The Growth of Privacy; Day 12 – Words To Understand The World By

FEBRUARY 14, 2020

Growing up, it strikes me that the invocation of God in our everyday language at home was incredibly pervasive.

And we were not a household characterised by particularly strict religious observance.  We would have been ordinarily religious I suppose; at the time, where we lived, that was the norm.  But we would not have thought of ourselves as particularly keen; let’s just say there were others that we would have recognised as really serious when it came to the religion thing and we certainly weren’t that “all in”.

But nevertheless, God came up quite a lot in our everyday speech.  Constantly, in fact, I think it would be quite hard to have a “normal” conversation without mentioning God, often. 

Everything seemed connected to God’s role in things.  Particularly, anything that was to happen in the future would be prefaced or followed by some reference to God: “Please God”, “with the help of God”, “God willing”.

When I became a teenager I used to think it silly and tried to stop, but to this day I cannot, and I use these phrases constantly.

Studying the Irish language again recently has given me more than a little insight to where this might come from.  God is an essential component of the language.  There are many things that you simply cannot say without referring to God. 

To say hello in Irish you must say “God be with you”.  The response to which is “God and Mary be with you”.  The response to which in turn, if you’re really into it, can be “God, Mary and Patrick be with”.

You do not generally express hope in Irish the same way you might colloquially in English.  Whereas you might be inclined to say “hopefully, such and such will happen” in Irish you would say “Le cúnamh Dé” – with the help of God.

And so it seems the idiom that springs from the Irish language leaked into English, or at least the Hiberno-English that we spoke when I was growing up.

I used to find it embarrassing, that it indicated that we were priest-ridden and unsophisticated, superstitious.

Indeed, that was something, in my ignorance, I felt about the Irish language itself. 

But then I started to study it a little more deeply and took a little time to try to view the world from where the people who spoke that language were coming from. 

They came from a simpler world and time, but also a harsher and less predictable one. 

Yet, while the times may have been simpler, less developed, the people weren’t.  We may look back now and think we are superior and have a better understanding of things, but we are no smarter, creative or irreverent.  Basically, the only difference between them and us is that we just have access to luxuries like health care.

So the people who lived in that world knew that so little was outside of their control, whether they would be around to see a date in the future.  That was not down to them.  And so they would put it down to God: please God it might happen, God willing, with the help of God.

But really it didn’t matter if it was God, or fortune or fate that would determine the future; the most important point was you wouldn’t and you couldn’t control it. 

It wasn’t down to you.

The words we used unconsciously every day acknowledged this, deferred to the deity, a greater power, acknowledged our lack of control or influence on what might determine the outcome.

Concepts like privacy seem completely anachronistic or at least redundant from such a perspective.  But in fact, the only thing that they did, and we do, actually control were our own private thoughts, and now our personal data. 

Of course, issues like these were not a concern of that time; their technology did not enable or demand it.  And therefore the language that we have inherited does not have a natural way of thinking about the world in this way, because we have not had to do so to the same extent before in our history. 

But now we do. 

And now we need words and points of view to make sense of the world in which we live.


flor mccarthy

Flor McCarthy is one of Ireland’s leading lawyers and a recognised expert in marketing. He has particular expertise and hands-on practical experience in privacy, data protection and GDPR issues for marketers. He is certified by the Law Society of Ireland in Data Protection Practice and lectures lawyers on data protection practice and compliance. He is managing partner of a multi award-winning niche legal practice. He has been in private practice for over 20 years and has been elected by his peers to sit on the exclusive Council of the Law Society of Ireland, the governing body for Irish lawyers.

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