Coochie Dancer

I don’t intend to spend too much time on this one. Coochie dancing is apparently another term for lap-dancing. Daniel Cassidy, in his absurd book, How The Irish Invented Slang, claims that it comes from the Irish geáitse, meaning ‘affected manner, pose, gesture, airs, affectations, antics.’

Of course, it could come from that. Or it could come from Spanish cuchichear, to whisper. Or from French coucher as in ‘Voulez-vous coucher avec moi (ce soir)?’ Or from German Kätzchen meaning ‘kitten or young girl’. Or perhaps from Romany cushti meaning ‘good, wonderful’.  Or from Scots cutty, as in the half-naked dancer in Burns’ Tam O’Shanter, cutty sark. Or, here’s a thought, from coochie-coo, as in the kind of baby language used by someone when flirting (I wanna be loved by you, alone, boo-boo-be-doo…) There is a world of possibilities, including, I’m sure, a few words in Wolof but there is absolutely no evidence.

All we can say is that on the basis of the rest of Cassidy’s book, the Irish had a negligible effect on American slang. This may be surprising, given the number of Irish immigrants in the 19th century but surprising doesn’t mean impossible or even implausible. There were lots of Irish speakers, true, but they spoke dialects which were so different that a Kerry man and a Donegal man would probably have found it easier to converse in broken English. They came from a culture where literacy was at a low ebb. Very few people could read or write the language anymore and there was no publishing industry or machinery of education. Daniel O’Connell and his followers sometimes addressed his monster meetings in Irish in the 1830s but when Irish nationalist movements like the Fenians arose after the Famine, they carried out their work in English. I can’t think of any rebel ballads in Irish, apart from the odd one translated in the 20th century. Most immigrant groups founded theatres and newspapers in their native languages. There were no Irish language newspapers or theatres. (The newspaper An Gaodhal, founded in 1881, was a bilingual journal aimed at scholars and learners of the language, not a community newspaper.)

The uncomfortable fact is, the majority of Irish people regarded the Irish language as an encumbrance and they wanted to ditch it as fast as possible. One of Cassidy’s claims which I found most idiotic is the one that ‘ben’, a slang term for a coat, comes from báinín. I can imagine a young gangster having made a heap of money, buying a fancy overcoat from a tailor. Is he then going to call it after a simple, home-made woollen garment which is a symbol of extreme poverty? I don’t think so!

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