Monthly Archives: December 2013

Hall of Shame Christmas Special – America’s Secret Slang

Less than two weeks ago, I said that I was going to give up posting on Cassidyslangscam and do something better with my time, though I did also say that if the occasion demanded I would do some more blogging. I really didn’t think I would be back on this blog before Christmas but I simply couldn’t ignore this one. It turns out that The History Channel has produced a series of programmes called America’s Secret Slang, presented by someone called Zach Selwyn. Episode 5 of this truly dire programme repeats many of Cassidy’s idiotic claims as if they were fact. For example, it says that baloney comes from the Irish béal ónna, meaning ‘stupid mouth.’ Followers of this blog will realise that there is no such phrase as béal ónna, that ónna isn’t even given in the most important modern dictionary of Irish and that there is no evidence that anyone before Cassidy ever put the two words together. And of course, ónna means simple, not stupid. They also repeat the daft idea that ‘say uncle’ comes from the Irish anacal, a word which primarily means protect and defend. In other words, it’s more appropriate for someone asking a third party for help rather than someone asking mercy from the person who has them in a head lock, unless they are appealing to whichever of the bully’s multiple personalities is nurturing and in touch with its feminine side. However, in this crap programme, anacal becomes ‘Gaelic for mercy’. It also repeats the ridiculous claim that dothóigthe is the Irish for ‘a sick calf’. In fact, dothóigthe (modern dothógtha) is an adjective meaning hard to fatten and has no specific connection with calves. While the programme mentions that Cassidy’s book is controversial, unfortunately it doesn’t actually point out that it’s crap or question any of Cassidy’s absurd and childish claims.

At first, I was shocked that something called The History Channel would produce such rubbish, but then I looked at their schedules. It is obvious that history is history on the History Channel. These days, they mostly do programmes about rednecks and the aliens who probe them, so it isn’t entirely surprising that they have bought into this cobblers.

However, I have another reason for posting again so soon. I got to thinking, perhaps Cassidy and his supporters are right. Not about Irish and slang, of course. I would need to bang my head off a lot of walls very hard before I would be stupid enough to believe the shit in How The Irish Invented Slang. No, perhaps – and this is a serious question of philosophy – if someone states an attractive theory with enough confidence and it is then touched by the gilded hand of the media and believed by the masses, surely this virtual fact can then become as real as reality? In Medialand, perhaps fake is the new real?

Then I had a brainwave. What if we could test this experimentally? I think this is a really interesting idea. What if we got all the sloppy journalists who have flogged this dead horse of Cassidy’s, all of his despicable cronies who have plugged this trash, all of the commissioning editors of the History Channel, the people at Counterpunch, Brendan Patrick Keane and Peter Quinn and all the rest of them and we persuaded them to state, confidently and with total belief, that gravity is a myth which has been promulgated by the upper classes to prevent the poor from realising their dreams of rising above the mundane. Then we get them all to go up to the top of a very, very, very tall building and … I think you can probably guess where I’m going with this …

Ah well, what’s the point? The lunatics have obviously taken over the asylum. At least it’s Christmas and my little Irish house is an oasis of sanity! Well … some of the time, anyway.

Nollaig Shona daoibh agus go n-éirí go geal libh san athbhliain!

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The Last Post

So, after 200 posts, I have finally reached the end. As I have said before, I will continue to monitor the blog and answer any queries which merit an answer. If anyone would like my opinion on any word given by Cassidy which has not been dealt with adequately here, or if anyone feels that I have been overly harsh and would like the right of reply, they should send me a message here and I will do my best to answer.

However, I will not miss posting on this blog. To anybody with any intelligence or common sense, Cassidy’s work is tiresome in the extreme. In Cassidy’s made-up version of the Irish language, words are thrown together chaotically without much regard for grammar or pronunciation, words from different periods in the history of the language, obscure dialect forms with literary terms from before the fall of the Gaelic social order, even the odd word from Scots Gaelic when Cassidy’s relentless plundering of the dictionaries failed to dredge up anything he could pass off as an equivalent for some obscure English slang phrase.

The Irish language – the real Irish language – is a thing of great beauty and expressive power. All Irish people and Irish Americans should have some knowledge of the language because it is such an important part of their heritage. There are many resources online aimed at helping people to learn some of the language, resources such as Beo, TalkIrish, the BBC and many others.

Nobody knows exactly when Irish was first spoken in Ireland, though I personally think it arrived sometime in the Bronze Age and has been here for around three thousand years. It was still the predominant language in Ireland in the 18th century and was probably spoken in every county at that time. After the Famine in the mid-19th century, the decline of the language was rapid, especially in the east of the country. However, it continued to be spoken in many areas. When the Irish state was founded in the 1920s, the government founded an Gúm and hundreds of novels were translated into Irish from English, French, German and other languages, mostly by native speakers and at the same time the first modern novels, plays and poems began to be produced in the language. There is a lot of dialect variation in these books, both original works and translations, but they are all still easy to understand for literate speakers of the language. In many cases they were written or translated by people who were born within a generation of the Famine. The language found in them does not resemble the gibberish produced by Daniel Cassidy in this book, and I see no reason to assume that the Irish in exile altered their language so radically within one generation that it no longer resembled the Irish spoken in Ireland in any respect, which seems to be what Cassidy’s supporters believe.

And even if this did happen – where is the evidence? This is the question we need to keep asking. Maybe there was a supernatural being called the uath dubh and maybe comhrogha was used to mean crony in some obscure dialect (I’m pretty sure they weren’t, but let’s pretend for the sake of argument). But without evidence, what lexicographer is going to put that in their dictionary, on the word of a man who spoke hardly any Irish and who had never made the slightest attempt to learn the language until he was 57 years old? 

This is not Anglophile bigotry. It is simply common sense. I have no doubt that this book will continue to sell and to go through new editions. I don’t like that fact but I have to put up with it. People have a right to believe in irrational nonsense if they want to but sensible people have just as much right to attack this nonsense if the believers try to pass it off as objectively verifiable fact.

However, while How The Irish Invented Slang may impress a lot of gullible people, I know that Cassidy’s book will never have any influence on the world of etymology or linguistics. Its claims won’t be appearing in any dictionaries and this is not because of anti-Irish bigotry. The bottom line is that Cassidy was just a con-man, this book is just a joke and anyone who thinks otherwise is just fooling themselves.

So, I will sign off now. Thanks to Ed Mooney and to others for their loyal support over the last year and to everyone who has read or will read this blog fairly and objectively. I’ll say my thanks and good luck to you all in our own beautiful language:

Go raibh céad míle maith agaibh, a chairde, agus go n-éirí libh amach anseo!

(Almost) The Last Post

This is the penultimate blog of cassidyslangscam – unless we get some more comments or requests for information. (We never did hear from Brian in Santa Clara again. I wonder why he couldn’t be bothered getting back to us when I challenged him to present some evidence?) My work here is almost done.

However, please don’t think that just because I am stopping here there is nothing left to laugh at or rip to shreds in Cassidy’s book. There is almost nothing of any value in this book, and his claims about buddy or ruffler or stool pigeon are no more believable than the stuff which I have looked at in this blog so far. Believe me, Cassidy’s claims with respect to these words are just as stupid and groundless as the rest. Or rather, don’t believe me. You have access to Google. Look these terms up. Look up the Irish in the dictionaries. Find out for yourself.

The next post will be a brief final article – the 200th –  just to wrap things up. However, as a final few words on this penultimate post, I just want to summarise why this book, How The Irish Invented Slang, is so terrible and why people should avoid it like the plague.

1. Daniel Cassidy didn’t speak any Irish at all and was regarded as a con-man even by his own family. He didn’t know anything about Irish grammar or pronunciation either.

2. Cassidy changed his mind about many claims. There are many words which were confidently claimed as Irish on the Counterpunch and other articles which were later changed or dropped altogether by Cassidy. For example, in the Counterpunch article, slick is from Irish slíocach. This claim is never mentioned in the book. (In reality, it comes from Norse slikr through Middle English.) And of course, he changed his derivations for slum and for bailiwick too.

3. Some of his claims are so mad that you would need to be very crazy or very stupid to believe them. For example, Henry Colton coming from An Rí Ghealltáin or Gunga Din from gúngaire dian!

4. Cassidy’s theories conflict with all the evidence about how words are borrowed between languages. Whole words tend to be borrowed, in their most basic forms, and most of these are nouns. Occasionally, very well-known phrases are borrowed. Bits of sentences like is lom or n-each are not borrowed.

5. Cassidy displayed considerable dishonesty in the way he presented his evidence and selectively chose to ignore evidence that didn’t suit him.

6. Hundreds of the words which Cassidy claimed to be Irish really have clear and well-proven origins in English, French or other languages.

7. Millions of people have been bilingual in Irish and English since the 19th century. Yet apparently, none of these people ever noticed the ‘fact’ that so many English slang terms have similar Irish phrases. This is because 1. either  Cassidy was much smarter than millions of bilingual Irish people 2. Cassidy made up all the ‘Irish’ phrases which resemble English slang terms.

8. Cassidy may have been a ‘professor’ but he did not have the qualifications or the abilities you would expect from an academic of any kind, never mind a professor. 

9. The book is almost entirely padding. Cassidy’s ‘methodology’ for proving that these words come from Irish was to find quotes from writers like Eugene O’Neill where they used the terms. As if that proves anything!  If you could find them in the works of Will Rogers, does that mean they come from Cherokee? Or if they are used by Jewish writers, do they come from Yiddish? The collection of quotes which Cassidy offers is only of any interest or relevance if Cassidy is right about the origins of the words. Otherwise it’s just a random set of quotes with American slang terms in them. The only way to genuinely prove that Cassidy was right about these terms is to find Irish language sources which use béal ónna or ardscairt or any of the other phrases in Cassidy’s book and of course, Cassidy was unable to do this because this evidence simply doesn’t exist. These phrases weren’t used by 19th century Irish immigrants. They date back to California in the early years of the 21st century, when a crackpot who had somehow managed to get himself appointed as a professor in spite of his lack of qualifications developed a crazy obsession with the Irish origins of American slang.

10. This kind of insane fake etymology, composed of wild stabs in the dark with no evidence beyond a vague similarity of sound (and usually with some kind of weird ethnic agenda in the background) is not limited to Daniel Cassidy. It is so common that there is actually a word for it. It’s called Goropianism, after the Flemish writer Goropius who claimed that the original language spoken by Adam and Eve in Paradise was – of course – Flemish.

Some people have used the word ‘controversial’ about Cassidy’s work. This is absurd. Controversial suggests that there is an active controversy going on between opponents and supporters of Cassidy. In fact, the people who know anything about the subject are hostile to Cassidy and regard his work as rubbish. Those who support Cassidy offer no proof of his claims. There is no controversy. There are idiots who believe and smart, well-informed people who are sceptical.

I hope you will enjoy the next post. However, before I move on to that, I would like to beg you not to buy or support this book. It is supporting fake scholarship. It is damaging to the Irish language. Associating yourself with this book and its theories labels you as a crank or an idiot. This book deserves to be forgotten, not celebrated!

Some Loose Ends

Over the past ten months, I have done my best in these posts to demolish the theories of a charlatan called Daniel Cassidy, who wrote a ridiculous book in which he claims that thousands of English words derive from Irish. He claims this on the basis of slight phonetic similarities but takes no account of the usage of Irish words or of the known history of the English words he discusses. I have decided to move on and do something more creative with my time. However, before doing that, I would like to give a brief thumbnail account of some of the words I haven’t had time to deal with in detail and explain why Cassidy’s derivations are ridiculous in these cases as well.

Hip – This is a term first used in American slang in the early twentieth century. To be hip to something originally meant to be informed about it. Cassidy claims that it comes from the Irish aibí, meaning mature, ripe or sensible. This doesn’t sound much like hip (it is pronounced something like abbey or appy) and being ‘mature to the trip’ doesn’t really work, does it?

Cracker – This is a term meaning a white person. There are various theories about its origin. Cassidy selectively quotes sources to ‘prove’ that it comes from the Irish word craicire, meaning a boastful person. (This word is not given at all in Ó Dónaill, though it is given in Dinneen.) Craicire, like craic, is an obvious borrowing from dialect English or Lowland Scots. In fact, the term cracker is used by Shakespeare in the sense of boastful person, and in spite of some other crazy people’s claims, Shakespeare was not Irish.

Bummer – Cassidy claims that this comes from the Irish bumaire. In fact, the origins of this word are very complex and there are certainly a number of different meanings and derivations involved. There is the English word bum meaning backside, which is an ancient Germanic word. Then there is bum-bailiff (borrowed into Irish as bum-báille) which apparently comes from bum meaning backside (because he comes up behind people and catches them). Then there is the word bum meaning to boast or brag, which is still very common in Irish English. (He’s always bumming and blowing about that new motor!) The word bumaire is an obvious borrowing from this dialect word. And lastly, there is a word for a tramp or hobo in American slang, which comes from German. It is this that gives rise to expressions like ‘a bum steer’ or ‘it’s a bummer’.

Boiler room. In slang, this is the nerve centre or HQ of a racket like illegal gambling. It is perfectly understandable as a metaphor. Like water in a central heating system, all the money comes in and goes out of this central point, which is a hotbed of activity. According to Cassidy, it comes from bailitheoir, meaning collector. Yeah, that’ll be right! How could anyone be taken in by this rubbish?

Racket – Cassidy derives racket from raic ard, a high noise. In fact, racket is an English expression, a version of an earlier term rattick. The word raic in Irish is probably a borrowing from some related English word or perhaps from (w)rack, a dialect version of wreck (as in the ‘rackers’ who used to break into people’s houses and smash them up during agrarian disturbances in Ireland), or perhaps it’s just coincidence?

Racketeer – Again, this claim involves a complex set of words. The truth is probably quite simple. At some stage, racket as in to make a sound became linked to words like rack (to put someone on the rack) and rack-renting (to extort rent from someone) and thus a racket came to mean a criminal enterprise. This then gave rise to racketeer. Cassidy ransacks dictionaries looking for obscure Irish and Gaelic terms like reicire, which means a seller and in one obscure dialect also meant an ‘extortioner’, according to Dinneen (the alternative form reacadóir isn’t given with this sense, in spite of what Cassidy says). There is also a Scottish Gaelic term ragair, which apparently means an extortioner or bully, but how many Hebridean gangsters were there in 19th century New York, I ask myself?

Sketch – A sketch is a term for a humorous skit, so there is really no mystery about the use of phrases like ‘he’s an absolute sketch!’ However, Daniel Cassidy decided that this had to be Irish too, so according to him it comes from scairt, meaning a scream. If people ever said Is scairt é of a funny person, or if sketch didn’t mean something funny in English, this might be half-believable. They don’t and it isn’t.

Then there are the many examples where Cassidy is essentially right or may be right about an Irish or Gaelic derivation but he was not the first one to make such a claim.

Slew – Nothing new here. This word is from Irish slua. This is accepted by the ‘dictionary dudes’ and is completely uncontroversial.

Whiskey – Who’d have thought it? Whiskey comes from Irish uisce (beatha). There’s a surprise, mar dhea!

Twig – This is the slang term for understand, not branch. Twig in this sense is probably from Irish tuig and many different sources give this, including Brewer’s. This just goes to show that where there is a genuine similarity, other people can see it apart from Cassidy. Only Cassidy saw the similarity between hoodoo and uath dubh because before Cassidy, the phrase uath dubh didn’t exist!

Dig – Cassidy claimed that dig also comes from tuig, or more specifically from phrases like An dtuigeann tú? (Do you understand?) This is possible, but it didn’t originate with Cassidy. It is already given as a source in the Dictionary of American Slang.

Cock-eyed. Cassidy claimed that this comes from caoch-eyed, blind-eyed. This is not a ridiculous suggestion, though the other explanations to do with cocking a gun or the general notion of something being skew-whiff when it is cocked (to cock your hat) need to be investigated too. The fact is, even if Cassidy is right about this, all he did was copy other sources like Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, which mention Irish or Gaelic as a possible origin.

Mutt

Mutt is an American expression for a mongrel dog. According to the dictionaries, the term mutt is thought to be a version of muttonhead, which enters English around the same time (beginning of the twentieth century) and means a fool or a dolt. There is no great mystery about this. Muttonhead is saying that something or someone resembles a sheep and mutt is used of people as well as dogs from the start. Of a person, this probably means they’re stupid. Of a dog, it probably just means that they have a shaggy and unkempt coat.

Daniel Cassidy, the Great Fraud, says that mutt doesn’t come from muttonhead. According to him, it comes from madadh or madra (mada in Dinneen) the Irish for dog (not mongrel.) These words begin with m but apart from that, they don’t sound much like mutt.

However, the funniest thing in this piece is the way that Cassidy tries to rubbish the derivation from muttonhead.

“Some Anglo-American lexicographers derive mutt from muttonhead, as in a sheep’s head. But a muttonhead is a dunderhead or a dolt. Most mutts are (street) smart.”

Well, that proves it then! Hearken to his cold, inexorable logic …

What a total putz!

Garnish

In English prisons in the 17th and 18th centuries, the prisoners used to pay money to the jailers in return for better treatment.  This money was called garnish. The word garnish was already used in mainstream English by this time for a little extra something added, a ‘bit on the side’, so the use of garnish as a sweetener for a jailer is easy to understand. There is no mystery here, nothing to be explained.

This didn’t stop Daniel Cassidy, the Great Fraud, from trying to explain it through Irish in his crazy book How The Irish Invented Slang. As usual, his attempt was totally incompetent. He claimed that garnish (in the sense of sweetener) came from the Irish garanna ar ais, favours back. In theory, this could be an Irish phrase. The word garanna does mean favours and ar ais does mean back.

The problem is that there is no evidence that anyone has ever actually said garanna ar ais in an Irish conversation. Try looking up the phrase on Google. I found one reference to Cassidy. Nothing else.

Then try putting in some of the real phrases used to describe paying back or making restitution: cúiteamh a dhéanamh le, an comhar a dhíol le. Or what about the word for a tip, síneadh láimhe? These produce a handful of results from different sources because they are real Irish, while Cassidy’s phrase is just made-up nonsense.