While I don’t intend to blog on a regular basis in 2016, I have decided to start the New Year with a post about a question which has been bothering me for some time. Basically, there are two attitudes towards Cassidy’s fake ‘research’ among those who support him. One is that Cassidy didn’t claim to be a serious academic researcher and that his book was just a bit of fun. The other, opposing view, is that Cassidy’s work is of immense value and significance and that it ‘throws down a gauntlet’ to the prevailing academic view of Irish influence on English.
Why is this issue worthy of a post? Well, firstly, there are some clowns like Donnacha DeLong and Michael Patrick MacDonald who actually try to maintain both of these contradictory views at once! According to DeLong, Cassidy’s work is simply a set of suggestions humbly offered to the public for their consideration with much of it clearly labelled as speculative, yet at the same time Cassidy was pushing at an imaginary ‘locked door’, which presumably means that the world of academia and the dictionary makers were the ones who locked the door to prevent Irish derivations from gaining access. Of course, the truth is, they’re quite willing to accept Irish derivations when words genuinely have Irish derivations, like shebeen and sourpuss. What they don’t do is accept lunatic off-the-wall derivations without any evidence, and why should they?
An even stupider statement of the same ilk is found on Twitter, where Cassidy’s chum(p) Michael Patrick MacDonald answered an intelligent critic who described Cassidy’s book as ‘academic fraud’ with the words: ‘Never was academic. Bigger than that. It raises serious questions about the racist OED lapdogs.’
So, it’s not academic. But it challenges the running dogs of English imperialism at the OED. Just not with facts or evidence, apparently. It’s bigger than that. (Have you been taking lessons from Dylan Avery, Michael?)
You see, if Cassidy’s work was just a joke, then it isn’t entertaining, or interesting, or worth reading, because it’s a very unfunny joke. Either Cassidy’s derivations are the Irish origins of English phrases (which they aren’t) or the literary quotes and stupid comments and anti-intellectual jibes in How The Irish Invented Slang are just a random collection of nothings thrown together by one man’s crazy obsession.
And if Cassidy’s book isn’t just a piece of ‘amusing’ fluff without any real substance, if it is a genuine challenge to the academics, then why doesn’t it play according to the rules of academia? I mean, academic methodology isn’t random, any more than the selection process for professors is random.
If Cassidy wanted to challenge the dictionary dudes, there were certain things he needed to do. The first and most indispensable of these things was to learn Irish. And in spite of Cassidy’s claims that places like New York were awash with Irish even in the twentieth century and that his grandparents spoke Donegal Irish (though none of them came from Donegal – his one Irish-born grandparent came from Monaghan), Cassidy seems to have never engaged with the Irish language in any manner, shape or form until he was in his late fifties. It is bizarre that a man who spoke no Irish thought it was OK to invent phrases by picking words out of the dictionary and throwing them together with a blithe disregard for how the language is actually used. However, Cassidy was a nut-job and that’s why it seemed perfectly fine to him.
Anyway, because he also discussed Scottish Gaelic, Cassidy would have needed a working knowledge of Gaelic too. Plus a knowledge of slang and non-standard English and of the sources available for those subjects.
Not only that, but in the world of linguistics, there are thousands of articles and books available on the subject of language contact. Just try putting in keywords like ‘language contact’ and ‘loanword’ on Google and see how many references come up. The fact is, whole books have been written about the way that vocabulary is borrowed when languages come into contact. For example, it will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever thought about it that nouns are borrowed most frequently and that this is a universal of language contact. (Rather than random bits of phrases like ‘n-each’!) A knowledge of this literature would also be an essential for writing an academic book about the influence of one language on another.
Is this reasonable? I hear some people say. Cassidy would have had to have devoted most of his life to acquiring the skills necessary to write the book. Yeah, like tens of thousands of people in academia, he would have had to have done more than scratch at the surface and blether. People do spend their whole lives acquiring a knowledge of a particular field. If someone wanted to write an academic work about quantum physics or pure mathematics, you would expect them to know everything about the basics of the subject and virtually everything about the particular topic they are specialising in before setting pen to paper. Most people think there is no special skill involved in linguistics (because most people know jack shit about linguistics) but believe me, you can’t walk into any field of academic study and make a valid contribution without either being a total genius (which Cassidy certainly wasn’t) or having done the necessary work first.
Which brings me to another thing Cassidy didn’t do. When anyone sets out to write a dissertation or a book or a long article in any field of academia, the first thing they do is a literature review. This doesn’t mean they read a novel and discuss it. It means that they find out what has been written about their area of study, examine it, look for strengths and weaknesses, assess the current state of knowledge in the field. They do this because you don’t want to spend three years working on reinventing the wheel. They also do this because true learning tends to progress incrementally on the basis of what other people have already done rather than through massive sudden paradigm-shifts like the one claimed for and by Cassidy. And they also do it because if you don’t do it, you could be repeating claims or ideas which have already been made by other people, leaving you open to allegations of plagiarism. Cassidy failed to do this, of course, and there are many, many claims made in Cassidy’s book which have already been made by others: longshoreman coming from loingseoir; uncle in ‘say uncle’ coming from anacal; shanty coming from seanteach; snazzy from snasach. In fact, anything even slightly believable in Cassidy’s book was already out there. Only the flagrant rubbish is original.
What else didn’t Cassidy do? Well, one obvious thing is to give equal and fair respect to all of the potential origins. To give an example we have had recently in connection with that pompous twit Sean Sweeney, there are many different claims for the origin of the slang term ‘so long’. Some suggest it comes from Arabic (or Urdu or Malay) salaam, or from shalom in Hebrew, or from slán in Irish, or from German adieu so lange or from Scandinavian equivalents like Adjø så lenge (where the so lange and så lenge mean ‘for now’). Rather than research the term thoroughly and give the full range of potential explanations, Cassidy applies a racist and ad hominem approach. Basically, according to Cassidy, all non-Irish non-Catholic English-speaking lexicographers are liars and any explanation which does not involve an Irish origin should be airbrushed out of the record. (Including Terence Dolan’s 2004 Dictionary of Hiberno-English, which mentions the slán theory but dismisses it as improbable.)
However, there is an even more fundamental flaw in Cassidy’s methodology. In one unintentionally funny comment on a review of the book, Donnacha DeLong says that ‘This is how research in this area happens, someone speculates and then others investigate and either verify or falsify what they’ve done.’ Really? That’s how it happens? So, I suggest that twerk comes from the Irish ‘tairg’ meaning ‘offer, proffer, move, put forward, express readiness to’ and then I just sit around waiting for someone else to point out that twerk originates in the southern USA in the last twenty years and that it is far more likely to be somehow related to words like ‘work’ and/or ‘twitch’ and that tairg basically means offer and doesn’t sound like twerk anyway? So, Donnacha, you think academic linguists just sit around with an empty schedule and a belly full of swan waiting for other people to do their job for them? The fact is, Cassidy and only Cassidy was responsible for the shite he wrote. It was his job, as it’s the job of every academic (even a fake one like Cassidy), to sift the bollocks from the bullseyes and write something which is a reasonable stab at the truth before anyone else even gets a sniff of the manuscript.
Cassidy failed to do what needed to be done, because he was incompetent, crazy as a soup sandwich, lazy as a piper’s little finger, stupid as a kish of brogues, useless, totally unqualified and completely lacking in any of the skills necessary to be an academic of any kind.
Hopefully my next post will be on my Liebster Award nominations and some information about my favourite subject – me!