Lollygag

Sometimes, you can tell which language a word comes from by the sound of it. If you heard or saw a word like as-saqiyah or pozhalujsta or mokele-mbembe, you would probably be able to hazard a guess about the language. What do you think? The first, of course, is Arabic, the second Russian and the third is from an African language called Lingala. When I hear a word like lollygag, it sounds very English to me. It sounds like mollycoddle or hornswoggle or guttersnipe. It doesn’t sound like Irish, however much that Irish might have been changed in transition between languages.

Lollygag, meaning idling or necking,  first makes its appearance in the USA in the 1860s. Most experts regard it as coming from the English word loll, as in ‘lolling about’. This seems reasonable, as lolling is very similar to the core meaning of lollygagging. Daniel Cassidy, in his absurd apology for a book, How The Irish Invented Slang, disagrees. He claims that the word ‘lollygag’, comes from the Irish leath-luighe géag, which he claims means ‘a reclining, leaning, lolling youth.’ Anyone who speaks any Irish at all will immediately realise that there are a number of problems with this.

Admittedly leath-luighe (leathluí in modern spelling) does mean reclining or lying on your side (as does loll in English, of course), but the primary meaning of géag is limb, or arm, or arm of the sea, or a branch of a family. One obscure and poetic meaning is ‘a youth’ or ‘young person’, but this is not the meaning that an Irish speaker would usually take from the word in the absence of other contextual clues. And the version given by Cassidy makes no sense at all in terms of Irish grammar. Leath-luí is not an adjective, and anyway adjectives need to come after the noun in Irish. So leath-luí géag could never mean ‘reclining youth,’ even if you ignore the unsuitability of the word géag for a young person in ordinary conversation.

You would also have to account for why Irish immigrants didn’t use one of the many words which are similar in meaning to lollygag, words like learaireacht, scraisteacht, leadaíocht.

Like almost all of the phrases given by Cassidy in this trashy con-trick of a book, this is not real Irish. It doesn’t look or sound like real Irish and the only person who has ever claimed that it is Irish was the American con-man who made it up, a liar and charlatan who didn’t know any Irish at all.  

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