Festive Fun – The Roast of Daniel Cassidy

At this festive time of year, it’s customary to roast a turkey, so I thought it would be seasonal to roast a certain turkey of a book written by the late, not-so-great ‘Professor’ Daniel Cassidy, with all the trimmings. So, here is a selection of some of the criticisms made of Daniel Cassidy since his ridiculous book was first published. Many of them have already featured on this blog but many of them are new here. Enjoy!

“Etymologies from Cassidy’s How the Irish Invented Slang are widely duplicated across the internet. However, many of Cassidy’s definitions have been shown to be wishful thinking or completely made up. Cassidy was not able to speak Irish himself and was unfamiliar with the grammatical rules. He apparently found words in Irish dictionaries that he thought had a similar pronunciation to English words or phrases with a vaguely connected meaning. He then claimed these English words to have an Irish origin even when the English word already had a well-established etymology.” – Wikipedia

“… it’s a white washing of white America’s real status in the U.S. My opinion of the essays of Daniel Cassidy’s that have appeared on Counterpunch is that they’re pseudo-scientific amateur attempts to prove that gaelic was behind things like African American slang, something that should rightly go to African Americans themselves and not to the Irish. If they were convincing essays I wouldn’t say that, but they appear to be on the level of the guy who’s trying to prove that Magyar, the language of the Hungarians, was the language of Atlantis.

Amazingly, some dude accused me of being racist towards Irish people for criticizing Cassidy.” – Lost Highway Times, John Madziarczyk.

“Suppose you hold some crank theory for which there is no evidence but which is likely to appeal to some specific audience.  Suppose, for instance, that you believe that Jesus and all of his apostles were gay, an idea that might appeal to some gay people (not me, but tastes and opinions differ).  You then write a book of stories detailing the hot hot man-man sexual exploits of these men, keying each story to a biblical passage.  You manage to get it published.  Does the New York Times then write an enthusiastic feature story about you and your work?  Do you win an American Book Award  — “the purpose of the awards is to acknowledge the excellence and multicultural diversity of American writing” — for non-fiction? It sounds unlikely, doesn’t it?  But Daniel Cassidy has managed something similar with his book How the Irish Invented Slang (CounterPunch/AK Press, 2007), which maintains that great chunks of English slang came from Irish (an idea that is likely to appeal to some English-speaking people of Irish descent), supplying for each slang expression a (putative) Irish expression that resembles it in pronunciation or spelling.  And now the NYT has (gullibly) celebrated Cassidy and his preposterous book, and the book has (alas) gotten a 2007 American Book Award for non-fiction.” – Arnold Zwicky, Language Log

“Breandan a chara, I organised an event where Daniel spoke a good few years back but was shocked to learn that he had made no effort whatsoever to learn the Irish language prior to writing this book. He had no grasp of pronunciation as Gaeilge at all. It could be an interesting PhD topic for someone to study but the book itself lacks real evidence. When I met him, he looked at my name tag and said “I’m not even going to try and pronounce that name” which I thought odd for an academic involved with Irish/English language research.” – Elaine Ní Bhraonáin, Comment on IrishCentral

“Evidently, there’s one born every minute. Cassidy’s book was a work of pure fiction. Essentially, what he did was go through an Irish dictionary (containing words that, as one reader below has posted, he neither understood nor could even be bothered to learn how to pronounce), and when he saw something that looked like an English slang word, he decided that it was the root of that word. Most of the entries in his book divide into two categories: (i) those for which there is no evidence whatsoever, and (ii) those for which there is evidence, and the evidence proves Cassidy wrong.

What’s more worrying is that Irish Central is reprinting this article in 2014, years after Cassidy’s work was comprehensively demolished. To have believed Cassidy in the early days after his book was published would just have been naive and sloppy, but to still believe him now, years after he was exposed as a fraud, is pathetic. It makes this website look like a joke. I don’t think it IS a joke, most of the time, but articles like this just make it seem like Irish Central is run by a bunch of amateurs.”  – Jim Clarke, comment on IrishCentral

“I have to say that the reception this book has been given shocks me. Why do respectable academics put their reputations on the line to defend something which is so sloppy and poorly-researched? Other people react as if ethnic pride entitles you to ignore the truth. The level of some of the comments I have read on different websites reminds me of the Columbus Day episode of the Sopranos. To those who will take umbrage at what I’m saying and regard me as a WASP/revisionist/communist/fascist/self-hating Gael/eejit, I just have one suggestion. Why don’t you look up buanchumadh on Google. Then look up some of the real Irish expressions used by Irish speakers to mean nonsense – seafóid, raiméis, amaidí. You will notice that there are many entries for buanchumadh but all of them – ALL OF THEM – are related to Daniel Cassidy. This is not the case with seafóid, raiméis and amaidí – they get lots of hits from lots of sources. This proves that those words are used by Irish speakers, while buanchumadh was invented by Cassidy.” – Seán, comment on Amazon.com

 

“Cassidy wrote this car-crash of a book without doing any research.  He based his conclusions on hunches and whenever he found an Irish word or phrase that suited his theory, he crow-barred it into shape until it fit.

This was very shoddy work by Cassidy, and even shoddier work by Brendan Keane for being naive enough to swallow this sort of buinneach.” – BockTheRobber, comment on IrishCentral.

 

“It’s fairly obvious Cassidy has farmed the fertile fields of his own imagination for this book. I am disinclined to believe he has any knowledge of Irish, other than he may have seen a road sign outside of Dingle on a foggy day in November. His etymology is laughably inaccurate, his leaps of logic (if they can be dignified as such) are appalling. Irish-Americans will probably love this book, as it allows a certain amount of ego-stroke, but anyone who has ever picked up an actual Irish language introduction book- or pamphlet, or answer sheet- will find the best use of this book is as a table-leg prop, or possibly an excellent source of kindling in emergencies.” – Kyle Lerfald, comment on Amazon.com

“While the conceit may be flattering to those of us with Irish ancestry, in reality this book provides very little factual linguistic information. The author is not a trained linguist, and seems to base his assertions on the mere fact that some words sound similar. For instance, using the level of rigor Cassidy uses, one might say that we say “hi” on meeting because we are wishing the other person the blessings of heaven (“from on high”). That’s the kind of reasoning in this book, and it is, at best, a good source of laughter at the author’s expense.” – C. Vermeers, comment on Amazon.com

“Tá mórchuid na sanas sin gan aon bhunús, agus an tromlach acu sin mícheart go cinnte! Seafóid gan amhras, ce go bhfuil roinnt bheag acu inchreidte. (Most of the etymologies are unfounded, and the majority of those are certainly wrong. Undoubtedly nonsense, though a small proportion of them are believable)”  Eoin, comment on Beo.ie

“While I don’t dispute the other reviewers’ claims that this is an entertaining read, unfortunately the information in it is simply amateurish and almost entirely incorrect. The problem is that the author is not using academic standards of comparative linguistics and has merely shopped around hoping to find Irish words that sound similar (or are spelled similarly) to English slang that he can just sloppily declare as the origin, without any sort of actual historical proof. In fact, most of the words he has chosen to feature already have been traced linguistically to well-proven origins that simply cannot be disputed… and in fact the author does not even try, he just ignores them.” – D.Norder, comment on Amazon.

“The weakness of his research and in his methodology is apparent to anyone with two eyes and a minute to crack open the book. That’s what makes this surprisingly positive profile in The New York Times so frustrating. A minimal amount of effort would have revealed to the writer than Cassidy’s arguments are without merit, at best the result of sloppiness, at worst a con job.” – Michael Patrick Brady on his blog.

“I really am reading this, it’s just kind of slow going… Hahahah, who am I kidding: I am never going to finish this book. I am having a hard time buying the premise.” –  Sara, comment on Goodreads.

“Cassidy launched this book at Oideas Gael in Gleann Cholm Cille this summer. He’s fun to listen to, talks nineteen to the dozen like only a native New Yorker can, and how can you not like someone who can tell a five minute anecdote that goes from a job at the New York Times to draft-dodging in Canada to writing a screenplay for Francis Ford Coppola without drawing breath, but when he explained his theory he was met with polite smiles. The book is great crack, but should be filed under fiction. Cassidy is clueless about Irish pronunciation, but that doesn’t stop him violently shoehorning every unusual word in American English into his theory, even those with established origins – mostly words that have their roots firmly planted in Afro-American culture, and some that he blatantly nicked from the Italians. Cassidy spent most of the time in the pub when I met him being corrected on his Irish pronunciation, and insisting after the sounds had changed beyond recognition that they could still be mapped on to his English candidates. It didn’t help matters that the locals noticed that when he did get something right, his pronunciation had a notable Munster bias. By the end of the night, we were making up words to give him for the second edition. Good crack, but don’t take it seriously.” Anonymous, quoted by Grant Barrett on wordorigins.org.

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