Monthly Archives: August 2013

Winona and the Gophers

Having discovered (invented) the ‘origin’ of the Dead Rabbits, Cassidy then did the same for some of the other NY gangs. I have already posted on his absurd and impossible derivation for the Plug Uglies. Cassidy also decided that the Shirt Tails came from siortálaí, which is a variant form of a word siortaitheoir meaning rummager or ransacker. The received wisdom is that this gang wore their shirt tails outside their trousers so that they could be recognised. This was also the case with factions in Ireland, where the gangs adopted items of clothing like an old waistcoat or a necktie. These sartorial touches became the equivalent of the blue and red colours of Crips and Bloods, so the English shirt-tail explanation makes a lot of sense.

Cassidy went even further by saying that the Gopher Gang derived their name, not from the fact that they hung around in cellars but because they were a confederacy or comhbhá (pr. koh-wah or koh-vah). Ó Dónaill defines this word as fellow-feeling, sympathy, close friendship, close alliance. Which, to me, seems more California than Hell’s Kitchen – a bit too New Age and touchy-feely.

I can just imagine one of their meetings. 

“Now, I call dis meetin’ to order. I’d just like to say, las’ time we was makin’ some real progress. Tony, you was tryin’ to woik out why you keeps faintin’ when you’re under pressure. Legs, you shared wid us how undermined and disenfranchised you feel as a poisson when da cops is mean to you, and Bugsy, you was outlinin’ da copin’ strategies you employ to counter da feelins o’ rejection you gets when people try to not pay da full whack o’ protection money …” 

Then Cassidy completely loses it. OK, his ideas were crazy before now … but this one is really howling at the moon with a tinfoil helmet! According to him, when the Gopher Gang founded their Winona Club in Hell’s Kitchen, this was nothing to do with the town of Winona, Minnesota or the Native American princess it was named after. No, according to Cassidy, this was a club for the Uathadh Nua, which Cassidy claims means ‘the new few’. Note that uathadh has the letters Lit. after it in the dictionary, which means that this is an old-fashioned literary term, not in current use. And we are not talking Dickens or Twain old-fashioned here. We are talking ‘Gadzooks, sire, by my codpiece, I vow the knave lieth!’ old-fashioned. In other words, not current now, or in the 19th century. And just in case anyone is in any doubt that Cassidy was a lying imbecile, I should just point out that uathadh nua is pronounced oo-ah-hoo noo-a. The first bit is like Oahu but with a vowel change to Uahu. Does this sound much like Winona to you? What about the w? What about the vowels? What about the other n?  

Cassidy also claimed that the Why-O Gang derived their name from the same word and without a shred of irony, he quotes an early 17th century text, Foras Feasa Ar Éirinn, as an example of the word in use!

In short, Cassidy’s claims about the gangs of New York are as ridiculous, contrived and fanciful as the rest of his mad theories.

Dead Rabbits

Among Cassidy’s many crazy and unsupported theories was one which has really caught the public’s imagination, the claim that the Dead Rabbits gang, shown in the film Gangs of New York as carrying a dead rabbit on a spike as a totem, really had no connection with rabbits at all and that this name is in truth a phonetic rendering of the Irish ráibéad, meaning a big, hulking person or thing.

First off, there is no doubt that the Dead Rabbits did carry a dead rabbit into battle with them, or at least that this claim was made a long time ago. As far as I’m concerned, that is pretty much that, because once you accept that their name is connected to dead rabbits, any claim that the name is Irish becomes pointless and unlikely to be correct.

Add to that the fact that ráibéad is an incredibly obscure word, which is not mentioned in Dinneen’s dictionary, though it is mentioned in Ó Dónaill’s. I have certainly never heard it in use. Because of this I don’t know how someone would use it, but I would assume from the definition that it is one of those words like pánaí (a word I do use) which just means something large. If it is like pánaí, then it is neither particularly flattering nor offensive. It’s just a fairly neutral comment about the size of something or someone.

In other words, it doesn’t sound to me like a suitable basis for a gang-name and certainly, Cassidy had no evidence of any connection with Irish beyond his misplaced faith in his own crazy revelations.

Speaking of which, if you are still in any doubt that Cassidy was a nut, check out this link, where he tries to persuade a group of people that the Ku Klux Klan derives its name from a Gaelic term meaning Cloaked Champions of the Clan. This one didn’t make it to the book, of course.

http://www.daltai.com/discus/messages/13510/13807.html?1116485172

Ditch

This is one of the many entries in this book which made we wonder whether Cassidy and his supporters are completely unhinged. I mean, how stupid would you need to be to believe that the word ditch (as in ‘she ditched him’) comes from the supposed Irish phrase de áit? Cassidy doesn’t give any examples of this phrase in use. It would be hard to do so, because the phrase isn’t in use and never has been. 

The two words exist independently, of course. De means from or ‘off of’, ‘from the surface of’ (bhain siad an pictiúr den bhalla – they took the picture off of the wall), while áit means place. And occasionally they occur together in phrases like an phrochlais sin de áit (that dump of a place) or taobh amuigh de áit (outside of a place) but in the standard language, this would usually become d’áit and it isn’t anything to do with displacing or dislodging or dumping in these cases. If you want to say that someone displaced something or put it out of its place you would use as áit, not de áit: cuireadh na brící as áit nuair a thit an scafall orthu (the bricks were dislodged when the scaffolding fell on them). 

And anyway, with the dubious exception of ‘defenestrate’ (i.e. throw out of the window, which is hardly a common term, even in Prague) most words which mean ‘to get rid of’ describe the destination, not the origin of the object. You don’t untable something, but you can certainly floor someone. You don’t outhand something but you certainly bin it. You don’t unrelationship someone (actually, with Facebook, maybe you do these days!) but you certainly dump them. And even if you did, would you ‘from a place’ someone or something when you dump it, rather than when you dislodge it? From a place isn’t very informative! Obviously, if you move something they were in a different place before! So, de áit is pretty much impossible, for a variety of reasons.

The English ditch, on the other hand, is very likely and incredibly, blindingly obvious. A ditch, meaning a kind of trench at the side of the road (or sometimes the bank beside the trench in Ireland), comes from the Old English word dic. And in the old days, when you had some rubbish you dumped it in the ditch, or ditched it. In time, this became a general term for discarding or dumping.

This isn’t rocket science. I do have academic degrees but you don’t need a degree to work out that Cassidy’s claim is nonsense. All you need is reasonable literacy skills, access to the internet and an open and sensible mind. Which is why I find it really strange that so many people are prepared to support a book that contains so many transparent stupidities like this.

Why Has This Book Done So Well?

This is another important question. Why did Cassidy’s truly atrocious book do so well? Why is it ranked far higher on Amazon’s sales figures than many books which are infinitely better? A cynic would probably say that shit floats, that it is a sign of the times and in some ways, they would be right. But it seems to me that there are a number of specific reasons which need to be discussed one by one.

Cassidy’s thesis is simple and easy to understand. In other words, when Cassidy says that nobody knows where sucker comes from but you say sách úr for the same thing in Irish, this is easy to understand, even if it is completely wrong. Unfortunately, if you try to explain why sách úr is not a convincing candidate for the origins of sucker, you need to get quite technical, with a close discussion of how the word sách is used in Irish. Which isn’t very interesting. So the refutation is always going to be much harder to read and less exciting than the original false claim.

Cassidy networked extensively. I am not an academic but I do have some dealings with the world of academia and I am aware of the importance of networking these days. Now, I have no objection to people forming friendships with like-minded people, or contacting those who are working on similar areas. What I object to is the implication with the term networking that the relationship is really about what we can do for each other. I run a summer school and you have a conference in a city I want to visit, so let’s swap invitations. Or I do you a favour and get you on the Christmas card list and then ten years later I publish a rubbish book and expect you to give it a good review. That kind of thing (‘working’ a relationship for what you can get out of it) seems to me pretty loathsome but I am convinced that this kind of networking explains a lot of the support that this book has had from people who should know better.

Cassidy’s book is man bites dog. In other words, his thesis promises to overturn established notions and tell us something new. People are suckers for this kind of thing. They love Graham Hancock or The Da Vinci Code or books about how the Chinese discovered America because they are telling a different story and because they make people feel that they are cleverer than the clever people in the universities. Which brings me to my next point. 

Many of the people who post online have massive chips on their shoulders. The fact is that the internet is a force for change and it allows all kinds of people to have their say. There is nothing wrong with this but unfortunately, it is sometimes very hard to tell the difference between people who really know what they’re talking about and people who are just blowing smoke for the sake of their own egos. Inevitably, people who like the sound of their voice will tend to post more. I am no shrinking violet myself but I hope people will recognise that I am doing this because I dislike lies and nonsense being spread without challenge. And if they don’t recognise that, then **** them!  

Academics refuse to get their hands dirty challenging this kind of nonsense. Unfortunately, some academics have endorsed Cassidy’s crazy nonsense. People like Joseph Lee of Cork and NYU have sullied their reputations by lending their names to this garbage and because of this, many people have been fooled into thinking that Cassidy knew what he was talking about. Other academics, with notable exceptions, have tended to ignore Cassidy’s book. This is not a sign of respect or a recognition that Cassidy was right. It is the standard position of academics towards pseudo-science or pseudo-scholarship. If something doesn’t play the academic game with references, bibliography, recognised methodology and peer-review, they don’t bother commenting on it because it’s not an academic text. Personally, I don’t agree with this. I wish they would engage in debates on issues like this, because if a hundred linguistics professors had published short reviews on Amazon at the start stating that this book is garbage, it would have had a low star rating and it probably wouldn’t have achieved the sales figures it has. And then people like me who aren’t academics wouldn’t have to waste our valuable time challenging it.  

Irish-Americans like it because it is about them. This is the crux of this book’s popularity, and also explains the unhealthy reluctance of many people to relinquish their faith in it. This book is not about Ireland or the Irish or the Irish language. It has nothing to do with Ireland or Irish in any direct sense. How could it? Cassidy didn’t know anything about Irish. It is a deluded Irish American talking to himself, inventing a fake version of the Irish language, inventing fake scenarios which boost the the role and influence of the Irish in the development of the English language and of American society and which paint Anglophile Americans as villains who are attempting to deny this heritage. This is why most Irish people find the appeal of this book incomprehensible. Because they are not Irish Americans and its whole rationale is meaningless to them.

Most people are not trained to think. The fact is that most people are not trained to be sceptical or to think analytically about things, so they are easy prey for every snake-oil merchant, phoney evangelist and double-glazing salesman that comes along. Part of me is inclined to think, caveat emptor. If they are stupid enough to buy nonsense like Cassidy’s, that’s their business. However, another part of me is alarmed by the fact that this rubbish is spread like a virus by these idiots. Hence this blog!

Clout

One of the many stupid claims made by Daniel Cassidy in his daft book, How The Irish Invented Slang, is that clout (as in ‘he clouted me round the head’) comes from the Irish word clabht (clabhta is the primary version in Ó Dónaill and the only version in Dinneen but it is less suitable for Cassidy’s purposes than clabht, so he gives clabht pride of place instead). Now, it is true that the experts are unsure of the origins of the English word clout. But if you look at the handful of words in Irish which contain –abht and are pronounced –out, you will find that they are all borrowings from English or Norman French. There is stabht (English stout, as in Guinness), fabht (=fault), babhta (a bout) and dabht (=doubt).  In other words, if a word contains this set of sounds, it is a loanword from another language, not a native Irish word. Once again, Cassidy’s lack of basic knowledge lets him down.

It’s a Doozy!

Among the many idiotic claims made by Daniel Cassidy in his crazy book, How The Irish Invented Slang, is one which is a real doozy, the claim that doozy (or doozie) comes from Irish duaiseoir, meaning a prizewinner. If you don’t know any Irish, this sounds like a perfectly reasonable claim, especially when you consider that it is sometimes given as doozer. However, I have often thought it would be good to conduct an experiment by presenting unbiased Irish speakers (I’m biased) with some of Cassidy’s made-up phrases to see if they recognise them. And strangely enough, this is exactly what happened on an Irish language forum with this word. You can see it here: http://www.daltai.com/discus/messages/13510/14283.html?1128946130.

Cassidy was a member of this forum, The Daltaí Boards. One of the posters on this forum put up a link to a very interesting site with some information about Old Irish, which (incidentally) is well worth checking out (http://www.sengoidelc.com/node/317).

 Cassidy, under the name Dancas1, then posted a comment – “Dennis, a chara: that’s a duaiseoir. I sent it out to my Irish Studies list. Go raibh maith agat”.

One of the other posters, Aonghus, then said “Dancasl – if you meant “winner” then “buaiteoir” is the word you’re looking for.”

Cassidy replied: ‘Aonghus: I meant “prizewinner.” Duaiseoir [or duasóir]. (see O’Donaill, p. 455)  Though “buaiteoir” is a duaiseoir.’

 Another poster, called Dennis, said rather diplomatically in Irish that the word is in the dictionaries with the meaning prizewinner but that he had never heard it anywhere else. However, he said, it’s a very good word and he would probably use it.

Aonghus then said, also in Irish, that ‘Ní fhaca duaiseoir in usáid riamh. Sin an tuige gur luaigh mé buaiteoir – rud atá feicthe go minic agam. Bíonn “curadh” fairsing freisin’ (I have never seen duaiseoir in use. That’s the reason that I mentioned buaiteoir – something which I have often seen. Curadh is also common.’)

In other words, duaiseoir is a dictionary word but not a common word in speech. In fact, it doesn’t occur in Dinneen’s dictionary (1904) at all. Presumably, it was invented from the word duais, meaning a reward or prize in the mid to late twentieth century. So the chance of it being used casually by a nineteenth century Irish peasant to mean a good thing is zilch.

So, where does ‘It’s a doozie’ really come from? You can find a discussion of its real origins here: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-doo2.htm.

Once again, Cassidy’s fake Irish claim is nonsense.

Hackney

According to Daniel Cassidy, author of the idiotic How The Irish Invented Slang, the word hackney, meaning a cab, is derived from the Scottish Gaelic each ceannaich, meaning a post horse (that is, a horse kept at an inn to be lent to travellers or to be used by someone carrying the post whose own horse was too tired to continue). 

The Wikipedia article on the hackney cab has this to say:

“The name ‘hackney’ was once thought to be an anglicized derivative of French haquenée—a horse of medium size recommended for lady riders; however, current opinion is that it is derived from the village name Hackney (now part of London). The place-name, through its fame for its horses and horse-drawn carriages, is also the root of the Spanish word jaca, a term used for a small breed of horse and the Sardinian achetta horse. The first documented ‘hackney coach’—the forerunner of the more generic ‘hackney carriage’—operated in London in 1621.”

The term each ceannaich does exist (Cassidy found it in Dwelly’s Dictionary) but it doesn’t sound much like hackney (it would be pronounced akh khyanneekh, with the kh being like the ch in loch) and it doesn’t refer to a carriage. And anyway, Cassidy offers no explanation as to how or why a Scottish Gaelic term would come to be used in the neighbourhood of London in the early decades of the 17th century. From London, it is still easier and quicker to get to France than to the Scottish Highlands. In the 17th century, the road to the Highlands was relatively untrodden and it was culturally and linguistically a very foreign place, even to Lowland Scots.

Incidentally, fans of the Irish-language soap opera Ros na Rún will be familiar with the term hacnaí (the Irish spelling of the English word hackney) for a taxi. The official Irish word for a taxi is tacsaí, but in the soap opera and in the Gaeltacht it’s set in, the word used is always the borrowed word hacnaí.

Cassidy’s claim that hackney and hack are of Gaelic origin is obviously nonsense, like nearly all of Cassidy’s claims and in any case, how could this Scottish and London connection possibly have anything to do with Irish influence on American slang?