Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Crack and craic

I have written in the past about the old Ulster-Scots and Scots word crack and the newer Gaelicised spelling of craic.  Frank McNally, writing in The Irishman's Diary in the Irish Times today, about the singer Christy Moore referred to:
a career stretching back so far that, when he first sang The Crack Was Ninety in the Isle of Man, 'crack' was still spelt with a K
This is a reference to the Barney Rush song, which goes back to the 1960s and was recorded by Christy Moore in 1978.  The traditional spelling was also used by author Jennifer Johnston in 1977 and by Brian Friel in 1980.

The Gaelicised version can be traced back as far as 1968 in Connacht and to an RTE Irish-language chatshow, which ran from 1976 to 1982.  Around this time it also began to appear in English publications, borrowed over from Irish.  But why use a borrowed spelling when there is a well-established spelling already there.  The Irish version was simply the result of borrowing the word into a language without the letter K.  There is a K in English and in Scots, so why not use it?  There is nothing peculiarly Irish about crack and Ulsterfolk have enjoyed good crack for many a long year.

Diarmaid O Muirithe once said about this, 'The constant Gaelicisation of the good old English-Scottish dialect word crack as craic sets my teeth on edge.'  Well said Dairmaid!


  1. I have never recognized the spelling, CRAIC, which sounds like "crayck" to me!

    The spelling, CRACK, is better English, to my mind.

  2. "But why use a borrowed spelling when there is a well-established spelling already there."

    This is to say nothing of the rubbish that passes for Ulster Scots on modern websites and publications. It looks nothing like the traditional version, and is deliberately chosen to look as little like English as possible. One word borrowed, ONE, and you get in a tizzy. I think the modern version of Ulster Scots has a lot more cleaning up to do before you can complain about craic.

    By the way, what about all the Gaelic words in Ulster Scots? Should you stop using them, or revert them all to Gaelic spelling?

    Languages evolve naturally (except for the deliberate policy of Maximal Distancing going on in Ulster Scots). It's not like people deliberately went about stealing the word Crack for Gaeilge.

  3. Bill

    1. The tone of your post is very disappointing and tetchy.

    2. Of course languages absorb words from other languages and English, Ulster-Scots and Gaelic are no exceptions. I was merely highlighting the fact that the word was borrowed from Ulster-Scots into Gaelic and then passed back with a new spelling. That process is not so common and indeed it is quite uncommon.

    3. It is noteworthy that an academic such as Diarmaid O Muirithe, who is an expert in Gaelic, shares my sentiments about the word 'craic'.