In a Word . . . Grand

It is not always easy being green when communicating with the neighbours

It would take an Irish man. Two, in fact. George Bernard Shaw said “England and America are two countries separated by a common language”, whereas that other Dubliner, Oscar Wilde, wrote: “We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.”

What both seemed to have missed was the frequent inability of the English and ourselves also to communicate, despite the common language. It is not always their fault. Listen to Kerry people in full fight, or the cast of Derry Girls, and you realise how useful are the subtitles function on Netflix.

In the context let us acknowledge the service provided by Mrs Doyle of Fr Ted in educating the English on the usefulness of our word "feck".

“And of course the F-word Father, the bad F-word. Worse then ‘feck’. You know the one I mean.”

More acceptable, perhaps, are words such as “galore”, from the Irish “go leor”, for plenty; “whiskey”, from “uisce beatha”, for the water of life; and “hooligan”, thought to be from the Irish name Houlihan.

And of course there’s that most offensive word “Tory”, from the Irish “toraidhe”, for a plunderer. Even the cool question “Do you dig it?” is said to be derived from the Irish “an dtuigeann tú?”, for “do you understand?”

But probably the most infinitely meaningful word used by us Irishry is “grand”, which, when used by us, can mean whatever you’re having yourself. Tone, more than anything else, dictates its meaning.

So when we say “grand”, it can mean “good”, “very good”, “surprisingly good”, “okay”, “not okay”, “bad,” “feeling a bit depressed”, “depressed” or “very depressed”.

There’s “I will, sure” for “no, I won’t” and “I’ll let you go now”, for “that’s enough chat”; “this is it” for “there’s no more to say”; “sure, look,” which can mean anything, and “I’ll be there in a minute” for “I’ll be there some time”.

It is indeed true that sometimes it’s not easy being green when communicating with the neighbours, but spare a thought for what it must be like for them.

But, don’t get too carried away either.

As old Hugh said of Captain Lancey in Briel Friel's play Translations – "he speaks – on his own admission – only English; and to his credit he seemed suitably verecund [humble]". Most of us, at least, also learn Irish.

Grand, from Latin grandis.

inaword@irishtimes.com

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