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!