COLM O'REGAN: Opening lines

YOU are at a public meeting.

The leader of your country swears in a foreign language. No-one flinches. The leader carries on.

This wasn’t Enda calling someone a ‘pantat bau’ (I hope no one speaks Indonesian). It was Angela Merkel, last week, using the latest word to enter the German dictionary: ‘sh*tstorm’.

Don’t worry, I won’t repeat it throughout the article: there’s a nationwide asterisk shortage after the sh*tstorm that erupted last week about Brian O’Driscoll.

The word entered the German dictionary last year, defined as a crisis situation and its ensuing public outcry — especially when the crying-out is via the internet. Merkel was using it to pithily describe the Eurozone crisis.

It was named ‘Anglicism of the year’ in 2012 and the consensus is that the German language needed this word. I suppose, since they’re paying for the Eurozone crisis, that’s only fair.

Single words in other languages encapsulate situations that take paragraphs to describe in English. German has many examples that seem familiar to us: ‘betriebsbleindheit’ — or organisational blindness — is a word that would be worn thin from overuse describing the giggling bankers as they catalogued their rinky-dink activities on tape.

Likewise, we could definitely do with ‘torschlusspanik’ — the fear that as one gets older, the opportunities afforded to you diminish.

It literally means ‘gate-shut panic’, the feeling that medieval peasants had when the castle gates were closing for an upcoming onslaught by enemies.

It’s not just German, though, that might add a few, new loan words to the flexible English. In later summer, some people will have the unfortunate need for ‘ronin’ — a Japanese word that means having failed your university exams and waiting around to repeat.

In Ireland, that is described with the lengthier – “And I had to come back from the J1 an’ all, feck sake.’ If you find yourself in that position, console yourself that a ronin was originally a samurai without a lord. That sounds WAY better. Just don’t bring a sword into the business administration exam.

We don’t need to look so far for new words — Irish has a long history of saying something, not in so many words. A man on Twitter publishes little snippets from the classic Dinneen’s dictionary, from 1904. My favourite is ‘corránas’ — a desire to eat from seeing other people eat. And if the fear of the vagaries of Irish grammar (in German ‘tuisealginideachpanik’) makes you antipathetic to introducing any Gaelic words, how about Hiberno-English — the greatest dialect on Earth?

If the Germans need one word from us that would help in their understanding of at least the Northwestern Atlantic segment of the Eurozone crisis, then here is our gift to them — a word that describes a large proportion of our mishaps, which follow bouts of organisational blindness and precede a sh*tstorm: ‘hames’.


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