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.

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2 thoughts on “A Comparison With Yiddish

  1. Trinity

    Very interesting! Perhaps I can shed some light on Scalawag (also scallawag): It’s a Scottish alteration of Scalloway, one of the Shetland islands; it originally had the sense of runt or small, as in Shetland ponies (its original sense had a negative or worthless connotation – not the kind of work horse you’d purchase for farming). Not far off is the Scottish word Scallag, meaning farm servant, or rustic. Hence, from these origins it wasn’t a far jump to the connotation of worthless or disreputable fellow…

    Reply
    1. Debunker Post author

      Hi! Thanks very much for that. I think the Scalloway one is a good contender. I have been doing a little further research and it seems that there are other candidates. Some people have suggested that there is an Afrikaans word resembling scally and others say that it is from a family called the Scallies (like the name Hoolaghan apparently giving rise to Hooligan). Scallag is a bit similar but the extra syllable worries me. Scallag is a Gaelic version of the Irish scológ, which means a farmer. (Originally a monastic farmer, hence the etymological link to schools.) And the Irish word scolla does fit the bill quite well in terms of meaning – it describes a worthless person or animal. However, as I’ve said, the form of the word makes it very unlikely that it’s originally Irish. Nearly all nouns ending in -a like this are borrowings: pota, cóta, hata, nóta, liosta, mata, cárta etc.

      The fact is, we really don’t know, and we probably never will. One of Cassidy’s most enthusiastic and least rational defenders has criticised the scholars in their ivory towers for failing to up their productivity of etymologies: “Perhaps Cassidy overreached on some, but the fact remains most of the Anglophilic dictionaries list the etymology of words he addresses as “unknown”, an amazing deficit, despite their slew of researchers and experts to trace the origins. Talking about “shit”.” Bizarre, isn’t it, the idea that if the academics just tried harder they would be able to find the etymology of a lot more words, just like Daniel Cassidy did! Of course, the real world doesn’t work like that, and until someone comes up with an amazing quantum oracle which can resolve all questions, many things will have to remain unknown indefinitely!

      Reply

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