Crack or craic is "fun, enjoyment, abandonment, or lighthearted mischief; often in the context of drinking or music".
This sense of the word crack is found in Irish English, Scottish English, and Geordie as well as Mackem in North East England.
In Ireland the spelling craic is now more common than crack. This spelling is also found in Scotland.
An older, related, more widespread, sense of crack is "joke", as in crack a joke or wise-crack.
Another sense of crack, found in Scottish English, is "news, gossip", which influences the common Irish expression "What's the crack?" or "How's the crack?", meaning "how are you?", "how have you been?", or "have you any news?"
The context involving 'news' and 'gossip' originated in English and Scots and came to Ireland through Ulster dialects of English and/or Scots, where the sense of 'fun' developed.
Early Irish citations from the Irish Independent relate to rural Ulster: from 1950, There was much good "crack"... in the edition of "Country Magazine" which covered Northern Ireland; or from 1955, the Duke pulled the bolt on the door of the piggery, and let Coogan's old sow out...The Duke had been sitting on top of Kelly's gate watching the crack.
It can frequently be found in the work of twentieth century Ulster writers such as Brian Friel (1980): You never saw such crack in your life, boys and Jennifer Johnston (1977): I'm sorry if I muscled in on Saturday. Did I spoil your crack?
In Newcastle upon Tyne there is a listings magazine called The Crack.
Like many other words over the centuries, 'crack' was borrowed into the Irish language with a Gaelicized spelling ('craic').
It is attested from a 1968 newspaper advertisement. This was popularized in the catchphrase 'Beidh ceol, caint agus craic againn' ('We'll have music, chat and craic'), used by Seán Bán Breathnach for his Irish-language chatshow SBB ina Shuí, broadcast on RTÉ from 1976 to 83.
'Craic' was also used on Irish-language hand-lettered signs displayed outside many pubs, and subsequently the Irish spelling was reborrowed for English-language signs and publications.
Until the late 1980s, this spelling was unknown in English: Barney Rush's 1960s song "The Crack Was Ninety In The Isle of Man" does not use the Irish-language spelling.
Now, 'craic' is interpreted as a specifically and quintessentially Irish form of fun. The adoption of the Gaelic spelling has reinforced the sense that this is an independent word (homophone) rather than a separate sense of the original word (polysemy). Frank McNally of The Irish Times has said of the word: 'Most Irish people now have no idea it's foreign.'
The spelling craic has attracted some criticism. Diarmaid Ó Muirithe has written:
“ The constant Gaelicisation of the good old English-Scottish dialect word crack as craic sets my teeth on edge. It seems, indeed, that many people think the word is an Irish one; hence we find advertisements proclaiming "music, songs, dancing and craic". The implication is that craic = boozing and high jinks, great fun as it used to be ...
—Diarmaid Ó Muirithe
Fintan Vallely condemned craic in his Companion to Irish Traditional Music, and elaborated via an open letter to an internet forum:
he spelling craic causes serious nausea among intelligent people. This glib spelling of the word was invented in the 1970s ... it is the context of the use of the (recent, modern) Irish spelling of the word that is the issue - if craic is to be used, it should be used while writing in the Irish language, OR placed in parentheses or in italics when writing in English. I stress that this is a word which was NEVER in the Irish language (but cráic, meaning arsehole, or creac, meaning herd, are). ... I grew up using the word in the 1950s. When I went to Dublin (from Ulster) in 1968 NOBODY I met in Dublin used 'crack' ... 'Crack' only began to be used with the influx of northerners and in the context of music, it travelled with northern influence (at the fleadh cheoil, etc) until southern people began to believe that they had invented it. Ciaran Carson is particular enraged by the craic spelling, so too Desi Wilkinson and many other otherwise tolerant souls. ”
Other critics have accused the Irish tourism industry and the promoters of Irish theme pubs of marketing 'commodified craic' as a kind of stereotypical Irishness.
Examples of use would be a reply to the question, 'How was your evening?' such as 'Aye, it was good crack', meaning 'I had a good time'. A popular way to start a conversation on the Internet and texting is 'What's the craic/crack?' meaning 'Any news?' or 'Any gossip?' It is sometimes written as 'what's da craic?, which is sometimes abbreviated to 'wdc'.
A person who is 'good crack' is fun to be with. Crack is, by default, positive: 'good crack', 'great crack', 'the crack was ninety' or 'the crack was mighty'. In Irish, 'Bhí craic againn' is 'We had a good time', and 'Bhí an-chraic againn' is 'We had a great time'.
However, 'bad crack' is also used occasionally.
The 'news' sense of crack is used in the singular in Hiberno-English, although originally Scots used the plural:
* Scots: 'Gie's your cracks. Whit's aw the news in the toun?'
* Hiberno-English / Mid-Ulster English: 'What's or How's
the crack?' Typical response: 'Nothing much.'
* Irish: 'Cad é an craic leat?' 'What's new with you?'
The potential is well-known in Ireland of foreigners misconstruing "crack" in such phrases as "I had some great crack" as referring to crack cocaine.