Monthly Archives: July 2013

Poke That Folklore!

Here is a link to a fascinating video of Daniel Cassidy, author of the ridiculous How The Irish Invented Slang, speaking to an audience at the New York Writers’ Institute.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4za9Rl8Qrc&noredirect=1.  The video is fascinating because it shows that even after Cassidy had written and published the book, he was still totally clueless about the Irish language.

In the clip, after an intro in which he quotes Professor Terence Dolan, who later publicly criticised Cassidy’s ridiculous book, Cassidy unsuccessfully attempts to pronounce a number of Irish words.

Firstly, he shows off a dog-eared pocket dictionary which he had received as a bequest from a friend. This, he says, is a folklore poker. To you or me, this is a foclóir póca, which is pronounced focklore pawka but to Cassidy, it’s a folklore poker. It shouldn’t surprise anyone who has read this blog that Cassidy had such poor Irish that after supposedly studying Irish for over six years he stood up in public and did the equivalent of pronouncing dictionary as dickery. Why should it surprise anyone? After all, in Cassidy’s hands, the contents of the dictionary were reduced to a mixture of dickery and folklore.

Then there are other words. When he says that hunch comes from aithint, he seems to simply repeat the word hunch again in English rather than even attempting to pronounce aithint. And his claim that the American ‘in Dutch’ comes from duais is very wide of the mark. Nobody has ever said Bhí mé i nduais le mo mháthair’ for ‘I was in trouble with my mother’ and if they did, they wouldn’t pronounce it ‘dush’, to rhyme with hush. Many southern speakers pronounce it doosh. I would pronounce it dooish, to rhyme with newish with a NY accent. But dush? Not a chance.

The funniest bit is when he pronounces slacaire, which according to Cassidy is pronounced in Irish the way a drunken Frenchman would pronounce slugger. (E eez a great sluggair, zat batsman, no?)

Anyway, log on and have a good laugh or as Cassidy would have said, a snag gáire and a gíog gheal (that is, a hiccup of laughter and a bright squeak, Cassidy’s absurd Irish candidates for snigger and giggle!)

Blow

According to Cassidy, the English word blow, as in hit or strike, comes from the Irish bualadh. This is rubbish, of course. Blow is an old Germanic word. It has been in
English since at least the mid-15th century and has German cognates such as bleuen. It is not the same word as blow in the sense of the wind blowing, which comes from Old English blawen. One or both of these words may be cognate with Irish bualadh. (In other words, they may share a root in common thousands of years ago.) I don’t know. But neither of them comes from Irish bualadh. Cassidy’s claim is simply nonsense, like almost everything in this idiotic, childish travesty of a book.

Henry Colton

This is a blog about Daniel Cassidy and his incredibly stupid book, How The Irish Invented Slang. In this colossal waste of trees, Cassidy attempts to demonstrate that hundreds of English expressions derive from Irish. It is quite clear throughout the book that Cassidy has no idea about Irish, or linguistics, or English, or history or any of the areas of knowledge that would qualify him to write a book of this type. However, some of the entries would make you doubt not only his intelligence, his common sense and his integrity, but even his sanity. This was the case with Gunga Din, the name of an Indian character in a poem by Kipling which Cassidy tries to link to the barrack-room banter of Irish-speaking soldiers.

This is another one, the strange case of Henry Colton. According to Cassidy, Henry Colton, a famous New York gambler and casino-owner, was really An Rí Ghealltáin, the King of Bets. He doesn’t explain what he meant by this and in many cases, I doubt whether Cassidy really knew what he meant. As far as I know, Henry Colton was not a pseudonym. This was the man’s name. He was born with it and later became a gambler and casino owner. So it isn’t as if he was called An Rí Ghealltáin and this was then anglicised as Henry Colton. So what exactly is Cassidy claiming here? That some mystical process of synchronicity is responsible for making someone’s English name correspond to a suitable Irish phrase? Or simply that Irish speakers would have heard his name and called him An Rí Ghealltáin instead of Henry Colton?

Maybe – if they spoke really bad Irish. The fact is, An Rí Ghealltáin is Cassidese, not Irish. ‘The King of Bets’ in Irish would be Rí na nGeall, which really doesn’t sound much like Henry Colton and of course, there is not a shred of evidence that anyone used any Irish phrase in reference to Henry Colton, with or without grammar. It makes you wonder if Cassidy spent too much time out there in California in a green cloud of legal medicinal ganja, jotting down whatever crazy idea wandered into his shrivelled walnut of a brain and laughing hysterically about how he was going to get one over on the dictionary dudes and make a shedload of money in the process.

Twisted Teacher

Many people think that there is some significance to the fact that Cassidy was able to find phonetic ‘matches’ for his English candidate phrases in Irish dictionaries. This is not the case. These are hefty dictionaries, well over a thousand pages long. Cassidy wasn’t fussy about the pronunciation or indeed about the meaning. For example, he thought the origin of gump in the sense of chicken could be the Irish colm, which really doesn’t sound anything like gump and means a dove or pigeon! In other words, it isn’t difficult to pick a word and find a ‘suitable’ Irish phrase to be its ‘origin’.

Let’s take the surname Cassidy as an example. It comes from Ó Caiside. It is a surname from Fermanagh in the north of Ireland which means descendant of Caiside [pron. cash-idja]. There is no agreement about the derivation of the name Caiside.

However, let’s use some of Cassidy’s methodology to find a good derivation. What about casaoid [cass-eej, which means a complaint? After all, Cassidy was fond of complaining about dictionary dudes and WASPs who refused to recognise the value of his work!

Or what about cosúdar [pronounced coss-oodar]? Cos means foot, but also means proletarian in the phrase cosmhuintir, foot-people, the lower classes. So cos-údar could mean ‘a proletarian author’. (It couldn’t really but why should I be any more accurate than Cassidy?)

But my favourite would be this one. Let’s reference it the way Cassidy himself referenced his dodgy derivations.

The word cas [pron. cass] means ‘twist, turn, spin’ and oide [pron. idja] means ‘teacher’, so casaide plainly means ‘a twisted teacher, a lying instructor who puts his own spin on things, fig. a dishonest academic who invents all his research’. (Dinneen, 167, 810 ; Ó Dónaill, 194, 924; Collins, 406, 552).

See how easy it is? And how completely worthless?

Why do clever people believe in stupid ideas?

This is one of the most important questions raised by Cassidy’s book How The Irish Invented Slang.  Why did so many people support this nonsense? I am not talking about those who were friends or relatives of the author. The fact that they praised it is no surprise. It is harder to explain why so many people who have no obvious vested interest in Cassidy or his ideas supported this book and continue to support it. This is an important question. Why do reasonably clever people believe in stupid things?

Firstly, you have to consider the psychology of belief. People are hard-wired to look for patterns in things. This is why people see the face of Elvis in pancakes. There is probably some evolutionary advantage to finding patterns but there is no doubt that it needs to be tempered with some kind of scepticism and reason. Many people don’t use reason in choosing their beliefs. They will choose a theory because it suits them rather than because it fits the facts, because it is flattering to them, because it makes them feel privy to arcane and secret knowledge, and because it allows them to feel superior to the ‘blinkered’ and ‘narrow-minded’ academics.

All too often, people (especially those who choose flaky theories) find that the facts contradict their beliefs. People find it hard to live with conflicting views of the world. It makes them uneasy. Psychologists call this unease cognitive dissonance.

So they then have a choice. Rational people tend to look at the facts and alter their theory to conform with them, or even abandon the theory altogether if it cannot be mapped onto the landscape of reality.  However, a great many people react in the opposite way. So, when their beliefs conflict with the facts, these people start to find specious reasons to deny those facts (http://www.politics.ie/forum/culture-community/208192-phrases-words-weve-given-english-language-22.html), like this person responding to criticism of Cassidy’s work on the grounds that Cassidy’s made-up phrases don’t make any sense in terms of Irish grammar:

‘I would expect grammatical errors if the origins were found in illiterates and near illiterates interacting with other illiterates and near illiterates, these wern’t Galway College grads, they were peasants interacting with other peasants..’

The idea that illiteracy means that you can’t retain even the most basic grammar is ridiculous but this person is determined to clutch at any straw to avoid changing his mind.

These people also use ad hominem arguments (arguments based on the character of the people making the argument), such as this piece of stupidity from an Amazon review:

‘Also, I don’t need so-called professional scholars to approve what I will or will not believe. It’s obvious, for instance, that any book with the title “Oxford English Dictionary” is necessarily going to be prejudiced against admitting any kind of Irish influence, if it can be avoided, especially when one considers the time period in which the OED was originally formulated.’

Why necessarily? Is this fool saying that nobody in the Oxford University Press is Irish, or that that they are all WASPs who went to Eton? This might have been true a hundred years ago. It’s not true now, and even if it were, would this necessarily mean that all of them would twist the facts to reject derivations from the Irish language rather than do their job properly?  

It is interesting that there are plenty of people on Amazon and other review forums who have spotted the flaws in Cassidy’s arguments. It is obvious that many of them have no specialist knowledge of Irish or linguistics. The difference between these people and the flat-earthers who believe in Cassidy is probably not primarily one of intelligence, or even of knowledge. It’s about psychology. There are some people who are rational and want to find out the truth, whatever that truth is (note that rational doesn’t necessarily mean unemotional – anger or admiration are fine as long as they are based on reason.) And there are others who just believe in what they want to believe. It doesn’t matter how much proof there is, or how ridiculous the ideas are, or how big the gap between the theory and the reality. Once they’ve made their minds up that the world is ruled by lizards in rubber suits or that the government is putting LSD in the water supplies because the Freemasons and the Zionists told them to, or that American slang was influenced by a fictitious dialect of Irish which left no trace anywhere until it was ‘rediscovered’ by Daniel Cassidy, that’s it and no amount of intelligent argument will make them doubt themselves.

Sunday Punch

Apparently, the phrase ‘a Sunday punch’ means a killer punch, a knockout, either in boxing terms or metaphorically in other areas like politics. A normal person would look at that phrase and try to think of a reasonable and sane way of explaining it in English, which isn’t difficult. Most boxing matches probably occurred on Saturday night, so a Sunday punch is surely one that puts you out of action until the following day. Another common expression, ‘to knock someone into the middle of next week’, uses the same metaphor.

However, Cassidy was not a normal person and he had no interest in sane and reasonable explanations. He immediately took his Irish dictionary in hand and found what he thought was a suitable word, sonnda

‘Sonnda, al. sonnta, adj., powerful, strong, courageous, bold (punch). (Ó Dónaill,  1134; Dineen, 1088.)’

As usual in Cassidy’s ‘research’, this is not a real quotation. Sonnda derives from the word sonn, which means a stake or post, so sonnda is a very old-fashioned, literary word for powerful, steadfast, and would be used of a castle or a fortification, not a blow. To confuse matters, Dinneen gives it as an alternative spelling of sonnta, which means forceful, pushy or cheeky. In other words, Cassidy is mixing the entries for two distinct terms. Moreover, none of the meanings attached to the words sonnda or sonnta would lead you to believe that they would ever be applied to blows or punches.  There are lots of adjectives which would be used in this way with the word for blow (buille) – buille trom, buille treascrach, buille cumhachtach, buille láidir, buille tolgach.

Sonnda isn’t one of these adjectives, so Cassidy’s claim is just as daft as the rest of this absurd book.

Dude

Daniel Cassidy, author of the ridiculous How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that dude comes from the Irish dúd or dúid, which means a long, neck, a penis or a fool. On the face of it, there is nothing strange or unbelievable about this claim. If there were no other candidates, this would be a perfectly reasonable claim, unlike the vast majority of Cassidy’s theories. However, as it happens, the Irish words beginning with dúd or dúid are only one candidate among many and certainly not the front runners.

Dude first makes its appearance in English in the 19th century in America. It was used to refer to a dandy or a city-slicker who stood out in a rural setting. There are various theories about its origin. One idea is that it comes from the song Yankee Doodle, which talks of ‘Yankee Doodle dandy’ who ‘stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni’. Then there is the German term Dudenkopf, which means a dandy.

Then there is a whole complex of Irish words related to dúid, such as dúidín (a long-necked pipe); dúdaireacht (craning your neck to eavesdrop or spy); dúdaire (a long-necked person, a dolt); dúdálaí (a shy person, a fool). Several of these refer to stupidity. None of them specifically refers to being a dandy, which was the original meaning of dude, unlike the other two candidates, either of which has a stronger claim to be the origin of dude.

Yet again, this shows how foolish it is to look for phonetic similarities and think that these are valid in themselves as etymological evidence.

Button

If you look at the other posts in this blog, you will see that Daniel Cassidy’s book How The Irish Invented Slang is rubbish, because Cassidy was ignorant of the Irish language. He was therefore unable to put himself in the position of an Irish-speaking immigrant of the eighteenth or nineteenth century arriving in a largely English-speaking city. He was unable to make intelligent or believable guesses about what phrases such an Irish immigrant might invent to describe the new world in which he suddenly found himself.

I have already given evidence of Cassidy’s incompetence and lack of knowledge but here is another perfect example. Cassidy claims that button, which apparently is a slang term for a dealer in gambling, derives from the phrase beart t-aon, which Cassidy says means ‘the one who deals’. This is a ridiculous claim. Beart means an act or action. In games it means a move (as in a move in chess or in backgammon) and it is not likely that it would be used for a deal in cards. Most Irish speakers would use déanamh for this – you could also use roinnt or dáileadh.

Even if it did mean a deal of cards, this doesn’t mean that it could be used for the person who deals the cards. And while the word aon means one (as in the numeral) it isn’t used to mean ‘the one (who did something)’. This is an té. So, how would real Irish speakers say ‘the one who deals’?  An té a dhéanann na cártaí, or An té a dháileann na cártaí, or An té a roinneann na cártaí. Not beart t-aon. And what is that t- doing there? How could that possibly make any sense in terms of the rules of Irish grammar?

It is like somone claiming that the dealer in a game of cards would be called el repartir uno in Spanish. This is yet another example of Cassidy’s indomitable stupidity and of his incredible, boundless arrogance. 

Sneak

According to Cassidy, the English word sneak comes from the Irish snighim. He also claims that the Barnhart Dictionary of English Etymology concurs. I haven’t got a copy of Barnhart’s and I can’t be bothered to go and look for one, but this claim seems unlikely, given that all the other dictionaries trace it, quite logically, to the Old English snican which is related to cognates in the other Germanic languages as well as to the root of the English word snake. As usual, Cassidy is being economical with the truth here. Snighim is also an unsuitable source for a word used of people, anyway, because it is used for slow-moving animals like snails and slugs. It doesn’t mean to move sneakily or furtively. However, in any case, it has an impeccable Germanic origin and so it can’t come from Irish. As usual, it’s total nonsense.