This is another Cassidy claim which has been spread far and wide by gullible and naïve people – glasóga as I would call them. According to Cassidy, sucker (in the sense of stooge or naïve person) comes from the Irish sách úr meaning ‘a fresh, well-fed fellow’ or ‘fat cat’ ready to be fleeced ‘like a ripe Donegal sheep’. (A ripe Donegal sheep?? What exactly is a ripe sheep? Can fat cats be ripe too? And why Donegal? Don’t they fleece sheep in other counties?)
So, does sách úr mean a sucker? As usual with Cassidy’s claims, the phrase sách úr is not found together (as noun and adjective) in any Irish text, so we will just have to examine the two constituent words to see if there is any chance at all that Cassidy accidentally got it right for a change. (Don’t hold your breath …)
Firstly, úr does mean fresh or new. What about sách? Sách is primarily an adjective meaning sated, full, well-fed. Its main use in some dialects (though not in mine: we use measartha) is as an adverb, as the equivalent of words like ‘fairly’ or ‘pretty’ in English.
Bhí sé sách maith. (It was fairly good, good enough)
But in Cassidy’s phrase, the word sách is obviously a noun. In the Irish dictionaries (such as Ó Dónaill) there is a noun sách meaning a well-fed person and the word is familiar to almost all Irish speakers from the proverb Ní thuigeann sách seang, má thuigeann ní in am. (The well-fed do not understand the slender, if they do it’s too late.) But just because something is used as a noun in a proverb doesn’t mean you can use it as a noun in any circumstances. Proverbs have their own rules, in Irish and in English. For example, in English you can say “Only the good die young.” But you can’t say “*That man is a real good” or “*That family are really nice – they’re all goods!”
In exactly the same way, while you can use sách as a noun in the proverb, you can’t say *Nach tú an sách na laethanta seo? (Aren’t you the well-fed person these days?) or *Is sách é anois (He is a well-fed person now.) If you have any Irish, check out some uses of sách in this excellent website, Pota Focal – http://www.potafocal.com/Search.aspx?Text=s%c3%a1ch&Lang=ga
There are lots and lots of references on Pota Focal where the word is being used as an adverb and at least one where it is a noun, but in that case it occurs with seang and is a clear reference to the proverb.
So, I am confident that sách would not be used as Cassidy says. Of course, we have to remember that Cassidy didn’t know any Irish. He was completely and totally ignorant of the language and it seems that his only interest in Irish was as a means of self-publicity. In Irish, there are plenty of expressions which could be used to mean gull or sucker: boigéisí; gabhdán; glasóg; mothaolaí, and I am sure Irish speakers would have used an expression like these rather than sách úr.
After all, the semantic connection between being well-fed and being a target for robbery is not very strong. And in any case, the phrase sách úr would be pronounced saakhoor or saahoor, so it is very unlikely that it would be heard as sucker.
In fact, there are other words which a dishonest person with a dictionary could claim as ‘obvious’ candidates for the origin of sucker. What about socair, an adjective meaning settled, decided, established, and even dead. Couldn’t this be ‘the one we have decided to rob?’ Or what about sochar, which has the dictionary meaning of benefit, gain. Couldn’t this be ‘the one who is going to benefit us?’ Or what about sac air (a sack on him), because swindling a mark is like putting a sack over his head? Or sú cóir, (proper juice), because the mark is a tempting, ‘juicy’ target? I could probably come up with a few others but what’s the point? You get the picture. It’s dead easy to take a huge dictionary and do some mixing and matching like this. It’s also totally worthless. It’s what Cassidy did in this book, over and over again. He was a one-trick pony with a one-horsepower brain.
Then again, the real origins of the word sucker in English are pretty clear. Young innocent children suck their thumbs or suck the teat. Young innocent children are easy to rob. So a sucker is someone who is young and innocent (wet behind the ears) and easy to rob. It’s not rocket science! So if you are one of these idiots who have helped to spread this laughable trash of Cassidy’s about ripe Donegal sheep and fresh well-feds, you must be a total sucker!