Graft

Graft is a slang term for corruption in America, and in England and Ireland people generally mean ‘hard work’ when they talk about graft. The derivation of the term graft in this sense is unknown and it is also unclear whether it is related to graft in the sense of grafting something onto a plant.

Cassidy says that grafter is from the Irish grafadóir. According to him, this means “a grubber, a scrounger or moocher; fig. a professional politician”. This looks pretty impressive, until you start to think about it carefully and look for evidence. Firstly, I would have thought that graft was the basic word and that grafter and grafting are derived from it. Yet the word grafadh (pronounced graffa or graffoo), which is the activity, doesn’t sound much like graft, which has a very English look to it. There are lots of words in English with -ft at the end – loft, soft, aft, daft, raft. But none in Irish.

Then there is the little matter of the meaning. According to Ó Dónaill and Dinneen, the word grafadh means to grub or hoe, to dig through the topsoil and remove roots and stalks. It doesn’t mean to mooch or to scrounge and has no connection with politicians.

So why did Cassidy say it did? Well, probably because Cassidy was a liar and a fantasist.

He gives no references, so it is impossible to check if he had a genuine source which contradicts the dictionaries but I’m quite sure he didn’t. Some people  – especially internet trolls – seem to think that the system of referencing used by academics is simply an arcane and random set of rules designed to keep amateurs out and give the academics themselves an unfair advantage. As examples like this show, the system of referencing developed so that people can check facts and sources for themselves and to make it harder for people to lie by presenting fake information as fact.

All I can do in this case is stress that the Irish dictionaries do not support Cassidy’s assertion. It is true that the Irish for a hoer slightly resembles an American slang word for a corrupt politician. The rest of Cassidy’s claim is fantasy and the likelihood of there being any connection between the word graft and Irish is very, very remote.

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