Another utterly ridiculous claim made by Daniel Cassidy in his crapfest, How The Irish Invented Slang, is the one that booby as in ‘Daniel Cassidy is a complete booby’ or ‘booby trap’ comes from Irish (or perhaps from Scottish Gaelic, as he cites Dwelly’s Gaelic dictionary as well). The word boob or booby in the sense of a dunce, simpleton or Daniel Cassidy supporter is first recorded in English in 1599. It is thought to derive from the Spanish word bobo, which in turn derives from Latin balbus (cognate with Irish balbh). There is also a word búb meaning a scream or a yell and búbaire can refer to the bittern, which makes a loud noise, according to the Kirk- Ó Broin Glossary in the late 17th century. This may be a separate, onomatopoeic word, entirely different from the word meaning idiot, though it is hard to say. 

There is no evidence for the existence of búb or any variant of it in Irish or in Gaelic in the sense of idiot before the word first appears in English. At this time, Irish was borrowing heavily from English and we find words like gósta (ghost) and búr (boor) in abundance in Irish texts of the 17th century. There is very little evidence of any borrowing the other way, apart from the fraudulent nonsense invented by Daniel Cassidy. In other words, this is an English word, probably of Spanish origin, which was borrowed into Irish, not an Irish word borrowed into English.

1 thought on “Booby

  1. DebunkerOfCassidy Post author

    I’ve had a comment from someone called Críostiór:

    “It’s probably pointless posting this comment due to this post being so old, but I do have to point out that about 4 lines down in that post where it says ( prehaps Scottish Gaelic ) I have to make a point and say that the Gaelic lauguage belongs to Ireland, it’s an Irish lauguage and is not in any way a Scottish lauguage, when Gaelic became a commonly used lauguage in Scotland. If you will in Scotland Gaelic is a borrowed lauguage that they have tried to claim as their own which is a load of gobshite, it originated and belongs to Ireland !!!”

    I have to say, I don’t really agree. What he’s saying here is that the received wisdom is that the Scottish Gaelic language spread from Ireland about 1500 years ago, when the Kingdom of Dál Riata was on both sides of the Sea of Moyle. There are several problems with the argument that it having come from Ireland means that it’s not Scottish. For one thing, we are not entirely sure when or how the Celtic languages came to Britain or Ireland. It seems likely to me that the Celtic languages at some point came from Central Europe via Britain to Ireland. The Picts probably spoke a Celtic language and they were already in Scotland when the Gaels arrived.

    The other point is that languages change. Modern Scottish Gaelic has to be learned because it’s different from the language of Ireland. There are lots of false friends, lots of words from Norse, lots of words that are spelled and pronounced differently. Irish speakers have to learn Scottish Gaelic as a foreign language. English came from the Continent about 1500 years ago and is similar to Dutch and German. But English is not Dutch or German. Languages change and develop and become other languages.

    I’m not sure you understand the meaning of the word ‘gobshite’. It doesn’t mean nonsense, it means a person who talks nonsense. That’s the way I’ve always used it, anyway.


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