Monthly Archives: April 2013

Hoax

The word hoax has a well-established origin in English. Hoax derives from an earlier word hocus, which meant to confuse, befuddle or trick someone. Hocus derives from hocus pocus, a garbled version of Latin hoc est corpus. Hocus has been around for hundreds of years, while hoax is more recent.

Cassidy doesn’t accept this. He prefers a derivation from the Irish olcas, which is pronounced olkass. (Not holkas)  It doesn’t sound much like hoax. And does it mean the same thing as a hoax? No, it means badness or wickedness. Hoaxes are sometimes evil and wicked. Sometimes they are just playful. But they always involve the notion of dishonesty, of tricking people. In Irish, the words bob (as in bob a bhualadh ar dhuine, to play a practical joke on someone) or cleas (as in cleas a imirt ar dhuine, to play a trick on someone) would be the usual words for hoax. Not olcas. This is a typically fatuous and half-baked Cassidy suggestion.

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Abracadabra – It’s Disappeared!

When Cassidy was embarking on his publicity campaign for the book before it was published, he gave a lot of interviews and wrote a lot of articles. One of the most interesting things about these articles, and one of the most telling pieces of evidence that he was making it up, is the existence in them of many claims which never made it to the book. Cassidy confidently stated them to be facts in these interviews and articles but by the time he was ready for publication, he had changed his mind.

For example, on the 9th of December 2003, a letter by Cassidy was published in the San Francisco Chronicle, which includes the line: The word slum is from two Irish words: saol lom, meaning “the world of poverty”. In the book, this has changed from saol lom, meaning ‘bleak world’ to ’s lom é, a phrase meaning ‘it’s bleak’. The real origin is almost certainly something to do with the English word slumber, as the word slum originally meant a cheap room, a place to sleep.

Cassidy also claimed that bailiwick comes from baile aíoch, meaning a hospitable home. At some stage between making that claim public and the book coming out, he must have realised that this is wrong, so by the time the book came out, he was merely claiming that the bailey part of the word comes from the Irish báille (though the Irish báille obviously comes from the Norman French!) 

In the San Francisco Chronicle article (12 March 2004) he claimed that the English term duds for clothes comes from the Irish d’éadaíse which he says means clothing or ‘your clothes.’ By the time the book came out, the emphatic particle –se had been dropped, so the ‘original’ phrase had become do éadach. Incidentally, neither is correct, as Irish speakers will tell you that clothes are always talked about as a person’s ‘part of cloth’ (cuid éadaigh). Thus my clothes is mo chuid éadaigh and your clothes is do chuid éadaigh.

In the San Francisco Chronicle article, Cassidy said that the magician’s word abracadabra is really aithbhreith céad aithbhreith, and means “the act of regenerating many things.” (It literally means ‘rebirth of a hundred rebirths.’)  We know that this isn’t the origin of abracadabra, because the word abracadabra first appeared in the third century AD in a Latin medical text,  De Medicina Praecepta Saluberrima by Quintus Serenus Sammonicus.  In this book, the author describes how it was written in a triangle on amulets to ward off illness. Someone must have pointed this out to Cassidy, because by the time Cassidy’s book was published, abracadabra!  The claim had disappeared!

On The Daltaí Boards, an Irish language forum, Cassidy suggested on September 7 2005 that bootlegger comes from buidéalaí gar, a local bottler, an obliging bottler (according to him – gar wouldn’t be used in this way). This claim has disappeared completely from the book. Presumably Cassidy had a sudden moment of lucidity where he realised it was rubbish. Pity it didn’t last …

Policy

This is another silly claim. Cassidy says that policy is a gambling term. He doesn’t define it and I haven’t been able to find a definition on the internet but it is clear from Cassidy’s claim that it means some kind of payout.

Cassidy’s fake source for the gambling term is pá lae sámh, which he translates as ‘easy payday’. This is a mistranslation. Payday would be lá pá (day of pay). Pá lae means ‘pay of day’, so it’s a day’s pay. There is also a massive problem with the word sámh. It does mean easy, but easy is a word with lots of meanings. Sámh is the easy of Sunday mornings, long summer afternoons, a good night’s rest. It is tranquility and peace and lack of disturbance, so this phrase, insofar as it means anything at all, conjures up visions of a wad of cash lying on a sunbed drinking a cocktail. It is not the easy of easy money, which would be expressed in other ways, for example as gan dua or gan stró (without effort). And Cassidy was completely wrong on the pronunciation as well. Sámh is pronounced sow (like the female pig) in the north and sawv in the south, not as see.

Besides, why even suggest an Irish origin? What’s wrong with the slang word policy deriving from the mainstream word policy, which is ultimately of Greek origin and goes back to at least the 14th century in English? After all, the gambling term policy seems to mean some kind of payout. And insurance policies pay out when exceptional circumstances demand it. That’s what they’re for.

Going the wrong way!

Anyone who reads this blog carefully will have realised that Cassidy went about things the wrong way. He never checked his sources properly and he never attempted to disprove his own theories in order to test them and arrive at the truth.

But in many of the cases in this book, Cassidy was literally going the wrong way. Where a word in Irish resembled a word in English, Cassidy decided that the word was of Irish origin and had been borrowed into English rather than the other way round. He was usually wrong about this. For example, the word drong is a long-established word in Irish but it is not of Celtic origin and it is not the origin of English throng. It is Germanic. According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, the English throng comes from the Old English (ge)drang. There are certainly similar words in German and Dutch, and it would be hard to explain how they got into those languages if Irish is really the source.

Many words of foreign origin in Irish have an –a at the end and almost no native words end in –a. For example, pot is pota, coat is cóta, pocket is póca, table is tábla. When a word ends in –a, it is a clear indication that it is likely to be a borrowing.

This is why Cassidy is wrong about cute coming from Irish ciúta. It is the other way round, and cute itself is a shortening of acute. Interestingly, Irish ciúta is used in very different ways from the English word. The word ciúta in Irish is a noun. It means a knack, a witty saying, or a special way of doing something, but I have no doubt that it is a borrowing of the English cute, which usually means clever or sharp in Ireland rather than attractive.

It is also the reason that he is wrong about néata, which is obviously a borrowing from the English neat, not the origin of the English term, which derives from the French word net meaning clean, and ultimately from the Latin nitidus. And he is very wrong about the phonetics of néata. Cassidy obviously thought that the phonetic symbol æ is pronounced like the vowel sound in day. In fact, æ is pronounced the way an English speaker of English might pronounce ‘hat’, so his phonetic version suggests that the word is pronounced nyatta, which it isn’t.

However, one of the most interesting examples in this book is Cassidy’s association of English dear, meaning expensive, and Irish daor, meaning expensive. Cassidy is right that the Irish word is not a borrowing from the English. But the English word is not a borrowing from the Irish either. Both these words have developed independently through different routes until they just happen to have roughly the same sound and exactly the same meaning. Yet English dear is Germanic, a cognate of German teuer, while Irish daor is one of many pairs of words in Irish where the negative has a d and the positive has an s. Daor means expensive or unfree, and it is the opposite of the well-known Irish word saor, which means free, as in Saorstát Éireann. Other examples include dona and sona, which mean unhappy (or unlucky) and happy (or lucky; and daoi (dunce) and saoi (sage).

The case of daor/dear shows why basing an argument about etymology on chance phonetic similarity is so unreliable, as remarkable coincidental similarities happen all the time.

Bunkum

The word above is not a review of Cassidy’s book, though this would certainly be my conclusion if it were. This is yet another stupid claim made by Cassidy, who says that the American slang expression bunkum comes from the Irish word buanchumadh.

There are two problems with this. Firstly, the real origin of bunkum is well known. Felix Walker, a 19th-century congressman from North Carolina, whose district included Buncombe County, made a long-winded speech during the discussions that led to the 1820 passage of the Missouri Compromise. As he was filibustering away, several people asked him to stop but he carried on, stating that the people of his district expected it, and that he was bound to make a speech for Buncombe.

Thus buncombe or bunkum came to mean foolish talk. Grant Barrett deals with this in his excellent post at http://grantbarrett.com/humdinger-of-a-bad-irish-scholar. Check it out!

The second problem is that the word buanchumadh doesn’t exist. It isn’t in any dictionary or corpus. I have never heard it used or seen it in print. Furthermore, it looks and sounds odd. Why? I have mentioned before how Cassidy combined things in odd ways because he had no knowledge of how the language is really used. This is a perfect example. In general terms, buan is used with words which describe states, not actions. Buanghrá is eternal love, buanchónaí is permanent abode, and buanfhírinne is an eternal truth. But cumadh is an action, not a state. You could say bíonn siad ag síorchumadh scéalta (they are perpetually making up stories) but buanchumadh is just weird. In the real world, far away from the fantasy Oirish kingdom of Cassidia, there are a number of genuine ways of saying a long-drawn-out story in Irish. The word fadscéal is defined by Ó Dónaill as ‘a long-drawn-out story’ and there is also the lovely expression scéal ó Shamhain go Bealtaine, which means ‘a story from November to May!’

Dingers and Humdingers

Cassidy suggested that the words dinger and humdinger come from Irish dianmhaith and iomar-dianmhaith. These words are from maith, which means good, and the dian and the iomar are both intensifiers. Neither of them is a very common intensifier. Iomar is especially rare. As far as I know, it is obsolete in modern Irish and not used in any dialect. Dianmhaith would be pronounced jeeanwoy in the north, and deeanvah in southern dialects. Neither of these sound much like dinger. As for iomar-dhianmhaith (this is how you would have to write it in correct Irish), this would be pronounced ummar-yeeanvah or ummar-yeeanwoy. Neither of these sound much like humdinger to me.

I am no expert on slang and I don’t know where dinger and humdinger come from. But just as a piece of idle speculation, it seems to me that ding is a common verb in English for the sound a bell makes. So to hit something a dinger suggests that you hit something so hard it rings a bell (like one of those fairground machines that you hit with a hammer and a bell rings if you’re strong enough). And a humdinger suggests that it rings so hard it hums for a while afterwards. I may be right about this or I may be wrong.

But if Cassidy is right about dianmhaith and iomar-dhianmhaith, then stick me on a dike in wooden shoes and call me Joost van Hoeg. If Cassidy is right, I’m a Dutchman …

Grant Barrett

Some people come out of the Cassidy affair very badly, while others come out of it very well. One of those who deserves special mention for consistently challenging Cassidy’s nonsense is Grant Barrett. Here is a short post from Barrett’s blog http://grantbarrett.com/crank-etymologist:

Crank Etymologist

Thinking phonetic similarities between words prove origin or relation is a common mistake of amateur etymologists, as in this junk etymology, where the author, a known crank who favors simplistic and unverified Irish origins for a variety of English words—because he thinks American and English lexicographers have an anti-Irish bias—posits that bunkum comes from a buanchumadh, an Irish-Gaelic word he says means “perpetual invention, endless composition (of a story, poem, or song), a long made-up story, fig. a shaggy dog tale.” Of course, he provides no written citations of the word in English-language contexts. He’s got bupkus to prove his claim.

The author, Daniel Cassidy, used to post his rubbish to the email list of the American Dialect Society, but when his rickety logic and dubious scholarship couldn’t withstand the scrutiny of interested scholars and dilettantes, he took his quackery other places to people who don’t know any better.

Posted July 3, 2006

On a different forum, http://www.wordorigins.org/index.php/forums/viewthread/663/, Barrett was attacked by Cassidy (under a false ‘sockpuppet’ identity)  for having the temerity to pour scorn on Cassidy’s fake derivations:

“Barrett’s quote ‘s cam e (it is a fraud, a trick). Barrett the Parrott also claims to be Irish. So what. So is Ian Paisley. As to Munster derivations, Glencolumcille is in Donegal and Cassidy’s grandparent’s spoke Donegal Irish.  Barrett the Parrott is an Anglophile hack whose boring books are in the  basement of Amazon.com and in the remainder baskets of most bookstores. Before you believe a focal (word) out of  Grant Parrots’ gob ( beak, mouth), check out these reviews. 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.”

Cassidy then goes on to reel off a favourable comment from Joe Lee about Cassidy’s book. Why Joe Lee (an Irish speaker) chose to support this ridiculous book when he must have known that it is packed full of nonsense is between him and his conscience. People like Barrett come out of this well because they stood up for the truth, the facts, and the right of ordinary people not to be conned by cranks like Cassidy. They deserve our support, our respect and our thanks.