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Old Media and New Media

I have just finished watching Aaron Sorkin’s media-based drama, The Newsroom. I enjoyed it as a series. The acting is good, the characters are likeable. The dialogue is a little wearing at times, as everybody has the same ultra-witty voice and style of delivery. However, the series made me think about the way that the media are changing and whether those changes are a good thing, a bad thing or a mixture of both.

For Sorkin, journalism is – or should be – a sacred calling. There are many comments in The Newsroom about the evils and dangers of citizen journalism and the great care that real journalists take in checking their facts, as well as the dire consequences of not doing the checking properly. Now, I am not blind to the dangers of some of the new media. The way that fake stories have been invented and propagated by dodgy sources is a great cause for concern. We have seen a lot of it recently, especially in connection with the Trump campaign.

My beef is, basically, that the role of the old media in spreading Cassidy’s lies shows quite clearly that they aren’t always the stalwart defenders of truth depicted in Sorkin’s fairytale. Since Cassidy’s work of fake etymology, How The Irish Invented Slang, was published ten years ago, many newspapers have published uncritical and dim-witted articles about the Great Fraud and his theories: the New York Times; the Irish Times; the San Francisco Weekly; The San Francisco Chronicle; The Boston Globe (yes, the Spotlight paper); The Boston Phoenix; The New York Observer; The Irish News; the Irish Echo; Lá. And that’s just the newspapers. There have been a few skeptical and dissenting voices but mostly, Cassidy’s lies have been accepted at face value in the traditional media.

With the new media, it’s more of a mixed bag. There are several articles on the highly successful (and highly crappy) IrishCentral website which uncritically praise Cassidy’s work and give information which is obviously incorrect as if it were true. In IrishCentral’s defence, you could say that it has a comments column and that many, if not most, of the comments are highly critical of Cassidy’s scholarship. However, this is not much of a defence. It should be IrishCentral establishing the truth and telling the truth, with the comments section being the usual mix of crazy, bitter and sensible, not the other way round!

In short, what I’m saying is that there is good media and bad media and that’s more important than old or new. You would expect IrishCentral to produce rubbish because its former editor, Niall O’Dowd, doesn’t have much journalistic integrity and will obviously publish any story, however stupid, as long as it attracts readers.

Some new media have higher standards, of course. While Wikipedia is not perfect, it is pretty much free of Cassidese bullshit now, in spite of several crass attempts by dishonest members of Cassidy’s social circle to suppress the truth about his lack of qualifications.

And then, of course, there’s Cassidyslangscam. This blog is a new media format, but it has actually made the truth about Cassidy available to a lot of people when newspapers, radio stations, TV stations and books have continued to spread falsehoods. To give just one example, nobody would know that ‘Professor’ Cassidy didn’t have any qualifications if it weren’t for this blog. Cassidy’s sister Susan kindly volunteered the information that he flunked his degree, I confirmed it with the excellent registrar Cassie Dembosky at Cornell and published it here.

To the best of my knowledge, no newspaper or news programme has followed suit, though they were all very quick to publish Cassidy’s lies when they first came out.

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Ring

This is one of the many cases in Cassidy’s book where he ignores the correct and straightforward explanation in favour of a creaky and unconvincing origin of his own invention. As he says in the book:

But if a button is … ringing (roinn, pron. ring, to deal) in a crooked deck, every Punter is a loser. (Page 52)

In other words, Cassidy is claiming that ringing, a slang word for substitution, is from the Irish word roinn, the basic meaning of which is divide. Why a word meaning divide or deal would acquire the meaning of substitute is not explained, but then Cassidy didn’t put this one in the glossary, so presumably he was well aware that it was bullshit.

In reality, the term ringing dates back to the early nineteenth century as an expression for substitution, probably from the bell-ringing phrase ‘to ring the changes’. Then in the late nineteenth century, we get the expression a dead ringer, meaning a horse which resembles another horse and is substituted for it to banjax the gambling odds.

Cassidy’s claim is simply nonsense, like nearly everything in How The Irish Invented Slang. Incidentally, there is an even sillier explanation doing the rounds for dead ringer, that it refers to people putting telephones into graves in case they were buried alive. This just goes to show that people are absolute suckers for fake etymology.

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Three Kinds of Lies

There are three principal kinds of lies among the ‘etymologies’ in Cassidy’s ridiculous book How The Irish Invented Slang.

Plagiarism

As we have said before, there are many entries in Cassidy’s book which are plagiarised. Dozens of expressions were already in the public domain before they appeared in Cassidy’s book (though most of these are also fanciful and unlikely to be correct.)  In most cases, the Great Fraud didn’t acknowledge where he got them. Examples: longshoreman from loingseoir, ballyhoo from bailiú, snazzy from snas, smashing from is maith sin, slug from slog, etc.

Single words

In many cases, Cassidy found individual words in English and English slang. He then hit the Irish dictionaries and tried to find words which were a vague match for his English words. So, suppose Cassidy had decided that the term to drink a toast to someone doesn’t have anything to do with toasted bread. So he hits the dictionary and finds the word tost, meaning silence. Well, you propose a toast and of course, everyone is silent while they’re drinking. So it’s from the Irish tost meaning silence.

However, Cassidy often changed his story. (Slum was originally from saol lom, according to Cassidy but in the book it’s from ‘s lom é.) So, suppose he was looking through a dictionary and happened to notice the word tóstal, meaning assembly, muster, array or pageant. And suppose Cassidy decided that this, not tost, is a better origin of toast. So, he writes a ‘dictionary definition’:

tóstal – assembly, muster, pageant; a public display (of respect etc.)

and then adds a few dictionary references, so that a casual observer might assume that this was taken verbatim from a dictionary. Of course, the really impressive bit, about the public display of respect, would be a complete fiction invented in California by a man who didn’t speak any Irish. (In reality, I made this example up using Cassidy’s ‘methodology.’)

Phrases

Of course, if Cassidy had been restricted to plagiarism and words which accidentally have a phonetic similarity and some similarity of meaning, his book would have been little more than a pamphlet. Most of his ‘etymologies’ were phrases.

Here’s how it works. Cassidy finds the word bamboozle and decides it must be Irish. So, he hits the Irish dictionaries and looks for something that corresponds to it. Of course, there’s no suitable Irish word. So, this pretentious dimwit – who doesn’t speak any Irish at all – cobbles together a ‘well-known phrase’ in Irish. First, he finds the word bamba, which means tiresomeness or frustration. So far, so good. But what about the oozle? So, he looks in the dictionary and finds uasal, which means noble, but also has a subsidiary meaning of ‘fairy’. Great! In ‘Irish’, bamba uasal is a phrase meaning frustrated by the fairies, thwarted by supernatural forces.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that. It doesn’t exist. I just made it up ten minutes ago as an example of how Cassidy’s mind didn’t work. There are hundreds of similar expressions in Cassidy’s book: uath dubh; gus óil; gruaim béil; gearr-ól úr etc. etc.

I note with great sadness that people are still spreading this nonsense. For example, a couple of weeks ago, someone called Glopweiller (or Daniel Patrick Galvi) put a reference to Cassidy’s dumbass theory about the origins of dude on Twitter. There is a lot of talk at the moment about the post-truth world we live in. The fact is, it’s only post-truth if we decide to let that happen, by ignoring the facts and not checking them. I suggest we make that an additional New Year’s resolution – to check every fact, however trivial, before passing it on and contributing to the morass of ignorance out there.

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A Cork Slang Mystery

This is a bit of a departure for Cassidyslangscam. It is not a debunking of a fake etymology or an attack on the usual cronies and dullards who have supported nonsense in preference to facts. And it’s not an attack on the Donald either, because this is not a political blog and I have already made my contempt for Trump and his supporters quite clear elsewhere on this blog.

No, this post is about a Cork slang expression and its origins. In a previous post, I dismissed the supposed Irish origin of the expression ‘to put the kybosh on something.’ However, there is a similar expression, which is found in the area of Ireland’s most beautiful city, Cork – ‘to put the cawheke on something.’ This is a very interesting expression and I think I can shed some light on its origins.

To put the cawheke (or cawhake) on something means to put a jinx on it or to put the kybosh on it. A couple of explanations have been offered for this, neither of them very satisfactory. One is that it derives from Irish caoch meaning blind. The other is that it comes from cá théadh, supposedly meaning ‘where would (something) be going’ but this shows a lack of basic Irish grammar – it would be cá dtéadh, not cá théadh. In any case, this is really quite unlikely.

The real answer, I believe, lies in a kind of slang used by builders and masons in the Cork and Limerick area. This Gaelic-based slang (known as Béarlagair na Saor) is described in depth in the book The Secret Languages of Ireland by R.A.S. Macalister, first published in 1937. This was based on accounts from Limerick, Youghal and Ballyvourney.

Now, among the phrases in the book are two which seem to use versions of this word, both collected by an architect in Youghal called Fitzgerald:

Cawheke a limeen = What o’clock is it?

Caw-heke in rudghe scab-an-thu na therka na liobogue? = What is the thing which is smaller than the eye of a midge?

I won’t go into any detail about these but limín seems to have been a general term for a device, and in this case, a clock. Macalister was not sure about the second element of caw-heke, though the first is obviously cá, meaning what, or how or where, depending on context. To me, it looks like cá híoc, with íoc meaning recompense or payment, though this would be problematic for the second sentence, where the meaning is definitely ‘what’ rather than ‘how much’. (The only instance of the phrase cá híoc I can find is in a religious poem by an Ulster poet in the 17th century – cá híoc budh breath i mbás ríogh = what recompense would be right for the death of a king? Unfortunately, this doesn’t really help much.)

However, whatever caw-heke/cá híoc originally meant, there is no doubt that it was used by builders and masons in Cork in a phrase meaning ‘what’s the time?’ This, I think, is the origin of its use in modern Cork slang. When it was getting close to knocking-off time, the masons would say ‘Cá híoc a limín?’ It’s a short step from that to calling knocking-off time ‘cawheke time’. And by extension, putting the cawheke on something would be stopping it.

Of course, this is just a suggestion. I’ve no proof of it and it may be wrong. If anyone has any comments or suggestions on the origins of ‘cawheke’, you know where to find me.

Is Pseudo-Scholarship Good For Anything?

This is a subject I have been mulling over for a while. It was sparked by a casual comment on the excellent podcast Life, The Universe and Everything Else by the Winnepeg Skeptics. One of the panel said that they were addicted to pseudoscience and supernatural books when they were young. Then I read that Jason Colavito, an excellent debunker of Ancient Aliens, began his interest as a believer and gradually realised it was all bollocks. I must say, I was an omnivorous reader when I was young and I used to buy all kind of nonsense at jumble sales – Dennis Wheatley, T. Lobsang Rampa, Erich von Däniken, Carlos Castañeda, John M. Allegro.

I grew out of it by the time I was in my early twenties and it certainly never did me any harm. But could you make a case that exposure to this kind of dim-witted rubbish is actually a good thing for young minds?

The thing is, teenagers don’t think like adults. Teenagers are alive to a thousand possibilities. They are still looking for who they are and what they think about the world. The behaviour of teenagers is frequently a challenge for older people because it is often irrational and contradictory but in a sense, that’s because it needs to be. In many ways, it’s like the process of brainstorming. The first stage is to generate ideas uncritically, without rejecting anything. And one thing you can say about pseudoscientists is that they are also open to all kinds of irrational nonsense. No idea is too stupid to be rejected out of hand by a follower of pseudoscience. As a kid, I can remember reading Erich von Däniken’s books and the sense of wonder and of infinite possibility that his absurd theories gave me.

Another thing is that pseudoscientific books frequently cherry-pick exciting facts. They home in on things which are surprising, anomalous and interesting in mainstream research, as well as generous dollops of made-up nonsense. If you can work out which is which, pseudoscience can sometimes lead to some genuinely interesting material. (Of course, one common complaint is that these people make money by riding on the back of good research and distorting its conclusions, a criticism which is entirely justified.)

And last but not least, if I only read respectable and accurate works of scholarship as a child, would I have such an acute ability to detect bullshit now? Somehow I doubt it. I think that exposure to the illogical arguments and non sequiturs and random prejudices of pseudoscience actually works like an inoculation (for some people, at least). It makes them think about the nature of truth and dishonesty and it makes them develop the antibodies of skepticism and doubt.

However, if people still believe in this nonsense when they’re fully grown up, that’s a problem. But let’s face it, while it’s a problem for the wider society, it’s far more of a problem for these individuals themselves. They are the ones who are really missing out by preferring woo to true. As adults, they should be looking for that buzz of awe and wonder in the amazing amount we now know about the universe around us instead of watching Ancient Aliens. They should be impressed at the incredible amount that medical science has achieved rather than putting their faith in expensive water.

At the very least, I think that this kind of dross should be read and discussed in schools, because people need to be taught to recognise bad thinking and to develop good thinking and the easiest way to do that is to look at the worst examples of bad thinking around.

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Why Hugh Curran Is A Lying Scumbag

Recently, I let fly at a dimwit called Hugh Curran who ‘teaches’ at the University of Maine. I have just found another post by him on IrishCentral, below another of Brendan Patrick Keane’s appalling pieces on Irish. This is every bit as ignorant, badly-written and moronic as the post he left under Keane’s other article on Cassidy’s work. I won’t quote it all, but here is some of it, in italics, with my comments.

I teach a course on Irish (Gaeilge) and one of the exercises given to students is to identify words that they use in everyday speech that are of Irish or Scots Gaelic origin. For instance, they sometimes eat a big Mac (mac=son) at MacDonalds (MacDomnall) and use the Mac computer (MacIntosh=MacTaoiseach=leader) and drive to Bangor (Benn chur=circular hill) by way of Kelly (Ceallach) and Hogan (h Og an) Roads to a Mall to purchase at a sales Galore(go leor=much or big) at Radio Shack (teach=pronounced shack) that is going out of business. A few students live in Derry (Doire=oak) in NH. There are multiple other place names in the U.S. and Canada that have Gaelic or Celtic names that would need much more space than this response even to begin to examine. But it helps students to point out how many names in common English usage have Gaelic roots such as Kevin (Caomhain) Aodan-Aedhan or Aodhan), Kenny & Kenneth (Ceannaidh), Eriin (eirinn), Murphy (Murchu), Duffy (Dubthaigh). Campbell (cam beall=twisted mouth) & Cameron (cam shrone=twisted nose).

Once again, this scumbag is boasting of his abilities in the Irish language. Well, if you teach it, you must be able to speak it, right? Wrong, actually. On his own admission, he isn’t fluent in the language. Though he only admitted that when criticised by me on this blog. I also found this, which certainly suggests a competence in the language which he doesn’t have: Poet and free-lance writer. Translator of old Irish poetry… Teacher of Gaelic and cultural studies.

Of course, all the stuff about names and placenames is completely irrelevant. Did anyone ever suggest that Kevin doesn’t come from Irish, or that Derry in Maine wasn’t named after Derry here? Of course not! What this does show, very clearly, is that Curran doesn’t know anything about the Gaelic languages. Mac Taoiseach? Really? Don’t you mean Mac an Taoisigh? Is beall the Scottish Gaelic for mouth? I thought that was beul (and béal in Irish). And cam shrone is Scottish Gaelic for crooked nose? Not camshròn? And Doire doesn’t mean an oak, it means an oak wood. An oak tree is dair or crann darach. His analysis of the origin of Bangor is shite as well, but I’ll let anyone who’s interested look it up for themselves. Apparently Curran also thinks shack comes from teach. Any evidence? They don’t sound at all similar. Chah, shack. I’m not getting it. Is Che as in Guevara Lynch similar to Shek as in Chiang-Kai? Not a lot … And the opinion of experts like this (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=shack) is against shack coming from Irish, but then, Curran is far too big-headed to believe that he knows less than experts who spend their lives researching these things. Here’s some more childish nonsense from this arrogant self-worshipping twit.

Other common words such as: muck & mucky=pig as well as such words as bog=soft, possibly bogy in golf), smashing (is maith sin) are so entrenched in the English language that their sources are forgotten. It is one of the curious features of the English language is how little credence is given to native British=Welsh and Irish & Scots language) that English etymologists have gone to great lengths to derive words from classic sources while neglecting the language that has been alive for a thousand years before the Anglo-Saxon invasion in the 5th century. What is often neglected among etymologists or those who state, rather glibly, that there are only a handful of words of Gaelic origin in the English language is that everyday English speech uses names and place-names rooted in Scots & Irish history.

Which words are these that are ignored by the world of scholarship? Care to give us an example instead of an assertion? If muck = pig is one of them, the similarity between Irish muc (pig) and English muck (dirt) is purely coincidental. Muck is found in Middle Englsh and is almost certainly a borrowing from a Norse word meaning ‘dung’. (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=muck) Bog does come from Irish or Gaelic (from bogach, not directly from bog) and ALL the dictionaries agree that this is the case. (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=bog) The meaning of bogey in golf isn’t a match. So how is any of this relevant? Smashing probably doesn’t come from is maith sin, and there are many expressions in English like a hit, a smash hit, a belter, a knockout, or the English Midlands slang word bostin’ (=busting) which use the same metaphor. Anyway, sorry about this, but here’s more of Curran’s childish bullshit.

English etymologists often have little understanding of lenition (ie nasalization) and eclipsing of initial letters which changes names and words (eg Seamus=shamus=a Hamish when addressing someone with that name) Although the book “How the Irish Invented Slang” is sometimes maligned because a few of the several hundred words are of questionable Gaelic origin, yet the vast majority are correct and the book makes for fascinating reading.

Of course, it makes no difference that people don’t understand lenition, because when you ask an Irish speaker the word for the moon, they will say gealach, not ghealach or ngealach. It’s the basic, unmutated form of a word that tends to pass between languages. (Hamish and Iain in Scotland are rare exceptions where the English version chose the vocative case rather than the nominative.) Cassidy’s daft claims which rely on these mutations to ‘sound right’ like bhuail for whale or n-each for nag are just nonsense. And as for the comment that ‘a few’ are ‘questionable but ‘the vast majority are correct,’ that was around 10 September 2016. By the time Curran posted his other comment on 7 December 2016, he was claiming that Cassidy’s work was 80% plausible and these were apparently right ‘more often than not’, which means that it was 40-50% correct overall (something over half of 80%, in other words). So, which is it? The vast majority correct with a few errors, or half wrong? (The truth, of course, is almost all wrong and the rest plagiarised!) This cretin Curran is obviously just plucking random crap out of his arse and throwing it at the public like a bored chimpanzee in a zoo. Truly, a worthy follower of the Great Fraud Cassidy!

Fortunately, somebody with more sense than Curran then challenged him, but unfortunately this comment has since been deleted, so we don’t know its content. However, we can guess a little from Curran’s reply. For example, this person was obviously right about nasalization and lenition, from Curran’s reply below.

If lenition and nasalization are “totally separate processes” why do earlier (;ie 1930s) books refer to nasalization rather than “lenition”?

This is another piece of evidence that Curran has his head firmly shoved up his arse and knows nothing about linguistics or the Gaelic languages. Nasalization was formerly an inaccurate name used for eclipsis, not lenition. They are two completely different things!(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_initial_mutations)

You also write “a lot of these etymologies are totally speculative”. This is absurd. There are scholars who have devoted their lives to etymological studies, even if their etymologies are calculated guesswork. Read over Partridge’s “Origins”. It might help you develop more understanding of this complex topic that you write off.

Wow, talk about being a pompous shithead! You mean the kind of deep understanding you have, Curran? How exactly does Partridge’s dictionary of etymology confirm any of Cassidy’s ludicrous claims? Got any examples? Any evidence? This is simply a diversionary tactic used by many followers of pseudo-scholarship. When questioned, they mention an irrelevant source which their opponent probably won’t have access to in order to intimidate the opposition and pretend to be experts.

The fact is, there are fantasists and con-men and liars like Daniel Cassidy who make up nonsense and pass it off as fact, and there are real scholars (Partridge included) who follow sound methodology and get it right. And you in your boundless arrogance, Curran, have decided to ignore all the evidence and support an obvious liar instead of the international community of real scholars. God help us, and more importantly, God help any poor student at the University of Maine who gets Hugh Curran as a Tutor-Instructor in Irish Gaelic in the Critical Languages Program.

How the fuck can anyone teach language skills, and critical skills, and thinking skills, if they don’t have any?

How Words Get Borrowed

In this, my first post of 2017, I would like to examine an issue that I have touched on before but never really dealt with properly, the question of how words are passed from language to language.

Cassidy’s methodology was simple. He looked at words and phrases in English, especially slang expressions, and then hit the Irish dictionaries and cobbled together ludicrous phrases which he thought sounded like these English terms. Of course, Cassidy was badly educated and did not speak any Irish.

What really happens when words cross language boundaries in situations like this? (Of course, we need to remember that similar processes were involved in Ireland itself, where the issue was colonialism, not immigration.) Well, basically, a group of speakers of Irish (or any other language) turn up as immigrants. At first, they are unable to communicate with the society around them. Some of them never learn the new language. Others manage to pick up a basic knowledge. As they learn the majority language, they retain grammatical structures and certain words and phrases from their own language. Thus we might hear sentences like this:

“There is whiskey go leor in the jug there.”

“Sure I’m after seeing Lannigan out there, the old amadán!”

“Sure, I’m away to the síbín for a drink.”

Because lots of people in the initial generation of learners use these expressions, they are continually heard and learned and used by the younger generation. Before long, people who speak no Irish are using galore and ommadawn and shebeen in their English.

Note that nearly all of these borrowings are single words and nearly all of them are nouns. There’s a reason for this. It wasn’t enough for a phrase to be used once by one individual. These had to be expressions which were commonly used by that first generation of bilingual English and Irish speakers, by thousands of people in different contexts.

And of course, that’s not what we find in Cassidy’s moronic book. We find that according to Cassidy, Irish speakers supposedly stuck the word án onto lóinte to make something sounding like luncheon (even though the phrase lóinte ána was unknown in Irish until Cassidy invented it), or that sách was used as a noun meaning a well-fed person and that that word always had úr (fresh) stuck on to the end of it. Apparently nobody ever separated the two words. They never said that there was a good sách, or a handy sách, or a stupid sách, or a big sách. No, it was always a fresh sách, so that it would sound like sucker. Yeah, right. You’d need to be a real sucker (which comes from the English suck) to believe that.

Pretty much all of Cassidy’s ‘Irish’ candidates rule themselves out because they are absurd and improbable phrases. Things like n-each as the origin of nag are simply laughable, because nobody is going to pluck a random inflected phrase out of conversation and use it. (Plus the fact that each ceased to be the usual Irish word for a horse hundreds of years ago!)

The question of pronunciation is another tricky issue. People learn English and throw the odd word of Irish into their conversation. The next generation grow up hearing these words and use them themselves. They pronounce them the way the older generation did. There would be no reason for them to mispronounce uath-anchor as wanker or sciord ar dólámh as skedaddle or éamh call as heckle or gus óil as guzzle, because there’s an unbroken chain of transmission and there is no stage at which this kind of mangling could take place. (And please note that none of these Irish phrases exists anyway. They were all invented by Cassidy, along with nearly all of the Irish in How The Irish Invented Slang.)

The bizarre changes of meaning posited by Cassidy are also problematic. Why would shanty come from seanteach if a native Irish speaker would call their hut a bothán or a cró or a cábán? Why would loingseoir, a word meaning a sailor, become a word for a landlubber who works on the dock? Why would a native speaker of Irish say “Sure, I hate living here in dis is lom é?” if they wouldn’t say “Dhera, is fuath liom bheith I mo chónaí san is lom é seo?” The answer is, of course, they wouldn’t and they didn’t.

In other words, this isn’t the way that words cross from language to language. Cassidy’s ‘research’ was entirely fake, like the man who invented it. I don’t know why people like Michael Patrick MacDonald or Peter Quinn or Joe Lee still support this dishonest garbage. It seems a very high price to pay for friendship but then I suppose it’s a sad fact that some people really are that desperate for friends – desperate enough to betray everything they claim to believe in for the sake of a worthless fraud like Daniel Cassidy.