Word of the day: craic

Over the last few days, I’ve actually been to Dublin, the capital of Ireland, twice! Last Friday, I also spent a few hours in Galway, on the wild west coast of Ireland, where the winds come whipping in from the Atlantic Ocean! I was working with local teachers of English, talking specifically about Outcomes – the books I’ve helped to write, and about teaching in general!

One of the more interesting questions I was asked was about the degree to which teachers should teach ‘standard’ English and the degree to which it’s OK to teach local variations. Many people in Ireland – like many people here in London – use English in ways that are particular to their local environment, and there are noticeable features of Irish (and London) English that visitors soon start hearing on the street. This includes accent, obviously, but also includes grammar (for instance, many Irish people will ask Have we to . . . ? instead of Do we have to . . . ?) and vocabulary.

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Perhaps the most obvious word that’s widely used there, but not over here (except by Irish people in London, of course!) is craic – pronounced /kræk/. It’s a hard word to pin down as its meaning depends on the contexts it’s used in, but a rough explanation would be something like ‘fun’ or ‘a good time’ or ‘a good conversation’. Here are some common examples:

What’s the craic? / How’s the craic? (= How are you? / What’s going on with you, then?)

Any craic? (= Was it any good? / Was it fun?)

Sure it was good craic last night, like. (= We had a good time when we went out last night)

We’ll go down the pub, just for the craic. (= just because it’s a way of having fun)

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However, not all Irish people like either the word or the concept. Critics have accused the Irish Tourist Board and the promoters of Irish theme pubs of marketing “commodified craic” as a kind of stereotypical Irishness . . . and one of my Irish friends noted that the word is used by troublemakers to justify civil unrest on and around St. Patrick’s Day – ‘But sure its just a bit of craic’!

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I’ll finish by returning to the question of whether this should be taught in classes. My own feeling is that first and foremost we need to be teaching students language that’s widely used by fluent speakers of English around the world. Having said that, though, students who have chosen to spend time in Dublin will be wanting to mix with locals and enjoy the local nightlife and may well be sharing accommodation with locals too, so words like craic will come up and so should be covered – even if only as optional extras.

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  • Do you know any other examples of English words / grammar that’s particular to a certain area?
  • Can you think of any examples of these kinds of phrases / odd uses of grammar in your first language?
  • If you were studying in London, would you like to learn some bits of language that are commonly used here, but not widely used elsewhere? Why? / Why not?

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