Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Madness of Sweeney

I have received a message from someone calling themselves Sean Sweeney, who has contributed a number of rather rabid and not very intelligent posts in support of Daniel Cassidy’s crazy theories on different websites. I don’t know if this person is genuinely just a fan of Cassidy’s or if he is a sockpuppet for one of Cassidy’s Cronies.

Now, I am a great believer in democracy. Debate is a fine thing. However, I have gone to a lot of trouble to produce an intelligent and trustworthy blog (far more trouble than Cassidy ever went to!) and I don’t want this to become some kind of Democracy Wall for every saucer-eyed crazy and deluded idiot to deface with their stupidities. For that reason, I will publish this message along with an appropriate answer here.

This is what Sweeney says:

So, a people as garrulous, vibrant, influential, street-wise and abundant as the the Irish contributed a mere handful of words to the language, whilst other groups have contributed hundreds? Get real.

Some of Cassidy’s derivations may be nonsense, but nowhere as nonsensical as what you claim.

And here is my reply.

Personally, Sweeney, I think you have some nerve telling me to get real, when you are trying to tell people that Daniel Cassidy’s book is worth reading! With all due respect (and that’s no respect at all), you claim that the Irish language must have contributed hundreds of words to American vernacular because the Irish talk a lot. Talk about a non-sequitur! Nor is it bringing anything new to the debate. It is the same weak and childish argument used by Cassidy when he said that he knew Irish people who could talk the paint off walls, so how come they made no contribution to American vernacular? (His answer was, of course, that a sinister cabal of Anglophile dictionary-makers had conspired to hide the fact that they did! What were you saying about me getting real?)

Why MUST the Irish have contributed hundreds of words to American vernacular? (Apart from the fact that you say so, of course!) Language contact is a complex sociolinguistic situation and there are lots of factors at play. How many of the Irish immigrants were already bilingual when they arrived? What was the language of choice among young Irish immigrants? What was their attitude towards Irish – did they think of it as something good or as the language of the old lad in the corner? (Douglas Hyde was told by an Irish American in Boston that there were two kinds of cranks they didn’t like – cranks who are against alcohol and cranks who are in favour of the Irish language!) Was there already a fully developed urban slang in English when they arrived? And is it really true that other languages gave hundreds of terms to American vernacular? Yiddish certainly gave more than Irish but I don’t think there are that many common Yiddish expressions in vernacular American English (i.e. slang terms like putz and shmuck) – probably no more than a couple of dozen. For German it’s even fewer, and there were probably as many German as Irish immigrants and almost none of them were bilingual!

In other words, Sweeney or whoever you are, this isn’t a rational argument based on facts. It’s just a sweeping generalisation unsupported by any evidence.

And that brings me to the most important part. In this blog, I have analysed a large number of Cassidy’s fake derivations and given the truth about them. I have also stated that apart from obviously Irish words like machree, whiskey and shebeen and the handful of other words which are already given as Irish or Shelta in mainstream dictionaries such as sourpuss, slob and moniker, there are only a couple of words in Cassidy’s book which might be considered to be possible, such as snas for snazzy and deifir for jiffy. And that doesn’t make them right, just worthy of further consideration. For the rest, the derivations given in this book are as stupid and improbable as béal ónna for baloney or gus óil for guzzle. They are complete nonsense.

In spite of all the evidence presented here you apparently STILL believe that the Irish gave hundreds of words to American vernacular. Fine! Do you believe that I have got it wrong about some of these words on the blog? Tell me which words and why I’m wrong! Do you believe that some of the words I haven’t dealt with in Cassidy’s book are good candidates? Then tell us what those words are and tell us why they are good candidates. And I’ll do my best to argue against them using logic and facts. (Or in the unlikely event that I agree with you, I’ll say that too.)

Debates like this need to be based on facts. If you’re prepared to offer some facts and debate rationally, then bring it on! If all you want is to repeat baseless irrational opinions over and over again, then go and waste someone else’s time.

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Hall of Shame Special – James R. Barrett

I recently came across another deserving target for my wrath, a book called The Irish Way: Becoming American In The Multiethnic City by Professor James R Barrett. It includes several pages of Cassidese nonsense like the following: 

“Corruptions of the Irish Gaelic language survived in the memories of old-timers and were refreshed by more recent immigrants. Irish words, phrases, accents and pronunciations seeped into the English of working-class neighbourhoods.”

Why am I angry about this?  Well, in some ways, I shouldn’t get worked up. There are things which are far more important in the world and I should watch my blood pressure and not allow idiocy like this to annoy me, but I just can’t help it. Here we have a career academic who quotes from Cassidy describing him as ‘linguist Daniel Cassidy’  Linguist? Cassidy was not a linguist in the sense of speaking many languages (judging by the book, he could barely speak English and didn’t know any Irish at all) and he certainly wasn’t trained in the theoretical study of language. Presumably this man Barrett read the book or at least looked at it. Didn’t he get suspicious at the lack of methodology, the lack of a bibliography, the fact that nothing is properly referenced? The claim that the name of a fictional character in an Indian poem by Kipling is really derived from Irish didn’t set any alarm bells ringing?

Apparently not, because James Barrett gives a list of words like slugger, dude, square, sucker, stool pigeon, squealer, swell, taro (I think he means faro, the card game, not taro the Japanese sweet potato), racketeer, scam and jazz. Of course, Cassidy claimed that all these words derive from Irish.  Readers of this blog will know that none of these words is really from Irish or Scottish Gaelic. And Barrett would know it too, if he had bothered looking these words up in dictionaries to see what real experts who know what they are talking about have said about them.

I mustn’t get angry … But, really! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE? This man is a highly qualified academic but apparently he is so lacking in scepticism and common sense that he just buys all of this tosh from Cassidy as if it’s real, without questioning it or investigating it or confirming it, even by surfing on Google for a quarter of an hour. And remember that this book came out in 2012 (and is about to be reprinted – it will be interesting to see if it still contains the same crap about slang). This is too early for cassidyslangscam, but not too early for a lot of other people who credibly and skilfully demonstrated that Cassidy’s book is simply nonsense written by an unqualified con-man. (Actually I should rephrase that: Cassidy was certainly a highly qualified con-man but he was unqualified to carry out any kind of academic work.)

Worse still, Barrett’s book has been reviewed in all kinds of publications and by all kinds of people. As far as I can see, not one of them has picked up on the claims that terms like square and jazz and block come from Irish and questioned their validity. Not one reviewer has taken issue with Barrett using Cassidy’s book as a source, in spite of the fact that it is like someone including theories about aliens building the pyramids in a serious book on Egyptology.  

Is this really what we’ve come to, a situation where the education system is so bad that even highly educated people are completely unable to recognise an insane load of cacamas for what it is?

Certainty Creep and Accuracy Slip

To anyone studying pseudoscience and weird beliefs, the idea of certainty creep is an important one. I thought I had invented this term but when I looked it up on Google, I found that others have coined it before me. The idea is very simple. You start with a theory which is tentative. You claim, for example, that jasm comes from the Irish teas ioma, which means (according to you) excessive heat or ‘figuratively semen’. Then it enters cyberspace and people start to copy it. Do they copy the whole thing? No, they copy the most satisfying, wow-factor bit, so teas ioma becomes a phrase meaning semen. Then someone else copies it and it becomes ‘the Irish for semen’. And so on until all doubt and negativity have been removed and a silly made-up phrase is passed off as genuine Irish. 

Related to this is the useful concept of accuracy slip. This is basically what happens in Chinese whispers. Gradually, the claim gets further and further away from what was originally suggested. Of course, in a sense, certainty creep is a sub-category of accuracy slip. In some cases, the transformation of material will be fairly random, but in other cases it will be motivated by a desire to make the story ‘better’ – i.e. to make the facts fit the myth, and that is certainty creep.

Incidentally, in the example above, teas does mean heat. Ioma is a variant of iomaí, which means excessive but cannot be used the way Cassidy uses it, so teas ioma is just a meaningless piece of nonsense. Even if it did mean ‘excessive heat’, is this really going to mean the same as semen?

Hardly! This is yet another example of Daniel Cassidy’s bizarre fantasy world. 

A Quick Update

This is just by way of a general update. I am not planning to start blogging here again regularly, though I might try to put up a post here from time to time.

Firstly, the stats for the site have continued at a low but steady rate. We did have a peak in January when Cassidy’s nonsense was discussed on a forum for sceptics. They gave it fairly short shrift but one of them also happened on cassidyslangscam and put in a link. As a result of that, the blog got some of its highest ever figures.

Unfortunately, people continue to add positive comments to Amazon about Cassidy’s book. While some of these may be people who are a bit gullible and didn’t think to doubt the claims in his book, it seems clear that some of the people who have given positive reviews on Amazon and in other places are well aware of the dubious nature of Cassidy’s work and are essentially saying that they don’t care what all the experts think and that they think their opinion is as good as that of the professors in their ivory towers. The fact that someone spends decades acquiring a knowledge of language and the relationships between languages and the correct methodology for establishing links apparently counts for nothing to these arrogant stupid people.

So I will say it again. If you are a sceptic, then show your scepticism actively. We can’t stop foolish and unpleasant people from giving this book positive reviews but if enough decent, sensible people make a stand, we could certainly give it the negative reviews it deserves.

 However, on a more positive note, Wikipedia is now virtually free of Cassidese nonsense. One enthusiastic idiot had put dozens of Cassidy’s claims onto a page devoted to Irish-derived words in English but now, thanks to the hard work and good sense of Wikipedia volunteers, these stupid claims have been rejected and removed, along with many occasional references in individual articles like the articles on baloney, faro and jazz.