Captain Grammar Pants

In the posts on this site, I have been unkind about a fair number of people. I have lambasted Cassidy himself, along with the numerous cronies who have boosted his reputation and misled people into thinking he was a credible scholar. Along the way, I have also had a go at others, for example, people who claim that the British banned the Irish language. (I object to people claiming this for two reasons: 1. it isn’t true 2. it gives the impression that Irish was some hidden argot whispered in secret, which distorts the truth that the language was still hugely significant in Ireland quite late on in history and therefore provides ammunition for the enemies of the Irish language, north and south, who claim that it barely made it out of the Middle Ages before becoming marginalised and irrelevant.)

Because of these unkind words, some people might regard me as a bit of a bully. I don’t see it that way. As I have explained before, the Internet is a place which makes it possible for people to express all kinds of opinions, true, false, benign or repugnant. We shouldn’t suppress opinions but people should be prepared to be held to account for the rubbish they spout. If you don’t want to be criticised, don’t put your stupidities in a public place where people like me can find them!

Now, I’m about to be unkind again. Recently, I came across a blog by a person calling herself Captain Grammar Pants. The name of the blog and the picture of its author wearing a captain’s hat would be enough to put me off on their own.

You see, I have a love/hate relationship with grammar and usage sites. Some of them are excellent guides to usage. (Jeremy Butterfield’s blog, for example.) Others confirm my prejudice that many grammar pedants are simply anally retentive bores who use shibboleths of marginal relevance as a stick to beat people who are already socially disadvantaged. Captain GP is somewhere between the two camps – way too irrationally pernickety for my tastes but not one of the morons who insist that a prestigious institution is one which practices illusion and deception or that you can only evacuate buildings and not people from buildings (Don’t ask – just take it from me that cranks like this exist!)

Apparently, her real name is Sean Williams and she teaches ethnomusicology at Evergreen State. The reason why she merits a mention here is that in 2006-7, she was teaching a number of Cassidy’s stupid claims at that university and in 2010, she published a book on Irish traditional music which also reiterates a number of Cassidy’s completely ludicrous derivations. And in September 2014, on CGP, she published the following:

Here are some words we English speakers received from the Irish language: ballyhoo, baloney, blather, buddy, clamour, coney, crony, cuddle, dig, dude, fluke, galore, gimmick, glom, hobo, kibosh, longshoreman, malarkey, moolah, muck, phoney, scam, shanty, slogan, slugger, smack, smear, smithereens, snazzy, snoot, so long, swank, wallop, whiskey, and yacking. And that’s just SOME of them! I also particularly like the fact that with galore, we have not just the word, but also the accompanying syntax. It’s never “galore chocolate”; it’s “chocolate galore.” I LIKE the idea of chocolate galore.

Now, I have already made it abundantly clear that I have little sympathy for people who promote this flim-flam. These are false etymologies derived from Cassidy’s work (with one or two thrown in from Todd’s Green English). Only a handful of the words above (galore, phoney, slogan, smithereens, whiskey and possibly dig and snazzy) are genuinely of Irish origin. I have no idea why any intelligent person would republish this dross years after it was revealed to be a fraud. I note that Williams was born in California but it’s a big state and it doesn’t necessarily mean that she is one of the Cronies. The strangest thing about it is that she co-wrote a book on sean-nós singing recently with Dr Lillis Ó Laoire, who has excellent Irish. Why she didn’t ask him his opinion is a mystery. I don’t want to put words in Ó Laoire’s mouth, but I would be shocked if he endorsed rubbish like Cassidy’s book.

I mentioned before that I do look at English grammar and usage sites quite often and I am not above using a little shibboleth or test of my own to determine whether I agree with the author or not, the test of whether alright is a word in its own right distinct from ‘all right’. I have always written alright in some circumstances. It seems to me perfectly logical that, on the analogy of already/all ready and altogether/all together, it is perfectly reasonable to make a distinction between Those answers were alright and Those answers were all right. As Jeremy Butterfield says in the Oxford A-Z of English Usage (it might seem a bizarre coincidence that one of the first corroborating comments I found on Google came from Jeremy, who has commented here but if you think about it, this particular corner of cyberspace is probably quite small):

There is no logical reason for insisting that alright is incorrect and should always be written as all right, when other single-word forms such as altogether have long been accepted.

What does Sean Williams say? According to her, alright is all wrong. But then according to her, crony comes from comh-róghna (sic) and baloney from béal ónna and longshoreman from loingseoir etc. so her opinions on language are clearly a mixture of ludicrous pseudo-Irish etymology and irrational prescriptivism, two things which I really despise.

However, it is doubly important for me to criticise Sean Williams for one very simple reason. Most of the people who support Daniel Cassidy’s claims on line are so preternaturally stupid that they couldn’t find their own arses with a hot iron. Williams has a doctorate, some knowledge of Irish (though not enough to know that go leor can precede nouns as well as coming after them in Irish!) and a lot of credibility. Naming and shaming some of the dunderheads who support Cassidy hardly seems worth it. In the case of an academic and language blogger who blithely regurgitates all the nonsense Cassidy invented, it seems more than justified. (In fairness, she has since recanted and now no longer accepts Cassidy’s lies. I thought of removing or altering the articles which criticise her but she was remiss in not checking the facts in the first place, even though she has had the uncommon decency to make a public retraction.)

8 thoughts on “Captain Grammar Pants

  1. DebunkerOfCassidy Post author

    Another significant point here is that all of this nonsense is completely uncredited. She never mentions Cassidy anywhere. Of course, if any of this stuff were actually true, there would be no way of knowing that this was plagiarism. When you copy your sums off the stupidest kid in the class, it’s obvious that you’ve cheated!

  2. DebunkerOfCassidy Post author

    Well Lordy! Does this mean you are the first of Cassidy’s supporters to actually hold your hands up and say “I got it badly wrong?” If so, then I for one am prepared to forgive and forget and rejoice at the return of Iníon na Míchomhairle but I think at the very least you should make it plain to the world that swank, yacking, crony, grumble and baloney are about as Irish as borsht or gyoza. 🙂

    1. Sean Williams

      Yes. I wrote those words awhile back and have since changed my mind about their validity. Most academics are pretty flexible and able to move beyond what they have written in the past. My very first articles in the 1980s (not about this, but about other things) were just plain uninformed. We all grow.

      1. DebunkerOfCassidy Post author

        Indeed, we grow and learn, if we continually strive to remove error and misinformation is not allowed to drive out information.
        At the risk of being gratuitously prescriptive, shouldn’t that be ‘a while back?’

      2. Sean Williams

        Nope! 🙂 You need to separate them only when you use a preposition first, as in “for a while” or “in a while.” I wrote those words awhile back.

  3. DebunkerOfCassidy Post author

    Not according to The Grammarist:

    Awhile is an adverb meaning for a while, and it only works where it would bear replacement with that three-word phrase. Where for a while wouldn’t work in its place, it is probably not an adverb, so it should be two words: a while.

    For instance, in the sentence, “Guests waited awhile for food,” awhile is one word because it is an adverb modifying the verb waited (note also that for a while would work in its place). In the sentences, “We have a while left to wait and, “I saw her a while ago,” a while is two words because while functions as a noun.

    And my online colleague Jeremy Butterfield is very ambivalent about this as well. He goes into the matter in great detail in his blog. Do you see why I don’t like prescriptivism? At the end of the day, 90% of it is pet peeves and random prejudices elevated to the status of immutable laws.


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