High Falutin’

According to Cassidy, the word high falutin’ comes from uí bhfolaíocht án, which he claims is an Irish phrase meaning ‘of noble blood’. Hmm.

In an article in the San Francisco Gate, Cassidy explains that in this phrase, the bh and the ch are silent, so the resulting word sounds like high falutin’. Incidentally, if the phrase did exist, it would be pronounced ee wollee-okht ahn or ee vollee-okht awn. It is the f that is silent, not the bh, and the ch is softer than a k sound but still very much present.  

Let’s just examine this claim further. Does uí bhfolaíocht án exist in Irish? Is it used to mean ‘of noble blood’? Of course not. Like almost every Irish phrase in Cassidy’s ridiculous book, it is pure invention. However, it is worse than most of Cassidy’s inventions, as it is not just improbably daft but glaringly, obviously wrong.

Let me explain. Folaíocht comes from the Irish fuil, meaning blood. It does mean a pedigree bloodline. A pedigree horse is a capall folaíochta. Án is a rather obscure word which Cassidy was very fond of but which Irish speakers use sparingly, if at all. Uasal is the usual word for noble. But what is the doing there? And why is it followed by bh? Neither of these elements makes any sense in terms of the grammar of the language.

Ó is one Irish word for ‘from’. And in Ó Dónaill’s dictionary, the word is given as a variant of ó. However, there are several ó words in Irish. is a variant of the noun ó meaning grandson or descendant, not the preposition ó meaning from. Ó Dónaill marks this with a little number so you can tell the difference. Cassidy was obviously too stupid to use a dictionary properly, so he ignored the little numbers. And it wouldn’t be followed by bh, but by fh, so he obviously wasn’t smart enough for grammar books either. If I wanted to say ‘of noble blood’, I would say d’fhuil uasal, or de phór uasal, or de shliocht uasal. Note that an Irish speaker would use the word de in this case, not ó. And in any case, high falutin is not about bloodlines. It is about ideas or notions or accents or words.

Most (sane) scholars link it to the word flute. It is somebody talking with a high-pitched, flute-like, posh voice. It may be the right explanation. It may be wrong. But it is definitely better than Cassidy’s suggestion, which is nonsense.

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