Beating Skin

A year ago I wrote a piece on Van Morrison that sparked a small discussion on the meaning of the Irish term “the crack was good”. This morning Eddie enlightened me on the roots of ‘craic’.

Thought it might be as well to ensure for posterity that the origin of the term ‘craic’ went on record. Anglicised as ‘crack’, the term ‘craic’ comes from ‘ag buaileadh craiceann’ or ‘beating skin’. It is a reference to a highly private inter-personal (and usually inter-gender) activity which tends to promote mutual enjoyment, and sometimes progeny. But, there it is … buaileadh craiceann; an craic; the crack. All good fun really.

Beir beannacht [Blessings; good wishes]

So there you have it. The crack is as good as knockin’ boots and rock ‘n’ roll. Thanks, Eddie!

6 thoughts on “Beating Skin”

  1. As an old _craic_ addict, I can’t pass this one up.

    I love Eddie’s etymology, though I can’t tell if he’s pulling our legs. In case he’s not, I feel duty-bound to rain on the linguistic parade. Hiberno-English language scholars are pretty sure the word is Anglo-Saxon in origin, and the idea of its ancient Gaelic provenance a wistful Irish popular myth. It seems to have entered Southern Ireland’s lexicon well into the 20th century, almost certainly by way of the Ulster Scots usage of _crack_ to mean ‘talk, banter’, which you can find quite a bit of in Robbie Burns:

    _A pint an’ gill I’d gie them baith, To hear your crack._
    —- Epistle to J Lapraik, An Old Scottish Bard (1785)

    The OED cites a similar sense of _crack_ in use in 15th-century England.

    This son of Prussians can vouch that the Germanic roots argument feels compelling, as _Krach machen_ is something our own people might have gotten up to on a good night at the beer garden.

    – T


  2. Well, the Hanley dad, among others, was known to say “That’s enough of that crack!” when the whining got too much at home, bearing out the talk/banter angle.

    And “beating skin” did sound a bit free-spirited for the likes of us, though I’d easily believe it of the Brehon era.

    You’re a gintleman and a scholar, Ranger Tim. I pronounce you both right.


  3. Those of you not familiar with Irish music might want to Google the names in this comment for more!

    Years ago I was a party with Ron Kavana, who is an amazing man to party with. The host of the party was turning 50, and on the occaision, Se Black (brother of Mary) called from Los Angeles. When Ron found out who was on the phone, he bawled out in a roaring druken voice tha he had to speak to Se, for he owned himn money from a song he recorded years ago. Kavana slunk across the floor on his hands and knees, past the bunch of us who were playing music. As he crawled into the kitchen his pants started to ride south and suddenly the inspiration for a tune was born: Kavana’s Craic is a reel I wrote and you can hear it

    So the skin beating metaphor comes (almost) home.


  4. The evil comment spammers mean that my comment set-up strips out links, so I haven’t been able to follow through to Kavana’s Craic. And of course I can’t resist learning more. Do you think you could email it to me, Chris? With your permission I’ll post it at the end of the piece?


  5. It may not be the origin of craic/crack, but “ag buaileadh craiceann” is definitely the colloquial Irish phrase for such activities. (“Ag buaileadh (le)” can also mean to meet, so there’s a nice ambiguity in the verb.) “Caint faoi craiceann” is talk about it, so some resonance there with skin trade, skin flicks, etc. Irish can be a fairly earthy language, although most of us don’t get to learn the vocab. to fully understand, say, the poetry of Nuala Ní Dhómhnaill.


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