Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Clinic Kid

Daniel Cassidy’s book, How The Irish Invented Slang, is quite simply an abomination. Anybody who looks at this book objectively will realise pretty quickly that Cassidy didn’t care about the facts, didn’t know any Irish, didn’t have a logical or sensible approach to the research and that he was driven by egotism, arrogance and wishful thinking.

Cassidy’s claim about The Clinic Kid shows the flaws in Cassidy’s work more clearly than most. The Clinic Kid was the nickname of a con-man mentioned in David Maurer’s book The Big Con, first published in 1940. Cassidy quotes from Maurer’s book and there is no evidence that Cassidy had any other source of information about him. Cassidy (on page 214) quotes Maurer as saying:

“The Clinic Kid has made a fortune swindling wealthy patients who visited a famous mid-western clinic.”

So according to Maurer, the Clinic Kid was a con-man who worked in clinics. So, does Cassidy accept that his fondness for clinics explains his handle as The Clinic Kid? No! The Great Fraud decided that in this case clinic comes from the Irish claonach, which means perverse or deceitful. Claonach is far closer in sound to the English cleaner. Is there any evidence that the Clinic Kid spoke Irish or lived in an Irish-speaking environment? Nope!

In short, Cassidy’s claim is not overreaching, or sloppy research. It is so crazy and so stupid that any sensible person coming across it would immediately (and quite rightly) doubt the veracity of everything else in the book.

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Spar

This is yet another ridiculous term in Daniel Cassidy’s apology for a book, How The Irish Invented Slang. Cassidy claims that the verb ‘to spar’ in boxing comes from the Irish spairn, which means fight, contention, struggle. In order to believe this, the word spairn needs to have been borrowed into English as sparring and this would then have to have been shortened to spar by the process known as back formation.  This is not the case. We find the verb as sparrit, sparres and sparred in Middle English, where it meant to thrust or strike rapidly.  

In other words, yes, there is an appropriate word in Irish, spairn, but there is an even more appropriate word in English, sparren, which was already in use in colloquial English six hundred years ago.

Cant

Cant was the criminal argot, the language of the beggars and thieves in Merry England, though sometimes it was also used to mean hypocritical or wheedling speech of any kind. The term is first used in English at the end of the fifteenth or beginning of the sixteenth century.

Most dictionaries say that the word comes from the Latin cantare, to sing, though some trace it to a pair of puritanical preaching brothers called Cant. It has also been suggested (many times) that cant comes from the Irish or Scots Gaelic cain(n)t, meaning speech. This suggestion is not new and was not invented by Cassidy. For example, it is given already in R. McCutcheon’s Modern Language Notes in 1921.

Personally, I find the Irish/Gaelic explanation unlikely because it is found in England at such an early time. There is little evidence for linguistic crossover between the two languages as early as this, though there are occasional – and well-attested – words which did enter English at an early period. For example, brat is a Celtic word for a cloak which was already found in Old English (this means a rag in English dialect and may be the origin of brat as in badly-behaved child, though there is another candidate), while the word cros, an Irish version of Latin crux, was brought to the York area by Vikings who had settled in Ireland and gradually displaced the English term rood, so that cross is the standard term for a cross in English today. However, the few real examples are quite conspicuous and it is very unlikely that cant is a word of Irish origin.

Goof

Daniel Cassidy, in his insane book, How The Irish Invented Slang, claims that the English slang terms goof and goofy derive from Irish gáifeach, which according to Cassidy means ‘exaggerated, given to wild exaggeration, flamboyant, ostentatious, loud, loud-mouthed, querulous.’  This is pronounced guy-fah or gaw-fah depending on the dialect. This is an adjective. There is no noun gáif (the adjective comes from gábh, which means danger), so it is hard to explain where the basic word goof would come from if Cassidy were right (which he isn’t).

According to the most reliable Irish dictionary, Ó Dónaill, gáifeach is defined as ‘1a dangerous, terrible 1b (of sound) wild, loud, fierce 2a exaggerated, sensational, given to exaggeration 2b flamboyant, ostentatious’.

None of which really fit the bill of what goofy means, which is ‘foolish or harmlessly eccentric.’ Meanwhile, back in the real world, far from the caisleán óir where Cassidy composed his delusional book, goof comes from an English dialect term goff, which in turn comes from the Middle French goffe meaning awkward or stupid.

 

 

Tally

This is a common enough word in English. According to the Great Fraud Daniel Cassidy, it comes from the Irish word táille. The truth is that both the English term and the Irish word derive from the Latin talea, a cutting, rod or stick. This is because the original tally was a stick which was cut in two lengthwise with a variety of notches. When the two pieces were reunited, they matched or tallied. These tallies were used as evidence of a financial agreement. This is a perfect example of Cassidy glomming a word which clearly doesn’t come from Irish.

Square

This is yet another ridiculous claim from the pen of the idiot Daniel Cassidy. Again, it relies on borrowing a phrase rather than a word. When people borrow between languages, they tend to borrow individual words. Occasionally they borrow well-known and often-used phrases. They don’t borrow bits of sentences like ‘is right’.

Cassidy claimed that the English slang term square, as in all square or square deal comes from the Irish is cóir, ‘is right’. Why it can’t just come from square as in four-sided and regular and not crooked is never explained but then Cassidy’s ‘research’ is about convincing idiots who’ve already made their minds up by the time they read the blurb on the back cover. It’s not about convincing sensible and intelligent people with inquiring minds.

Beef

This is another daft claim. It is daft for the same reason as Cassidy’s explanation for glim is daft. When people borrow between languages, they tend to borrow individual words. Occasionally they borrow well-known and often-used phrases. However they never borrow random bits of sentences and they borrow the most basic form of the word. Cassidy claims that ‘beef’ as in ‘to have a beef with someone’ comes from the Irish phrase b’aifirt which means (if it means anything) ‘was a reproach’. On its own and out of any context like this, it really means nothing and it would be pronounced baffirch, which doesn’t sound much like beef.

The origins of the slang term ‘beef’ (complaint) are not known. There are various suggestions involving disputes between sheep-herders and cow-punchers in the old west or soldiers complaining about their rations in the Civil War. However, ‘beef’ doesn’t come from b’aifirt and that’s a fact.