Monthly Archives: September 2014

Gazoonie

I had meant to write about this word ages ago but somehow was distracted and never got around to writing the post. The word gazoony was apparently originally a fairground or carny term for a young, inexperienced worker. A search on Google shows that in some circles it now means a young man in a gay relationship with an older man.

Cassidy claims that this derives from an Irish word, garsún, meaning a boy.

There is nothing inherently improbable about this. The word garsún does exist and it does mean boy. Any Cassidy supporter reading this will probably be tutting already. So there’s an Irish word which sounds similar and means boy, yet they’re still not happy! How much evidence do these people need?

Sorry, but I need a bit more evidence than this. For one thing, garsún may be an Irish word, but it’s not of Irish origin. Garsún derives, of course, from Norman French. Anyone who learned French at school will recognise the word garçon which means both boy and waiter. Cassidy actually mentions garçon and the Latin word garcio from which it derives, but only with cf., which means compare. He doesn’t state that the Irish word is a loanword.

It entered Irish in two forms, as garsún and as gasúr. The dialects of Connemara and of Ulster use gasúr (though the meaning is different in the two areas – gasúr is a boy in Ulster but a child of either gender in Connemara). In Munster they say garsún. It isn’t used in Irish outside Munster, to the best of my knowledge. In Hiberno-English, the word has also been borrowed as gossoon.

The problem with Cassidy’s claim is this. How can we be sure it didn’t come directly from French? There are plenty of French Canadians and there were plenty of French speakers in places like Maine and Louisiana. Cassidy doesn’t try to exclude the French origin from the equation. A real researcher would need to do this and they would also have to make sure that the word doesn’t have an equivalent in some other Romance language, such as Italian. (The official Italian for a boy is ragazzo, sometimes shortened to gazzo, but there are lots of dialects in Italy and carnival slang is known to contain a large Italian element through the jargon known as Polari.)

In other words, it’s possible that gazoonie comes from garsún or indeed from Hiberno-English gossoon. But it’s also highly likely that it might have come from French and it might well come from some related language. Cassidy decided that because of its appearance, it must come from Irish. But he failed to follow it up with any proper research and that’s why the lexicographers are entirely right to ignore Cassidy’s claim. He didn’t play by the rules and the rules are there to guarantee that books contain the truth (not to arbitrarily exclude Irish or any other language.)

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A Reply To Owen 2

In my last post, I criticised a message from a certain Owen Kelly, who trotted out the same boring, hackneyed nonsense used by every other Cassidy supporter. In this message, Kelly suggests that the Irish invented a new version of their language in America: “It could have been used to mean it back in the day but only in the Irish-American circles. Most of his slang definitions were supposed to have originated here in America but were based on localized and parochial use of the Irish language by earlier Irish immigrants and their non-Irish associates. Not necessarily mainstream and most likely never in use in Ireland. This might explain why it would not have been heard among Irish people in Ireland.”. I have given this some further thought and it seems to me that there are a number of points which need to be questioned.

Firstly, supposed by whom, exactly? Cassidy did not claim this himself. He never said that the material given in his book was a new version of Irish specific to the States and unrecorded. In fact, he tells us again and again that this is ‘what an Irish speaker would say’. For example, he says of the word cooze that ‘cuas is a neutral anatomical term in Irish.’ Not was – is. He even claimed (though not in the book) that he checked his ‘research’ with Irish speakers. Presumably, these putative (and probably imaginary) Gaels were supposed to be live modern Irish speakers, not long-dead criminal inhabitants of Hell’s Kitchen contacted using a Ouija board. So, people like Owen think we should take Cassidy’s claims seriously. But because Cassidy’s Irish phrases don’t make sense in real Irish, these people have decided that they are in a totally new American version of Irish. In other words, they have decided to shift the goalposts and claim things that Cassidy himself didn’t.

Secondly, these claims show a deep lack of respect for Irish. After all, according to these people, Irish was such a lame language that it simply wasn’t good enough to provide decent phrases for concepts like idiot, or grumble, or nonsense, or hundreds of others, so Irish speakers in the US were supposedly forced to invent a new version from scratch. I don’t accept any of this. Irish has plenty of good, expressive words and phrases like amhas, amadán, seoinín, glagaire, leá dia, scraiste, bobarún. Why wouldn’t at least some of these have been borrowed instead of or as well as this putative new-fangled dialect of the language?

And even if you choose to accept this nonsense about the new-fangled Irish dialect of America with its bizarre words and phrases like n-each and uí bhfolaíocht án, can you reasonably expect other people to accept it, people like scholars and linguists and dictionary-makers? Why should they, when there isn’t a shred of evidence for its existence? The Cassidy-lovers keep pretending that the lexicographers and scholars are the ones who haven’t done their job properly. The truth is that Cassidy was a joke as an academic. Any lexicographer or linguist or historian who put any of Cassidy’s unsupported claims into a scholarly work of reference would be failing to do their job properly, and failing massively.

It is nearly ten years since this ridiculous book was first published. To me, it is completely inexplicable that people are still pretending that there is anything worth arguing about here. Cassidy didn’t get it right. He wasn’t a genius. He wasn’t even possessed of basic, ordinary competence. This book is simply trash and anyone who tells you otherwise is either stupid, a lunatic or a con-man. Take your pick!