Pizzazz

Daniel Cassidy claimed that the word pizzazz, meaning flair or energy, comes from the Irish píosa theas, supposedly meaning ‘a piece of heat’. Of course, like almost all of Cassidy’s ‘Irish’ phrases, there is no independent evidence that this phrase exists or was ever used in Irish. And there is a great deal of circumstantial evidence that it could not have existed because píosa theas really means ‘a southern piece’. If the phrase ‘a piece of heat’ existed it would be spelled píosa teasa [peessa chassa]. There is also a problem with using píosa here. As in English, there is a difference between píosa (piece) and beagán (bit). You get a piece of wood but not a piece of energy or a piece of air, so even if you correct the grammar so that it doesn’t sound like pizzazz any more, it wouldn’t really make sense. This is a measure of how bad Cassidy’s Irish was.

Where does pizzazz come from? To me, it’s just imitative. Lots of words with zz in English are used to express activity or liveliness, words like fizz, buzz, razzamatazz and whizz and it seems to me that it should probably be grouped with these.

Before we leave the subject of pizzazz, I should point out that Cassidy claimed píosa theas was the derivation of the word online but this claim never made it to the book itself. Peter Quinn’s introduction to How The Irish Invented Slang is in print in two different versions. One is at the start of Cassidy’s book and the other is an appendix to Quinn’s Looking For Jimmy (a vastly more interesting and valid book on Irish America than Cassidy’s trash). Strangely, in Quinn’s book the word pizzazz is glossed as coming from píosa theas. In the version of Quinn’s intro in Cassidy’s book, someone has deleted this line. Presumably Cassidy found out that this claim was nonsense before he went to press and got rid of it, so it was Quinn who was left with egg on his face while Cassidy quietly kicked his mistake under the carpet! Nice …

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