Monthly Archives: April 2017

Nár laga Dia do lámh, a Mhaitiú!

I notice that the appalling IrishCentral has changed its system of comments. Unfortunately it hasn’t changed its policy with regard to publishing complete crap. Anyway, the comments have disappeared and a note states that the old comments will gradually be restored. Brendan Patrick Keane’s ridiculous article on Cassidy’s ‘research’ has only one comment at present, a newly-added comment from Maitiú Ó Coimín, who says simply that “Cassidy was a fraud and his book is nonsense.” You took the words right out of my mouth, Maitiú!  Once again, it is members of the Irish-speaking community who are stepping up to the plate to defend our beautiful language against Cassidy’s lies.

Tugaim faoi deara go bhfuil an tobar caca sin IrishCentral i ndiaidh a chóras tuairimí a athrú. Ar an drochuair, níor athraigh sé a bheartas maidir le cacamas lom a fhoilsiú. Cibé, tá na tuairimí a bhí ann ar shiúl anois agus deir nóta go gcuirfear ar ais iad de réir a chéile. Níl ach an t-aon tuairim le léamh faoi bhun an ailt áiféisigh a scríobh Brendan Patrick Keane ar ‘thaighde’ Cassidy, tuairim le Maitiú Ó Coimín a cuireadh ann ó rinneadh na hathruithe. Ní deir Maitiú ach an méid seo: “Cassidy was a fraud and his book is nonsense.” (Ba chaimiléir é Cassidy agus is raiméis a leabhar.)  Maith thú, a Mhaitiú! Mar a déarfadh mo bhéal féin é! Arís eile, is baill de phobal na Gaeilge atá ag seasamh an fhóid leis an teanga álainn s’againne a chosaint ar bhréaga Cassidy.

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Slats

Cassidy points out the amazing similarity between the word slats in English, which can be used as a slang term for the ribs, and an identical word in Irish:

Slat, pl. slats, n. a rib or ribs, especially those of a person.

Slat, pl., slata,n. a rib, ribs (of the body), (Dinneen, 1052).

This is a typically stripped-down, sculpted presentation of the facts. The reason why Cassidy doesn’t quote from the major modern Irish dictionary, Ó Dónaill, is that it doesn’t give the meaning ribs for the word slat. You can find the following entry at the excellent focloir.ie:

slat1, f. (gs. -aite, npl. ~a, gpl. ~). 1. Rod. (a) Slender stick; cane, switch. ~ sailí, choill, sally-, hazel-, rod. An t~ a thabhairt do dhuine, to take the rod to s.o. Bhain sé ~ a sciúr é féin, he cut a rod for his own back. ~ bhuachailleachta, tiomána, rod used to herd, to drive, cattle. ~ iascaigh, iascaireachta, fishing-rod. ~ ribe, rod with snare attached. ~ chlaímh, sword-stick. ~ mhaoile, strickle (for levelling). (b) Wand. ~ draíochta, magic wand. ~ ríoga, sceptre. Bheith faoi shlat ag duine, to be ruled by s.o., to be under s.o.’s thumb. ~ mhaoraíochta, big stick, control, coercion. (c) Slender bar. ~ chopair, iarainn, copper, iron, rod. ~ croiche, transverse bar of pot-rack. ~ chuirtín, curtain-rod. ~ ghunna, ramrod. ~ loine, piston-rod. ~ phota, pot-hook. ~ teallaigh, fire-iron. ~ tumtha, dip-stick. El: ~ charbóin, since, carbon, zinc, rod. S.a. crios 3. (d) ~ tomhais, measuring-rod; yardstick, criterion. ~ a chur ar rud, to measure sth.; to run the rule over sth. Dá gcuirfeá ~ ar Éirinn (ní bhfaighfeá a leithéid), if you were to search the whole of Ireland (you wouldn’t find the like of it). ~ dá thomhas féin a thabhairt do dhuine, to pay s.o. in his own coin. (e) Rail. ~ staighre, stair-rail. ~ droichid, rail guarding side of bridge. (f) Nau: ~ bhéil, ~ bhoird, gunwale. Tá sí síos go ~ an bhéil, it (boat) is down to the gunwale, heavily loaded. (g) Nau: ~ seoil, sail-yard. ~ bhrataí, jack-staff. (h) ~ droma, backbone. Síneadh ar shlat a dhroma, ar shlat chúl a chinn, é, he was stretched on the broad of his back. (i) Arb: ~a dubha, mountain willow. S.a. domhnach 1. (j) Algae: ~a mara, sea-rods. S.a. ceann1 1(l). (k) Bot: ~a gorma, bitter-sweet, woody nightshade. ~a dearga, spotted knot-grass. (l) Sapling, slip, scion. ~ de bhuachaill, de chailín, slip of a boy, of a girl. (m) Astr: ~ an Rí, an Bhodaigh, an Cheannaí, belt of Orion. (n) Physiol: ~ (fhearga), penis. 2. Meas: Yard. ~ ar fad, a yard long. Rud a thomhas ina shlata, to measure sth. in yards. ~ éadaigh, yard of cloth. S.a. cóta 2. 3. (pl.) Outskirts. Ar shlata na cathrach, on the outskirts of the city. (Var: pl. ~acha)

Dinneen’s Irish dictionary does give the meaning ribs for slat, but buried among these many other meanings. It is also worth remembering that the usual word for rib in Irish is easna.

As for the English word slat, Dictionary.com says:

a long thin, narrow strip of wood, metal, etc., used as a support for a bed, as one of the horizontal laths of a Venetian blind, etc.

The same source tells us that it is sometimes used as a slang term for the ribs and that its origin is from French: 1350-1400; Middle English sclat, slatt a slate < Middle French esclat splinter, fragment …

The French language Wiktionary tells us that the ultimate root of this word is a Frankish (i.e. Germanic) word which is etymologically linked to the English word slit.

A look on eDIL shows that slat is a very ancient term for a rod or stick in Irish. It has cognates in other Celtic languages and derives, according to McBain’s Gaelic Dictionary (which contains etymological notes) from the Proto-Celtic *slattā, which means a stalk or staff.

In other words, there is absolutely no room for doubt that these two words, in spite of the fact that they sound the same and are similar in meaning (both mean a kind of rod or stick), have no etymological connection. People who are ignorant of languages will assume that the fact that they are similar in both meaning and form means they must be related. However, we have already discussed such random similarities in the context of the Irish daor, which means expensive, and the English dear, with the same meaning. These two words also have totally different etymologies and are unrelated. The fact is, when comparing thousands and thousands of words from one language with the thousands and thousands of words in another, it would be surprising if we didn’t find matches of this kind. What makes them more than random coincidence is when we find lots of them following a regular pattern, which is not the case here.

An open letter to the Columbia Registrar

A couple of years ago, I wrote to Columbia University to warn them that Cassidy and some of his supporters claimed that Cassidy had a degree from Columbia. Obviously, it is important for academic institutions to protect the integrity of the degrees they offer and no self-respecting university would want to be linked to an obvious fraud like Cassidy. I’ll assume that my previous communications with Columbia went astray and I have decided to contact them again. To that end, I have sent the following letter (by post) to Barry Kane, the Registrar:

Dear Mr Kane

For the past two years I have been working on attacking the late Daniel Cassidy, his supporters and his book How The Irish Invented Slang through a blog called cassidyslangscam on WordPress. You probably haven’t heard of Cassidy but most people with an interest in Irish language and culture have heard of him. Cassidy worked (if that’s the right word) for over 12 years in New College of California, a small and now defunct liberal arts college, as Professor of the Irish Studies department. He was a darling of the American left, friendly with lots of important figures like Ishmael Reed, Peter Linebaugh, Alexander Cockburn and Peter Quinn and he garnered a lot of publicity throughout the English-speaking world. He was also a manipulative, narcissistic fraud who invented nearly every Irish phrase in his crazy book and apparently had no academic qualifications at all.

Most sources say that he had a degree from Cornell. Others say that he had degrees from Cornell and Columbia. For example, the In Memoriam section on the website of the San Francisco Irish-American Crossroads Festival says that his primary degree was from Columbia. Most other sources suggest that he had a postgraduate degree from Columbia. Acting on a tip-off I contacted Cornell where the registrar told me that he never completed his degree there, though he spent between three and four years studying there. (There are full details of this on the blog.)

In a Q&A, you say that: “More than anything else, the Registrar is the guardian of the academic record and is responsible for its accuracy and integrity. There is no room for error in what we do. Our work must be perfect.” This is true but if people are allowed to gain respect, academic positions and financial gain unchallenged by falsely claiming to have Columbia qualifications, this seriously undermines the value of that work. I realise that you must be very busy but I would ask you to investigate Cassidy’s Columbia degree and issue a statement on the question, either through this blog or through your own official channels.

It will be interesting to see if we receive any reply from Columbia this time. It would be fantastic to demonstrate finally that Cassidy’s Columbia degree was just as fraudulent as the degree he claimed to have from Cornell!

Beak

According to Daniel Cassidy, in his lying piece of trash, How The Irish Invented Slang, the word beak, an old English slang term for a constable or a judge or a schoolmaster, comes from the Irish beachtaí or beachtaire.

According to Cassidy’s book:

Beak, n., a judge, a magistrate.

Beachtaí, beachtaire, n., a critic; a correcting, captious judgmental person; fig. a judge. Beacht, al. beachd (Gaelic), n., judgment, opinion.

What’s wrong with Cassidy’s argument? Well, the main thing is the pronunciation. Most people reading Cassidy’s book would probably assume that beachtaí is pronounced as beek-tay or beek-tee. Cassidy probably thought the same, because his knowledge of Irish was practically nil. In fact, beachtaí is pronounced bach-tee, with the ch more or less an h sound or the ch of Scottish loch or the j of Baja California. It sounds nothing like beak. As for the meaning, a beachtaí (or its variant beachtaire) is a quibbler, a hair-splitter. It does not mean a judge. As we’ve pointed out before, where the letters fig. are used in Cassidy’s book, they stand for figment of Cassidy’s imagination, not for figuratively as they do in most books. O’Dónaill’s dictionary defines it as “Critical, captious, person.”

It is true that beachd can be a noun meaning judgement in Scottish Gaelic but Scottish Gaelic is a different language entirely. This meaning isn’t found in Irish.

So where does beak come from? The simple answer is, we don’t know. You can find a few suggested origins here: http://www.businessballs.com/clichesorigins.htm

A Challenge To Hugh Curran

 

I have had a comment from Hugh Curran. Remember him?

Why the negative talk using terms like “scumbag” etc. Did I say anything at that merits this kind of comment? I admitted that I was not proficient in Gaeilge even though as a young boy I spoke it at home with my parents who were native speakers. The fact that we immigrated to Canada when I was young reduced my chance to continue as a native speaker even as all my cousins in Ireland are native speakers. The writer of the above article is vehement in his denunciation for reasons I am unable to comprehend unless he feels that any positive comments about Cassidy’s book are totally erroneous. There are at least some words in Cassidy’s book that merit consideration . I would hope the writer of the article withdraws the article or apologies for his remarks.

He claims to find my hostility inexplicable, though I’ve explained it at great length in two languages. I’ve explained why his original comments implied that he spoke Irish. And I’ve also found this on the University of Maine website:

Vox 105 – Beginning Spoken Irish Gaelic I Beginning Irish Gaelic language study using a combination of self-instruction and recitation.  Class is taught by native speakers in the target language, and includes a high degree of cultural engagement.

Maybe I’m wrong but that sounds like the beginner’s course in Irish that Curran ‘teaches’.  Taught by native speakers in the target language? Really?

I’ve also made it absolutely clear that yes, any positive comments about Cassidy’s book are totally erroneous and yes, there are effectively no words in Cassidy’s book that merit consideration. Cassidy’s theories and his book are an immoral and disgusting hoax and Cassidy was a criminal liar who worked for twelve years as an academic without any qualifications at all. He didn’t speak any Irish at all and his knowledge of Irish history and linguistics was entirely inadequate – like the man himself. In short, Cassidy’s book is malicious dross.

And as this is the case, I believe that the term scumbag is entirely justified. Myself and a number of other critics of Cassidy are trying to prevent people being ripped off and lied to and misinformed. And you are trying to spread the lies and misinformation and support the liar. What a scumbag!

However, I’m a reasonable man. You claim that this book is not a malicious hoax. So, you want me to remove the articles about you? Fine, I’ll do that – if you can justify your position with evidence.

So, here’s my challenge to you. Find 10 words or phrases in Cassidy’s book where there is sufficient evidence for Cassidy’s derivation that a reasonable and impartial person would accept that Cassidy got it right. Oh, and they have to be Cassidy’s claims, not claims that were already in the public domain which Cassidy plagiarised, so you can’t use words like pet and cross and snazzy and galore and slew.

Of course, there are hundreds of words and phrases in Cassidy’s book, so if it’s the mine of undiscovered gems you claim, rather than a dark malodorous empty cave containing only the echoes of Cassidy’s insanity, it shouldn’t be that hard to find ten words or phrases that fit the bill. Should it?

If you can do that, I’ll apologise and withdraw the posts about you. (Let me tell you now, you won’t be able to – Cassidy’s book is that big a pile of shite!) And if you can’t, then I will also take down the posts about you, on condition that you apologise for supporting this nonsense in the face of all the evidence and recommend that other people avoid it, which is what a decent person would have done in the first place.

 

More on Niall O’Dowd …

Recently, I have had a go at Niall O’Dowd and his support for the bizarre conspiracy theory that slavery figured large in Irish history and that this truth has been suppressed by mainstream historians. I wrote several posts on this subject in support of Liam Hogan and other academics who have opposed the Irish slavery myth, not because they are pro-English, but because it is a myth and is being used by racists to belittle the African American experience of slavery. Of course, I have my own motives for piling on Niall O’Dowd and IrishCentral. They have consistently supported the weak-minded nonsense produced by Daniel Cassidy, in spite of all the evidence that Cassidy’s ‘research’ was rubbish and that Cassidy himself was a fraud.

I wrote these posts rather hastily and in the process, I made a mistake, taking a source which contained modern revisionist references to slavery as an accurate account of contemporary court records from New England. Liam Hogan contacted me to point this out and I have now made that clear on the post concerned. (This serves to demonstrate that history is best left to those who know what they’re doing, just as etymology shouldn’t be left to people who are unaware of the most basic facts of historical linguistics.)

In writing these posts, I forgot to mention a point which I had intended to discuss, O’Dowd’s comments on history itself. In his apologia, he says:

We cannot allow racist whites to delineate our history for us, nor politically correct thinking to ignore and deny that any Irish were ever slaves.

This is staggeringly hypocritical. So, it’s somehow letting racist whites win if we change our story and apologise, is it? Or is it those who are politically correct who would be allowed to win? (In fact, forget the politically. It’s people who are correct that O’Dowd doesn’t like, because they show him up!)

He reiterates the same point later on in the same article.

We cheapen it because we are scared of it being taken over by white racists, but we cannot allow them to own our historic reality either.

See how he presents himself as a champion of reason and moderate common sense? This is his focal scoir or parting shot:

History does not belong to any group or individual – it belongs to us all. How the Irish were treated in colonial America is a lesson we should never forget.

How noble! However, let’s just wind back a bit and take a look at the article on IrishCentral which caused all the trouble in the first place. You can find it here:

http://www.irishcentral.com/roots/irish-the-forgotten-white-slaves-says-expert-john-martin-188645531

As you can see, the article simply repeats all kinds of figures which are completely false and belong to the racist discourse. The article is completely indefensible. The most obviously dodgy claim is this one:

The Irish were further exploited when the British began to “breed” Irish women – or girls, sometimes as young as 12 – with African males.

There is absolutely no evidence for this lurid and politically motivated myth which is calculated to make the Aryan blood of rednecked simpletons everywhere boil.

However, it gets worse. This is the last part of the article:

Martin concludes, “In 1839, Britain finally decided on it’s own to end its participation in Satan’s highway to hell and stopped transporting slaves. While their decision did not stop pirates from doing what they desired, the new law slowly concluded THIS chapter of nightmarish Irish misery.”

So, the Irish were being ‘sold into slavery’ right up until the famine, apparently! What a load of nonsense! History belongs to people who have a commitment to telling the truth. And O’Dowd has shown time and time again that he doesn’t care a damn about getting the facts right. What a creep!

Niall O’Dowd Answers Critics!

A couple of days ago, Niall O’Dowd published a reply to those academics who put their name to Liam Hogan’s open letter criticising him for an article on IrishCentral which supports the idea that the seventeenth-century Irish were victims of enslavement and pointing out that the word slave is an emotive one with a specific meaning. You can find the reply here: http://www.irishcentral.com/opinion/niallodowd/why-the-irish-were-both-slaves-and-indentured-servants-in-colonial-america These Irish people were indentured servants or bonded labourers. Their plight was bad, the circumstances of their kidnap and deportation distressing. But Liam Hogan and others are at pains to point out that they were not chattel slaves the way generations of African-Americans were.

O’Dowd pretty much admits this and claims to deplore the way that the slave label has been used by right-wing groups to play down the legacy of slavery among African Americans.

The controversy has arisen because some far-right groups have claimed that the experience of Irish slaves was interchangeable with (or even in some cases worse than) the experience of black slaves, and have used that as justification for an array of abhorrent racist statements and ideas.

O’Dowd’s answer to his critics is every bit as feeble and incompetent as I would have expected. He mentions a well-known court case where a couple of young men, who were abducted by soldiers and shipped to the Americas against their will from the East Cork area, were effectively sued by their master for a breach of a contract to which they had never consented. To quote O’Dowd:

If we accept that a slave is someone “who is the legal property of another and is forced to obey them,” as does the Oxford Dictionary, then I say let’s call it what it was according to those who lived and reported it: slavery AND indentured servitude.

We cannot allow racist whites to delineate our history for us, nor politically correct thinking to ignore and deny that any Irish were ever slaves.

Let’s take a  look at this one case of the Irish experience in the 17th Century in Massachusetts which certainly looked an awful lot like slavery to me.

That the boys were abducted by British soldiers at the end of the Cromwellian Wars is not in doubt. That this was about money and profit is also well known. That it was inhumane and wrong is also obvious. All the actions of the English in overrunning areas of Ireland which had previously been under native control and oppressing and exploiting the people of Ireland in the seventeenth century were immoral. Of course they were!

But we need to be careful about definitions, or we play into the hands of the racists who will claim that the Irish and the African experience are equivalent. In both the court case and the article below, the boys are referred to as slaves. (See the comment below from Liam Hogan. Apparently they were not referred to as slaves in the original document – this is a modern addition.) But when we look at the circumstances, it looks a lot less like chattel slavery as known among African Americans.

Here’s how the court case between William Downing and Philip Welch and their master Mr Symonds came about:

One Sabbath day evening in March, with plowing and planting foremost in his mind, Philip came into the parlor and asked Mrs. Symonds just who would be expected to do all the springtime work. Displeased with her answer he announced that after seven years of service to the family, he and William would work for them no more unless new terms were struck.

William Downing concurred that they had worked for free long enough and both boys reiterated their demands to Samuel Symonds. They knew of other stolen Irish children sent to Barbados who had been released from slavery after just four years. “If you will free us,” said Philip, “and pay us as other men we will plant your corn and mend your fences but we will not work with you upon the same terms as before.”

When one of the servant girls chastised the lads for troubling their master, Mrs. Symonds was heard to say, “let them alone; now they are speaking let them speak their own minds.” Samuel Symonds was not as tolerant of their protests as his wife. “You must work for me still, unless you run away,” he said, leaving no room for further discussion.

The following morning a constable arrived to arrest the boys. Philip Welch softened slightly at the prospect of incarceration and agreed to serve out his time if his master would promise to give him as good a portion of food as any of his children. Even the constable encouraged Symonds to reconsider his strict stance, but the master wouldn’t budge an inch. He filed charges against both slaves and held his ground.

I don’t know about you, but I would have thought that if any black slaves quibbled about their conditions, they would have been flogged to within an inch of their lives. Another point worth considering is that the boys lost the case and were returned to their servitude and O’Dowd leaves it at that. But that isn’t the end of the story. At least two of the four Irish boys mentioned in the case, Phillip Welch the defendant and John Downing, a witness, survived, married and had free children as free men in New England. Their descendants didn’t have to wait until the 19th century to own themselves, and they didn’t have to wait until the 1960s before they were allowed to register to vote. The point is, the very fact that there was a court case at all shows that this was different from chattel slavery. And did you notice the comment about Barbados? The kidnapped children there were apparently released after four years. Nobody disputes that these abductions were disgusting. But the servitude of the Irish exiles was time-limited. And we have to remember that most indentured servants in the colonies were voluntary. They signed up to it of their own volition and the majority of them weren’t Irish.

So, why is Niall O’Dowd sticking to his guns and refusing to back down? Well, I’m still waiting for an apology or retraction for his promotion of Cassidy’s insane book after two years. I personally don’t believe that O’Dowd has the decency to apologise. I believe that because that’s my experience of his behaviour. He’ll keep on splitting hairs and distorting the truth and dissembling, because being Niall O’Dowd means never having to say you got it wrong – even if everybody else can see you got it wrong.

Anyway, I look forward to reading Liam Hogan’s reply to O’Dowd! Hogan is a competent, intelligent man and a genuine historian and I’m sure he’ll make mincemeat out of him …