Monthly Archives: October 2014

A Halloween Challenge

I found an interesting piece on an online forum called Irish Gaelic Translator, relating to the death of Daniel Cassidy. It talks about his awful book and one commentator, someone calling themselves Redwolf, says:

“This book was being discussed at the Deireadh Seachtaine Gaeltachta, and one of the teachers from Ireland noted that for a long time the Oxford dictionary refused to acknowledge the Irish origin of many words that are KNOWN to be Irish (such as “slew” and “whiskey,” listing them instead as “origin unknown”).”

Interesting. It is amazing what kind of a stew people get into when they refuse to base their arguments on real evidence. I am quite sure that these claims are nonsense. I don’t know when slew first made it into the OED, but I would suggest this was pretty recent, because it would have been regarded as an Americanism even a couple of decades ago. The Gaelic origin of slew seems to me pretty cast-iron and I think it would be very strange if the OED denied this. As for whiskey/whisky, they may have argued about which version of Gaelic it comes from, Scottish Gaelic or Irish, but the idea that any dictionary ever put ‘origin unknown’ beside the word whisky seems to me to be a pure fiction.

So, here’s a Hallowe’en challenge for the Cassidy Cronies out there. This is a matter of evidence. It’s either true that the OED said that slew and whiskey are ‘origin unknown’ or it’s untrue. I’m saying that, on the basis of what I know, this is not likely to be true. It’s likely to be another childish, half-baked, worthless piece of crapology from the Cassidy lobby.

But I suppose I could be wrong. So, why don’t you go out and find a good library, check a few old editions of the OED and find a clear reference? Quote me chapter and verse about which edition of the OED we’re talking about and I’ll post this information here. However, I won’t be holding my breath! So far, these people have refused to provide any evidence at all.

Bainigí sult as Oíche Shamhna, cibé!


Two Plus Two Still Equals Four

In Orwell’s 1984, there is a famous piece where the interrogator, O’Brien, tries to get the central character, Winston Smith, to deny that two and two make four.

“How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.”

“Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”

The unitary nature of truth and the multiplicity of lies is a commonplace of world literature and it is built into the very fabric of language itself. We talk about duplicity for dishonesty in English, we say that people are two-faced, or in Irish that someone is Tadhg an Dá Thaobh (Tadhg of the Two Sides, Tim Turn-coat). The English poet Spenser, who has been mentioned several times here, who lived in County Cork, decided to give his true and virtuous fairy queen the name Una, while the deceitful opponent was called Duessa. And we could also mention Tolstoy’s comment: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

In other words, the ideal, the perfect, the correct is always unitary, while the possible incorrect versions are inexhaustible. In the case of 2 + 2 = 4 (assuming that this is in base ten), four is the only correct answer. The incorrect answers are as numerous as the integers available, and that is an infinite set.

Cassidy’s supporters are continually trying to get people like me to accept that two and two equals something other than four. When people like me point out that the Irish phrases given by Cassidy aren’t genuine Irish phrases, that nobody has ever said (or at least that nobody can be proven to have ever said) the phrase béal ónna in Irish, their answer tends to be that in the teeming ghettoes of North America, the rules of Irish usage fell away and people produced a new version of Irish. Maybe this happened and probably it didn’t. But if it did happen, the range of possible corrupt versions of Irish is almost as inexhaustible as the integers, so the idea that Cassidy’s fake versions will map accurately onto the versions that supposedly existed in Irish slums in America in the 19th century is absurd (even when we take into account that Cassidy made these phrases up to resemble English expressions phonetically). After all, Cassidy himself regularly changed his Irish expressions when he noticed one that he liked better (as in the case of dingbat, variously from duine bocht or duine bod according to the Great Fraud).

Why does baloney have to come from béal ónna just because these were the words Cassidy chose? What about béal omhna, tree-trunk mouth, because of the clumsy nonsense stuck in it? Or béal abhna (a variant of abhann), meaning river-mouth, because the person has a mouth as big as the mouth of the Liffey or the Lagan? Or béal uainín, a little lamb’s mouth, because of the innocence of the stupidities coming from it? Or béal Eoghnaí, from someone called Eoghan who was notoriously thick? Or béal eorna where eorna (barley) stands ‘figuratively’ for whiskey? Or béal eamhnaithe, doubled or twinned mouth, because the person is deceitful? Or hundreds of other possible but not probable explanations?

And then, of course, there’s the two plus two equals four explanation. That baloney is the name of a cheap type of sausage originating in Bologna in Italy and that it came to be used as a euphemism for balls, bollocks or bullshit in American English, just as people say ‘sugar’ as a mild oath instead of ‘shit’.

A Comparison With Yiddish

As I have said before, many of Cassidy’s supporters outdo Cassidy himself in the lying stakes by claiming something that Cassidy himself didn’t (not in the book, anyway), that the Irish language was completely changed and mangled in the ghettoes of America. They do this in order to continue claiming that Cassidy’s ridiculous Irish candidates are the origin of English words in spite of the fact that they don’t exist in Irish and break all the rules of Irish grammar and usage. According to these clowns, the words and phrases do exist, though they were never recorded, because the shanty Irish in the ghettoes produced a completely new version of the language.

I got to thinking about this. Is there any way of testing the hypothesis? Of course, as it doesn’t depend on any evidence, it is hard to confirm or refute it. However, it occurred to me that it would be useful to compare some of the loan words found in English from another language, to see if the same pattern is found there. The language I chose was Yiddish, which has given a number of high-profile and well-known words to American (and world) English.

Here are five common Yiddish words which have made it into English.

The English word putz is from Yiddish puts or pots. It is found in an online Yiddish dictionary with the meaning of fool or penis.

The English word shmuck is from Yiddish shmok or shmuk. It is found in online Yiddish dictionary with the exact same meaning of fool or penis.

The English word glitch comes from Yiddish glitsh or glitshn, meaning a slip or to slip. It is find in online Yiddish dictionaries.

The English word schmooze is from Yiddish shmues, meaning, talk, chat or converse. It is in the online Yiddish dictionaries.

The English word maven is from the Yiddish meyven, meaning expert, connoisseur. It is found in an online Yiddish dictionary with the same meaning.

Now let’s look at five of Cassidy’s daft derivations, taken pretty much at random from the words which haven’t yet been dealt with on this blog.

The phrase to eighty-six something, according to Cassidy, is derived from eiteachas aíochta (a denial of hospitality). As usual, this is a very clunky and unnatural phrase which has never been recorded in Irish. Furthermore, there are various explanations for ‘eighty-sixing’ and there is a full discussion of the term on Wikipedia (which doesn’t include eiteachas aíochta as a possibility.)

According to Cassidy, the phrase drag racing comes from Irish de ráig, meaning suddenly or precipitately. Explanations involving the Englsh word drag range from a simple challenge (“Drag your car out of the garage and race me!”) to geographical locale (the “main drag” was a city’s main street, often the only one wide enough to accommodate two vehicles) to the mechanical (to “drag” the gears meant to hold the transmission in gear longer than normal). De ráig is a real phrase but is quite uncommon and is much less appropriate as an origin than the English word drag, which is obviously a lot closer in sound as well.

Cassidy claimed that scallywag or scalawag comes from Irish scolla + English wag. Cassidy couldn’t make this one work without randomly bringing in the English word wag. He claimed that the Irish word scolla is suitable for the first part, but not only is scolla not found in Ó Dónaill’s dictionary, (it is found in Dnneen) it is obviously a word of non-Irish origin, like almost all nouns in Irish which end in a consonant and the letter a.

Cassidy claimed that cheese it derives from Irish téigh as. Téigh is the imperative form of the verb ‘to go’, and as means ‘out of’. In other words, this could mean ‘go out of’. Apparently, the slang term cheese it means to shut up or to run away. There are two verbs to go in Irish. The appropriate one here is imigh, not téigh, because imigh means to go away. Cassidy’s claim that téigh as is figuratively used to mean ‘shut up’ is a typical Cassidy lie.

Cassidy claimed that Holy Mackerel derives from Irish Mac Ríúil (Kingly Son!) Of course, as in the case of scallywag, in order to get this the way he wanted, Cassidy had to leave half of it in English! The fact is that Holy Mackerel is a euphemism for Holy Mary or something similar. And there is no evidence that anyone has ever used Mac Ríúil in any context as a phrase in Irish.

Spot the difference? The Yiddish borrowings are nearly all simple words, recognisable to Yiddish speakers. Cassidy’s claims are implausible rubbish, unsupported by any evidence and completely meaningless to any Irish speaker.

A Grunt From Under The Bridge

Over the last few days, a number of trolling messages from some idiot in New York appeared on the comments section of this blog. Now, a while ago, in answer to another dumbass in America, I stated that I would simply delete any further stupidities sent to this account without bothering to answer them. I was tempted to do so with these messages, but I have decided to answer the unknown troll in this post, not because I think that liars and fantasists have a right to an answer when they repeat the same nonsense over and over again and refuse to engage in rational debate about the facts, but because it gives me a chance to reiterate some of the many criticisms I have made of Cassidy and of his cretinous supporters in the past.

The troll, who calls himself Sean, states that Cassidy has considerable fame in America, as if I would disagree with this. No, I wouldn’t disagree. Cassidy has achieved considerable fame and his books have sold well. I have said as much in many places on this blog. I have also stated the fact that any fame and money which Cassidy has achieved from this book is undeserved, because he was an idiot who knew nothing about the Irish language or linguistics in general.

The troll also says that for anyone living in America for any period of time, and knowing its culture, the connections of the words are clear. It is hard to see what point the idiot is making here, apart from saying that I as a mere Irish person am unqualified to comment on Irish-American culture and should shut up. But what is clear is very subjective. You see, in the area where I live, there used to be a lady who wore fluorescent pink spectacles, pushed an old pram around and wore an overcoat covered with sheets of paper with strange and cryptic messages on them. The content of the overcoat was garbled but the upshot was that the extermination of European Jewry in the Second World War was not primarily the work of Hitler and Goebbels. Apparently this genocide was masterminded by the Everly Brothers. To this lady, this was presumably crystal clear. One person’s clear and obvious is frequently another person’s totally nuts.

Why am I comparing you to a mad bag-lady, my trolling friend? Well, let’s just take your comment about those familiar with the American context and analyse them from the perspective of an intelligent person (me) rather than an idiot (you). How exactly is the American context relevant? Nobody is saying that American politicians didn’t call their sidekicks ward heelers, or that an ikey heyman wasn’t a name for a handle used to fix wheels of fortune in fairgrounds, or that a policeman in America wasn’t called a crusher. These are facts. What smart people like me are saying is this: that there is no way that ward heeler derives from the Irish éilitheoir, or that ikey heyman derives from ag céimnigh, or that crusher comes from cuir siar ar. I know that these claims and virtually every claim in this trashy book are bullshit. I know that because, unlike you and unlike Cassidy, I actually speak Irish. Apparently, actually daring to know some Irish makes me a pedant.

This lazy, stupid troll also states that the majority of Cassidy’s words were given as origin unknown. I have dealt with this question in a post appropriately labelled Origin Unknown? The majority of the words given fake Irish derivations in Cassidy’s book are not given as origin unknown in mainstream dictionaries. This is a total lie on the troll’s part, easily demonstrable by checking the words in Cassidy’s book against the dictionaries. He also claims that those who attack Cassidy are Angophiles. Amazing how many of these Anglophiles speak Irish!

The troll also talks about my ‘mania’ about Cassidy. In fact, my mania is and always has been the Irish language and languages in general. I love Irish and I find the crap in Cassidy’s book a deep insult to all Irish speakers. The posts here are a minor hobby of mine. Even when I was posting regularly, I probably didn’t spend more than two hours a week on this. But they are two hours well spent, if it offends lunatics like Sean the Troll and makes sure that people have access to the truth. Nor am I jealous of Cassidy’s success as the troll claims, because Cassidy wasn’t successful. This book is a monumental failure, however many copies are sold to the ignorant and gullible.

The last of these three grunts from under the bridge states that I never print anything which contradicts my opinions. No, that’s right. Because there is no evidence contradicting my opinions and with respect, troll, I think Cassidy was great and you’re just an Anglophile Irish speaker who hates Irish Americans really aren’t intelligent (or even sane) arguments.

And with that, I am going to mark the troll as spam. Not only will I not publish any future correspondence from this idiot, I won’t even bother reading it!

Yup, I’m bad!

Light of the Diddicoy

I have already mentioned Eamon Loingsigh several times here. Loingsigh wrote a blog post praising the work of Cassidy. This blog post is still there misleading the public about Cassidy and making obviously incorrect and easily disprovable claims. As far as I am concerned, Cassidy and his supporters are enemies of the Irish language, even if they think they are the language’s greatest champions, so, I am not well disposed towards Loingsigh and I would like to make that clear right from the start. My intention here is to provide a review of his recent book Light of the Diddicoy and I am certainly not an impartial reviewer, though I will try to be as fair as I can.

This book has garnered good reviews from a lot of people on Amazon, many of them suspiciously posted by people who have not posted anything else. The one objective review I found online, on the site of the Historical Novel Society, was mixed and after praising some aspects of the book, singled out certain issues as problematic:

“Unfortunately, I felt the story was undermined by inconsistencies in the author’s tone and somewhat shallow characterizations.

An original and poetic coming-of-age story, Light of the Diddicoy touches on some fascinating material, but might prove difficult for those looking for truly captivating, character-driven fiction.”

I was able to pick up a copy of the book very easily on Amazon. It was a second-hand copy and only cost me a couple of pounds. I was surprised to find that it was signed by the author. I set about reading it. Like the author of the review above, I didn’t particularly like it but I didn’t hate it. There were good things about it. As a story, as a succession of images telling what happened to the central character, it was gripping enough. He seems to know a lot about the docks in NY in the early 20th century and the interplay between criminals, employers and labour organisations. So far, so good.

For me, there were two main problems with this book. Firstly, the language more often stood between the reader and the image rather than evoking the image clearly. Some of the lines are very odd indeed. Some sentences appear not to make any sense at all. For example:

Only luck can make it across the sea lanes with the sea wolves dug in for war, where the Lusitania was sent to the dregs just north of Queenstown in Kinsale, just south of five months early upon.

Even leaving aside the fact that Kinsale is south-west of Queenstown (Cóbh), what does this mean? Answers on a postcard please …

His grasp of Irish dialect is shaky. The dialogue is more Far and Away than Ulysses. At times, I found it hard to work out what dialect the characters were supposed to be using. To give just one example, he frequently drops the h in words like he (‘e), which to me looks like some kind of English dialect. To the best of my knowledge, no dialect of Irish English drops the h. And expressions like ‘you look about twelve years long’ don’t ring true to me. Perhaps there is some obscure dialect in Munster where people use long for old but I’ve certainly never heard it. All too often, dialect is used to create two-dimensional characters.

Another problem is the purple passages. Manuals for aspiring writers always tell people to avoid these like the plague. It is still good advice to go through your writing with a red pen cutting out anything that sounds preachy or self-conscious or overwritten.

“Unpainted, sooted wood-framed tenements creak in the breeze like an old coffin ship carrying dead famine families in its [sic] hulls. Sunken in time along with so many of their untold stories. Memories forgotten, remembered only in the blood like a feeling is remembered, but not articulated, memories known only in the blood-feeling of so many Americans in the coming generations. Whisperings of great struggles, terrible sacrifices pitting family versus [sic] survival. Struggles and sacrifices that make life worth living for the happier children of much later days. Of all those Americans what proudly claim Irish blood.” 

There are parts of the book (particularly in the middle) where the writing is going well and he forgets to posture and lets the story tell itself, and these are the most successful and enjoyable parts.

Apart from language, the other problem is research. I will assume that he does have a good understanding of the American scene in the early 20th century. But some of his comments relating to Ireland seem anachronistic or inaccurate.  Somebody is described as being led away like an informer led away by two trench-coated rebels. OK, this is being described by someone years afterwards, but it relates to events before the Easter Rising. Trench-coated rebels killing informers was not a common image until the War of Independence in 1919-21.  The word psychopath did exist back then, but did it exist in ordinary Irish or Irish-American speech? I doubt it. And when Garrity describes his education, he talks about avoiding the schools dominated by the Catholic Church where they taught a rhyme about being ‘an English child’. This wasn’t the Catholic schools, it was the National school system. There was a Catholic system alongside it.  And there weren’t any hedge schools in the 1900s. And at a crucial moment in the story, it is revealed that his father and mother and aunts were all killed in the Easter Rising. All of them? Were many families completely wiped out in the Easter Rising? Not that I know of, especially not families from Co. Clare.

There is an embarrassingly Oirish bit about shanachies and pookas on page 37 which any self-respecting editor would have cut. One of the strangest things, to me, is the title. Diddicoy is Romany, and there are few Romanies in Ireland. Most travellers in Ireland are what are called Pavees or Tinkers (not a politically correct expression these days) who use a jargon based on Irish called Shelta. I have never heard diddicoy used in Ireland, and it has an odd sound here because of the obscene meanings of diddy in Irish dialect.

However, the worst piece of nonsense in the book is where a matriarch cuts the vein of a dead person, fills a cup, drinks some of the blood and passes it round to the rest of the family. There are sporadic references to blood-drinking in ancient Irish texts, usually in the context of madness. In addition, there is a claim in a work by Spenser (no friend to the Irish) that he witnessed a grieving relative drinking the blood of the deceased in the 16th century. The jury is still out on whether this was ever a real funerary custom which was widely followed. After all, Spenser had a vested interest in depicting the Irish as savages. Even if it once existed, the idea of a person drinking the blood of a corpse in the early 20th century is ridiculously fanciful. It is part of Loingsigh’s tendency to romanticise the Irish out of all recognition. They are gypsies obsessed with honour out of a Lorca poem, firebrand rebels, gangsters and rogues, half-pagan cannibals. None of them is a real, three-dimensional, believable individual.

In short, I would give this book 3 out of 5 (I said I was trying to be fair) but there are major problems with it. He is not without talent but If I were Eamon Loingsigh, I would sit down and write another book without any reference to Ireland at all in it, featuring people who speak the American dialects that he hears every day around him, and ask a friend at the end to make it fifty pages shorter by cutting out anything which sounds too literary or preachy with a red pen. If he follows that advice, we might just hear more of him. If not, I’m fairly certain we won’t.

An Bhfuil Gaeilge Agat?

One of the most startling aspects of the Cassidy Scandal is the number of people who have argued in favour of Cassidy while pretending to a knowledge of the Irish language. As we have said, a few Irish speakers who genuinely do speak Irish have supported Cassidy. In the majority of cases (Joe Lee, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir) there seems to be a social link between these people and Cassidy, so they cannot be regarded as impartial.

However, in many other cases, there is a tendency for Cassidy’s supporters to exaggerate the amount of Irish that they or others speak in order to further their ridiculous claims.

We have already looked at Cassidy himself. Cassidy, on his own admission, had absolutely no Irish at all until he was in his late fifties, when he inherited a pocket Irish dictionary and started leafing through it. Over the next few years, he plainly failed to acquire even the most basic knowledge of Irish grammar and pronunciation. His attempts to produce Irish phrases are embarrassingly bad.

Then we have others whom Cassidy claimed as fluent Irish speakers. For example, using his sockpuppet of Medbh, he claimed that Alexander Cockburn was a fluent Irish speaker. Cockburn was raised in the Cork town of Youghal, and no doubt some of his education would have had an Irish component. But he then went to an English public school and spent most of his adult life in America. If he was fluent in Irish, none of the obituaries mention the fact.

But the main group of people claiming a knowledge of Irish are those in reviews who claim that they speak the language and can therefore judge the merits of Cassidy’s ‘research’. Let’s take one example. On Goodreads, for example, we find comments like this:

I know Irish. I speak Irish. It’s always bothered me how so many Irish words sound like English words that are similar in sound. AND those English words have NOTHING to do with a similar English word like “Raspberries.” Now I can sleep at night. (The book makes so much more sense if you can speak “as Gaeilge.”

This is very badly written, (well, they would sound like English words that are similar in sound, wouldn’t they?) and is plainly nonsense as there is no Irish phrase which sounds like raspberries. Cassidy’s claim is pure invention and I don’t believe that this individual invented Cassidy’s absurd candidate (roiseadh búirthí) independently before reading the book. This also comes from someone who gives a list of their other books on Goodreads, which include things like Buntús Cainte, Book 1 (an elementary text for someone learning the language). Of course, this person may be a genius who acquired a fantastic knowledge of the language in the year and a half between reviewing Buntús Cainte and reviewing Cassidy’s book, though the fact that he seems to take Cassidy’s ideas seriously suggests to me that his knowledge of Irish is much more limited than he claims.

Others say in their reviews that they have been learning Irish for a year, or that they are students of the Irish language, and so are in a position to confirm Cassidy’s claims. The fact is, Irish is a very difficult language. It takes people years of study to become properly fluent in the language. After a year, and possessing a few dictionaries, people might be in a position to confirm that, for example, uath exists and dubh exists and roiseadh exists and búirtheach exists. It’s a long way from that to being able to make a reasoned judgement about whether phrases like uath dubh or roiseadh búirthí are likely to make sense to a genuine Irish speaker.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Irish is wonderful and I like the fact that people are keen to learn it. However, having studied a bit of Buntús Cainte really doesn’t qualify anybody as an expert in Gaelic linguistics. This addresses one of the fundamental problems of the whole Cassidy Scandal, the idea that there is no special skill involved in linguistics and that amateurs like Cassidy who don’t speak Irish or know the grammar or know how to pronounce the language have an equal right to pronounce on word origins with genuine experts who have genuine qualifications. Just occasionally, people who are amateurs manage to make major contributions to scholarship (people like Susan Hendrickson or Grote Reber). It’s not unheard of. The difference is that these people work with and through the consensus developed in their field to make a new contribution and they work very hard to do it. The other big difference is that these people are generally respected by established experts in their field.

That’s because genuinely gifted amateur scholars like this engage in discourse with experts and provide genuine evidence of their talents, unlike Cassidy who couldn’t even be bothered learning the basics of the Irish language before rushing into print with this ridiculous travesty of a book.