Thinking rationally is important. It is also something which can be taught. While some people are more logical and rational than others by nature, just as some people have a better ear for music or are more athletic than others, this doesn’t mean that people can’t learn to recognise duff arguments and illogical thinking. Over the centuries, philosophers have developed a host of terms for foolish and unreasonable arguments. It is interesting to look back over the arguments used by the supporters of the late Daniel Cassidy and identify some of the logical fallacies and crap thinking which motivate them.
Straw man arguments. Essentially, a straw man argument is an argument which purports to challenge the arguments of the other side but really misrepresents their position, giving a version which is much easier to knock down. For example, Cassidy’s sheeple tend to argue that the Irish speakers who challenge Cassidy are doing so because we don’t believe the Irish language would have been rich enough to give expressions to English. (This is also an example of another fallacy, the false dichotomy. Cassidy’s supporters pretend there are two choices: a) Irish was rich and expressive and gave many words to English, and b) Irish was a worthless language which English ignored because there was nothing worth having in it. In reality, of course, there are other choices, such as my position, that Irish is and was a beautiful and expressive language, but because of circumstances which have nothing to do with its intrinsic merit, it had little or no influence on English.) Another straw man argument, used by certain silly and ignorant people who support Cassidy, is that people like me don’t accept the Irish influence on English because we don’t believe there were Irish speakers in America. In reality, we know that generations of people have left Gaeltacht areas in the west of Ireland and settled in the States but this fact has nothing at all to do with the ridiculous phoney Irish given in Cassidy’s book.
The genetic fallacy. This is where you argue not on the basis of the merits of the case presented, but on the basis that people like that can’t be right. In other words, if the people at the Oxford English Dictionary make a claim about a word, that claim is intrinsically untrustworthy because Oxford is a bastion of Anglophile privilege. This is a version of the ad hominem fallacy, where the opinion that Mr X is a dick is used to argue that Mr X’s opinions must also be stupid. Incidentally, many of Cassidy’s supporters have misused the ad hominem label in criticising myself and other opponents of Cassidy. An ad hominem argument is one which uses criticism of the person instead of an argument. Saying that Cassidy was a liar because all his ‘research’ was made up and he didn’t speak any Irish is not an ad hominem argument.
Appeal to (Inappropriate) Authority. Cassidy loved nothing better than to reel off a list of American and Irish professors and writers who had endorsed his work. In most cases these people were not language specialists and knew as little as he did about slang and Irish. In most cases, they were also close personal friends of his, which means that their support is worth precisely nothing.
Subjectivism (Also known as the Fallacy of the Irrefutable Hypothesis.) Really stupid people rarely get much further than these kind of arguments. I want there to be lots of words of Irish origin in English, therefore there must be lots of words of Irish origin in English. Or I thought Daniel Cassidy was a genius, therefore Daniel Cassidy must have been a genius. Yeah right … And Donald Trump is going to solve all your problems too …
The non sequitur. This literally means “it does not follow” in Latin. Apparently, some of Cassidy’s followers believe that English must be full of Irish loan words because Irish people talk a lot. I don’t know whether this is really true or not. I’ve never seen any research into it. I can tell you for nothing that the Irish don’t respect people who blether a lot. Irish people respect those who can talk well, who are witty, who know what they are talking about. Bullshitters and loudmouths like Cassidy are no more respected in Irish culture than in any other. And even if it were true that the Irish are incredibly loquacious, it would not automatically mean that English must contain lots of borrowings from Irish. You can say it as often as you like, but it won’t make it any truer. (That’s another fallacy, argument from repetition.)
The Anecdotal Fallacy. This seems to be what is going on here, where Sean Sweeney (God love his wit, what a clown!) mentions the fact that his Irish-speaking father used some of the “unknown” words given by Cassidy.
Perhaps Cassidy overreached on some, but the fact remains most of the Anglophilic dictionaries list the etymology of words he addresses as “unknown”, an amazing deficit, despite their slew of researchers and experts to trace the origins. Talking about “shit”. I’ve seen these same dictionaries deem as “unknown” words that I heard my Irish-speaking father use when I was a child. Not saying it applies to you, but “No Irish Need Apply” is still alive and well in some modern linguistic circles.
Anyone with any capacity for rational thought would immediately realise that this is completely irrelevant. These words were presumably spoken by his father in English and I see no evidence that Sweeney ever learned Irish. So were all the words used by his father in English derived from Irish? Did he ever say words like pizza, toreador, blitzkrieg, karate, kummerbund, bagel? Are these all from Irish too? Or did he give some special sign to show that the word in question came from Irish? Perhaps he went all dreamy and gazed off into the middle distance. Ah, lollygag, Seany boy. Dat’s one from da ouuuuuuld language … Yeah, right! What a clown!
The ‘real criminals’ fallacy. I can’t find an established name for this so I’ve made one up. Picture the scene: it’s a couple of days before Christmas and a drunken businessman is standing beside his BMW being breathalysed by a policeman. “Why don’t choo go and cash shome real criminalsh?” says the drunk driver. In other words, according to these people, there is a hierarchy of things to be done in the world, but protecting the Irish language from a creep like Cassidy should be way down the list. “Yes, maybe our friend Danny was a liar and a cheat. But is this really so important? What about world poverty, radicalisation, global warming, the refugee crisis? Why don’t you blog about them?” The answer is, of course, that the Irish language matters to me. And as for the other subjects, I don’t know much about solving world poverty or the war in Syria. So, I choose to blog about a subject where I have a specialist knowledge. Cassidy may not have been the worst criminal in history but he was definitely a criminal and he and his scummy followers deserve to be challenged and shamed.