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"Grand": an Irish contradiction.

Updated: Jul 4, 2020

The Irish use of the English language is unorthodox at the best of times. Our phrases, and how we deliver them, vary greatly from the exactitude of our neighbours across the water. Our form of English has often been described as a distant cousin to the language used in the Great Halls of Buckingham Palace or around the cabinet table at Downing Street. I must admit, however, that this does not concern me in the slightest, nor should it any Irish man or woman. In Ireland, we communicate in many ways, and often it is the tone that defines the meaning of our words, more so than an English dictionary. There is one word which stands out above all the rest, and a perfect example of the point I'm trying to make. It is an example of how a single word can mean so many different things in Ireland, and that word is 'grand'. Whether used on its own, or as part of a longer phrase, it can mean a wide variety of things in the average Irish conversation. Not following? It'll become (slightly) clearer as we go.

In the English dictionary, the word 'grand' is defined as 'magnificent' or 'imposing'. Across the world and most of its civilisations, 'grand' is a word used to describe large buildings or gargantuan feats of human engineering. But not in Ireland. Somehow, we missed the memo. In Ireland, its most frequent meaning registers somewhere on a scale from just above shit, all the way up to adequate. For example, if a young Irish male has just returned from a weekend away with his girlfriend which didn't quite live up to expectations, he might describe that weekend to his friends as being "grand". 'Grand' is also useful when dealing with tricky social situations. Its use neither confirms that something is terrible or over hypes ones good fortune in front of friends and family. Don't underestimate how powerful a tool that is to the Irish. Remaining somewhere in the middle is a very important skill. It is vital to ones social standing not to come across as too enthusiastic or too extreme, in any situation. In fact, in Ireland, any attempt to live up to the dictionary meaning of the word 'grand' often leads to social exclusion. Believe me, I've seen it!

The contradiction does not stop there. A very famous phrase amongst the older generation of Ireland's inhabitants is " there's a grand stretch in the evening". The phrase is rolled out annually across all corners of the country around early Springtime. It perfectly describes that time of year when the evenings start to brighten and night-time remains at bay for that extra half hour. Everyone in Ireland loves a stretch in the evening, and this phrase employs 'grand' in a much more positive light than I've previously explained.

So, you can see how people who visit the island often become confused when they attempt to decipher a meaning from the word. Based on the examples I've mentioned, the scale of the word 'grand' has widened from just above shit, all the way up to wonderful. Confused? We're not finished yet, there's more!

Another form of 'grand' appears when it comes to having a drink. Many Irish men are sent out to local watering holes with their wives instructions ringing in their ears. "Four pints, and that's your lot, you've work in the morning." The message is clear and understood but when the last drop of froth is cleared from the fourth glass, and the time to return has come, 'grand' rears its head once again. The inevitable pressure of, " ah sure, you'll have one more" starts affecting your judgement, and before you know it, you've said it," grand sure, I'll have one more." By using 'grand' instead of 'yes' it creates space in a mans mind for that sense of 'I didn't quite agree to it' to fester. It allows a man to fall into a false sense of security. 'She'll understand, she'll be grand', but in reality, you've signed your own death warrant. So be warned, 'grand' is a powerful word, but it wont protect a man from the scorn of an Irish wife, especially when you roll in home after tucking into ten pints instead of four, with half a pizza stuck to your shirt for good measure.

I hope this article has shed some light as to how 'grand' for the Irish really is just one never ending contradiction. Don't get me wrong, it can be a useful tool, but also a dangerous adversary when used carelessly. So be ware. If you're still unsure of how to proceed when you hear the word 'grand' spoken from the mouth of an Irish native then I have some final advice; your best option, when total confusion takes hold, is to respond with a simple phrase of your own, " that would be an ecumenical matter". But that's a whole other story...

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