Gee and Sheela-na-gig

Gee (pronounced hard like Indian butter, not soft like half a horse) is a modern expression for a vagina used in the south of Ireland. Nobody knows where it originates. There is no Irish word resembling it, not in the dictionaries or indeed in Ó Luineacháin’s wonderful Ó Ghlíomáil go Giniúint. There is a word found in English dialects, gig, with the same meaning, and some people think its origin lies there.

Recently, some people have tried to suggest on line that gee comes from Sheela-na-gig:

Probably from the ancient Irish Síle na Gig, transliterated as sheela-na-gig: the carvings, often found in churches, of naked women grasping giant exaggerated versions of their naughty bits.

This seems to have appeared first in 2014 in an extremely dim and badly-researched article in the Daily Edge, from which the quotation above is taken: (http://www.dailyedge.ie/irish-slang-origins-1468945-May2014/)

It is hard to see where they got this idea from. It is completely implausible. My guess would be that someone logged on to one or two websites on the origins of the Sheela-na-gig (such as http://www.sheelanagig.org/wordpress/ or http://www.irelands-sheelanagigs.org/) and got the wrong end of the stick. The latter, in particular, is insistent on the link between the name of the Sheela-na-gig and the slang word gee. However, it is also quite clear that its author, Gabriel Cannon, is saying that Sheela-na-gig comes from gee and not the other way round.

Incidentally, since I last read anything about the Sheela-na-gig decades ago, Sheela-na-gig-ology has really come on leaps and bounds. There are lots of new theories and new bits of information, including that an 18th century RN ship was called Sheelanagig after ‘an Irish female sprite’ and that Sheelanagig or Shilling a gig was a popular tune in 18th century Ireland. Perhaps I’ll do some research and post on it, as it really is fascinating.

More on Shanty

One of the most disappointing and irritating things about the recent flurry of Twitter activity surrounding a tweet by the Rubber Bandits was that several people (the Rubber Bandits included) tweeted that ‘the Irish’ for old house is ‘Sean Tí’.

Since the efforts of the Irish state to provide you with a basic knowledge of your own linguistic heritage obviously failed woefully because YOU WEREN’T PAYING ATTENTION, here’s a brief Irish lesson:

The Irish for ‘old house’ is SEANTEACH, pronounced SHANCHAH, with the ‘cha’ as in cha-cha-cha.

The Irish for ‘house’ is teach. It’s only in the genitive. means ‘of a house’, so doras tí is door a house. But on its own means nothing.

Sean is an adjective. Most adjectives in Irish come after the noun, so teach mór is a big house. However, a handful are prefixes which are attached to the noun. So it’s seanteach. Not sean teach or sean-teach. And still less sean tí or sean-tí.

As for the question of the meaning, imagine that you are standing in a mining camp out in the wilds somewhere. You have just chopped down some trees and built yourself a rough cabin. One of your neighbours comes up and says,

“Hi Séamus, nice house! What do you call a house like that in your language?”

“Well, sure, I call it seanteach, which in my language means ‘old house’.”

And your neighbour scratches his head and says,

“So you’ve just finished building the thing, and your hand sticks to the wall on account of all the pine resin oozing from the freshly-cut logs, but you call it an old house?”

“Aah, but you’re forgettin’ dat I’m Irish, and we have a reputation for quirkiness, eccentricity and irrationality to uphold, so we do!”

Yeah, right, you gowls! And then there’s the fact that we have one book written as a memoir in Irish (Micí Mac Gabhann, Rotha Mór an tSaoil) by a Donegal man who joined the gold rush and lived in miners’ cabins. He refers to the houses in the camp. He uses the words bothán, cábán, teach and sometimes cábán tí. He never talks about seantithe. And why the fuck would he?

So long to the Irish origin of ‘so long’

One of the language myths that have been brought to light by the Rubber Bandits’ recent tweet on Cassidy’s eymology is the claim that the English colloquial ‘so long’ is really a corrupted form of Irish slán, a parting salutation.

There are several claims for the origin of this term. Some derive it from Arabic salaam, or from Hebrew shalom. Neither of these seems very convincing. The etymology websites (along with Cassidy’s book – unusually, he admits that he didn’t come up with the slán derivation) say that it first appears in 1860 in the works of Walt Whitman.

Most of them agree that it probably comes from the German expression Adieu so lange (something like ‘farewell until we meet again’) or from related Scandinavian phrases Norwegian Adjø så lenge, Farvel så lenge, Mor’n så lenge, literally “bye so long, farewell so long, morning so long;” and Swedish Hej så länge “good-bye for now,” with så länge “for now” attested since 1850 according to Swedish sources. The German expression Adieu so lange dates back to at least 1791.

In a recent OED blog post, Anatoly Liberman quotes a Mr Paul Nance who has found an earlier reference to so long from 1835.

However, I think I can do better than that. I Googled the phrase the other day and I have come across an earlier example of it. It’s in a book of humorous material called Salmagundi written in magazine form by Paulding in New York. The book is available on Google Books. It is dated 1835 but the internal headings show that the particular magazine containing the entry was first published in 1819.

The article takes the form of a humorous letter from a lady of means, who signs herself off at the end with the salutation: Adieu, so long, Aurelia.

Personally, I think that’s a smoking gun and gives a clear bridge between the German and the English expressions. But even if you choose to say that it’s just a coincidence that the earliest known use of so long in English has Adieu stuck in front of it, there are other reasons for dismissing the Irish origin. Why is this expression always written as two words? Why does it never occur as slawn, or slong? And why does it never have any other words attached? Why don’t we find it sometimes as so long go foyle (slán go fóill), or so long lath (slán leat) or so long a wallah (slán abhaile)? These are common expressions in Irish. And then again, why don’t we find it commonly in stage-Irish idiom? Begorrah, sor, it’s so long and farewell to yous

So, let’s just forget the idea that the expression so long comes from Irish. There’s no evidence for it and there’s something so needy and desperate about these attempts to trace words to Irish. It’s as if our language and culture have no reality or value outside their relations with the English-speaking world. Anyone who thinks that should learn some real Irish – NOW!

The Downside of Twitter

I have to say, I don’t tweet. I can see that it’s useful but it seems to me that it suffers from the same problems as many other internet-based activities. Unfortunately, much of the recent activity surrounding a tweet on Cassidy’s work by the Rubber Bandits shows the same dreary, depressing lack of common sense which has bedevilled the whole debate about Daniel Cassidy and his works.

Having said that, it’s not all bad news. A number of people like Ciara Ní Aodha, Eoin Ó Murchú, Liam Hogan, Ronan Delaney, James Harbeck and Donald Clarke called the list of ‘etymologies’ given by the Rubber Bandits for the bullshit they are.

However, others just reeled off the same old crap we’ve seen any number of times before. The Rubber Bandits came out with the same old shite about how there were lots of Irish speakers and so there’s nothing implausible about the idea that the Irish contributed to slang. No, there’s nothing implausible. But where’s the evidence?

And that is really the problem with the internet. Someone posts that they heard that jazz comes from Irish teas. (There are loads of possible origins and the Irish one is pretty much bottom of the list.) Someone else heard that Uncle Sam comes from the Irish acronym SAM (Stáit Aontaithe Mheiriceá = USA). Even though Uncle Sam dates back to 1775, before the USA came into existence. They think so long comes from slán, apparently, even though most sources trace it back to the German Adieu so lange (Goodbye for now) or a Scandinavian equivalent. Then some other dimwit decides to throw in a recommendation to Thaddeus Russell’s book, The Renegade History of the United States, because it gives loads of slang of Irish origin. Except that slang is copied verbatim from Daniel Cassidy’s book, so it’s full of rubbish which has been comprehensively debunked here and elsewhere. And yet another numpty takes the definition of dúid given by the Rubber Bandits (a foolish-looking fellow defined by his clothing choices) seriously and tweets that it’s great that Irish has such a word. Of course, it doesn’t. This is the meaning of dúid:

dúid, f. (gs. ~e, pl. ~eanna).1. Stump. Rud a ghearradh (amach, aníos) ón ~, ó bhun na ~e, to cut sth. right down to the stump. Chuir an tarbh an adharc go bun na ~e, go filleadh ~e, ann, the bull stuck his horn right into him. 2. (a) Stumpy object, protuberant part; (short) horn, (cropped) ear, tail. (b) Short-stemmed (clay) pipe. 3. (Craned) neck, throat. ~ a chur ort féin, to crane ones neck; to turn ones head shyly away; to eavesdrop; to mope around. Greim ~e a fháil ar dhuine, to grasp s.o. by the neck, to fasten on s.o. Rud a chur ar do dhúid, to swallow hard at sth., to gulp sth. down ones throat. 4. (a) Stumpy person. (b) Mopish, shy person; numbskull. (Var:~eán m)

Anything there about clothing choices?

Then there is some dimwit called Michael Ireland, who tweeted that: Many of these slang words were based on broken Gaelic brought to New York by famine survivors. Well, thanks for that! Pure Cassidese bullshit! And when you look in his twitter feed, he just retweets any right-wing, homophobic, racist, Islamophobic, Tea Party shite he can find. Not hard to see why he fell for Cassidy’s tosh if he’s that thick …

What really frustrates me is that the internet may be a wilderness full of trolls and losers but it’s also the greatest library that has ever existed. You can look up almost anything and get real, valid answers, virtually instantly. Yet how many people tweeting around this subject looked up an online Irish dictionary to confirm whether gaosmhar is really the Irish for a wise person? (It isn’t.) How many of them bothered to check the veracity of the suggestions they were making before they posted them? Hardly any – certainly not the Rubber Bandits themselves, anyway!

There seems to be some strange notion that instead of looking for evidence to prove or disprove the accuracy of the claims being made, the required response is to flounder in ignorance and talk endlessly around the subject. Because in cyberspace, apparently, all truth is relative and nothing can be proven.

Bollocks to that! Truth isn’t relative and there is nearly always evidence. If Uncle Sam dates back to before the USA, why even suggest that it comes from the Irish acronym for the USA? Why not just look up the facts and reject it from the start rather than continuing to spread rubbish and look stupid? Or perhaps the two minutes checking the veracity of what you’re saying is considered too great a waste of time. After all, you could be spending those two minutes tweeting another piece of absolute shite dredged up from the top of the back of your head …

The Rubber Bandits

I have just received an email from Ciara Ní Aodha, blogger, vlogger and tweeter (https://miseciara.wordpress.com/). She informs me that a comedy hip-hop duo from Limerick called the Rubber Bandits have tweeted with a number of Cassidy’s fake derivations.

Ciara, along with a few others like Eoin Ó Murchú and Liam Hogan, have warned readers of the Rubberbandits’ tweet about the accuracy of the material in it. She was also good enough to provide a link to my blog, so it seems appropriate to provide a quick run-down of the claims made with some real facts.

Slum, they say, comes from Irish ’s lom e, meaning ‘it’s bleak.’ Slum is first found in England, and meant a cheap room, so it’s probably from slumber. The idea that it comes from a phrase supposedly meaning ‘it’s bleak’ (it could just as easily mean ‘he’s naked’) is ridiculous.

Cop comes from an English verb cop (of French origin) meaning to catch, as in cop on.

Racket supposedly comes from the Irish reacaireacht meaning to sell. You can find a discussion of its real origins here: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=racket

You dig supposedly comes from Duigeann tú, Irish for ‘Do you understand?’ In reality, it’s spelled (An) dtuigeann tú? This is not proven, though it is possible and was first discussed in an article in 1981, long before Cassidy.

They claim that scam comes from s cam é, meaning trick or deception. There is, of course, no such word or phrase. It is a slightly odd (made-up) phrase meaning ‘it is crooked’. In fact, scam probably comes from escamotear, a Spanish word meaning to scam.

Scram probably comes from scramble. Scaraim doesn’t mean ‘I get away’ of course. It means I separate.

Uncle is probably from uncle. Anacal is an obscure Irish word for protection or quarter. It didn’t originate with Cassidy, anyway.

Buddy is almost certainly a childish corruption of brother.

Geezer is from guiser, an old word for a strange-looking person (originally disguiser). Gaosmhar is not a noun meaning wise person. It’s an adjective meaning wise.

Dude is an American term for a fop. It probably comes from the song Yankee-Doodle Dandy, where Doodle is associated with dandyism. (Apparently the term macaroni also meant a fop in the 18th century.) There is an obscure word dúid meaning many things including a shy and mopish person but this is probably just coincidental. There are several other claims for origins from languages like German too.

Gimmick probably comes from gimcrack. It isn’t from Irish camag because camag isn’t an Irish word. It’s Scottish Gaelic and it’s the equivalent of Irish camóg, as in camogie.

Loingseoir doesn’t mean a maritime worker. It means a pilot or sailor. The longshoremen aren’t sailors, they’re dockers. And longshoreman comes from the along shore men.

In other words, these claims are complete and utter bollocks. You can find further information on this blog and on other etymology blogs. It’s time people stopped spreading this lying nonsense and realised that Cassidy was a total fake who should be avoided by any sane and sensible human being.

August Twits of the Month – The North American Journal of Celtic Studies

There was fierce competition for the Twit of the Month this month. Firstly, I was tempted to bestow this honour on Kevin My-arse (Myers), a professional controversialist who landed himself in hot water with some anti-Semitic comments. I despise Myers. I would love to believe that his contrition is genuine and that his career is as dead as he says it is. However, it’s happened so many times before and he’s always bounced back. Besides, giving the oxygen of publicity to bastards like Myers only encourages them.

Then there was an article by Una Mullally in the Irish Times Magazine last weekend which was so badly-researched it made me furious. It was about words which are important in Ireland or which derive from Irish. It would take me too long to go through all the dross and nonsense in this article. She says that gowl (a slang term for vagina) possibly comes from Gall, the word for a foreigner in Irish, or from gabhal which means a fork or a crotch. Obviously it comes from the latter. She also claims that gee (another slang term for a vagina) comes from Sheela-na-Gig, an obscure term for obscene carvings found in Irish churches. This may be claimed in lots of places on the internet but it is ludicrous. Both of these claims (along with several others) were lifted more or less verbatim from another badly-researched internet article which you can find here: http://www.dailyedge.ie/irish-slang-origins-1468945-May2014/. She claims that seamróg (the Irish original of shamrock) means ‘young clover’. It’s true that óg is the word for young in Irish, but the diminutive suffix –óg means small, not young, (it was anciently known as the siúr dísbeagaidh or sister diminutive) and it has no connection (to the best of my knowledge) with the adjective óg. She also claims that mot, a Dublin slang word for a woman, comes from the Irish phrase ‘maith an cailín’ (good girl, used to address a girl who has done something praiseworthy.) I was immediately suspicious of this and within five minutes I found that Diarmuid Ó Muirithe and Eric Partridge both derive it from a Dutch word for a prostitute (a mothuys was apparently a brothel). Apparently it was also common in England in the 18th and 19th centuries, so there is nothing Irish about it. She also takes Cassidy’s idiotic claim about the Irish origins of poker seriously. Depressing, especially as the Irish Times has already done more than enough to spread Cassidy’s insane bullshit.

However, bad though Mullally’s article was, I have decided not to give her the Twit of the Month. She is, after all, a journalist. I have come to expect nothing good from journalists and I have rarely been pleasantly surprised. No, the August Twit of the Month Award goes to the North American Journal of Celtic Studies, who published a link on their Twitter feed to the awful article on New York Slang by Brendan Patrick Keane on IrishCentral on July 15. It beggars belief that anyone with an academic background in Celtic would recommend this feeble-minded crap. Fortunately, several other critics had commented on Twitter before I found this.

One of them, Wilson McLeod, rightly commented “Sorry, but no Celtic academic (group or individual) should be promoting Cassidy’s baseless & discredited work.”

Another, the redoubtable Murchadh Mór (Eoin Ó Murchú), commented “That is based on totally debunked rubbish. Please remove.”

So, let’s not beat around the bush. Whoever was responsible for this link either didn’t read the article before posting it, or worse still, they read it and didn’t realise it was shite. Whichever it is, the editor of North American Journal of Celtic Studies or whoever it was who posted the link on Twitter should be scarlet with shame. What a fucking disgrace!

A Great Article By Liam Hogan

A couple of days ago, Liam Hogan posted a link to a great article of his which comprehensively slams the egregious Niall O’Dowd and his role in spreading the myth of Irish Slavery on IrishCentral:

FYI. The founder of Irish Central attempts to whitewash their influential role in spreading ahistorical “Irish slaves” propaganda https://medium.com/@Limerick1914/niall-odowd-whitewashes-history-by-denying-the-role-irish-central-continue-to-play-spreading-b602522a11f8

Please follow the link! I heartily recommend it to anyone who is interested in the history of our country and especially the way that our history has been misused in the service of various dim-witted ideologies which have little or nothing to do with Irishness.