Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Blame Game and its Irish connections

 Google Books Ngram Viewer: 1950-2019

Last month the Financial Times headlined a report ‘The British begin the Brexit blame game: PM and her ministers are already pointing the finger at EU for impending failure' and this week the Irish Times published an opinion piece ‘Internal British bloodletting is the biggest worry of the Brexit blame game’ from a former Irish ambassador to the UK — just a decade ago the politicians, civil servants and media cheerleaders, who brought the Irish economy to the brink of ruin for the second time in a generation, not surprisingly had played the same finger-pointing game.

The blame game defined as a situation in which different individuals or groups attempt to assign blame to each other for some problem or failure, is common in much of life across the world.

"The buck stops here" is a phrase associated with US president Harry Truman, who kept a sign with that phrase on his desk in the Oval Office.

However, the buck stops nowhere is the most common response to failures in politics, business and elsewhere.

The Oxford English Dictionary has attributed the first use of “Blame Game” in print to the 1958 review by English theatre critic Kenneth Tynan, of Eugene O'Neill's (1888-1953) masterpiece autobiographical play 'Long Day's Journey into Night' on an Irish-American family, set in one day in August 1912:

"The family goes round and round in that worst of domestic rituals, the Blame Game. I blame my agony on you; you blame yours on her; she blames hers on me. Father blames his past; mother blames father; elder son blames both. Younger son blames all of them. If the play has a flaw it is that O'Neill, the younger son, lets nobody blame him: though I recall as I write this, the moment his mother cries out that she would not be what she is if he never had been born (she became addicted to drugs after a difficult birth- MH). The wheel coming full-circle runs over them all."

The term "full circle" comes from Shakespeare's 'King Lear' first performed on December 26, 1606:

Edmund: "Th' hast spoken right, 'tis true.

The wheel is come full circle, I am here."

Eugene O'Neill, the 1936 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote the play 'Long Day's Journey into Night' in 1940/1941 and it was first published in 1956 after the playwright’s death. His wish was that it would not be published until 25 years after his death.

O’Neill never visited Ireland but he did say once, “One thing that explains anything about me is the fact that I am Irish.”

Kenneth Tynan’s (1927-1980) mother was a young unmarried Lancashire woman of Irish parentage whose surname was Tynan. His father was a married older man named Sir Peter Peacock.

Kenneth Tynan wrote in his review of ‘The Quare Fellow,’ Brendan Behan's (1923-1964) first play which was produced in 1954:

"The English hoard words like misers; the Irish spend them like sailors; and in Brendan Behan's tremendous new play, language is out on a spree, ribald, dauntless, and spoiling for a fight. In itself, of course, this is scarcely amazing. It is Ireland's sacred duty to send over, every few years, a playwright to save the English theatre from inarticulate glumness."

Google searches in the UK suggest that the incidence of "blame game" has been the highest in Northern Ireland.  


James Joyce