of national pride. And in a nation known for homey pubs, céilís and impromptu sing-alongs, craic seems very appropriate.

Still, it remains slightly unfathomable to me. Any native “craic” users care to interject?

*To be honest, I’ve cobbled this etymology together from various Wikipedia articles and online dictionaries.  If anyone knows of a more scholarly explanation of craic, let me know!

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About Ben

Ben Trawick-Smith launched his dialect fascination while working in theatre. He has worked as an actor, playwright, director, critic and dialect coach. Other passions include linguistics, urban development, philosophy and film.
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20 Responses to “Craic” on Twitter

  1. Patrick says:

    I’ve never heard “a good craic” before. That sounds a bit funny to me. I have heard the “the craic was great” several times though. I’m not an Irishman though. But I’m an Englishman who has been to Ireland more than once.

    On a different note, I think Portuguese Saudade is another one of those words.

    • A-M says:

      I can’t think of a situation where ‘craic’ takes the indefinite article. You’d say, ‘That was good craic’, or ‘the craic was great’, sure, but ‘a good craic’ just sounds wrong. This is just my sense from hanging out with Hiberno-English-speakers, though; I’m Canadian myself.

    • trawicks says:

      I feel like I’ve heard “a good craic,” but it’s probably less common that “the craic.” As indicated, the word morphs into a lot of unusual ways.

    • Ellen K. says:

      Google shows plenty of hits for “a good craic”.

  2. Wade says:

    I don’t know much about the word craic, but I did find a nice clip here where they discuss it. It’s “Voice clip 1” and they are from Northern Ireland. That’s also a great web site for hearing different dialects of the UK.

  3. I trust you’ve seen the movie? http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0132907/ If not, it’s not to everyone’s taste (some find it too slow) but it’s worth seeing at least once and you might love it. Anyway, that’s where I first came across the word “craic”.

  4. Stan says:

    This is an insightful mini-survey of the word, Ben. I’ve never heard or seen it used with the indefinite article, so “take a craic at” is a misspelling as far as I can tell.

    Its use with the definite article is common, as you’ve twigged, e.g. “The craic was ninety/mighty.” Though it means “a good/fun time”, there are normally strong connotations of liveliness and high-spiritedness. You could have a fun time at the opera or at an art gallery, but it wouldn’t be of the “craic” variety.

    Craic in this sense tends to be noisy (cf. Old English cracian = “make a sharp noise”), which suggests a possible onomatopoeic explanation for its contemporary informal Irish English use.

    “What’s the craic with you and Caitlin?” is more or less synonymous with “What’s the deal with..”, as you surmised; ““What’s the story with…” is a frequent alternative that means essentially the same thing in that context.

    For the record, I don’t consider craic a symbol of my Irish identity.

    • trawicks says:

      A very good point about the association of “craic/crack” with noisiness. Interestingly, the derogatory term “cracker” in the American South, meaning “hillbilly,” has a similar derivation. If Ireland had a similar term for rural types, “craicer,” it would make a certain kind of sense (even if it might also be derogatory).

      • Stan says:

        There is a word, but it’s not craicer – it’s culchie! I’ve mentioned it once or twice on my own blog, but I might have to give it a post of its own.

        Another craic usage worth mentioning is the common greeting “What’s the craic?” This is not necessarily an enquiry after news or gossip or anything in particular: it’s often used as a set phrase, a ritualised way of saying “How are you?” or “What’s going on?” whereby a direct answer to the question isn’t necessarily expected, but is invited nonetheless, and can be responded to variously. Sample answers: “Devil a bit”, “Not a whole lot”, “Ah sure”, “Grand now an’ yersel’?”

        • trawicks says:

          Which reminds me of another Hiberno-English usage that perplexes me: the use of “sure.” (I’d offer an example, but probably wouldn’t get it right!)

  5. boynamedsue says:

    Craic can’t take the indefinite article, it’s an uncountable noun.

    “Have a crack (at something)” is a different word that is used all over the British Isles, which you might have heard with “good”, meaning “have a good try”.

    To add to the list of imprecisely defined words which have millions of meanings and are restricted to one dialect you could add Argentinian “onda”, which partially overlaps with crack. “What’s the craic?” = “Que tal la onda?”

  6. Mark Paris says:

    I occasionally watch a British TV show called Wheeler Dealers in which a (former?) used car salesman finds old cars, repairs them and then sells them. He often says something is “cracking”, as in “it’s a cracking deal” or the car is “cracking.” His Web site says he had a “South London upbringing and eventually the family settled down in Surrey.”

  7. Ed says:

    The Yorkshire Dialect Society still calls its Christmas meal the “Christmas crack”.

    I was told by a man from Derry once, “It’s all part of the craic.” This would correspond to the colloquial [Northern?] English term “carry-on”: the usual order of things.

  8. trawicks says:

    @boynamedsue,

    I did a bit of poking around the interwebs to see what types of usages of indefinite article + “craic” I could find. Tellingly, “a good craic” is used quite a bit, but usually by tourists! It would suggest the term is of the apochryphal “top of the morning” variety.

    Then again, I did stumble upon a few Irish people using the term. Although I’d suspect there are some non-native Irish users of “craic,” those who’ve only adopted the term in adulthood as a symbol of cultural solidarity.

    @Mark,

    That “cracking” sounds a bit like American (and British?) “a cracking good time.” Obviously another relative of “craic.”

    @Ed,

    Your story about that Derry man brings up an interesting point: there may be some regional differences in Ireland in terms of how “craic” is used.

    • Stan says:

      I have heard “a good craic” but only – as far as I can remember – from overseas visitors, be they short or long term. But it’s quite possibly being used by Irish people in some way(s) I haven’t heard.

      Another common colloquial greeting is “Any craic?”

      • trawicks says:

        I’d note that “any craic?” might elicit looks of horror in the states (thanks to the drug-related use of “crack”!)

        • Stan says:

          Ha ha!

          That reminds me of a time I was backpacking, years ago. After a week or two in France and Belgium, I had just begun to come to terms with French when I veered into Germany – and German – to visit a penpal I’d never met. Our communication was sincere but slow and often uncertain. Soon after I arrived, she kindly offered to wash my clothes, I gave her a small bag of washing powder, and she momentarily (BrE) thought it was cocaine.

  9. boynamedsue says:

    “a good craic”…. after having said that it’s not right, I get the strange feeling I might have heard it once from someone Irish, and been surprised by it. Regional variation? Ideolect?

  10. acutia says:

    As a Irish person I’m ambivalent about this word. Used by visitors to this island it’s often used woefully bluntly as if it’s the unspoken secret password to the mysteries of Irish social life. And (as mentioned above) it seems often used by Irish people in a kind of inverted paddywackery – where people seem to be performing to fit a external idea of what Irish people are like. In my experience, it’s use has increased considerably since the 70s-80s when I was a child and teenager and I put its current popularity down to the successful marketing of “Irishness” via tourism, music and alcohol to the UK market in the 90s.

    As to your perplexity with the usage Ben, the only thing I can offer is people often use it to refer to the quality of a social situation or event (usually in the past) and it’s degree of boredom or interest/fun. I rarely use the term, but in my own understanding, an event, say, a night out, would be “good craic”, if some of the fun that occurred was improvised, unintended or unexpected.
    For me, planning, structure and expectation, even analysis are antithetical to craic as a process/event. This idea is well expressed in one local Irish TV comedy sketch’s caricature of a (sorry) German tourist who misses this point. Halfway through a night out in Dublin with some Irish hosts he inquires whether “we will be having the craic now?”. Name it or deliberately seek it and it will never appear.

  11. Tony Giles says:

    In Scotland and the North of England I’ve heard craic used to mean conversation so it was a good crack could mean “a good conversation”.

    I’ve been learning Scottish Gaelic and one thing I’ve learnt is that literal translations of words just don’t work – “cracaireachd” can mean conversation, chat, fun, gossip depending on the context – so craic can mean different things depending on how it’s used.

    From a blog post I wrote here http://azgiles.blogspot.com/2011/05/gaidhlig-loan-words.html

    An interesting one is craic which originated in Scotland as crack, was exported to Ireland with the Irish Gaelic spelling “craic” which was then reimported into England as a devious method to sell more Guinness. Of course “crack” could have originated from the Gàidhlig crac, which then moved into English, into Irish and then back in English…

    Of course, my teacher could be lying to me and as I’m not a linguist all the above could be wrong!