Faro

According to the late Daniel Cassidy in his textbook of advanced idiocy, How The Irish Invented Slang, the name of the card game Faro comes from the Irish language, along with (according to him) almost every term concerned with gambling in the English language. I personally know almost nothing about gambling and card-playing but I have read what various experts have said about the origin of the name Faro.

According to the experts, the game is known in French as pharaon, in English as faro, pharo or farobank. It first makes its appearance in south-west France in the late 17th century under the name pharaon, which is French for pharoah, ( Egyptian king). According to the Wiki article: ‘Historians have suggested that the name Pharaon comes from Louis XIV’s royal gamblers who called the game pharaon because of the motif that commonly adorned one of the French-made court cards.’ This seems to be uncertain but the fact that it is derived from the French word for pharaoh isn’t in any doubt.

Daniel Cassidy, in his ridiculous book, decided that faro had to be Irish. So he opened his little Irish dictionary and tried to find an equivalent. For some reason he ignored farradh (roost) and fearadh (grant, bestowal, gift, excretion), both of which sound almost exactly like the English word faro and opted for the Irish fiaradh (to slant, warp, sheer or distort) or, when explaining pharaon, fiar araon,(slant, warp, sheer or distort both). Fiaradh doesn’t mean to turn as in to turn a card over, of course, and fiar araon is pretty much meaningless, and fiaradh is pronounced feeroo, but Cassidy wouldn’t have known that because he didn’t know any Irish.

Now, as we’ve already said, this game and its titles developed in France in the seventeenth century, so Cassidy includes a lot of padding about the Irish Wild Geese in 17th century France and how these could have given pharaon to the French language. It’s true, of course, that there were Irish people living in seventeenth century France, and perhaps this comes as news to some Irish Americans. (Most educated Irish people will be well aware of the influence of the Irish on the Continent.) How many of na Géanna Fiáine still used Irish in the late seventeenth century is open to debate. But fiaradh and fiar araon don’t mean much in Irish, there is certainly no evidence that they were ever used as the name of a card game, and pharaon has a clear and obvious meaning in French, so there is no reason why any lexicographer would include Cassidy’s dodgy claim in a respectable publication. It has nothing to do with anti-Irish bigotry. This is about linguists and scholars quite rightly preventing a bunch of ignorant cretins from doing a pitch invasion on their field of study.

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