Never mind the b*****ks, here’s Minister Ross

He might've over-stepped the mark describing his colleague as “out and out” bollocks

When a friend acts the goat or behaves contrarily, he will be told, in outright affection that he is a “fierce bollocks altogether”.

When a friend acts the goat or behaves contrarily, he will be told, in outright affection that he is a “fierce bollocks altogether”.

 

HAS the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross been spending his down-time secretly touring the GAA’s provincial theatres for inspiration?

Has he been quietly moving through the heartland to scrub up on his popular slang?

Has he been hiding in plain sight all along, soaking up the championship atmos’, enjoying the sun and perhaps making the mistake that all novice-Gaels make sooner or later: buying that overpriced 99 in a fit of childlike euphoria on the way into the ground only to discover that it is already melting faster than the polar caps by the time he reaches the turnstile, which require the strength of Hercules and the dexterity of Mick Jagger to pass through so that he then has to clasp the melting iced-confection in his mouth and try and force his way through the turnstile, a situation which never, in the history of the GAA, has had a good outcome.

So has – and really, this question should be aired in the hallowed chambers of the Dáil – Minister Ross skipped the cricket in order to take in a first round club game in Rhode or maybe keep a low profile at the recent behind-curtains challenge match between Monaghan and Mayo at which, apparently, all kinds of sparks flew?

How else to explain the generally unruffled Minister’s linguistic detour into the most popular and multi-purposeful GAA cuss-word of them all (and it’s a long, colourful list): bollocks.

There is no doubt that when news broke that Minister Ross had publicly described a political adversary as “out and out bollocks”, there would have been an instant and dramatic spike in his approval ratings throughout what Charles Haughey and PJ Mara used to call the chicken-and-chips circuit of Ireland.

You can just hear the murmur of surprised appreciation across the table at tea-time on Friday. Here, for the first time, was the feisty-corner-back-hurler in Minister Ross – his inner Sylvie Linnane – that greater Ireland was waiting to see unleashed.

It wasn’t just that he had dismissed his adversary using the B word. To merely insult a man with the B-word would have been reductive and even uncouth. There’s no real magic in that. No, it was the “out-and-out” prefix that would have made the electorate sit up and take notice that here was someone who knew exactly what he was inferring. You hear “out and out” and you wince.

Abruptly halted

The Minister had a long lexicon of prefixes at his disposal before he issued the B-word at another Independent, Mattie McGrath in a volley of heated words, which, apparently, took place in the Dáil canteen – and not because Mattie was hogging the vinegar.

But, significantly, the Minister shunned all the of more predictable variations of the form– “a bit of a”, “ a complete”, “acting the”, “two ends of a”, “utter”, “total”, “such a” “awful” – for the damningly accusatory “out and out”, which, in the entire department of bollocks–ology, is pretty much the severest version of all.

Shane Ross: At GAA championship games the language will be salty and few words will be employed as frequently or diversely as the cuss word Mr Ross has temporarily made his own. Photograph: Alan Betson
Shane Ross: At GAA championship games the language will be salty and few words will be employed as frequently or diversely as the cuss word Mr Ross has temporarily made his own. Photograph: Alan Betson

A mild frisson of excitement and scandal swept the country for about ten minutes on Thursday afternoon when a podcast debate on the upcoming referendum between Eamon Dunphy and his guest, John Waters, was abruptly halted for similar reasons.

Mr Waters, convinced that the interview was not going to be conducted along fair terms, suddenly exited the studio, parting with the words: “You’re a bollocks! You’re a f***ing bollocks” as Mr Dunphy, sounding genuinely aggrieved and hurt pleaded: “John! “Don’t go”, in a surprisingly touching moment of improvisation which brought to mind nothing so much as the closing seconds of the classic western Shane.

But this was ultimately a spat over a highly emotive national issue between two public men of words who have known each other for many years. Even afterwards, the Dunph’ still referred to Mr Waters as “my good friend”.

There was nothing about the exchange that suggested that the friendship won’t be up and running again in a few months time. And it’s all in the delivery: you could hear in Mr Waters’ tone a deep disappointment; that he felt, justifiably or otherwise, genuinely let down by Dunphy in the heat of the moment. They’ll get over this.

Unfortunately, Minister Ross’s denunciation was not recorded so we don’t know what kind of tone he used. And this is important. At GAA championship games tomorrow, the language will be salty and few words will be employed as frequently or diversely as the cuss word Mr Ross has temporarily made his own.

Two friends outside the ground will listen politely to a neighbour’s opinion on the full-back or the manager, nod in full agreement and then later assure each other that he was talking “absolute bollocks”.

A flare-up in the stands between two opposition supporters will end with one assuring the other that he is “only a bollocks.” More than one supporter will shake his head when he sees the name of the referee on the match programme and warn that he is a “fussy bollocks”.

Inexplicable covenant

If there is a traffic jam outside Enniskillen or Omagh it will be inevitably heard later that “some poor bollocks” had a puncture.

If one of a group is left waiting on the others at the bar for too long he will complain that he was left “standing there like a bollocks”.

When another friend acts the goat or behaves contrarily, he will be told, in outright affection that he is a “fierce bollocks altogether”.

Once the game begins, the referee knows that he will be described in terms almost exclusively relating to the B-word. It is part of the inexplicable covenant to which any championship referee agrees the moment he takes up the whistle, conceding the right of tens of thousands of Gaels to hurl the B-word at him all afternoon long.

Sometimes, he will employ it himself, sidling up to a linesman or an umpire during a break in play and demanding to know the full and unvarnished truth.

“Was I right to send that wee bollocks off?” he will say, panting and parched, and his companion will rush to assure him that the lad had to go and this will assure the referee as he tries to officiate through the madness, the B word swirling in the air, as heavy as tear gas in its own way but nothing like as acrid or as dangerous.

And that’s the thing about it the B word: for all its uses and the lustiness with which Irish people hurl it back and forth, it is ultimately harmless.

It’s a bluff word, used to defuse a tense situation rather than exacerbate it. The key meaning is always in the prefix and in the delivery. The danger is that Minister Ross might have overstepped the mark when he ventured to describe his colleague in terms of being “out and out” in the B-department: a reductive and aggressive term which doesn’t allow room for any redeeming qualities whatsoever. And that’s the where the real insult lies.

So we can only hope that the Minister didn’t go too far; that he didn’t, in short, make a b*****ks of it.

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