Monthly Archives: May 2014

An Apology

I have been sent a request for help by a researcher based in France. They have asked me to contact them via email to discuss some of the supposed Irish in Cassidy’s work. I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to the individual concerned. I am sure that they are sincere and that they are who they say they are but unfortunately, I am keen to preserve my anonymity and so I cannot enter into personal correspondence.

It seems to me that there are two ways round this. You can send me the questions you have as a comment, and I will post them and post my replies here in a public place. This means that other people can share your questions and my knowledge of the Irish language. If for any reason you are not keen on doing it this way, then you can also send me a comment with a postal address (I promise not to post it on cassidyslangscam, of course!), along with your questions, and I will quite happily send you a reply by snail-mail.

I’m sorry if this is inconvenient, but when dealing with cranks and nutcases (which Cassidy’s supporters most assuredly are), anonymity is the better part of valour!

Irish Words in English – A List

The fantasist Daniel Cassidy, in his absurd book How The Irish Invented Slang, pretended that there had been a conspiracy against Irish words among English-language dictionary-makers. He did this to cover up the incompetence of his ‘research’. At the same time, he invented hundreds of ridiculous fake Irish expressions like pá lae sámh and sách úr and claimed that these were the origin of common English expressions. However, while packing his book full of imaginary rubbish, he was far too lazy to research the subject properly, so he missed dozens of Irish words which are in the mainstream dictionaries. Here is a list of Irish words in English. I have spent a couple of months compiling it. It is probably not exhaustive and if anyone can think of any I’ve missed, please let me know!


banshee = bean sí, fairy woman. A spirit which appears before a death in an Irish household.

barmbrack An Irish fruit loaf. From bairín breac, speckled loaf.

bodhrán.  A winnowing drum used as a musical instrument.

bog  (from bogach meaning “marsh/peatland”) a wetland (according to OED).

bonnaught  A type of billeting or a billeted soldier. From Irish buannacht, billeting or billeting tax.

boreen (from bóithrín meaning “small road”) a narrow rural road in Ireland.

brat – a cloak or overall – now only in regional dialects (from Old Irish bratt meaning “cloak, cloth”)

brehon  A judge of ancient Irish law. From Irish breitheamh.

brogue  (from bróg meaning “shoe”) a type of shoe (OED).

brogue  A strong regional accent, especially an Irish or one. Not as the OED says, a reference to the footwear of speakers of the brogue, but from barróg, an Irish word for a lisp or accent.

callow A river meadow, a landing-place, from Irish caladh.

camogie  From Irish camóg, small hooked object, a camogue. The women’s equivalent of hurling.

carrageen moss. From Irish carraigín, ‘little rock’.

carrow  An ancient Irish gambler, from cearrbhach.

caubeen  An Irish beret, adopted as part of the uniform of Irish regiments of the British Army. From cáibín.

clabber, also bonny-clabber (from clábar and bainne clábair) curdled milk.

clarsach  An ancient Irish and Scottish harp, from Irish cláirseach.

clock  O.Ir. clocc meaning “bell”. Probably entered Germanic via the hand-bells used by early Irish missionaries.

coccagee Cac na gé, goose shit. The name of a type of cider apple found in Ireland, so called for its green colour.

colcannon A kind of ‘bubble and squeak’. Probably from cál ceannfhionn, white headed cabbage.

colleen (from cailín meaning “a girl”).

conk Slang term for a big nose. The term Old Conky was a nickname for the Duke of Wellington. Dinneen gives coinncín as ‘a prominent nose’ and this seems to be related to terms like geanc, meaning a snub nose.

coshering Nothing to do with Jewish dietary law. Coshering (from Irish cóisir, feast) was when a lord went round staying with his subjects and expecting to be entertained. Because of this cóisireacht can mean ‘sponging’ in Modern Irish, though cóisir usually just means a party.

coyne. A kind of billeting, from Irish coinmheadh.

cross  The ultimate source of this word is Latin crux. The English word comes from Old Irish cros via Old Norse kross.

cudeigh  A night’s lodging, from Irish cuid na hoíche.

curragh  An Irish boat made from skins or tarred canvas stretched over a wooden frame. Irish currach.

drum, drumlin, from Irish droim, droimlín. A ridge or small hill of glacial origin, such as in the landscape of Down.

drisheen is a type of black pudding associated with Cork. From drisín.

dudeen  A clay pipe, from Irish dúidín.

dulse  From Irish duileasc, originally meaning water leaf. A type of edible seaweed.

erenagh A hereditary holder of church lands. Irish aircheannach.

esker  From eiscir, an elongated ridge of post-glacial gravel, usually along a river valley (OED).

Fenian From Fianna meaning “semi-independent warrior band”, a member of a 19th-century Irish nationalist group (OED).

fiacre  a small four-wheeled carriage for hire, a hackney-coach, associated with St Fiacre area of Paris.  Named for Saint Fiachra.

fiorin  A type of long grass, derived from Irish feorthainn.

Gallowglass  (from gallóglach) a Scottish Gaelic mercenary soldier in Ireland between mid 13th and late 16th centuries.

galore (from go leor meaning “plenty”) a lot.

gillaroo  A type of fish. From Irish giolla rua, red lad.

glib  An obsolete term for a kind of haircut associated with warriors (because it protected the forehead) banned by the English. Irish glib, fringe.

gob  (literally beak) mouth. From Irish gob. (OED)

grouse  In slang sense of grumble, perhaps from gramhas, meaning grin, grimace, ugly face. (Not from Cassidy’s cráite!)

griskin  (from griscín) a lean cut of meat from the loin of a pig, a chop.

hooligan (from the Irish family name Ó hUallacháin, anglicised as Hooligan or Hoolihan).

keening  From caoinim (meaning “I wail”) to lament, to wail mournfully (OED.

kern  An outlaw or a common soldier. From ceithearn or ceithearnach, still the word in Irish for a pawn in chess.

Leprechaun a fairy or spirit (from leipreachán)

Limerick (from Luimneach). The limerick form was particularly associated in the 18th century with a group of Irish language poets called Filí na Máighe.

lough  (from loch) a lake, or arm of the sea.

madder  Also mether. A traditional square-sided wooden drinking vessel, Irish meadar.

merrow  An Irish mermaid. Irish murúch.

moiley  An ancient breed of Irish hornless cattle, from maol, bald or hornless.

ogham Ancient Irish alphabet. The Irish is also ogham (pronounced oh-um).

orrery A mechanical model of solar system, named for the Earl of Orrery. This is an old Irish tribal name, Orbhraighe.

pampootiepampúta A kind of shoe with good grip worn by men in the Aran Islands.

phoney (probably from the English fawney meaning “gilt brass ring used by swindlers”, which is from Irish fáinne meaning “ring”) fake.

pinkeen  From pincín, a minnow or an insignificant person. This in turn comes from English pink + Irish diminutive –ín.

pollan A fish found in Irish loughs, Irish pollán.

pookawn A fishing boat, from Irish púcán.

poteen (from poitín) hooch, bootleg alcoholic drink.

puck  (in hockey)  Almost certainly from Irish poc, according to the OED.

puss  As in sourpuss, comes from Irish pus, a pouting mouth.

rapparee An Irish highwayman, from ropaire (a stabber)

rath  A strong circular earthen wall forming an enclosure and serving as a fort and residence for a tribal chief. From Irish rath.

shamrock (from seamróg) a shamrock, diminutive of seamair, clover, used as a symbol for Ireland.

Shan Van Vocht (from seanbhean bhocht meaning “poor old woman”) a literary name for Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries.

shebeen (from síbín meaning “illicit whiskey, poteen”, apparently a diminutive of síob, which means drift, blow, ride) unlicensed house selling alcohol (OED).

shillelagh (from sail éille meaning “a beam with a strap”) a wooden club or cudgel made from a stout knotty stick with a large knob on the end.

shoneen  A West Brit, an Irishman who apes English customs. From Irish Seoinín, a little John (in a Gaelic version of the English form, Seon, not the Irish Seán).

Sidhe Modern Sí, the fairies, fairyland.

slauntiagh An obsolete word for sureties or guarantees, which comes from Irish sláinteacha with the same meaning.

sleveen, sleiveen (from slíbhín) an untrustworthy or cunning person. Used in Ireland and Newfoundland (OED).

slew (from slua meaning “a large number”) a great amount (OED).

slob (from slab) mud (OED).

slogan  (from sluaghairm meaning “a battle-cry used by Gaelic clans”). I think this is more likely to be of Scottish origin.

smithereens small fragments, atoms. In phrases such as ‘to explode into smithereens’. This is the Irish word smidiríní. This is obviously Irish because of the –ín ending but the basic word seems to be Germanic, something to do with the work of a smith.

spalpeen  A migratory labourer in Ireland. From spailpín.

spunk  Tinder, from Latin spongia via Irish or Gaelic sponc. It later acquired the meaning of ‘semen’.

tanist  The deputy and successor of a chieftain or religious leader. A term used in anthropology. From Irish tánaiste, secondary person.

tilly (from tuilleadh meaning “a supplement”) used in Newfoundland to refer to an additional luck-penny. It is used by Joyce in the first chapter of Ulysses.

tory Originally an Irish outlaw, probably from the word tóraí meaning “pursuer”.

trousers  From Irish triús.

turlough  A seasonal lake in limestone area (OED). Irish turloch ‘dry lake.’

uilleann pipes. Irish belows-blown bagpipes. Uilleann is Irish for ‘elbow’.

usker From Irish uscar, a jewel sewn into an item of clothing.

whiskey From uisce beatha meaning “water of life”.

American Book Awards

Much has been made in some quarters of the fact that Cassidy’s ridiculous book How The Irish Invented Slang won an American Book Award.

There are several reasons why this fact is unremarkable and proves nothing about its worth.

Firstly, it is in the nature of the American Book Awards that they give equal status to all the shortlisted books. In other words, everyone is a winner, and hundreds of writers could legitimately be described as winners of the American Book Awards. Among the winners are a few big names, like Dave Eggers and Toni Morrison but the names also include mates of Cassidy’s like the ubiqitous Peter Quinn and Michael Patrick MacDonald.

The American Book Awards (not to be confused with the more prestigious National Book Awards) are awarded annually by the Before Columbus Foundation. A look on their website shows that several names on their board are friends of Cassidy’s, people like the poet David Meltzer. Now, I don’t know if this was cronyism in action, because I don’t know how the books are chosen or how big a role the board has in this.

David Meltzer may be guilty of nothing more than having bad taste in friends. But it does seem strange that this awful, crappy book was given an American Book Award, and that two friends of Cassidy’s are on the board of the organisation which hands these awards out.

Incidentally, I also found an article by Daniel Cassidy in a tribute to David Meltzer in the magazine Big Bridge (Issue 11). It is called the Song of the Spailpín, and it is as bad a piece of garbage as Cassidy ever wrote anywhere.  You can find the whole sorry piece of shit here (, if you’re really interested. However, here are some observations.

Cassidy refers to the travelling Johnson family, and says that this comes from Teannas án. As usual, Cassidy thought that a slender t can be pronounced as a j in Irish, which it can’t. The word án is literary and hardly used in Irish, and this phrase as a whole would mean ‘noble tension’. Obviously, the reality is that this family were called Johnson because one of their ancestors was called John and that’s that. Cassidy’s explanation is just the jabbering of a lunatic.

Cassidy claims that two songs, Mike from Tipperary and The Monster Gila Route (sic – it’s really The Gila Monster Route) contain secret Irish messages. Cassidy gives the words in bold type and then gives a little glossary underneath.

Here are some of the many stupidities in this glossary.

Holler, ditch, gump, burg, and booze have all been dealt with in this blog before.

The word shirkin’ in the song is obviously shirking as in not doing any work. Cassidy claims that it is really seargadh (pronounced sharruga or sharrugoo), meaning to shrivel or dry up.

Dingbat, according to Cassidy’s useless book, comes from Irish duine bocht, a poor person. In this glossary, he decided it comes from duine bod, which he defines as ‘A lout, a thickset churl, fig. a migrant worker or hobo.’ In reality, the phrase duine bod doesn’t exist, and if it did it would mean something like ‘a person of penises’. It should also be apparent to even the most deluded supporter of Cassidy that if the origin of dingbat is ‘obviously’ duine bod in one version and ‘obviously’ duine bocht’ in another version, then in reality there is nothing obvious or real about the connection.  Apparently, the original meaning of dingbat was thingumabob, so my bet would be that it is related to the German Dingsbums or Dingsda, both of which have the same meaning.

The word gila, as in gila monster, is from the Gila river basin. It does not come from gealbh [gyalloo or gyalluv] which Cassidy says means bad weather. Cassidy gives no evidence that this word even exists, it is not in any dictionary and what exactly is the connection between gila monsters and bad weather anyway?

The word frisk is the same as the word for pat down, and it dates back to the late eighteenth century in English. The relation between it and the earlier meanings of frisk (to gambol) is unclear. However, the word forúscadh is a pure Cassidy invention which does not occur in any dictionary, and even if it did exist, how is a word pronounced fohrooska or foh-rooskoo likely to become frisk?

Flop is obviously what a tired person does when they reach a bed. This is a very old word in English, probably a variant of flap. Foleaba is another made-up Cassidy word which doesn’t exist in any dictionary or text.

However, this is only mildly stupid and dishonest compared to his explanation of bindle, a term for a vagrant’s bundle, a word which is obviously derived either from bundle itself, from the related German term Bündel or from a related English dialect or Scots term. Cassidy derives this from a word for a ferule (bianna) and a misspelt word for a snare (dul – it should be dol). How you get from ferule of a snare to a stick with a bundle on it is hard to work out unless you are as insane as Cassidy was. Or as Cassidy himself said, only poets can dig this crossroads cant…. Yeah, right, Danny!

But the prize for idiocy in this article surely goes to his explanation for blanket stiffs, which according to him comes from bliadhna chuid staif  which he defines as ‘annual groups of burly strong persons, fig.. migratory harvest workers’. This breaks just about every rule of Irish grammar you could mention and is simply meaningless nonsense.

If I were David Meltzer, I would be deeply insulted at having this ludicrous catalogue of garbage dedicated to me. Cassidy could have written a poem or a song in Meltzer’s honour but instead he chose to use the magazine to plug his insane book and con a few more mugs out of their hard-earned dollars.