December’s Twit of the Month – Michael Krasny

December’s Twit of the Month was originally intended to be Peter Linebaugh, an indifferent Marxist historian who has given his support to Cassidy’s crazy theories about the Irish origins of slang. However, a week ago, I happened on an interview given by Cassidy late in 2007, and broadcast on St Stephen’s Day (26th of December) in that year. You can find it here: https://ww2.kqed.org/forum/2007/12/26/daniel-cassidy/

The interview was conducted by a radio presenter and academic (a professor of English at San Francisco State) called Michael Krasny. Like all interviews with Daniel Cassidy, it is an embarrassing mixture of arrogance, stupidity, fake modesty and name-dropping. As with other interviews with Cassidy, Krasny makes no attempt at all to cut through all the bullshit and establish the truth.

Anyway, the nonsense in this KQED interview begins almost immediately. Michael Krasny reels off a list of some of the fake derivations given by Cassidy, words like scram, skedaddle and jazz. All of these have been dealt with here. Use the search box above to find out more.

The interview begins with Daniel Cassidy trying to pretend that he speaks some Irish by reciting a sentence he has learned by heart – badly. Unfortunately, Krasny interrupts him several times, so he has to repeat the first phrase three times. This phrase is supposed to be “Tá áthas orm” (I am happy) but what he actually says three times is “Tá amhas a’am” (I have a hooligan). The rest of it is not much better and demonstrates beyond doubt that Cassidy knew no Irish and probably didn’t have access to anyone who could speak good Irish either (for example, áit a bhí an Ghaeilge beo should be áit a raibh an Ghaeilge beo – anyone comfortable with Irish grammar would know this).

The rest of this tiresome interview is no better. It’s the same old shite. Cassidy says that glom, a word meaning to grab, comes from Irish. As we’ve already seen, it came into standard English from Scots glaum, and it probably originates in Scottish Gaelic. This is the explanation given by the mainstream dictionaries. It completely invalidates Cassidy’s claim. Why Krasny couldn’t look up a dictionary himself, or at least adopt the time-honoured motto that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, is unclear. I note that Krasny taught in San Francisco State university. So did Cassidy, before he became a lecturer at New College of California. Did they know each other?

It would take too long to go through every lie, every piece of incompetence, every wasted opportunity to bring out the truth in this appalling interview. Brag doesn’t come from Irish and the OED doesn’t say that it is from a word meaning trousers (that’s a similar French word which doesn’t enter English until long after brag was first used and is therefore not the origin of brag in English). Duking doesn’t come from Irish tuargain, which is not pronounced as duking anyway. Spiel, as Krasny says but doesn’t press for, comes from Yiddish and has no connection to a Scots Gaelic word speal (which isn’t pronounced spiel, as Cassidy pronounces it here) and which doesn’t mean a sharp hoe (it’s a scythe). All of Cassidy’s claims, about jazz and sucker and kike and cant are all crap. The man blithely lies and mispronounces and fakes meanings and fails to point out that his idiotic ‘Irish’ equivalents for baloney and nincompoop and bunkum were his own inventions, not real phrases in the Irish language.

Krasny doesn’t seem to care. He gives Cassidy an easy time of it, buys all his bullshit, gives him a platform to sell this arrogant trash to unsuspecting people and even attacks his fellow academics for their anti-Irish bias in not recognising Cassidy’s made-up rubbish as fact.

However, the worst of it is in the phone-in section of the programme. A couple of people are critical of Cassidy but Krasny doesn’t dig deeper. In fact, when one caller points out that he has got it wrong about the origins of the word tinker, and says ‘it goes to prove the point many people have called – you are reaching’, Krasny and Cassidy thank him quickly and move on.

Finally, I feel I should explain what I meant by Cassidy’s false modesty. Cassidy says several times that he isn’t sure of every word. On the surface, he sounds like a reasonable human being. Yet a little more than a month after this, using a fake identity, Cassidy answered critics on a forum about language like this:

“Barret the Parrot had better kiss the toin (buttocks) of his publishers at Oxford. With his books down around 270,000 and 600,000 on Amazon, whereas Cassidy’s book is in 5th reprint in 7 months and just won an American Book Award.

Is it a twerp (duirb, a worm)? Is it a dork (dorc, a dwarf)? Or is it Barrett the Parrot? No it’s “Superscam” (aka Barret the English Parrott) and his phoney made-up quotes.

Here are REAL QUOTES that haven’t been hahahahaha deleted hahahahahahaha.

Believe Barrett the Parrott (AKA Superscam) or Dr. Joe Lee, who is a native Irish speaker and the Director of Irish Studies at NYU? Professor Lee is one of the foremost scholars in the field of Irish Studies in the US and Ireland.”

(Lee, of course, was a friend of Cassidy’s.) In other words, while he was being treated the way he felt he had a right to be treated, as a genuine academic with a valid theory, Cassidy managed to pretend to be a sane and reasonable person. When anyone tried to confront him with the truth, he regressed to being an ignorant, infantile narcissist who was completely incapable of dealing with the least challenge to his fragile ego.

Krasny should have spotted the logical inconsistencies, smelt the bullshit and acted accordingly. Instead, he became one of this man’s many unwitting enablers and accomplices in his project of deceiving Irish America and lining his own pockets with the profits of his fraud. It is for that reason that I am happy (or should that be, I have a hooligan?) to award Michael Krasny December’s Twit of the Month Award.

Advertisements

Mayhem

I have noticed that many of the early posts on this blog get relatively little traffic, so I have decided to start republishing some of them.

According to Cassidy, this word, which means a disturbance or trouble, is derived from the Irish word maidhm, which means an outbreak. Sounds plausible enough when you first hear it but let’s examine the evidence carefully. First of all, what does the word maidhm mean?

Maidhm is pronounced  similarly to the English word mime. It is used of something which has been held in and suddenly breaks through. So a maidhm shneachta is a maidhm of snow, an avalanche. A landslide is a maidhm thalún, while a maidhm phortaigh is a distinctly Irish natural disaster, the bogslide.

So, can maidhm be used for riot or civil disturbance? Irish is very rich in words and phrases for disturbances or hubbub. Trioblóid, ciréib, cíor thuathail, cath, ruaille-buaille, rí-rá, fuirse má rabhdaileamMaidhm is not one that would normally be used.  If someone said “Bhí maidhmeanna i mBéal Feirste aréir”, an Irish speaker would take this to mean that there were landslides of some kind in Belfast, not that there were riots.

When maidhm is used about warfare, it has a very specific meaning, namely that your defensive line has broken and that your troops are running away. In other words, it means a rout or catastrophic defeat. This is not at all what the word mayhem means, of course.

And in any case, the word mayhem doesn’t sound much like maidhm and it has an unassailable history in English going back to the 13th century, before any Irish ghettoes appeared in the English-speaking world. It derives from Norman French and is a legal term.  Cassidy mentions the dictionary derivation but obviously prefers his own fantasy version to reality.

As we linguists say, etymology by sound is not sound etymology!

Some useful terms

I have recently been looking at a handful of words and phrases which are useful in describing pseudoscience and woo and fake information. All of them could easily be applied to the crackpot supporters of Daniel Cassidy. The first of these words is truly wonderful. It’s ultracrepidarianism.

The story goes that an ancient Greek artist called Apelles heard one of his paintings being criticised by a cobbler, and the artist replied that the cobbler should not go beyond his soles (ultra crepidam in the Latin version). This has become proverbial in many languages, though the sole has often been transformed to last, the wooden block (ceap in Irish) used to fashion a shoe. (The cobbler should stick to his last in English, for example.) Ultracrepidarianism describes someone who is going beyond his area of expertise, holding forth on subjects he or she knows nothing about. Unfortunately, as far as I can see, this proverb has never made it into the Irish language, and we have no direct equivalent for ultracrepidarianism, though the word pápaireacht (=pontificating, talking like a pope, talking nonsense) is a fairly close match, as is the phrase ‘ag labhairt thar a eolas’ (speaking beyond his knowledge).

Ultracrepidarianism has no connection to the word decrepit, by the way, and is nothing to do with the expression ‘a load of cobblers’ either, which comes from rhyming slang (a load of cobbler’s awls = balls).

Another great phrase which I have just come across is The Dunning-Kruger Effect. This was coined fairly recently by the eponymous psychologists. It means: a cognitive bias wherein people of low ability suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their cognitive ability as greater than it is. Basically, it means the tendency of stupid people not to realise just how stupid they are. If you want to use it as Gaeilge, it’s just Éifeacht Dunning-Kruger, of course.

And here’s a word that I have invented and I want to try to get it into the OED, so I hope others will pick up on it and use it as much as possible. It’s synomosophilia. Synomosia (συνωμοσία) is the ancient Greek for conspiracy, so a synomosophile is a lover of conspiracies. Many of Cassidy’s supporters are clearly synomosophiles. The default position of a synomosophile is to assume that there is a hidden story and that the facts aren’t really the facts. Hitler? Survived the War, lived in South America, the Holocaust didn’t happen. 9/11? A coup carried out by the military-industrial complex against the American people! Shakespeare? Written by an Irishman and full of coded messages! Pyramids? Made by aliens and brought to South America by ancient navigators! etc. etc.

In Irish (using the conventions usually employed to Gaelicise scientific terms), these people would be sionamósaifíligh (singular, sionamósaifíleach).

Nice word, isn’t it, and incredibly useful in the sad old world we live in today! Let’s get it out there …

Booze

I have noticed that many of the early posts on this blog get relatively little traffic, so I have decided to start republishing some of them.

This is a typically ridiculous Cassidy claim. Scholars have quite rightly identified that this word is Germanic in origin and is linked to the Dutch word busen, which meant to drink to excess. Booze is a long-established word in English, both as a verb and as a noun. For example, searching on the Michigan Middle English Dictionary website, I found this, from around 1325: Hail, ȝe holi monkes..Late and raþe ifillid of ale and wine! Depe cun ȝe bouse. (Hail, you holy monks. Late and early filled with ale and wine! Deep can you booze.)

Cassidy disagrees. On the basis of his vast knowledge of the Irish language (!) he believes that this word derives from an Irish word beathuis. Now, you will search in vain for this word in the dictionary. Beathuis is not a real word. Even if it were real, it wouldn’t sound much like booze. It would be pronounced as bahish.

Where did Cassidy get this word? Well, there is a word beathuisce (life-water) in the dictionaries. It is a variant of the vastly more common uisce beatha (water of life) which is the origin of English whisk(e)y. This variant seems to be found mostly in songs and poems and is probably used in these contexts for reasons of metre, because it has 3 syllables rather than 4. It is pronounced bahishka. So what about the inconvenient –ka at the end? After all, nobody talks about boozeka in English! According to Cassidy, beathuisce was shortened to beathuis. He gives no evidence of this or reason for it, and it seems about as likely as someone in English contracting the word water to wart.

So, to recap, there is a perfectly good derivation from Dutch which fits the facts, sounds right and has the right meaning, and was established in English by the early 14th century. And there is a completely improbable candidate which doesn’t sound like booze and which was made up by Cassidy by mutilating a rare variant word beathuisce, the ‘word’ beathuis.

Which is correct? I’ll leave you to make up your own mind on that one!

 

Sharon A. Hill

I have just read a very interesting post by Sharon A. Hill. I always enjoy reading what Sharon Hill has to say, even if I don’t always agree with her. She writes well and argues intelligently, and this article was no exception. You can find it here: http://sharonahill.com/how-can-people-be-so-stupid-a-skewed-perspective/

She was discussing the attitude of the sceptical community to the phenomenon of people who believe the earth is flat. (This has been in the news recently because of a conference of Flat Earthers.)The prevailing attitude among those who regard themselves as sceptical and rational has been a mixture of cruelty, smugness and mockery.

As she says: “One comment expressed elimination of such people from society. Yeah, really. As with the Darwin Awards discussion, there are too many people who practice some very intolerant humanism. If I was exploring the concept of skepticism and saw that this kind of sentiment was acceptable, I’d be turned off right away.”

I actually agree with her about the Darwin Awards, where people who have contributed to their own demise in stupid ways are somehow regarded as improving the human gene pool. In my opinion, it’s tasteless, juvenile and does no service to Darwinism by linking it to this kind of callousness.

However, anyone reading my blog will quickly realise that I am quite capable of cruelty, smugness and mockery. I am quite prepared to twist the knife when I think someone is promoting stupid ideas like Cassidy’s theories on the origins of American slang or the Irish Slavery Meme and I make no apology for this.

The problem I have with Sharon A. Hill’s view is that it is over-kind. Yes, there are many reasons why people believe stupid things. As Sharon Hill says: “It’s not a lack of intelligence or because they skipped out on science class, it’s far more nuanced and complex than that.” However, this can lead to a kind of rampant relativism, where evidence doesn’t matter and people have to be allowed their beliefs, regardless of how daft they are. I know that isn’t what Sharon Hill wants, but I still think it can lead to that. And isn’t there something a little patronising about NOT criticising people who are saying really idiotic things? Shouldn’t they have to take responsibility for the nonsense they are spreading? Is there anything wrong with asking someone to provide evidence for their beliefs or shut up if they can’t? Or pointing out the networks of cronyism (like all those friends of Cassidy who lied their arses off to support him) or the foul political agendas that sometimes underlie these weird belief-systems (like the White Supremacist supporters of the Irish Slavery Meme)? And if some sceptics are very smug and arrogant, they are nowhere near as smug and arrogant as some of the True Believers, who disdain any kind of rational approach but treat people who use logic and evidence as blinkered establishment stooges.

I realise that Sharon A. Hill is a kind and decent person. Perhaps I’m not. Perhaps there is something aggressive and destructive about me that drives me to adopt this tone with people I consider to be supporters of obvious rubbish. And there is one point that she makes which I think is true, that this kind of mockery and unkindness generally doesn’t help to change the minds of people who believe silly ideas. If anything, it can make them more entrenched, because admitting that they believed something stupid is admitting their own folly.

However, I think this misses the point. People who have committed to believing silly things may become more entrenched in their silliness as a result of such criticism but what about the thousands of people who haven’t made their minds up yet? While the core of supporters around Cassidy seem to be as unwilling to admit the truth as ever, the casual nonsense published about Cassidy’s ideas in newspapers every St Patrick’s Day has disappeared, he is less quoted in books and articles and his book seems to be out of print now. In other words, it may not work on True Believers, but it certainly helps to stop them recruiting more innocents to their viewpoint. And if it works to that extent, I’m all for it.

Crony

I have noticed that many of the early posts on this blog get relatively little traffic, so I have decided to start republishing some of them.

Another oft-quoted claim of Cassidy’s, which has absolutely no basis in fact, is the notion that crony can be traced back to an Irish phrase comh-roghna. Cassidy says that this word means “fellow chosen-ones, mutual-sweethearts, fellow favourites, close friends, mutual pals”.

This is typical of Cassidy’s fantasies. While comh– exists and rogha/roghanna (rogha is older, roghanna the modern spelling) exists there is no evidence in the Irish language of either roghanna or comhroghanna being used to mean friends or pals. Comhrogha and comhroghanna are not even in Ó Dónaill’s dictionary, though the word comhrogha has been used with the abstract senses of rival, alternative or choice. Rogha itself means a choice. There are plenty of words and phrases for the concept of friends or mates – cairde, compánaigh, comrádaithe. Comhroghanna and roghanna are not among them. The word comhroghanna does not occur in the dictionaries with these meanings and they are not used in speech in this sense.

While the other words for companion or comrade, comrádaí, compánach and cara occur many times in Corpas na Gaeilge (a database of Irish), comhrogha only occurs five times and always in the sense of choice or alternative, never to refer to friends. In any case, comhroghanna (koh-ray-anna) doesn’t sound much like croney and it is plural – loanwords tend to be borrowed in their most basic, singular form.

It is also widely believed to be Cambridge university slang, derived from Greek chronios, meaning old. It first occurs in English contexts, not Irish.

A Christmas Warning

When I last looked at Amazon, Daniel Cassidy’s absurd book How The Irish Invented Slang was unavailable, though you can still buy a second-hand copy for a couple of dollars. If there were any justice, this trashy, awful book would never have been published in the first place. However, it’s Christmas, the world is full of suckers, so we can expect a few copies to be sold as naïve people look around for a present for their relatives and take this nasty piece of fakery as a genuine contribution to our knowledge about the Irish past.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again – if you give this book as a present, you are giving out a clear message about yourself. At least some of the recipients will find this blog or other negative reviews of this book. If they have any sense at all, they will realise that you are an idiot. A crank. A flat-earther. A flake. A total amadán, just like its author.

So, this Christmas, if you can’t think of anything to give people, don’t give this rubbish. Give a global gift from Trócaire or Oxfam or whatever the equivalent is where you live, or make a contribution to a charity on their behalf and put the receipt in a card. Give hope and help to people who need it, and say something positive about yourself.

Don’t give the gift of ignorance this Christmas.