Paul’s wine shop across the road has a sign outside that’s a variation on the old joke:

To be is to do – Socrates
To do is to be – Sartre
Do be do be do – Sinatra

This makes an appearance in a novel (“Deadeye Dick”) by Kurt Vonnegut. The eponymous main character is a secret scat singer.  He reads it as graffiti on a toilet cubicle wall so I guess Vonnegut isn’t claiming to have invented it either. Sometimes the attribution is to Kant and Nietzsche, or to Rousseau and Sartre. But always to Frank Sinatra 😉

Whole languages are predicated on whether words are related on how something looks, or on how something acts. In Hebrew, apparently, word similarity is based on the way that two things behave. You might have the same word root if, say, two things were both speedy and agile. Totally to do is to be.

While we’re on the subject of language and the philosophy of Existentialism, it reminded me of something I read a while back about the two verbs for “to be” that exist in the Irish language. These are “tá sé” and “is [noun] é”.

In Irish, when you want to describe something that could change, you use “tá sé” or a variation of it. If you were to say on any day in Ireland that “It is not raining”, then you’d come out with “Níl sé ag cur báistí“. Minutes later you’d be wet to the skin and marvelling anew at the transience of it all. “Sure am I not only after remarking what a lovely day t’was!”, you’d exclaim with happy smile as the rain ran down your face and formed in puddles around you.

However, if something is deeply elemental to the nature or essential being of the thing, you’d use the other form. For example, “he’s a man” would be  “is fear é”. Or, “she’s a woman” would be “is bean í”. The Irish translation in Google isn’t big on this, nor on transgendering in general. If you ask it to translate “He’s a woman”  it gives you “Tá sé ina bean“. Which would make any schoolboy giggle in prurient delight.

There’s a book that argued that many (and I mean many) American-English words had their roots in Irish. The theory goes that the 19th century gangs of New York spoke half-Irish, half-English and that English-speakers imitated the sound of their phrases. There’s no explantion for the word “slum”. No easy etymology. Unless you know that “is lom é” would be often shortened to “S’lom é”. It means “it’s a bleak (or bare) place”.

Bhodaigh can you spare a dime?” and all that.


The Spailpin Fanach

Daniel Cassidy – How The Irish Invented Slang