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.

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