Monthly Archives: May 2016

Putting The Kibosh On Cassidy

In Daniel Cassidy’s worthless book of fake etymology, he claimed that the word kibosh or kybosh is of Irish origin. Cassidy was certainly not the first to claim this and his sole authority for saying it was a website called Cork Slang Online. The usual claim in relation to its supposed Irish origin is that it comes from caidhp bháis or caidhp an bháis or caip bháis, meaning a cap or cape of death. Some sources also mention cie báis, but cie is not a possible word in Irish orthography.

While caidhp bháis is given as the name of a fungus in Irish dictionaries (the death cap), there is no evidence that this is an ancient expression and it may have been composed on the pattern of the English phrase death cap in the 20th century.

There are various explanations for the meaning of caidhp bháis as a possible origin of kybosh. Some people say that it was the black cap used by a judge when pronouncing the death sentence. (I would use caipín dubh, though it doesn’t seem to be in any dictionary.) Others say that it is from the pitch cap, a punishment used by the British in Ireland where a cap of burning pitch was placed on a person’s head. This is more commonly a caipín pice in Irish. On line, I have also found claims that the caidhp bháis was a word for a candle snuffer or smóladán. There seems to be no independent evidence for any of these claims.

Only the mushroom explanation is in the dictionaries. Corpas na Gaeilge (a huge corpus of Irish material from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries) gives a number of examples of caidhp but nothing with caidhp bháis or caidhp an bháis.

We don’t know who first suggested this Irish origin. Charles Earl Funk said that he received this information in a letter from the poet Pádraig Colum. This is not dated but could have been in the 1930s, 1940s or 1950s. However, the earliest certain reference is in the Cornell Daily Sun from the first of December 1936, where there is an account of a lecture by a man called Conboy about the Irish origin of English words. He gives words like shanty and quid (as in a quid of tobacco, which he derives from Irish cuid, a piece) as well as kibosh.

“Kibosh,” Conboy said today, “comes from ‘caip,’ which means cap, and bais,’ which means death. “It originated in Ireland about the time of Judge Norbury, who was called the ‘hanging judge.’ When the people would see him reaching for the black cap he wore when giving the death sentence, they would say: ‘The prisoner is ‘ finished. The judge Is putting on the caip bais – kibosh. Thus when we say we ‘put the kibosh on something,’ we mean we have disposed of it.” (Editor’s note: Some authorities hold that “kibosh” might be of Yiddish origin.)

Strangely, while there is no evidence of caidhp bháis being used in the language long ago, there is certainly evidence of its existence in the language now. For example, there is this, from an article by Donncha Ó hÉallaithe in the online journal Beo in 2012:

Trí dhiúltú do na logainmneacha a bhí ar bhéal na ndaoine, rinne an Donnabhánach a chuid féin, chun caidhp an bháis a bhualadh ar an nGaeilge sa gcuid mhór den tír ina raibh an Ghaeilge in uachtar roimh an Drochshaol. (By rejecting the placenames which were in popular use, O’Donovan did his own bit to put the kibosh on the Irish language in the large area of the country where Irish was in the ascendant before the Famine.)

Unfortunately, this proves nothing. The story of the Irish origin of kibosh is so common and well-known that it is hardly surprising that people have started to use the terms caidhp bháis or caidhp an bháis in Irish in recent years. It sounds convincing and natural enough. However, without some evidence of its use in Irish before speculation about kibosh began, we can’t accept these modern uses as evidence for an Irish origin of the phrase.

There are various theories about the real origin of the word kibosh. You will find an account of these different theories by following this link:

http://www.worldwidewords.org/articles/kibosh.htm

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Máirtín Ó Muilleoir

As I have pointed out time after time in this blog, Daniel Cassidy, author of the book How The Irish Invented Slang, was a total fraud. Even before it came to light that he had no qualifications and that he wasn’t a real professor, it was obvious from the claims made in his book and in various articles published by groups like Counterpunch that he was simply a madman. Nearly all the Irish phrases in his book were made-up and anyone with any knowledge of the subject would immediately recognise this. Cassidy did everything to demonstrate his insanity but don a tinfoil hat and a sandwich board saying “CERTIFIED 100% NUTTER” and march around San Francisco with a megaphone shouting “Yep, I’m crazy, even by Californian standards!!” at regular intervals. There is no excuse for those people who supported this maniac. Anyone who was taken in by him and his fake etymology needs to take a good hard look at themselves and ask themselves why they were so gullible.

We recently had an election here in the statelet and Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, a Sinn Féin politician who was previously editor of the Irish language newspaper Lá has just been appointed as Minister of Finance at Stormont. Now, there are many good things about Máirtín Ó Muilleoir. He works very hard and he has supported many causes which I believe to be morally right. For example, he has done a lot to help the Roma community and to welcome refugees from the Middle East (neither policy is an automatic vote-catcher, by any means). He has made it plain that he is in favour of gay rights. He consistently supports the rights of Irish speakers. In an Assembly where some of the Members are actually proud to admit that they are Young Earth Creationists, his principles are to be applauded. At least they are 21st century, not 17th century!

However, he also endorsed Daniel Cassidy, describing him as ‘our friend’. There could be many reasons for this unwise and foolish decision. Cassidy pretended to be a supporter of Irish Republicanism, though How The Irish Invented Slang is verging on racism in its ignorance of and casual contempt for our language and culture. One of Lá’s journalists got a trip (presumably free) to Cassidy’s Golden Gates Irish Festival (later the Irish Crossroads Festival) in San Francisco in 2002. Or perhaps Ó Muilleoir just listened to some of the many pompous liúdramáin in the Irish-American community who thought Cassidy was the best thing since sliced bread.

Who knows? Hopefully Ó Muilleoir is a bit more careful and less gullible now. He has a difficult road ahead of him and I wish him well. We all stand to gain or lose from his success or failure. However, it does nobody any harm to be reminded of their fallibility from time to time, and in lending his support to a worthless jerk like Cassidy, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir really let himself down a bucketful.

The Brotherhood of Gamblers

In his crazy book, How The Irish Invented Slang, Daniel Cassidy claimed that Jonathan Harrington Green’s book The Secret Band of Brothers (1848) gives a list of words of Irish origin which were used as slang by gamblers in the USA:

Below is a list of the Gambling Brotherhood’s so-called secret words, spelled first in Green’s phonetic English and then in Irish, with matching definitions. It is not surprising that the Irish gambler’s secret cant was as Gaelic as the gamblers themselves.

 

Huska, good, bold, intrepid.

Oscar (pron. h-uscar), a champion or hero; a bold intrepid hero.

Oscartha (pron. h-uscarha), martial, heroic, strong, powerful; nimble.

 

Cady, a highway man.

Gadaí (pron. gady), a thief, a robber. Gadaí bóthair, a highway man.

 

Maugh, profession.

Modh (pron. moh), mode of employment.

 

Caugh, quarrelsome, treacherous.

Cath (pron. cah), battle, fight, conflict. Cathaitheoir (pron. cauhoir), a

mischief-maker.

 

Cully, a pal, a confederate, a fellow thief.

Cullaidhe (pron. cully), companion, an associate, a comrade, a partner.

(Dineen, p. 279)

 

Gaugh: manner of speech

Guth (pron guh): voice, manner of speech.

 

Glim: A light.

Gealaim (pron. galim): I light or brighten.

 

Geister: An extra thief.

Gastaire: A tricky cunning fellow; a person with artifice, skill, ingenuity.

 

When you look at this list of words, you could almost believe that Cassidy has a point here, as some of them appear to make sense. Modh does mean method, and can mean work, so this is not so unlikely as the origin of maugh. As for caugh, if this means fighting or quarreling, this again might be connected with cath and cathach (though trodach would be more common). Others are less probable, such as Cassidy’s explanation for huska. Cassidy invented an interesting rule that when he wanted an Irish word beginning with a vowel to have a h- in front of it, it did. When this didn’t strengthen his case (as in ‘a noogie’ coming from aonóg) there was no ‘h’. In reality, there is no h sound before vowels in Irish. Also, the word oscar is old-fashioned, and why wouldn’t it just be ossker rather than husca?  However, I should point out that none of these words is in any way common. Most of them are not even in slang dictionaries, so even if they were from Irish, they would do little to further Cassidy’s claims of a massive hidden influence from Irish on American slang.

Anyway, as I have said above, some of these look convincing, others less so. However, Daniel Cassidy was a fraudster, so we have to go back and look carefully at the primary sources rather than take Cassidy’s word for it. Cassidy routinely sexed up the evidence. And if we look at the primary sources, it quickly becomes clear that this is what has happened here, and that Cassidy’s claims in relation to this are as flimsy and ridiculous as his claims in relation to every other aspect of American slang.

When you look at Jonathan Harrington Green’s book, he claims that there are secret words and signs used by gamblers. The way this is laid out is confusing, but basically there are six important words: 1. Huska; 2. Caugh; 3. Naugh; 4. Maugh; 5. Haugh; 6 Gaugh. Here are their meanings in the original text.

Huska, a flash word, signifying Good.

Caugh, a flash word, signifying Bad.

Naugh, a flash word, signifying Size and Complexion.

Maugh, a flash word, signifying Profession.

Haugh, a flash word, signifying Disease.

Gaugh, a flash word, signifying Age and Manner of Speech.

Each of these words can have a variety of meanings. There are nine numbered meanings for each word. How the particular number was communicated to the other gamblers is not explained. For example, in the case of the word naugh, it can mean: 1. Large and Tall, 2. Low and Heavy, 3. Tall and Slender, 4. Medium, 5. Small, 6. Sandy Complexion, 7. Light Complexion, 8. Dark Complexion, 9. Colored. In other words, naugh 8 would refer to a dark-complexioned person.

When you see these words laid out like this, Cassidy’s claims of obvious Irish connections evaporate. The words caugh, naugh, maugh, haugh and gaugh sound like a made-up list of rhyming words, not like something taken from a natural language.

The primary meaning of caugh is bad, not quarrelsome, so the association with cath isn’t a good match. And gaugh means Age and Manner of Speech, not just manner of speech. In other words, seven of the nine descriptions for this word refer to the age of the person, while only the last two refer to whether someone is fast or slow in speech. It’s hard to see how Irish guth (voice) could be relevant when this is primarily about age. The association of haugh with othar isn’t convincing either. Once again, there’s that h- sound, and a word with two syllables is supposedly the origin of a one-syllable word. Also, othar means sick person or patient – there are many words like galar, tinneas, breoiteacht to refer to disease and these would be more appropriate in the circumstances.

Later, Green gives a list of flash or cant words which he claims are also used by the brotherhood of gamblers, but he seems to have cribbed these from 18th century flash dictionaries from Regency England, and it is unlikely that they were used in 19th century America. Cassidy selected a handful of words from this list that he thought were good matches for Irish, but on examination, these also evaporate.

Cady doesn’t sound much like gadaí and William Cady was a famous highwayman in 17th century England. Cully probably isn’t from cuallaí (the pronunciation is totally different and cully is thought to come from an earlier word like cullion). Glim is a shortening of glimmer, not a weird use of an Irish word meaning ‘I shine’. And geister is probably from Yiddish or German geist (ghost). Cassidy’s definition of gastaire is made-up – gastaire basically means a smartarse, and is in no way appropriate for the meaning of geister.

In other words, this is yet another example of Cassidy’s dishonesty and incompetence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr and Mrs Sockpuppet

Just after Cassidy’s insane book How The Irish Invented Slang came out, a number of comments appeared on various forums and websites on line by someone called (Ellen) Clare McIntyre, supporting Cassidy’s book and recommending that people buy it. For example, on Friday 23 November 2007, the following message, purporting to be from a student called Ellen McIntyre, appeared on http://able2know.org/topic/106690-1:

How the Irish Invented Slang Hello, my first post. I have read Daniel Cassidy’s How the Irish Invented Slang and found it to be an incredibly interesting read! It has essays and a dictionary that lay out his thesis that the irish language (like the languages of every other major immigrant group to N. America) did have an influence on American vernacular and popular speech. HL Mencken in the 1930s stated that the Irish gave American speech almost no words, unlike Italians, Spanish, Latinos, French, Yiddish-speakers, Germans, African-Americans, etc. He found it puzzling. I believe Cassidy solves the puzzle. Also I read somewhere on this site that the book has only 63 pages. Is that an earlier pamphlet perhaps? My book has more than 300 pages, with introduction, essays, a dictionary, and is fully cited. If there is an earlier booklet I would like to see it. I study the Irish language in college. I heartily recommend Cassdy’s book. It is funny and eye-opening at the same time. Refreshingly he doersn’t take himself too seriously like many self-styled language scholars. Tt’s a doozer (duasoir, prizewinner) of a leabhar (book). Sla/n, Ellen

This is very similar to the style of many of Cassidy’s on line comments, as well as many comments made by other sockpuppets under names like Dalta and Medbh, comments which were almost certainly written by Cassidy himself.

On the 27th of November 2007, someone called eclaremc was writing in similar terms and also claiming to be an impartial student of Irish stopping by to express a positive opinion on this website: https://sciencenotes.wordpress.com/2007/11/17/bad-book-of-irish-slang/

Only an Anglophile like Grant Barrett could blithely ignore Irish studies scholars like Professors Joseph Lee and Robert Scally, Irish language speakers like Irish Times Irish language the editor Pol O Muiri, the writer and Irish language newspaper publisher Mairtin O’Muilleor, and Irish and Irish-American writers from Peter Quinn and Pete Hamill to MIchael Patrick MacDonald and Terry Golway. The scores of positive reviews Cassiy’s book HOW THE IRISH INVENTED SLANG: The Sceret Language of the Cerossroads has gotten in just a few months is amazing. As someone curretnly writing their senior paper on Cassidy’s amazing book, I am appalled at reviews like Mr. Barrett’s. They are in one word: bigoted.

(Looks like the computer’s been drinking …) This then continues with lots of quotations, primarily from friends of Cassidy’s, which are also given by sockpuppets like Medbh.

Then at the end of January 2008, this impartial lover of truth, ellen mcintyre, once again decided to support Cassidy’s rubbish book with a few kind words on this website: http://www.chicagoreader.com/Bleader/archives/2008/01/09/know-your-slurs. She also gives a few less than kind words about those scholars and academics who had criticised the book.

Cassidy’s book has been dumped on by a tiny group of what he calls “English dictionary dudes” like Zwicky and Grant “the English Parrot” Barret, but La Nua, Beo, the two most popular Irish language publications in Ireland just gave HOW THE IRISH INVENTED SLANG rave reviews. And Cassidy is not an amateur, he is a professor of irish Studies. The book also has great stuff about Chicago irish, Hinky Dink Kenna, Bathhouse John Coughlin, and the great James T. Farrell!!! Zwicky has no books published on etymology, slang, or Irish, while Barrett is just a shill for the Oxford Dictionary which publishes his barely selling boring slang dictionaries. I agree with the reviewer above. The Anglophile neo-conservative lexicographers got caught with their English knickers down on Irish language influence on American vernacular and now they are piling on Cassidy with ad hominem attacks. But the Irish Times, NY Times, Belfast Telegraph, Irish Independent, San Francisco Chronicle and even Playboy gave the book 5 star reviews. Buy it and judge for yourself. Cassidy does not assert he is right on every word, but he sure nailed a lot of them like snazzy, swell, scam, slugger, sucker, mullarkey, baloney, slum, lunch, beat, brag, cracker, hoodoo, holy moly, holy mackerel, gee whiz, daddy-o, shanty, shack, scram, dogie, bucaneer, buckaroo, ward “heeler,” and yes, I believe “jazz” is Irish. Do not credit the self-published hateful reviews by the Zwickys and Barretts of the world. Give this book a chance. The NY Times and Irish Times did and Joe Lee, top Professor of Irish Studies at NYU called it a “landmark book”. Know any books by Arnold Zwicky? Fuh’ged it. Get the book. Judge for yerself. It’s a doozy. William Kennedy is hosting Cassidy in Albany on St, Patrick’s Day and now a film is being made of the book. All Chicagoans should read this book. It explains the origins of a lot of the words in our gob (beak, mouth). This ain’t baloney (beal onna, follish talk), it’s the real skinny.

Anyone casting a casual eye over these forums and websites might actually believe that this is a genuine comment by someone unconnected with Cassidy. However, it is worth bearing in mind that Cassidy’s wife is called Clare McIntyre. I don’t know where the Ellen comes from but the Ellen McIntyre and eclaremc (along with another which has since been deleted) are enough to convince me that these comments are coming from someone using Cassidy’s wife’s name. Was it written by Mrs Cassidy? I don’t know. The style seems typical of Cassidy himself but perhaps they sat at the computer cackling away and composing this vicious and self-aggrandizing nonsense together. Or perhaps she knew nothing about it and he merely borrowed her name. I certainly don’t believe that these comments were put up without Cassidy’s knowledge and connivance.

I don’t know anything about the motivation of liars and charlatans like Cassidy and I don’t really care to find out. I want to ensure that as few people as possible buy into this nasty anti-Irish rubbish.

So, if anyone still doubts that Cassidy was a cheap low-life con-man, I suggest they check out these comments, where Cassidy, under the guise of a female student of Irish, brags and boasts about his own academic excellence and the worthlessness of his critics, while once again providing complimentary reviews from his own friends. What a useless, despicable bastard!

Highway 101

In a recent post (The Day JFK Was Shot) I mentioned an interview on RTÉ radio (Highway 101) in August 2007, in which Myles Dungan talks to Daniel Cassidy, fake scholar and fake etymologist, about his life and works. In that post, I pointed to several factual inconsistencies. However, they weren’t the only problems with Cassidy’s account of his life, so I decided to listen to the podcast again and make a few notes.

First off, it is amazing what Cassidy leaves out. He makes no mention of his association with Andy Warhol, one of the few genuinely impressive parts of his CV. He talks about ‘when I got out of Cornell’, but makes no mention of the fact that he flunked his degree. Indeed, he even says ‘I was reasonably good at academics … you know … I just took to it …’ Really?

Later, he talks about being in ‘graduate school’ in Columbia. Obviously, as a non-graduate, he couldn’t have been in graduate school, though he may well have taken some evening classes.

One of the most dishonest bits is in relation to his career as a merchant seaman. In some descriptions of Cassidy, this is almost used to define him – he is ‘the former merchant marine’. I have expressed doubt before about this episode of his life, which I think didn’t happen, or was very short, or took place later, in the late seventies. This interview confirms that there is something very suspect about his claim to have been a merchant seaman in the 1960s. When Dungan says, ‘you became a seaman’, you would expect a natural storyteller like Cassidy to really give it his all. However, you would be disappointed. There are no tall tales about being lashed to the wheel with a marlin spike pondering the nature of the stars, or doing the horizontal hornpipe in a cathouse in Surabaya, or listening to the mermaids and merrows singing songs to the dog-headed men at the edge of the world where cartographers fear to tread. Cassidy simply says ‘I hit the road’ and tells an anecdote about hitching a ride to California in 1967, the Summer of Love. Then he talks about playing in a bar in the Mission District in San Francisco. Then the narrative moves on to getting in with musicians and releasing an album. His career as a salty seadog is ignored and forgotten, as is the 23 months he spent in rehab in New York, at some time between 1967 and 1972. In other words, he might have spent slightly longer as a seaman than Malcolm Lowry, but he was no Joseph Conrad.

There is also a problem with the idea that he played R and B in bars in the Mission District. According to other sources, he learned guitar in Phoenix House, the rehab centre, at the end of the sixties or in the early seventies. Before that, he played the saxophone. Now, the guitar is an R and B instrument. One person can be a modern troubadour, singing songs of love and protest and accompanying themselves on the guitar. But it’s hard to imagine anyone doing solo gigs on the saxophone. So did this happen? And if it did, when? Was it later, after his music career was on the skids, when his album failed to sell?

Dungan seems to regard Cassidy as a harmless crank, and gives him an easy ride, even when it becomes obvious that Cassidy can’t pronounce Irish and knows nothing about the language. Dungan challenges him over spiel, which he rightly says is German or Yiddish, but he doesn’t challenge Cassidy when he claims that speal (which he mispronounces to make it sound more like spiel) is Scottish Gaelic and Irish for a hoe. (It’s a scythe, or course.) However, Dungan does say: ‘Are you not letting your imagination run away with you and claiming far too much for the Irish language?’ Cassidy blethers his way round this one, claiming that in fact he is being conservative and that the Irish influence is even greater than he claims.

However, the thing that really shocked me was his spiel about how New College of California was founded by a Jesuit called Father Jack Leary, who came from Gonzaga University. The thing he doesn’t mention at all is that Leary had already been exposed as a predatory paedophile by (amongst others) Matt Smith in SF Weekly in October 2006 (http://www.sfweekly.com/sanfrancisco/the-double-life-of-john-leary/Content?oid=2161211).

Ragtime

Cassidy claimed that ragtime (a style of music which was in many ways the forerunner of jazz) derived its name from the Irish language. Of course, there was no evidence for this apart from the fact that there is a word in Irish which slightly resembles rag, the word ráig. (Of course, English also has the word rag but Cassidy didn’t believe that any English slang terms derive from English – they were all secretly Irish!)

His post on ragtime is typical Cassidese rubbish. Cassidy says that ráig means ‘a rush, gadding about, an impulse, impulsiveness, a fit of madness, frivolity, happiness, lightheartedness, acting the fool, revelry, noise;. Ráig-time (rush-time) is joyous music, characterized by its impulsive, driving syncopation and rapid shifts of tempo and melody.’

Of course, this is How The Irish Invented Slang, so this is not a real entry from a real dictionary. Here’s what the principal modern Irish dictionary, Ó Dónaill, says:

ráig, f. (gs. ~e, pl. ~eanna). Sudden rush; sudden outbreak; fit, bout, attack. ~ a thabhairt amach, to dash out, to sally forth. ~ reatha, sudden spurt. ~ ruathair, mad rush. ~ feirge, fit of anger. Tháinig ~ air, he flew into a rage. ~ thinnis, bout of illness. ~ bhruitíní, outbreak of measles. ~ bháistí, ~ de mhúr, sudden shower. De ~, suddenly, hurriedly, with a rush. (Var: raig)

So … where’s the frivolity and happiness here? Where’s the noise and revelry?

Dinneen’s dictionary tends to be more inclusive and mixes up different eras and different dialects with abandon. Dinneen says that ráig is ‘A hurried journey, visit or attack; a fit of sickness, madness or anger; a sudden shower, bout or battle; frivolity, “rage”, pursuit, conflict, noise; …’ In other words, in both Irish dictionaries, the negativity of the word is emphasised. Cassidy implies that ráig is something nice, while the genuine sources tell us that ráig is primarily a fit of anger or madness or a spell of bad weather.

Is this really a good match for any possible meaning of ragtime? Call me an old cynic, but I don’t think so.

Most experts regard ragtime as black music rather than Irish and they think that the syncopation makes it ragged or raggy, which they believe is the origin. There are other theories. But Cassidy’s ráig is not a good match and Cassidy knew it, which is why he invented the fake definition he gave rather than copying a real one out of a dictionary.

Kinker

As we’ve said before, there is almost nothing of any value in Daniel Cassidy’s absurd work of pseudo-scholarship, How The Irish Invented Slang. Some of his claims are just stupid, many of them are mad, and some of them are just plain dishonest. This is one of the dishonest claims.

The word kinker, according to Cassidy, is a slang term for a circus performer or a circus act. However, he also implies that kinkers were surly, rude or snooty.

Kinkers, adj., surly, rude; fig. snooty person) were the stuck up stars of the circus.

Ingeniously, he manages to find a quote from Jim Tully’s Circus Parade (1927) to back him up. He was certainly a dab hand at making fake connections and finding clever angles:

The performers were more snobbish than any class of people I have ever known. They did not talk to the lesser gentry of the circus save only to give commands. They were known as the ‘kinkers’ to us.

He needs to emphasise this snobbishness because his candidate for the origin of kinker is the Irish geancach, which means a person with an upturned nose (geanc) or a snooty person. (Cassidy only mentions the secondary meaning.)

Kinker doesn’t sound much like geancach, of course, and geancach certainly isn’t the origin of the circus slang word. How do I know? Well, when you look up kinker on line, all becomes clear. Kinkers weren’t just circus performers. Kinkers were acrobats or contortionists. If you think of all the contorted and twisted and crooked meanings of the word kink in English, kinker is self-explanatory.

How did Cassidy miss this? Call me a cynic, but I don’t think he did miss it – I think he missed it out. He did this because he was a liar. His book is not about discovering the truth. It’s about conning suckers.