Gunga Din

This book has been given many favourable reviews on Amazon, on Google.books and on other forums online. Some of the favourable reviewers have referred to the fact that Cassidy ‘overreaches’, which means that a certain proportion of his work is untrustworthy, or wrong, or just plain crazy. This apparently doesn’t worry them and they don’t regard it as a sign that the whole project is toxic and not to be taken seriously.

Personally, I find this strange. OK, you have to give people some leeway. I don’t expect everything in a book to be right. Even in very academic books you come across facts which you know to be untrue – dates incorrect, misspellings, interpretations of facts which are controversial or wrong. To err is human and you expect a certain number of mistakes in any work. But the margin of error has to be realistic. Would you buy a cookery book or a history book where fifty percent of the recipes or dates were incorrect?

In Cassidy’s book, the level of error is considerably higher. There is almost nothing of any value in How The Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads. To understand how bad this book is, you really need some knowledge of the Irish language but even with an ounce of common sense and a knowledge of English, it should be obvious that many of Cassidy’s claims are crazy.

Take this one. Gunga Din, according to Cassidy, is Irish. To the rest of us, it represents an Indian name used in a famous poem by the arch-imperialist Kipling, but to Cassidy, Kipling was merely using a nickname given by Irish soldiers to an Indian water-carrier. That nickname, according to Cassidy, means “Skinny-arse, quickly!”

There is actually an obscure word gúngaire, which comes from gúnga meaning haunches or hunkers and which means something like skinny-arse. But dian means intense or hard. It doesn’t mean quick. You wouldn’t say “Go dian!” to someone if you want them to do something quickly. As usual, it is just a piece of Cassidese, a confection constructed by a fantasist because of random phonetic similarities.

And what evidence is there that Kipling was influenced by Irish? What evidence is there that it existed before Kipling made it up?

The idea that Gunga Din is Irish, rather than Kipling’s version of Hindi or Bengali, is so mad that I am gobsmacked that anyone would be daft enough to believe it.


5 thoughts on “Gunga Din

  1. baudelairecestpasmoi

    How about “gúngaire” plus the suffix “-ín”? Could that sound like “Gunga Din” to someone who hears it yelled out? How is “gunga din” used in Hindi or Bengali? Is it really a name for someone in one of those languages? Does it have any meaning at all in one of those languages? I’ve been trying to find out, but I haven’t come up with any answers yet. On the other hand, Cassidy’s idea sounds plausible, although it could be wrong in the “dian” part. I don’t know, and I don’t mean any offense. I’m just asking. By the way, who are you? I can form opinions about Cassidy and his work because there’s information on him, but I can’t find anything about you here.

    1. Debunker Post author

      Hello, and welcome to the blog! With regard to Gunga Din, no I really don’t think there is any point in looking for Irish derivations. Firstly, this is a FICTIONAL name. From looking on Google it seems to be a very unlikely Indian name, though one person suggested that Gunga might be the Hindi for the Ganges River, while Din sounds like the Arabic for faith. If this is correct, then it would mean that Kipling’s Gunga Din was a kind of composite Indian character, neither Hindu nor Muslim. However, the search for Irish versions of Gunga Din doesn’t seem very plausible to me. Kipling, I’m sure, didn’t speak Irish. The poem is recited by an English soldier (by the livin’ Gawd that made me), not an Irish soldier. Gúngaire Dian really doesn’t work and Gungairín is odd, and then how do you explain that he is addressed as Din several times in the poem? The fact that gúnga just happens to occur in Irish as a word for haunches isn’t a sufficient reason to posit a connection with a fictional Indian character in a poem by an Englishman. As I say, it seems to be Hindi for Ganges and it’s Swedish for swinging. I’m sure you could find lots of other gungas in different world languages, all of them completely unrelated to Irish gúnga or Kipling’s Gunga Din.

      As for my identity, I prefer to blog anonymously. If you want to see whether I am right or not, then check my facts. Take one or two articles at random and see whether what I say holds water. Unlike Cassidy, I’m not making any kind of profit out of doing this. I do it because I dislike unpleasant people spreading blatant lies unchallenged.

  2. baudelairecestpasmoi

    Thanks for the reply. I’m still leaning towards believing that Kipling misinterpreted what he heard and then created a whole poem which inadvertently highlighted his error. It wouldn’t be the first time people have made misinterpretations that have stuck and been passed on to the general public, like possibly the word “Eskimo.” I saw that Cassidy’s book was badly written, but, like many of the “fans” you’ve been criticizing here, I saw quite a few things that were plausible (though most of the book did put me off because it was badly written, repetitive, and had many entries that didn’t convince me).

    However, I think his main contention is right, that Gaelic might have entered English through the slang emerging in U.S. cities in the second half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th. I grew up a suburb of Chicago in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s in a house with a Gaelic-speaking father and a Gaelic-understanding mother, and Gaelic was like a secret code we could all turn to when we had to say something important in front of someone and we wanted to keep it on the sly (like deciding if we could invite someone to stay for dinner or take him/her to a restaurant, negotiating with used-car dealers, etc.). But, only my father could say everything in Gaelic. In cases where discretion was important, the rest of us would speak in a kind of euphemistic English with the key words in Gaelic. So, I can see how if we had been living in a community of people similar to us, we would have had a “mini-dialect” of our own. And if we started putting this dialect into the texts and films the members of our group produced for the mass media, those things might catch on. “Tuig em” in different forms (I don’t know how to spell things in Gaelic — my knowledge is all oral… and fading) was constantly said at home, so I can definitely believe that that became “Dig it?” in English. I can also see British soldiers of Irish origin calling a Gandhi-like Indian “little skinny butt,” especially if they thought nobody outside their circle would know what they were saying. It would be their own private joke. Except, maybe Rudyard Kipling overhead this and assumed that that was the Indian’s name and that those soldiers were English and not Irish (or maybe he just took poetic license and made them English to enhance the effect of the poem’s message on his intended audience).

    Well, I’ll read your blog as I get the time, and I’m sure I’ll share a good number of your objections. But, I’ll probably also disagree a fair number of times. And I’ll probably have to withhold judgment in most cases until I get more information from other sources. For instance, now I’ll have to add professor Barrett’s book to my reading list so I can form an opinion on it. (I have to admit, though, that I’m prejudiced favorably towards it because I had him as a professor in an American History course I took as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and his course was excellent in terms of focus, materials we studied, and his way of teaching. So, I think his research is probably quite solid, and the language question doesn’t seem to be the main focus of his book.)

    1. Debunker Post author

      No problem. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on the question of Gunga Din and also the idea that there is a core of Irish terms at the heart of American slang. If it existed, I think someone would have uncovered it by now. Personally, I can’t see any merit to the vast majority of Cassidy’s claims and I doubt if there are that many other origin unknown words and phrases which could derive from Irish. As I’ve said before, I think the twig link to tuig is one of the stronger candidates and of course, it predates Cassidy, as does the link with dig and tuig. This is perhaps less strong but I think it’s still possible. Anyway, I hope you read and enjoy the rest of the blog and that you agree more than you disagree but if you disagree with me, then please feel free to engage in debate through these comments. As for James Barrett, my comments were more expressions of exasperation than anger. I’m sure most of his book is fine and I’m sure he’s a good teacher, but I think he has damaged his own work and reputation by including something which at best is speculative (which I think would be your position) and at worst is outright fraud (which is my standpoint). Do you speak Irish now? If you have a background in it, you should really try to learn some and bring it back. It is a wonderful language (as you know) and now with the internet there are more resources for learners than ever before. Tá súil agam go gcluinfimid uait arís!

      1. baudelairecestpasmoi

        I’m looking forward to checking it all out. You’ve done quite a lot of work here. And as for speaking Irish, when I was a child, I could hold my own in it, at least in everyday, household situations. But, now most of it’s gone. Probably one of these years (soon) I’ll sign up for an old-fashioned, classroom-based course, because I learn languages best when I have to use them face-to-face with people and follow the pace and discipline of a syllabus and a taskmaster who keeps me moving forward. Slán léat!

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