Monthly Archives: January 2015

More on Sean Sweeney

I found another piece online from Sean Sweeney, who is apparently some kind of big wheel (mar dhea) in New York local politics. Sweeney obviously thinks that Cassidy was right, though he doesn’t have a great record in picking reliable friends and allies. His close ally in SoHo, Don MacPherson, is currently serving a long sentence for a massive mortgage fraud. Sweeney was apparently convinced of MacPherson’s innocence ( but that didn’t stop MacPherson from pleading guilty at the trial!

Anyway, back to Sweeney’s irrational and half-baked defence of Cassidy’s absurd book. After failing to provide any evidence for his crackpot friend’s theories when challenged to do so and failing to convince the administrators on Wikipedia that he had anything worthwhile to say about Cassidy’s lying dreckfest, Sean Sweeney then decided to post his irresponsible nonsense on a discussion on the website of Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. An individual called Sean Mc Shee had posted on January 30, 2013, about the phrase ‘so long’.

I’ve wondered if it derived from the Gaelic “slan” – sometimes used as a goodbye – it sounds like it could be an anglicized spelling of a word heard orally. And if first appears right after the potato famine.

This is a perfectly reasonable comment and there is nothing wrong with wondering or asking the question. The answer which Sweeney gave was much less reasonable. On June 17, 2014, he posted the following reply:

Actually, it does. Unfortunately, because it originated as street slang, dictionaries are loathe to list it and just add “origin unknown”, something they do with many US slang words of Irish origin. I urge you to read Daniel Cassidy’s “How the Irish Invented Slang” to learn more.

The same old rubbish. Not ‘it might do’ or ‘it’s possible’. The expression must come from Irish, because Sweeney says so and Sweeney knows it all! The truth, of course, is very different. It always is with Sean Sweeney! And of course, there’s no word of warning about Cassidy’s book containing nonsense, in spite of the fact that he admitted as much in his comments here. (“Some of Cassidy’s derivations may be nonsense …”)

For those who don’t share Sweeney’s delusional belief in his own omniscience and want to learn the real facts about the possible origins of the phrase ‘so long’, I suggest you follow these links:

The truth is, slán is only one of a number of possible derivations, some of which are considerably more credible than the Irish one. And what evidence does Sweeney have for the claim that the dictionaries ignored it because it originated as street slang? None whatsoever, of course! The real reason why they say that its origin is unknown is because there are a number of different possible origins and there is no way of knowing which is correct. But if you’re as important as Sean Sweeney thinks he is, you don’t have to bother with boring details like facts. You don’t have to defer to the opinions of experts in the field who really know what they’re talking about! Whatever you say instantly becomes the truth, and of course any rubbish books produced by your mates also instantly become the truth as well!

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work with statements given in a police station or a court of law … Nach mór an trua é sin ach nach beag an t-iontas!

A Cold Snap

We have recently had something of a cold snap here in Ireland, though the ‘worst winter in living memory’ promised by the Express or Mail or whichever English rag it was has failed to materialise, just as it fails to materialise almost every winter. However, the cold snap got me thinking about that word snap. I said back in July 2013 in the post titled Did Cassidy ever get it right? that I thought there was some chance the word snap as in a cold snap comes from Irish, though I said I wasn’t sure.

So, does snap come from Irish? Well, there is no doubt that snap is used in this way in Irish. Dinneen’s Irish dictionary gives various meanings for snab, including a snap, an end or fragment, a spell or turn (cf. “a cold snap”). The book also gives snap with the meaning “a snapping, a sudden assault or seizure.”

The word snap is also found with the sense of a cold spell of weather in English. Its first recorded use in this sense is in the 1740s.

So, which is it? An English word borrowed into Irish or an Irish word borrowed into English?

The evidence is very clearly in favour of this being an English word in Irish for a number of reasons. Firstly, Ireland was subject to English control for hundreds of years and there are many English borrowings in Irish but relatively few Irish borrowings in English, so the balance of probabilities is in favour of an English origin. There is no evidence for the existence of the word snap in Irish before the modern era. (You can check this on eDIL.) Furthermore, snap is recorded in the sense of a snap or sudden bite from the 15th century, and it has ancient cognates in other Germanic languages. It is related to Germanic words like snout.

Once again, Cassidy got it badly wrong about this word.

A trout in the milk

As I have stated over and over again here, Cassidy made no valid contribution to scholarship. His idea of research was to find a word or phrase in English, ignore any origins which had been suggested (or even proven) by mainstream scholarship, and construct his own ‘source’ by combining random bits of Irish he found in a dictionary and didn’t even know how to pronounce. To cover his worthless arse, he constructed a tissue of lies about a conspiracy by Anglophile linguists who were trying to cover up the extent of Irish influence on English, a tissue of lies which has resulted in any individual who criticises Cassidy on linguistic grounds being immediately attacked by trolls for being anti-Irish and a stooge of some fictional cabal of ‘dictionary dudes’.  The fact is, of course, that Cassidy’s supporters are the unwitting stooges of a con-man who was completely ignorant of every aspect of Irish culture.

There are probably about seventy or eighty words in the English dictionaries which derive from Irish, perhaps a few more. A re-evaluation of the Irish influence on English might produce a handful of other candidates but it would only be a handful. The undeniable fact is that Irish had relatively little influence on the vocabulary of English.

Does this mean that Irish had no influence at all on English? Not necessarily.

There are a handful of phrases in English, typically Americanisms, which have clear parallels in Irish. One of them is ‘kiss my arse’. Everyone knows the phrase póg mo thóin in Irish. Of course, as an expression of contempt, it is easily understood, and it may have been found in other languages, such as Yiddish or Italian, but if someone can establish that there is no evidence for its existence in English or any other candidate language apart from Irish before the recent period, that’s a good indication that this is a phrase derived from Irish.

Another one which stands out is the phrase ‘to hit the road’. An bóthar a bhualadh (to hit the road) is a common idiom in Irish.

Yet another common one is ‘I wouldn’t put it past him.’ This is a literal translation of the Irish phrase Ní chuirfinn thairis é. If scholars can prove that this is an Americanism which wasn’t in English English a few hundred years ago, then the Irish origin becomes likely.

There is another one which I have often wondered about, the phrase ‘a trout in the milk’. This is not a common phrase, but it was used by Henry Thoreau – ‘Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, like when you find a trout in the milk.’  In Irish, an breac sa bhainne (the trout in the milk) is a common phrase meaning the fly in the ointment, the thing that spoils something. Thoreau used it differently and it is believed to be a reference to the watering of milk by dairymen, so it could be a pure coincidence, but it could also be that he had heard the phrase somewhere and liked the sound of it.

I suspect that an analysis of idioms and expressions found in the speech of American urban communities would show quite a few of these calques (a word-for-word translation from one language to another) as they are known in linguistic circles. It would be interesting to see a proper study of the influence of Irish on American speech, done by a genuine scholar and not by an incompetent flake like Cassidy.



Daniel Cassidy and Martin Hamilton

One of the strangest things about the Cassidy Scandal is the fact that someone as stupid, untalented and underqualified as Cassidy was able to get a professorship in an academic institution. However, a quick look at that academic institution, New College of California, is sufficient to show that it was unlike any other centre of learning in the western world.

Founded in 1971 by a paedophile Jesuit, Father John Leary, who was fleeing a scandal in Gonzaga involving, amongst other things, an assault on a 12 year old boy, New College quickly became a centre for radical, left-leaning Catholics. After Leary’s death, control passed to Martin Hamilton, whose name is in third place in the Acknowledgements in Cassidy’s daft book, after Peter Quinn and Cassidy’s brother Michael. Throughout its history, New College had very poor governance and was frequently in trouble with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

I found this comment on a blog by a poet who taught in the College, Adam Cornford:

“NCOC programs operated as separate fiefdoms in a kind of academic feudalism with Hamilton as king. He doled out money and set salaries in a completely arbitrary way, altered budgets without notice, created entire new programs with little or no process, and spent college money on pet projects (like the Roxie cinema) that were quixotic at best. He rewarded two categories of faculty: those who sucked up to him, and those he feared. He repeatedly and persistently undermined the governance structures set up in advance of each WASC accreditation visit by disempowering or simply ignoring them, despite the fact that WASC had repeatedly criticized NCOC for lacking such governance. The patronage system and wild inequality in treatment of programs predictably combined with the lack of authentic academic governance to create suspicion and resentment between programs. It’s pretty clear at this distance that this was deliberate divide-and-rule.

Likewise, Hamilton repeatedly appointed totally unqualified people he just happened to like to two of the most important positions in the College: Registrar and Development Director. NC only had one properly credentialed Registrar in its history, and the last two or three were so bad that when the US Dept of Ed came in to do an audit, they found that academic records were a complete shambles (which accords with my personal experience). Hamilton resisted even having a Development office for many years, preferring to schmooze small gifts out of a few acquaintances he presumably felt were no threat to his power. The next-to-last “Development Director” was a very nice jazz musician who confessed freely that he had absolutely no fundraising experience. In general, there was a culture of cronyism and complete lack of accountability in the administration, again commented on by WASC in repeated visiting team reports and Commission proceedings.”

I wonder who the ‘nice jazz musician’ was? Could this be Cassidy? Whether it was or not, it is quite clear that this atmosphere of cronyism and lack of governance was a situation entirely suited to a silver-tongued jackass like Cassidy, who was able to schmooze his way into a professorship in 1995 without proper qualifications, publications or skills. In 2007, WASC finally pulled the plug on New College and Cassidy was left unemployed.

However, the final days of New College were marked by a much bigger scandal. The full details can be found here: For those who can’t be bothered following the link, here is a thumbnail sketch. A young Nepalese man called Niroula claimed to be a relative of the Nepalese royal family. He conned Martin Hamilton into thinking that he would eventually bail out the college with a million dollar donation, if Hamilton would just allow him to continue his studies. Meanwhile, Niroula was conning a Japanese woman who he pretended to be in love with out of her life savings (in spite of the fact that he was gay) and his activities eventually even led to the murder of a lonely old man with money. Along the way, there were allegations that Hamilton gave him fake grades, though Hamilton denies that he signed the papers.

Whatever happened, this scandal was one of the factors which finally convinced the authorities to close New College down. Niroula is currently serving a life sentence for his crimes. Amazing though it may seem, there was actually an even bigger con-man on the campus of New College during its last days than ‘Professor’ Daniel Cassidy.

Saoirse cainte

Bhí mé ag amharc ar na tuairiscí ar an ár a rinneadh sa Fhrainc. Tá trua an domhain agam do dhuine ar bith a fuair bás nó a gortaíodh nó a chaill gaol nó cara sna heachtraí tragóideacha seo.

Cé go mbíonn an chuid is mó de na tuairiscí ag díriú ar an fhoréigean, tá cuid de na tuairiscí ag déileáil le ceist chonspóideach na saoirse cainte agus teorainneacha na saoirse sin.

Creidim go raibh an ceart ag foireann Charlie Hebdo an t-ábhar sin a fhoilsiú. B’fhéidir go raibh cuid de na rudaí a d’fhoilsigh siad rud beag leanbaí, dar liom, agus tuigim do na Moslamaigh sin a shíl go raibh an t-ábhar sin maslach, ach is é bun agus barr an scéil go bhfuil an tsaoirse cainte thar a bheith tábhachtach. Tá sí tábhachtach do Mhoslamaigh, do Chríostaithe, d’aindiachaithe. Tá sí tábhachtach do gach duine, fiú dóibh siúd nach n-aithníonn an tábhacht sin, mar bíonn an cine daonna ag insint bréag agus ag cur na fírinne as a riocht, agus níl dóigh ar bith ann leis an fhírinne a dhearbhú ach díospóireacht a dhéanamh agus rudaí a phlé go saor.

Má chuireann sin olc ar dhaoine áirithe, bhal, is mór an trua sin. Gan sin, is é a bhíonn againn ná ceartchreideamh dolúbtha nach ndéanann freastal mar is ceart ar riachtanais an duine, agus a fhágann i ndroch-chás é.

Ní chreidim gur cheart clóphreasanna a bhriseadh, nó daoine a scríobhann drochleabhair a scaoileadh nó iad a chur sa phríosún. Is cacamas ceart é leabhar Cassidy ach tá ceart ag daoine é a léamh agus creidiúint ann. Agus tá dualgas ormsa é a cháineadh. Is ceart í saoirse cainte, ach is pribhléid í fosta, agus pribhléid nach bhfuil ag a lán daoine. Níor chóir dúinn neamhshuim a dhéanamh di ná an ceart sin a chur amú ar theoiricí craiceáilte agus ar bhréaga.

Na bunúsaithe a mharaigh foireann Charlie Hebdo agus an póilín cróga Moslamach Ahmed Merabet, ní chreideann siadsan i gcearta an duine, ná i saoirse cainte, agus ní chreideann siad gur chóir dóibh na rudaí a gcreideann siad iontu a bhunú ar fhianaise. Ní hamhlaidh domsa. Creidim i saoirse cainte, agus creidim go bhfuil freagracht orainn í a chosaint.

Is mise Charlie.

Is mise Ahmed.

Free speech

I have been watching the coverage of the atrocities in France. I feel deeply sorry for everyone who has died or been injured or lost a loved one or friend as a result of these tragic events.

While most reports focus on the violence, some of the news coverage has also dealt with the vexed question of free speech and how far it should go. I believe that the people at Charlie Hebdo had a right to publish what they did. I may have found some of what they published puerile, and I can understand the attitude of some Muslims who feel that this material was insulting, but the bottom line is that freedom of speech is important. It is important to Muslims, to Christians, to atheists. It is important to everyone, whether they recognise the fact or not, because human beings lie and distort the truth, and the only way to establish what the truth is is by debating and discussing – freely. If this offends or annoys some people, then that’s too bad. Without that, you end up with rigid orthodoxies which don’t reflect people’s needs and end up making them unhappy.

So, I don’t believe in smashing presses, or shooting people who write bad books or putting them in jail. Cassidy’s book is rubbish but people have a right to read it and believe in it, just as I have a duty to criticise it. Freedom of speech is a right, but it’s also a privilege which many people in the world don’t enjoy. We shouldn’t take it for granted or waste it on crank theories and lies.

The fundamentalists who shot the staff at Charlie Hebdo and the brave Muslim policeman Ahmed Merabet don’t believe in human rights, or freedom of speech, or basing their beliefs on evidence.

I do. I believe in the right of freedom of speech, and the responsibility to defend it.

Je suis Charlie. Je suis Ahmed.