[First published by The Clare People, February 19, 2019]
If you’re not careful, you could spend the whole weekend worrying. Brexit driving off the cliffs, the children’s hospital there to meet you at the bottom, Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live, Nicky Byrne on Dancing with the Stars – it’s enough to make you take to the bed with a valium-sandwich.
On the brighter side of the weekend’s news however, lives the lesser-spotted skellakybooky. The skellakybooky? The what now? The skellakybooky, ahh you know it, it’s the shelled gastropod that slurps around the garden, menacing the lettuce, making gooey-eyes at the kale before accidentally getting squished by any human that tries to save it.
It might sound like something Harry Potter once attempted to perpetrate a spell upon, but it’s not. The skellakybooky, as any self-respecting, blaa-munching, Waterfordonion will tell you, is a snail. This is no joke, the New York Times’ Irish-British Dialect Quiz said it, so it must be true.
The quiz has taken the internet by storm, not least because it has introduced the world outside of Waterford to terms like skellakybooky, but because it seems to be just about the most accurate way to judge where a person is from.
Better than a DNA test, more accurate than Keith Barry and Derren Brown combined, the test has spent the weekend matching tens of thousands of people and their vocal quirks with locations in Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. It has become very good at it.
Remember that game you used to play in primary school? Did you call it tag or tig or catch or maybe even ‘it’? That bit of bread there in the table, is it a roll or a bap or maybe a bun? The answer to about 25 of these questions is enough for the New York Times to pinpoint your location to within about 20 miles.
Which begs the question, what is the New York Times up to? At the risk of looking a this skellakybooky-bearing, gift horse in the mouth, why does the New York Times care if we call a silly person an eejit, a spanner or a good-fool? Forget GDPR, maybe the data miners at google are not the problem, maybe they [and I’m not sure who ‘they’ are exactly] already know everything there is to know about you once they know whether you think ‘scone’ rhymes with ‘bone’ or ‘gone’.
If there is any serious point in all of this, and there almost certainly isn’t, it is that language, like people, is always changing. So if it feels like the mid-Atlantic, television voice, that you teenage children speak with is taking over, the skellakybooky and even the shelty-horn (from Kildare, don’t you know) might have something to say about that.