Earlier this month, Doug Rocks-Macqueen at Doug’s Archaeology invited me to write about the grand challenges of my archaeology as part of his January blog carnival. Thanks Doug, I thought it was a great idea, but then I read some of the other responses written by people like Dr SpaceJunk and Michael E Smith, and got scared off at their eruditeness, academic prowess and ability to stay on task. And now it is 31 January, and the last day of the carnival, and I thought to myself, stuff it, I’ll do it anyway.
So this is a very personal take on the concept of grand challenges, where I’ve chosen to reinterpret ‘grand’ to suit my own purposes. When I’m in Ireland, and I ask people how they are, a common response is ‘Grand’. I say it myself after I’ve been home for more than a day. And I’m not the only one: ‘Grand’ is used very widely in Hiberno-English according to Dolan (2012:121) to indicate a general sense of wellbeing. I’ll give you some examples:
Q. How’re ya? A. I’m grand.
Q. And the kids? A. Ah, they’re grand too.
Q. Your mam and dad? A. Grand altogether.
It can also be used to convey the meaning that something is good enough, that it will do, as in ‘Fuck it, sure it’s grand’. This is even available on t-shirts and as framed prints – see Jam Art Prints for example.
And it’s a hopeful word. Every year, in the dark days following the winter solstice, almost every single Irish person says at some point, ‘Isn’t there a grand stretch in the evenings’, even though in reality the post-solstice days only increase the daylight in increments of about 47 seconds or thereabouts.
So … it’s a word that oils the social wheels, but also establishes the start of a conversation, allowing deeper questions to evolve. It’s a word that can be used to temper the realities of life, where a finished PhD that’s good enough is better than an unfinished one that’s lying in a drawer. It’s a word that can inject hope for the future. And if I take a very long bow, I can apply all of that to the grand challenges of archaeology research.
Edited on 3 Feb 2016: The complete range of blog posts is now available at Doug’s Archaeology blog – a diverse and interesting selection.
Dolan, T.P. 2012 A Dictionary of Hiberno-English: The Irish Use of English. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan.