Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Fantods

Apparently, to have the fantods means to be jittery or nervous. It is an American expression and I have never heard it. Nobody knows where it comes from but some suggestions centre on a connection with fantasy. 

Cassidy’s suggestion is that it comes from the phrase Tá fonn taodach orm, which according to him means “an impulsive frame of mind, jittery excitation, a fierce humor, a quick temper, a fuss, a fit…” He gives a number of references to Irish and Scottish Gaelic dictionaries but these are references to the words fonn and taodach (or taghdach in the modern spelling). Cassidy uses these dictionary references to prove that both these words exist in Irish. They do but this is completely beside the point. The question is, would they be found together in the phrase fonn taodach? The answer to this is a resounding no. 

Fonn can be used on its own to mean inclination or desire, as in bhí mé le dul chuig an chóisir ach ní raibh fonn orm – ‘I was to go to the party but I didn’t feel like it’. Or you can attach a noun or verbal noun in the genitive to it to specify what you did or didn’t feel like doing, as in bhí fonn gáire orm (I felt like laughing) or ní raibh fonn codlata orthu (they didn’t feel like going to sleep). You don’t use fonn with adjectives, so fonn taodach is an impossible combination, as well as being fairly meaningless – what does it mean when you have an impulsive inclination?

Also, you have to take into account that fonn taodach would be pronounced fon teedakh. Why would fon teedakh become fantod rather than fonteeda? The answer is, of course, it wouldn’t. This is as stupid as everything else in this book.

Everyone’s a critic …

Here are a handful of links to pages which criticise Cassidy’s ridiculous book, How The Irish Invented Slang. Here is a good article from Language Hat:

Here is a review from the Irish Independent (the Indo). Cassidy made much of the fact that the papers had given him good reviews in Ireland. This is true. Most of the Irish papers uncritically supported him, largely because this is a man-bites-dog story and therefore newsworthy, however wrong it might be. However, the Independent seems to have published a couple of articles, one in August, which was positive (and therefore completely wrong) and this one by Ed Power, which quotes from an Irish academic, Professor Terry Dolan, who criticises the book kindly but firmly. Terry Dolan is a real professor, of course, and clearly qualified to discuss these issues:

Here is an interesting review from the blog Sesquiotica:

And here is Michael Patrick Brady’s comment. What do you think of the comment at the end from Cassidy’s sister? Sounds like there must have been a family falling-out there!

This is from John Madziarczyk in Seattle, which does a very good job of attacking Cassidy’s intellectual pretensions and uses examples from Hungarian to do it:

Also, don’t miss this hilarious piece on the Grammarphobia Blog by Patricia T O’Conner and Stewart Kellarman.

And let’s not forget this excellent piece by Arnold Zwicky:

There are lots of good critiques of Cassidy’s work out there. I have made my own small contribution to the campaign here and elsewhere. Slowly but surely, the balance is shifting from those who support Cassidy to those who believe in telling it like it is. In future, anybody encountering Cassidy’s ridiculous theories will be able to enter his name on Google and find the truth immediately. Let’s hope it puts a stop to this nonsense forever.


The experts tell us that raspberry (as in ‘to blow a raspberry’) is rhyming slang and comes from ‘raspberry tart’ = fart. This seemed quite logical to me but then I realised that Daniel Cassidy had really nailed it with his Irish interpretation. The truth is given by Cassidy on page 235 of his magnum dopus, that raspberry comes from the words roiseadh búirthí, which translates as a volley of bellowings. Yes, an Irish speaker wouldn’t do anything as obvious as using the word broim (fart) in their version of raspberry. They would use roiseadh búirthí, a phrase which, I am led to believe, is often used in the Irish of Corcabottle in the Monster Gaeltacht to describe the farting noise produced by the propulsion system of flying pigs, as well as the noise horses make when you pull their feathers out …

(NB The above post is ironic! Yes, I know there is no such thing as Monster Irish. The Gaeltacht of Corcabottle does not exist, and Irish, while it is a beautiful and highly expressive tongue, does not boast any term for the propulsion system of a flying pig or the noise horses make when you pull their feathers out. I was merely mocking the ridiculous opinions of Daniel Cassidy concerning the Irish language and the slang of America. I thought that would have been quite obvious but someone sent me a comment telling me that I don’t know anything about Irish because I can’t spell Munster! I forgot that people can ‘parachute’ in to any page without understanding the context of the blog properly and so it’s better to avoid irony. I have learned my lesson.)

And just to make it clear that I do speak Irish, here’s that paragraph in our language:

Íoróin a bhí i gceist sa phostáil thuas. Tá a fhios agam go rímhaith nach bhfuil a leithéid de rud ann agus Monster Irish, nach bhfuil aon Ghaeltacht ann darb ainm Corca Buidéil agus cé gur teanga bhreá thromchiallach í an teanga s’againne, is oth liom a admháil nach bhfuil aon téarma aici ar an chóras tiomána a bheadh ag muc eitlitheach ná ar an fhuaim a dhéanann capaill nuair a phioctar na cleití díobh. Ní raibh mé ach ag magadh faoi bharúlacha áiféiseacha Daniel Cassidy maidir leis an Ghaeilge agus béarlagair an Oileáin Úir anseo. Shíl mé go mbeadh an méid sin soiléir go leor ach scríobh duine éigin chugam lena rá liom nach bhfuil Gaeilge ar bith agam cionn is nach dtig liom Munster a litriú! Rinne mé dearmad go dtig le daoine ‘paraisiútáil’ isteach ar leathanach ar bith gan comhthéacs an bhlaig a thuiscint mar is ceart agus is fearr an íoróin a sheachaint, mar sin. Tá ceacht foghlamtha agam.

Foot juice

According to Cassidy, this was a slang term for a fortified red wine and comes from the Irish fuad, an obscure word for a thief, a wretch or a vagrant. There are two obvious points here – do they make the wine out of vagrants? If not, it’s hard to see why they would call it fuad juice. Secondly, the origin of this expression is pretty obvious. Everyone knows that people when they made wine according to the traditional method used to take their shoes and socks off and tread the grapes until the juice ran out. Isn’t this a much more likely origin for foot juice than an obscure Irish term which sounds a little like foot?


According to Cassidy, the word gump, meaning chicken, comes from the Irish word colm, pronounced collum. This doesn’t mean a chicken – it means a dove or pigeon – but according to Cassidy it would be used ‘figuratively’ for a chicken. He cites no sources for this opinion and gives no evidence at all but in any case, the idea of a connection between gump and colm is … well, crazy. Say it to yourself – gump, collum, gump, collum. Most of Cassidy’s fake connections are pretty lame but this one is just insane.


Cassidy suggests that mucker, a word used colloquially in Ireland and England to mean mate or friend, comes from the Irish mucaire, which is from muc meaning ‘pig’. According to Dineen the word mucaire means a swineherd, a boor, a rustic. Ó Dónaill’s dictionary only gives the meaning ‘a slovenly worker’. How you get from any of these meanings to the notion of a mate is beyond me.

Back in the real world, muck is a very old word in English (derived from Old Norse) which means dirt. A mucker is someone who works with this dirt (as in a mucker-out) but this is probably not directly the origin of mucker in the sense of friend. For this, we need to look at the way that people mucking about or messing about are often having fun together. That’s why we have muckers. So it is far more likely that the word mucker in all its senses is a reference to the English muck + er than that it has any connection with mucaire. As usual, Cassidy ignores the obvious English explanation in favour of a specious derivation from Irish.

Incidentally, while researching this post, I found that others say that mucker comes from the Irish mo chara, meaning my friend. This is also nonsense. As any competent Irish speaker will tell you, it’s a chara, not mo chara when you are talking directly (i.e. vocatively) to your friends. Of course, it is quite acceptable to talk about people in the third person using mo chara, but this would hardly give rise to a loanword, as the mo is not intrinsically linked to the word cara. Only the core form of the word, cara, would be borrowed in a bilingual situation. For example, we have all heard French-speaking characters in films saying things like ‘how are you, mon ami?’ This is a vocative use, like ‘a chara’. But when the Spanish word amigo is used in English, it is always used simply as amigo, never as mi amigo or su amigo, and so it is quite reasonable to assume that people might say things like ‘he is a great cara of mine’, but not *’it’s good to have a mo chara‘ (or do chara or ár gcara, for that matter). And that’s not even touching on matters of pronunciation. Mo chara, if it’s pronounced properly, is pronounced something like mohara, to rhyme with Sahara. How would that become mucker?

In any case, this claim was made by other idiots, not by Cassidy, so it is merely an aside and has no bearing on the substance of this blog.


I came across an interesting little nugget of Cassidese nonsense on what purports to be an educational website ( the other day. In the article, Cassidy was thinking aloud (I use the term thinking advisedly) about the origins of a cowboy song about little dogies. This is a cowboy term which apparently originally meant an orphan calf and now is applied to cattle of all kinds. Here is one line from the song with Cassidy’s ‘translation’ into Irish.

Whoopie Ti Yi Yo, git along, little doggies
Uimhir dí-áireamh, céadlongadh ládáil do-thóigthe

Countless number breakfast, hard-to-feed cargo

When I had stopped laughing and picked myself up off the floor, I decided to write this post. Cassidy’s Irish ‘translation’ is pure nonsense and makes much less sense even than the English version. I mean, whoopie is pronounced … well, whoopee, as in Makin’ Whoopee or Whoopi Goldberg and uimhir is pronounced ivvir, a bit like liver with the l taken off the front. Uimhir, whoopie. Uimhir, whoopie. No, sorry. It sounds a bit more similar than fish and bicycle but not a lot.

Then there’s the fact that uimhir wouldn’t be used in this sense anyway because in English, you can use number to mean a few, some, as in There were a number of people there. You can’t say bhí uimhir daoine ann in Irish. It is meaningless. In circumstances like this, you use another word, líon. As Ó Dónaill’s Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla says under the heading líon – “An líon daoine atá san áit, the number of people in the place; the population of the place”. Dí-áireamh is strange but just on the improbable side of impossible: dí-áirimh is given by Ó Dónaill as a variant of the much more common do-áirithe. I strongly suspect that git along is the English get along and is telling the dogies to move quickly. Just a hunch. It certainly seems unlikely that it is a reference to breakfast, however badly the dogies need fattening. Ládáil is a loan-word, related to English lading (as in Bill of Lading) and refers to putting a cargo on a ship. So … they’re taking the cows … on a ship? After breakfast? Let’s hope the water isn’t too choppy. I will discuss the word dogie below.  Oh, and then there is the problem that it would really be ládáil dho-thóigthe (ládáil dhothógtha in modern spelling) according to the rules of Irish grammar, which is pronounced as something like go-hoe-ga rather than do-hoe-ga.   

As so often happened, Cassidy had fallen out of love with this crazy, back-of-an-envelope brainwave by the time the book was published but he still gave do-thóigthe (Dinneen’s spelling: the modern spelling is dothógtha) as the origin of doggie (instead of the traditional explanation that it is a contraction of English dough-guts). Cassidy lied shamelessly in his treatment of this word. He gave a longish definition, half of which was real and taken from Dinneen’s dictionary, but the second half was his own invention.

Here is Cassidy’s definition, as given on page 35 of How Cassidy Invented Crap:


Do-thóigthe, (pron. dohóg’ǝ], hard to rear, hard to fatten (as a calf); a sickly hard-to-feed calf; fig. an orphan calf or child, without a mother to nurse them. (Dineen, 1927;)

The first half (the real bit) says that dothóigthe is an adjective meaning that an animal is hard to fatten or rear (Do-thóigthe, hard to rear, hard to fatten (as a calf) etc.).  The second (fake) bit (a sickly hard-to-feed calf; fig. an orphan calf or child, without a mother to nurse them) implies that dothóigthe can be used as a noun meaning an orphan calf, which it can’t. The whole quotation is ascribed to Dinneen, so the poor reader would have no way of knowing that the convincing half of it in terms of Cassidy’s argument is completely fake.

Cassidy did this on many occasions. He often put the letters fig. into a definition when he was inserting his own fictional take on the meaning. This usually stands for ‘figuratively’ in contexts like this but in Cassidy’s work, it really stands for ‘figment’ (of Cassidy’s imagination).




This is another really stupid Cassidy suggestion. He claims that the word nincompoop comes from the Irish naioidhean ar chuma búb, which he says is pronounced neeyan [er] um boob and (again, according to him) means “a baby in the shape of a blubbering boob.”

Let’s examine this claim carefully. Firstly, does the ‘Irish’ phrase sound like nincompoop? Not much. Is there any evidence of anyone ever using this expression before Cassidy? No, of course there isn’t. Is it likely that anyone would use it? Think about it. Insults need to be clever or punchy. They need to be effective as ways of putting someone in their place, which is why you very rarely find people saying things like “He is a man who seems to have the appearance of a dolt.” If you want to insult someone, you simply call them a dolt. Because of this, the chances of Cassidy’s claim being correct are vanishingly slight.

Although we don’t have any solid evidence about the real origin of nincompoop, there is nothing to suggest that it comes from Irish. It is first found in English in the 1670s. Some dictionaries conjecture that it probably comes from the phrase non compos mentis (a legal formula meaning not of sound mind). Others dispute this. But Cassidy’s ridiculous suggestion is just another confirmation that he was far from compos mentis himself.


Cassidy claimed that jazz comes from the Irish teas, meaning heat. He is not alone in claiming an Irish origin for the word jazz. Years ago, I remember someone saying to me that jazz comes from the Irish deas, meaning nice. I was sceptical of that claim and I’m just as sceptical of Cassidy’s. I suppose it is just possible but there is no evidence for it beyond a slight phonetic similarity. Cassidy also makes a basic mistake of pronunciation, in that he insists that teas is pronounced as jass, which it isn’t. Teas is pronounced chass, or tyass, but never jass. (In the book, he ganches on about something called the Rule of Tír, which I am fairly certain doesn’t exist and is not in any grammar book or textbook of Irish which I have seen).

There is no convincing solution to the problem of where the term jazz comes from. Some scholars insist that it was originally a sexual term which became applied to a type of music. They may be right, or they may be wrong. But there is no reason at all to associate it with an Irish word for heat (or nice).

I am also suspicious of the idea of the Irish ‘claiming’ jazz. I don’t dispute that individual Irish Americans had a big influence on the development of jazz but I wonder if Irish people were involved much in its inception. After all, the popular instruments among the Irish diaspora were the fiddle, the flute, the pipes and the whistle. The quintessential jazz instruments like brass and clarinet and drums and piano were really not part of the Irish music scene and most Irish music is in triple time, while most jazz is in quadruple time.

However, the most interesting thing about Cassidy and jazz for me is the debates on Wikipedia about the origin of the word. If you go to Wikipedia at this address: you will find a number of debates involving a character who calls himself Medbh. I say himself, in spite of the fact that Medhbh(?)/Medb/Méabh is a woman’s name, because I am pretty certain that Medbh is really Daniel Cassidy. Read it yourself and make up your own mind but it ends up as a rant against the ‘dictionary dudes’ who have criticised Cassidy’s book. If Medbh’s comments were not written by Cassidy, then he or she had a stalker’s knowledge of Cassidy’s life and work and he or she used the same style of language. It is also a style of language found in other places by Cassidy himself under his own name, as well as by people who talked about Cassidy in the third person but were almost certainly sock-puppets for Cassidy (check out this exchange here which is obviously from Cassidy himself and then compare it to Medbh’s hysterical rant below).

“You do not own the word “jazz” (teas) on Wikipedia or anywhere else. You are not balancing anything. Your article is replete with inaccuaracies and distortions. It is an embarassemnt. The attempt to marginalize Daniel Cassidy’s pioneering work on the word “jazz” and hundreds of other American vernacular words and phrases in his new book How the Irish Invented Slang: the Secret language of the Crossroads is pathetic. Cassidy’s book has been hailed by scores of respected academics, journalists, writers, and Irish language scholars, since its publication 3 months ago. See the Irish Times, The Irish Independent, The Belfast Telegraph, Irish News, The Derry Journal, RTE, Ireland’s national broadcaster, and Irish language publications like La Nua, Beo, and Foinse, as well as American media, including ABC radio, KPFA, WBAI, the SF Chronicle, and NY Observer,and this is just in the first weeks after publication. I shall continue to put up the Irish sanas of jazz. These last feeble attempts to censor Cassidy’s work are laughably pathetic. Let’s put it to mediation. I will provide 20 PUBLISHED articles supporting Cassidy’s thesis. All you have are the same old white boy cronies and Anglophile dictionary dudes.”

The strangest thing about this is the sheer ineptitude. After all, if you wanted to post a defence of your own book under a false identity, would you use highly distinctive phrases (sanas, dictionary dudes) which are associated with you in contexts where your name is given? Wouldn’t you try to adopt another persona, use a different voice to make your point? I would, certainly, but then I’m not barking mad …


I have already said that Cassidy ignores perfectly good English explanations for words in favour of improbable or impossible made-up Irish derivations. This is a perfect example. Chicken means scared and a chicken is a coward. I think this comes from the English word chicken which is a nervous type of bird. In English, phrases like hen-hearted go back to the 14th century at least. It is obvious, realistic, and it ticks all the boxes.

Cassidy and his supporters will have none of it. Chicken doesn’t come from chicken, apparently. It comes from teith ar cheann, which means – says Cassidy – to run away first. Does it? No, of course not. This is How The Irish Invented Slang we’re talking about here, not a serious work of scholarship! Teith ar cheann is unattested. If you look it up on Google, you will find a handful of references to Daniel Cassidy. In terms of Irish grammar, it doesn’t make sense, as it really means ‘flee at the head of’ rather than flee first. At the head of what? I hear you ask. Exactly. On its own, this phrase means nothing.

There are lots of expressions for a weakling or coward in Irish and any of them could have been used in slang, so it seems strange that people would use a grammatically meaningless and unfamiliar phrase in preference to these words. Of course, in reality, they didn’t. Chicken is English. A chicken is a chicken is a chicken. And Cassidy was a birdbrain.