More on Smashin’

I have frequently used this blog to criticise the tendency of people who know nothing about language or languages to set themselves up as experts on the subject. I am not just talking about Cassidy here but also about thousands of ordinary people who contribute ‘interesting’ little factoids to internet discussions, informing the world that the Celtic languages are of Phoenician origin or that Shakespeare’s language shows Irish features or that Jamaican slang is all Gaelic in origin. The instant internet expert is one of the worst aspects of the digital age. And however annoying I find it, I realise that for doctors, trying to save people’s lives while immature, dim-witted arseholes undermine their efforts at every turn, it must be so much worse than annoying!

Anyway, I recently heard an interview on RTÉ with an ‘expert’ on the Irish language in Liverpool. Most of this interview was reasonable enough, dealing with well-trodden ground relating to the history of the Irish community in Liverpool. However, the final bit was a typical piece of fake etymological nonsense which I have dealt with before. According to the expert, tara whack comes from tabhair aire, a mhac. (in reality, tara is a local variant of ta-ta, which is found all over England, while the original form of whack was whacker, and it was only shortened to whack in the 1960s!) He also quoted the tired old chestnut about smashing coming from the Irish is maith sin.

While I have also dealt with this question before, it is perhaps worth going through it again here.

Firstly, why do so many people believe that the English slang word smashing comes from the Irish is maith sin? Well, there is a phrase ‘Is maith sin’ which is found in Irish and in Scottish Gaelic (though it really isn’t very common) and which is pronounced much the same as smashin’ and which means ‘That’s good!’  Many people with no training in linguistics will automatically assume that that is enough to prove the connection. Case closed!

However, as we’ve mentioned before, there is an old maxim among etymologists, “Etymology by sound is not sound etymology”. In other words, a formal similarity is only ever a starting point for further research. In and of itself, it means nothing, because when a word in language A resembles another word in language B, this doesn’t automatically mean that A borrowed that word from B. There are other possibilities, such as that B borrowed it from A, or that both A and B borrowed it from C, or that A and B are related languages which developed from an earlier language and inherited a similar word from that parent-language (i.e. the two words are cognates). Or, of course, that the similarity is pure coincidence.

Coincidence is not as uncommon as you would think. We have already discussed a good example here, the fact that daor in Irish and dear in English are both adjectives, both mean expensive and they sound very similar. However, if we follow their etymologies back, they are completely unrelated, and any similarity is a matter of random chance.

Such random similarities are even less likely to be significant when the meaning is somewhere in the same ball-park but not identical. For example, we have had the example here of someone (not Cassidy) who claimed that the English word muck and the Irish muc (pig) must be related because pigs are mucky. Again, when you research the etymology of these words in their respective languages, there is no connection at all.

So, what about smashing and is maith sin? Well, firstly let me say, for the sake of transparency, that it is not impossible that smashing comes from is maith sin. I cannot categorically prove that there is no link. However, if we look at the facts objectively, it is highly improbable that there is any connection.

For one thing, the word smash meaning to break or destroy exists, and there is nothing odd about using a term meaning to hit or break with the meaning of excellent. Smash was first used in English (as a noun meaning a blow) in 1725 and it was first used to mean a success in the early 20th century. There are many metaphorical expressions using terms for breaking and hitting in the sense of success. We have a thumping good film, a hit,, a belter, or bostin’ (busting, a Midlands English expression) and of course, cracking, a term which has been used in just the same way as smashing since the 1820s. In other words, smashing coming from English smash is perfectly reasonable as an explanation.

There is no evidence of an Irish or Gaelic origin. Smashing does not occur first in Irish or Scottish contexts and there are no conscious references to it as an Irish or Gaelic expression. This is not what we find with hubbub, or shebeen, or banshee, or Tory, or claymore, or slogan.

Another problem is the way the two expressions are used. In English, smashing is used in lots of ways that do not correspond to the use of is maith sin. When smashing is used as a stand-alone phrase (Smashing! I like it!) then it’s reasonably close to the way is maith sin is used. However, a bilingual Irish or Gaelic speaker would not say “That’s really is maith sin!” or “We had an is maith sin time!” These make no sense. And when we look at the history of the word smashing, it is used as an adjective first and as a stand-alone phrase later, which we would not expect to find if this were a word of Irish or Gaelic origin.

I realise that this will disappoint a lot of people, because the claim about Is maith sin and smashing has been around for a long time and was certainly well-known long before Cassidy came along. There are many other folk etymologies like this, for example that shanty comes from seantí or that so long comes from slán or that mucker comes from mo chara or that longshoreman comes from loingseoir. None of these derivations is likely to be true, in spite of the fact that they are widely quoted and believed by people in Ireland and in Irish America.

Still less is there any chance of Cassidy’s claims being true, because we need to remember that Cassidy lied about virtually everything. Most of the phrases he gives are outright invention and where he does quote from dictionaries and other authoritative sources, he usually doctored and rewrote the material to make it sound more convincing. Almost nothing in Cassidy’s book is trustworthy and it is safer to simply assume that anything he said is untrue.

A Recommendation

A while back, I bought a copper photo etching from talented New Zealand artist Chris O’Regan. I had intended to write about it before now but I’m only just getting around to it. Anyway, the picture took a while to make its way from the Land of the Long White Cloud to Ireland but I was really delighted with it and I promised Chris that I would give him a bit of publicity here.

The effect of the picture is very unusual. According to Chris himself, the etching process involved uses a polished copper surface where the etched areas are treated with a patina (a chemical) that permanently turns the recessed areas black and brown and the unetched areas are left with the copper shining through. The image will literally last hundreds of years because of the way it was made. It came in a tasteful and elegant wooden frame.

Chris has done several of these pictures. My picture is of Brian O’Nolan (otherwise known as Flann O’Brien or Myles na gCopaleen).

The picture is a fitting tribute to one of the greatest of Irish writers. As I am a Flannatic and a Mylesian, I am delighted to have such an attractive image of my favourite writer on prominent display in my house.

However, there is a special reason why I notice this picture every day as I go past it. Anyone who has ever lived near the sea will know that a seascape is never the same from one hour or one day to the next. As with the sea, the fact that this picture has a reflective copper surface means that it is always different depending on the light filtering in from outside. It is muted on a dark, cloudy day, while on a sunny day, the image of the great man’s face stands out and captures your attention.

If you are looking for an unusual and tasteful ornament for your home, or a different and special gift for someone who loves Irish culture and literature, check out Chris’s website here:

Home – Celtic Art Dagda Metalwork

A Reply To Damien Kirwan

I received a message a few weeks ago from someone called Damien Kirwan and I have decided to answer it briefly, just as a way of showing what kind of comments deserve an answer and what kind of comments do not. Here is what Kirwan says:

I read the book when it came out. I don’t see why you are so angry with Dan Cassidy. His explanation for the origin of the words such as dig, slum, jazz, phoney and the phrase to “say uncle” have merit and gives dignity to a modern European language that has almost vanished. God be good to Dr Cassidy RIP, ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

This, of course, is the kind of comment that really doesn’t deserve an answer and I am fully aware that in publishing this and replying to it, I am doing the poor moron who wrote it no favours. However, the fact is that I have put a lot of work into this blog because I felt that the Irish language needed some protection from lying con-men like the late Daniel Cassidy and it bothers me that some arrogant bómán like Damien Kirwan wants to set me straight about Cassidy without bothering to read any of the blog. The fact is, if he had bothered to look through the material dealt with here, he would know that the possible (but not very likely) origin of dig was first discussed in a paper by Eric Hamp in 1981, that phoney deriving from fáinne has been in the public domain for decades before Cassidy came along and was discussed by Eric Partridge and that the ‘say uncle’ theory was first proposed in an article in American Speech vol 51, 1976. In other words, none of these theories was invented by Cassidy. He merely claimed them without giving proper credit.

He would also have learned that there is no evidence for Cassidy’s claims about slum and jazz. The idea that Cassidy’s wholesale invention of hundreds of nonsensical phrases in fake Irish contribute to the status or dignity of Irish is also ludicrous and quite offensive. And to top it all, this arrogant moron refers to Daniel Cassidy, dim Dan from San Fran, who flunked his degree from Cornell and never acquired any qualifications at all, as Dr Cassidy!

I would like to point out here to people like Damien (and a certain member of the O’Keeffe family who should learn the difference between codail and chodail) that I am not under any obligation to provide a forum for people to express their stupidity and arrogance and I certainly do not have to dignify their semi-literate nonsense with a reply. I have better things to do with my time. If people really want to comment on these matters, they can always start their own blog.

Boogaloo

A recent exchange with one of Cassidy’s supporters on the comments section of this blog (which I have since removed) had one useful outcome, as I realised that my treatment of Cassidy’s claims about the origins of the word boogaloo were not detailed enough.

The origins of boogie are mysterious enough. The known facts are that boogie was originally recorded in 1917 as a term for a rent party. Among poor black people, when they were unable to make the rent, they had a party (with alcohol during Prohibition) as well as music to raise the money to keep them from eviction. According to the excellent Etymonline, a song title “That Syncopated Boogie-boo” first appears in 1912. The style of music known as boogie or boogie-woogie dates back to 1928. The term boogaloo is quite late, being recorded first in the 1960s.

Cassidy ignores these subtleties and claims that the word boogie is from the Irish bogadh. He doesn’t mention boogie-woogie (because he can’t twist it into an ‘Irish’ form) but emphasises the late word boogaloo.

Bogadh is an Irish verbal noun. Its main meaning in modern Irish is ‘to move’. Because of this, Cassidy doesn’t mention the rent party origin, emphasising instead the meanings of dancing and movement. The word bogadh is a bad match in terms of sound. Bogadh is pronounced boggoo in the north and bogga in southern Irish.

As we have said, boogaloo is a very late development of the word boogie. Cassidy claims that it comes from an ‘Irish’ phrase bogadh luath. The word luath has the primary meaning of early, but can also mean fast. Because of this ambiguity, it is unlikely that it would be used in phrases like this rather than a word that unambiguously means fast, like gasta, tapa or mear.

To convince ignorant and gullible people that bogadh luath is an Irish phrase, Cassidy gives several examples of sentences using it. He claims that Níl bogadh luath ann means ‘he is unable to move fast’, while according to him, bogadh luath as áit means ‘to move fast out of a place; to boogaloo out of a joint’. Where did these examples of bogadh luath in use come from?

The answer, of course, is that they are crude fakes manufactured by Cassidy. He copied two phrases from Ó Dónaill’s dictionary, Níl bogadh ann and bogadh as áit, and then randomly stuck the word luath into them and pretended that they would make sense.

In fact, Níl bogadh ann is an all-or-nothing kind of a phrase. The best comparison would be expressions like the English ‘There wasn’t a peep out of him’. Just because you can say that doesn’t mean you can say ‘There wasn’t a big peep out of him’ if he spoke a little bit.

As for bogadh luath as áit, if you said ‘they moved quickly out of the house’, you would have to say bhog siad (or bhogaidis) as an áit GO luath. You need the adverbial particle go. People don’t bogadh luath or dul gasta or teacht réidh in Irish. Of course, Cassidy was completely ignorant of the Irish language and wouldn’t have had a clue what was right and what was wrong, either in terms of Irish grammar or personal morality.

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig

St Patrick’s Day will soon be here, so it seems like a good opportunity once again to attack Cassidy’s rubbish book of fake Irish, to encourage people to learn a little of the real thing, and to say a couple of words about the philosophy of language learning.

At this time of year, many people in the Irish diaspora take an interest in their culture and history. Because of the irresponsible behaviour of a number of prominent members of the Irish-American establishment like Peter Quinn, Joe Lee, Michael Patrick MacDonald, Tom Deignan and countless others, who recommended and continue to recommend this nonsense to gullible people, this book is still in print and still being sold. This is a disgrace. Cassidy’s ‘research’ is a cruel and disgusting hoax and IMHO no decent person would support it. However, thanks in part to this blog, people are now much more aware of how dishonest and foolish this book is, so the newspaper articles about Cassidy’s linguistic ‘revelations’ which used to appear at this time of year have been considerably fewer over the last couple of years. The only major organ (yes, I’m aware of the innuendo) of the diaspora which still supports this raiméis is the egregious IrishCentral. They continue to republish a semi-literate ‘review’ of Cassidy’s book by some 9/11 Truther called Brendan Patrick Keane.

Anyway, it seems appropriate to celebrate St Patrick’s Day with some handy (and GENUINE) phrases in our beautiful Ulster dialect of the Irish language.

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig duit! (OR Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig ort!)

Ban-akh-tee na fayla pahrig ditch!

Blessings of St Patrick’s day to you!

Go raibh míle maith agat.

Go roh meela moy oggut!

A thousand thanks! (Thanks very much)

Tá sé iontach deas inniu.

Tah shay intah jass inyoo.

It’s very nice today.

Sláinte mhór agus saol fada agat!

Slahn-chya wore ogus seel fadda oggut!

Good health and long life to you!

If you want some more information on these things, there are hundreds of resources on line. Focloir.ie is particularly good and has audio files for common words. Just don’t trust anything you read on IrishCentral, in any language, and don’t use Cassidy’s book as a source for learning Irish!

As for the philosophy of language learning, here’s a few points for people thinking of learning Irish:

DO

  • learn a little every day – start NOW!
  • label things you use every day – fridge, cooker, car, door
  • write common words or phrases on cards and carry them round with you
  • learn a few proverbs or songs by heart
  • use apps and words of the day and the Kindle and other new technology
  • get output by TG4 and Raidió na Gaeltachta and listen to the language as much as possible (without bothering about understanding it) just to get used to the sounds and intonation

DON’T

  • go to a class once a week and forget about it the rest of the time
  • try to learn everything at once and get disheartened when you can’t
  • use Google Translate to translate INTO Irish (it’s useful to get an idea of what a text means in a language you don’t speak well or at all but, for example, if you put I cycled a lot into Google Translate, you get Rothar mé go leor, which is garbage!)
  • make up sentences which are too complicated for you – stick to the structures you know to be correct. Walk, then run! There’s no point in practising elaborate structures which are wrong. Stick to simple sentences which are right! 

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig daoibh!!

Daniel Cassidy – A Study in Dishonesty

People have frequently visited this site and deposited hostile comments, usually without bothering to read the evidence first. Occasionally, I have answered these criticisms, which is usually a mistake. The debates can get very heated, on both sides, and the critics are usually totally unwilling to take the evidence on board or deal with it in a rational way.

One of the main criticisms tends to be that Cassidy was honest and that my depiction of him as a con-man and a fraud is misplaced. According to these people, Cassidy’s book of fantasy etymologies was basically well-intentioned, an interesting attempt but Cassidy ‘overreached’ a little so the core of truth has to be sifted out of less believable material. This is utter nonsense.

As I have shown on this blog, there is no core of truth in Cassidy’s work. Cassidy certainly tapped into a number of common folk-etymologies linking English words to the Irish language and he probably obtained these through an Irish-language learners’ forum he used. This gave him words like twig and dig, say uncle, longshoreman, phoney, pet. All of these have been dealt with in great detail and have nothing to do with Cassidy. (Some of them like twig from tuig and phoney from fainne are certainly possible, while others like longshoreman are very unlikely.) He then set to work looking for further words and phrases derived from Irish. In doing this, he tried to claim links between words like case as in case the joint and Irish casadh, gump and Irish colm and a host of other ludicrously improbable etymologies. He deliberately ignored any alternative derivations or anything that did not confirm his ridiculous hunches.  For example, he claimed that swoon comes from Irish suan, meaning sleep. Sounds convincing, except that swoon has an impeccable genealogy in English going back to Anglo-Saxon, so the similarity with suan is pure coincidence.

However, if he had stuck to single words like this, his book would still have been a pamphlet, so he made up lots of ridiculous phrases like béal ónna, uath dubh, uath-anchor, gus óil, éamh call, árd-iachtach-tach, sách úr etc. etc. Hardly any of the phrases in Cassidy’s book are genuine Irish. The vast majority are the most imbecilic concoctions. As David L. Gold has pointed out, Cassidy’s contribution to the study of etymology was less than zero, because not only did he fail to produce any genuinely valid or potentially interesting derivations, he muddied the water by producing hundreds of entirely fake ‘Irish’ phrases which are still doing the rounds on the Internet.

If that weren’t enough, there are also huge questions to be answered about Cassidy’s academic record.  When I started this blog in 2013, I still thought Cassidy had a university degree. This in itself would raise questions because you would normally expect a university lecturer to have at least a Master’s and often a doctorate. However, Cassidy’s sister Susan (no fan of her brother) told me that he had flunked his Cornell degree in 1965. This was confirmed by the Cornell registrar, Cassie Dembosky. In other words, there is not a shred of evidence that Cassidy had any qualifications at all, so it is hard to see how he managed to work for twelve years as a university lecturer. The only explanation, as far as I can see, is that he lied about his qualifications.

There are other strong indications of Cassidy’s dishonesty. He left reviews of his book on line using sockpuppet identities, which is not only highly unethical, the way it was done was incredibly incompetent. You would be in no doubt reading these fake reviews that Cassidy was the author.

Other details of his biography also raise questions. He was apparently working in the newsroom of the New York Times when JFK was shot. Except in reality, he didn’t work there until two years after Kennedy died.

Everything about this man is dodgy, suspect, hooky. His American and Irish cronies, lackeys and enablers can deny the truth as much as they want. It remains the truth. What is important to me is to get the message across that Cassidy knew nothing about Irish and that most of his claims are based on made-up expressions which clearly demonstrate Cassidy’s profound lack of respect for the Irish language and the people who speak it.

Cuddle and Codail

In the past I have criticised Sean Williams (aka Captain Grammar Pants) a blogger on matters of language. She published a book on Irish traditional music a number of years ago which was full of nonsense taken from Cassidy’s book. In a comment on one of my posts, she admitted that she no longer believed in these derivations and that she had got it wrong. However, since then, she has lapsed a couple of times, making silly and indefensible claims about supposed Irish derivations of English words. Just recently, on the 25th of December last year, she claimed that the English word cuddle comes from Irish codail (sleep).

Is this true? No, of course it’s not! We don’t really know where the English word cuddle comes from. It’s a apparently a nursery word (which tend not to be recorded). It may or may not be linked to other terms like coddle, mollycoddle and huddle.

Where did the claim of a connection with codail come from? In this case, it wasn’t from Cassidy. Loretto Todd, in her book Green English, mentions that cuddle might be linked to codalta [sic – it should be codlata), the genitive of codladh, meaning sleep. I have already written about Todd’s book, which is dubious but not as bad as Cassidy’s.

Anyway, could codail really be the origin of cuddle? After all, cuddling and sleep are sometimes linked and they are both about warmth and enfolding … and soft furnishings are often involved.

The answer to that is “no”! We need to think rationally about these things, about the processes involved. It’s not enough for a word to be somewhere in the same vague semantic ballpark. When a word is borrowed from one language to another, there is always a bilingual situation (usually involving a community of bilingual people) who tend to do what linguists call code-switching. This simply means that people use words and sometimes phrases and structures from one language while speaking another. In other words, some group of people who were bilingual said “Would you look at the pus on that child?” because the original would have been “An bhfeiceann tú an pus ar an leanbh sin?” And thus, after the word had been used many, many times in this community, the young monoglot English-speaking generation came to use the word pus(s) as a slang word in American contexts like sourpuss, glamourpuss and a dig in the puss.

So, the implication is that someone, somewhere, said something like “The child was crying and Máire gave him a codail”. Why would they, when nobody would say “Bhí an leanbh ag caoineadh agus thug Máire codail dó?” Codail isn’t the Irish for cuddle. And you don’t give someone sleep, especially not the word codail which is an imperative verb (an instruction to sleep) not the noun for sleep, which is codladh. And of course, hugging is not always, or not even primarily, about sleeping. It’s about warmth, intimacy, closeness. There is no plausible connection between codail and cuddle. If Captain Grammar Pants could be bothered doing the most elementary fact-checking, she would realise that.

Bliain Úr Faoi Mhaise Daoibh

So, several vaccines are now ready for distribution. Personally, I can’t wait to get my injection. I will take it as soon as it is offered to me, just as I take the flu vaccine every year, because I trust in the integrity of the healthcare professionals and academics who provide vaccines. I know that there has already been a lot of nonsense in cyberspace about how the vaccine will restructure your DNA, make women infertile, inject you with a microchip that will turn you into a slave of Bill Gates …

I once described Cassidy’s theories as a ‘dumbass conspiracy theory’ and it is interesting that one of the buffoons who has supported Cassidy’s nonsense in a number of places is also a strong promoter of anti-vaxx woo and nonsense. It is interesting to see how the same thought processes (if it is right to dignify them with that name) are in evidence in both Cassidy’s garbage and the anti-vaccine narratives. Indeed, somebody once described Cassidy as ‘the Andrew Wakefield of linguistics’.

Anyway, let me explain how conspiracy theories work with a simple guide on how to be a conspiracy theorist. If you’re sad enough to think that this is a worthwhile way of spending your time, this is how you do it.

Firstly, the experts are always wrong. It doesn’t matter how many degrees they have, how much they are respected by their peers, a bunch of sad and lonely and totally unqualified people on the internet can see right through their bullshit and know much better than professors and scholars and lecturers – mar dhea (that’s the Irish for – NOT!)

Secondly, the experts are corrupt. So even if they know they’re wrong, they’ll try to sell you a false version because the experts are corrupt and they’re all in it together. They are stooges of the Man, keeping the likes of you and me in our place for nefarious forces that actually control everything, who are lizard people, or Bill Gates, or the Chinese, or the Illuminati, or the English, or the Freemasons, or the Communists, or the international Judaeo-Levantine conspiracy (Delete as appropriate – or hell, why bother? Why don’t you just blame ALL the usual suspects and claim they’re all conspiring together!)

Thirdly, while the experts are wrong or corrupt, there are occasional experts out there who really know their stuff and that’s why all the other experts have ganged up on them (‘Nine out of ten doctors believe the other doctor is a dick’). People like Andrew Wakefield, and of course, the late Daniel Cassidy, who was cold-shouldered by the dictionary dudes of the Oxford English Dictionary FOR NO OTHER CRIME THAN SHOWING THEM UP BY BEING RIGHT! (Of course, Cassidy was almost never right about anything and Wakefield was struck off but let’s not get hung up on boring little details like the truth!)

Fourthly, don’t be afraid to sling the shit. People who disagree with you aren’t just people with a different perspective (probably caused by their possession of more facts and a better education than you). No, they’re doing it for some nefarious and malicious reason. People who disagree with you that the Jonestown massacre was caused by CIA mind control experiments or that JFK was killed by aliens are pro-English, or anti-Irish, or opposed to liberal agendas, or in favour of liberal agendas, or racists, or not racist enough or all of the above. Calling them all fascists or stooges of the Man is so much easier than trying to argue with them, especially if your particular theory is some moronic shite like ‘Polio isn’t a serious disease’ or ‘Fauci refused to listen on AIDS and millions died as a result’, which are obviously total bullshit.

Fifthly, lay it on with a trowel. Use flattery on the people who agree with you. They’re probably not very bright either, so they won’t realise they’re being manipulated when you invite them to laugh at the stupidity and lack of street-smarts of the experts who can’t see the facts that a sensible non-sheeple type like you can see so clearly. That Covid-19 is a hoax, for example, or that the silly experts think that brag comes from a Gaulish word for trousers. (Covid isn’t a hoax and the experts don’t think that brag comes from a Gaulish word for trousers, but don’t worry, these people don’t do any fact checking, so just say whatever lies come into your head! They’ll never know the difference!)

Of course, don’t forget to monetarise the shit you’re promoting. The really diehard conspiracy theorists probably spread this nonsense pro malo publico, without profiting from their fantasies, but remember you can exploit the clickbait potential of lies to earn a few extra quid. In Cassidy’s case, he was more traditional, selling his ludicrous collection of fake, made-up derivations to unsuspecting members of the public.

And finally, as we’ve said, the people who buy into this rubbish aren’t very clever, so the chances of them going to Snopes or other sources to check up on what you’re saying (or believing it if they do) are not very high. However, if you do want to stop sensible people from finding out what a moron you are, there are ways of protecting yourself from criticism. One of these is to keep it vague. People can’t argue with you if you just hint at things without actually saying anything specific. Saying Covid is a hoax is general so if someone tries to argue with you, you can always say that that isn’t what you meant and they are missing the point. Other good methods are to be really cryptic (“you have plainly swallowed what should not be swallowed. I will leave you to ponder your own folly”) or to recommend obscure articles and books (they don’t have to be relevant), with a vague “If you read this book you will realise I am right”. As long as you don’t explain why or how, they can’t argue with you, even if they get hold of the book or article concerned.

Anyway, that’s my take on how conspiracy theorists roll. If I sound angry and bitter, then you’re dead right! I am. People have been spreading nonsense about the Irish language for more than a decade, claiming that hundreds of entirely fake expressions are ‘Irish’, and all because of one dishonest, nasty little con-man and a gaggle of shallow and stupid people with egos the size of oil tankers for whom doing a U-turn is an impossibility. However, nobody is going to die because of the internet being full of phoney Irish Gaelic, however irritating it may be. When people spread nonsense about vaccines and Covid, people die. Some people who might have had five or ten or twenty or more years of healthy and useful life are dead because of the ignorance and arrogance of people who would rather believe nonsense from someone on the internet than listen to the people who actually know what they’re talking about. Which is unforgiveable. I don’t care how much free speech is your right, or how much you long to have your opinion heeded by others on some on-line echo chamber, or how mentally ill you are. Spreading dangerous lies is not the way to make yourself feel better.

To everybody else, to all those sensible and decent people like me who don’t spend all their time leaking poison on line and who aren’t compelled to lie like a fucking carpet for no particular reason, let’s hope you and yours have a much better 2021. We all deserve it.

Nollaig Shona Daoibh!

I have been thinking that I should make my Christmas message a bit different this year. Usually, I post a message warning people not to give the gift of lies and ignorance by bestowing Cassidy’s ludicrous and offensive piece of cultural appropriation, How The Irish Invented Slang, on their friends and family. I still stand by that, of course. Cassidy’s book is utterly and completely worthless, as you can see by reading the material on this blog. All you are saying when you give this book as a gift is ‘I am an idiot’.

However, this year, I thought I would mention a few books that you can give to people of Irish descent or with Irish links without feeling totally ashamed of yourself, books that will actually inform them about their cultural history. While it may be a little late (we’re already past Black Friday), this year is a little different from the usual and who knows, perhaps some people will be delaying their present-giving until they actually get to meet up again. And then, there are always birthdays and other celebrations where a gift like this might be appropriate. So here are a few suggestions.

The best one I’ve read recently was this:

A history of Ireland in 100 words: Amazon.co.uk: Arbuthnot, Sharon, Maire Ni Mhaonaigh, Toner, Gregory, McLaren, Joe: 9781911479185: Books

This is a beautifully produced and very interesting book on key words in the Irish language. It is full of interesting material. I agree with almost everything in it. (The only thing I’m still very unsure about is the supposed connection between leipreachán/leprechaun and Lupercus. I still haven’t seen any evidence for this and I find it unlikely but who knows, perhaps I’m wrong!) It is based on the Word of the Week section on Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language and it is wonderful.

Another book which is quite similar is Manchán Magan’s Thirty-Two Words for Field. This is also extremely attractively-produced and it contains some interesting stuff. It is not as rigorous or scholarly (by any means) as the history of Ireland In 100 Words, but it is worth reading. Magan is a bit of a romantic and I would take bits of it with a pinch of salt but I really enjoyed it. You can find it here:

Thirty-Two Words for Field: Amazon.co.uk: Manchan Magan: 9780717187973: Books

Another pair of books I’ve mentioned before are Motherfoclóir and Craic Baby. As regular readers of this blog will remember, I have misgivings about some of the material in these books (especially anything to do with etymology) but I do think they are worth reading and I would recommend them.

Motherfoclóir: Dispatches from @theirishfor: Dispatches from a not so dead language: Amazon.co.uk: Darach O’Séaghdha: 9781786691866: Books

Craic Baby: Dispatches from a Rising Language: Amazon.co.uk: Darach O’Séaghdha: 9781788545259: Books

A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa is a fantastic book about the famous lament for Art Ó Laoghaire (written in the 18th century by Eibhlin Dhubh, a relative of Daniel O’Connell and of James Joyce) by a bilingual poet who has had a long-standing interest in the lament.

A Ghost in the Throat: Amazon.co.uk: Doireann Ní Ghríofa: 9781916434264: Books

This is a very interesting book on the history of the language:

A History of the Irish Language: From the Norman Invasion to Independence (Oxford Linguistics): Amazon.co.uk: Doyle, Aidan: 9780198724766: Books

And this is another lovely book written by a journalist about his re-engagement with his Irish heritage. Again, a lovely book and well worth reading:

Coming Home: One man’s return to the Irish Language eBook: McCaughan, Michael: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store

Finally, if you can afford it, and if you are very interested in the Irish language, why not invest in a copy of the new Irish dictionary? This is a monumental work of scholarship but it is also very unstuffy and full of the language of the people. If you can’t afford it, then don’t worry, because it is available on line and has already proven its worth as a resource for the Irish-speaking community.

Concise English-Irish Dictionary (focloir.ie)

I hope you will have a wonderful Christmas and that you decide to learn some Irish in 2021.

Nollaig Shona agus Bliain Úr Faoi Mhaise Daoibh!

Begorrah!

I have had a message from a watcher of the site in New Zealand:

Just wanted to ask you a question,
(Long time lurker on your site)
I am looking for the origins of the word –
begorrah , Been Googling seems to be an Irish loan word into English
I have a wee bit of Irish & can’t see any obvious answers in Irish, other than a “stage Irish” ( Punch cartoon) translation
of ” by God “
My apologies but sometimes these things concern me !, shame Cassidy is dead ! I could have asked him & got a bullshit reply!
Go raibh maith agat ( in advance )
Chris O’Regan

I’m a bit pressed for time at the moment but I thought I would give a brief reply. Chris is asking where the word Begorrah comes from and it’s an interesting question.

Begorrah is what we call a minced oath, a kind of euphemism where a taboo expression is disguised. Thus the French say Sacré Bleu instead of Sacré Dieu, the Irish say dar fia instead of dar Dia and the English say jeepers instead of Jesus. Minced oaths are very common.

There are lots of minced oaths based on by God, such as by gum (and the iconic Yorkshire ‘ee bah gum!’), by gosh, by golly, by George, begob. Begorrah is a version of one variant of by God, begor. This is found as begorras in Somerset and begorrie in Scotland. In other words, begorrah has nothing to do with the Irish language.

The particular form begorrah, of course, is specifically associated with the Irish and particularly with the kind of phoney stage-Irish talk found in 19th century melodramas. (e.g “Begorrah, sure and isn’t it a fine soft morning that’s in it, ma vourneen oh …”)

Apparently, Pat O’Brien, the American actor, once claimed that it was never heard in Ireland and was invented by a vaudeville comedian called Pat White, who flourished in the decade before the First World War. A quick search of newspaper archives turns up examples of it in stage-Irish dialogue from (at least) the year 1838, so that’s plainly not true, though it is true that Irish people rarely say begorrah and never without a sense of irony!

And while the late Daniel Cassidy never actually wrote about begorrah, he did make up some arrant bullshit about how By Golly! comes from Irish ‘bíodh geall air’, which basically means ‘you bet’, or ‘that’s for sure’ (or ironically, it can mean ‘yeah right!’) This is a bad match in sound and meaning and doesn’t take into account all the related terms like begob, Golly!, Gosh!, and by gum.

Anyhow, Chris, greetings to you and the rest of the folks in the Land of the Long White Cloud. Bígí sábháilte agus kia kaha!

A brief post-script: It seems that Chris O’Regan, mentioned above, is a talented artist from Dunedin in New Zealand who specialises in metalwork based on ancient Celtic knotwork and animal designs. You can check out his products here:

Celtic Triskele 50 mm Pendant – Celtic Art Dagda Metalwork