COLM O'REGAN: Banter has taken all the fun out of craic

MAYBE it was just that I got a bit carried away when the doorbell rang. In a self-employed house we don’t meet too many people so the doorbell brings a frisson of excitement. It used to ring a lot more, but we put up a rather stern sign listing all the people we didn’t want calling.

This happened after a few months during which we were subjected to so many consumer surveys asking our views, we were afraid that too many big decisions would be taken by companies based our choices. The sign on the front door also says no junk mail. This largely works apart from the fellas dropping in the leaflets for the “Poor People Clothing Please Help”. It’s like they are saying: “Sorry but we’re afraid your sign relates only to legal activities. Since we are a bogus charity with links to the Lithuanian mafia, we consider ourselves to be exempt.”

This particular doorbell signalled the arrival of a delivery from the takeaway so was doubly a cause for excitement. The magic brown paper bag that materialises out of the darkness is about as good value as cinema popcorn or an Easter Egg, but feck it, it’s one of the things you can do as an adult that gives you a bit of childish giddiness.

The man doing the delivering was wearing a dickie-bow. I thought this worth of comment.

“Wow great dickie-bow. It’s the most stylish delivery I’ve ever had.”

There was silence. He shrugged. Not just his shoulders but every bit of him shrugged. The food in his hand shrugged. He was obviously wearing the dickie-bow because he had been working in the restaurant and had popped out to do a delivery. He was in a hurry and in no mood for stupid customer comments.

The rest of the interaction was conducted in stony awkwardness. I didn’t even try and pay with a load of coins (like I usually do, in the mistaken belief that the entire retail world is peeled out for change.) “What was that about?” asked my wife after.

“He wasn’t up for banter”

I stopped dead I my tracks. I’d finally succumbed and used the B-word.

Banter — the modern-day compulsory fun. The successor to craic, it is EVERYWHERE now. Banter used to just mean a bit of light-hearted joshing between friends, now it has expanded to encompass nearly all human interactions.

The current Rugby World Cup is an orgy of banter. Irish fans singing in London? Cheeky banter. Irish fans in a funny outfit? Hilarious banter. Fans of different countries gathered in the same area as is inevitable at a World Cup? Good-natured banter.

Obviously I’m being a cranky sourpuss and nothing’s actually wrong but still, I’m not the first to complain about banter. Jonathan Swift wrote about the word in a 1710 article in Tatler magazine in which he listed banter among the words that were symptomatic of the “the continual corruption of our English tongue”.

I doubt Jonathan Swift ever heard of the even more awful abbreviation ‘bants’ or ‘bantz’. This is usually used on ‘ladz’ websites to describe where a footballer has a painfully unamusing reply to another painfully unamusing comment from another.

It’s mainly the official nature of banter that irks me. It’s part of the general trend now to create such hyperbole around humour. Funny works because it sneaks up on you and surprises you, not because it’s been officially classified as Banter.

I’d better stop. Otherwise I’ll be called a ranter. And ranting is bad for banter.


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