The Illusion of Balance

Most of us when faced with a lying, psychopathic cretin like Cassidy would be keen to ensure that he is treated with the contempt he deserves. There are many people who do things differently, who follow a path of gentle cultural relativism where nothing is ever entirely wrong and every claim and belief is to be treated with equal kindness, however ridiculous. Yeah, it’s a wonderful world …

For example, when American poet Terence Winch reviewed Daniel Cassidy’s book, he put in a few negatives to make the thing look balanced, but in fact, the overall effect is to validate and promote Cassidy’s vile, lying book.

But cold shoulders awaited him among some linguists and etymologists who found him lacking in scholarly rigor and authority. Grant Barrett, in particular, presented the most convincing attacks on Cassidy’s work. The debate seems to continue, with some scholars clearly threatened by an amateur barging into their domain with an exciting new insight that none of the experts had ever noticed. It seems to me, however, that Cassidy has presented a wonderful opening for trained scholars to explore, if they could get over their anger at being scooped (from scuab, to snatch away).

Insights like Cassidy’s are creative breakthroughs whose logical structures are filled in later. Last year, in this space, I discussed “eureka moments” and “tacit knowledge” in my post on Elizabeth Sewell. Cassidy’s book is one of those eureka moments that leap beyond the ordinary to give us a new understanding of the subject at hand.

That’s fine, if the book is worthwhile and well researched and correct. If the book is a pile of crud, which How The Irish Invented Slang is, then Cassidy’s theory is not ‘an exciting new insight’ and this ‘balance’ is an illusion. What is really being done is a subtle whitewash, where a couple of token criticisms make the generally positive tone of the review seem reasoned and fair.

Of course, this fake balance is predicated on the notion that all theories are created equal, that nothing can be proven, and that the evidential basis for a claim is irrelevant. I don’t believe this and I really don’t think anyone else should believe it. Winch claims that scoop in journalism comes from Irish scuab. Yet the word scoop meaning something used to pick something up dates back to the Middle Ages in English, and scuab means a brush or broom and is therefore less appropriate than the long-established English word. Winch also mentions dude coming from Irish dúid, meaning 1. Stump. 2. (a) Stumpy object, protuberant part; (short) horn, (cropped) ear, tail. (b) Short-stemmed (clay) pipe. 3. (Craned) neck, throat. 4. (a) Stumpy person. (b) Mopish, shy person; numbskull, but ignores the other claims, that it comes from Dudenkopf in German meaning a dandified idiot, or from Yankee Doodle, who ‘stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni.’ (The original meaning of dood is basically a fashion-victim.) He also repeats the absurd Cassidy claim that do-thóigthe means ‘a sickly, hard-to-feed calf.’ A look at any Irish dictionary is enough to disprove that one. And then he finishes with béal ónna for baloney. Yet again, there’s no evidence. If you want to claim that, you should be able to provide evidence from a dictionary or a text in the Irish language which predates Cassidy and which clearly shows that béal ónna has been used to mean nonsense. It you can’t do that, there is no evidence, so the claim is invalid. It’s not rocket science.

When trying to establish the truth, you should give equal credence to claims of equal weight. Sticking your thumb on the scales to give weight to claims which have no substance is not being balanced or fair. In reality, it is giving an unfair advantage to liars and it’s making you an accomplice in their dishonesty.

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