Brian Sammon writes:
The incomparable Flann O’Brien/Myles na gCopaleen/Brian O’Nolan. gets the Google doodle treatment [only on Google.ie] on his birthday today, October 5 [he would have been 101]. How about a sample of the man’s genius?
A sample you, say?
January 11th, 1941
A LADY lecturing recently on the Irish language drew attention to the fact (I mentioned it myself as long ago as 1925) that, while the average English speaker gets along with a mere 400 words, the Irish-speaking peasant uses 4,000.
Considering what most English speakers can achieve with their tiny fund of noises, it is a nice speculation to what extremity one would be reduced if one were locked up for a day with an Irish-speaking bore
and bereft of all means of committing murder or suicide.
My point, however, is this. The 400/4,000 ration is fallacious; 400/400,000 would be more like it. There is scarcely a single word in the Irish (barring, possibly, Sasanach) that is simple and explicit.
Apart from words with endless shades of cognate meaning, there are many with so complete a spectrum of graduated ambiguity that each of them can be made to express two directly contrary meanings, as well as a plethora of intermediate concepts that have no bearing on either.
And all this strictly within the linguistic field. Superimpose on all that the miasma of ironic usage, poetic licence, oxymoron, plamás, Celtic invasion, Irish bullery and Paddy Whackery, and it is a safe bet that you will find yourself very far from home.
Flann O’Brien’s books (Amazon)
Brian O’Nolan (Wikipedia)