Sunday 18 February 2018

Why we need to mind our language and avoid getting into a pointless war of words

"Sticks and stones may break my bones/But names will never hurt me"

Joe McHugh, Minister for the Gaeltacht
Joe McHugh, Minister for the Gaeltacht

Of all the pieces of folk wisdom in the English language, this one has to be among the most misleading. Names do hurt. Words can be very cutting weapons. Bones will often heal faster than damaged human psyches. And, at all events, verbal violence is often a prelude to physical attack.

The Irish have a way with words and an accompanying talent for invective which can mix the high-flown with the most banal. And some of the best examples of cutting words came in national controversy surrounding compulsory Irish which was stoked by the short-lived "Language Freedom Movement" (LFM) in the 1960s.

The LFM in reality got their way in 1973 when the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition abolished the proviso that a student who failed Irish in the Leaving Cert was deemed to have failed the entire exam. They also abolished a proviso that a pass in Leaving Cert Irish was a requirement to get into the Civil Service.

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