Monthly Archives: August 2017

A Pleasant Surprise

I have just had a pleasant surprise. Apparently Douglas Harper’s Online Etymological Dictionary or Etymonline (an amazing resource which I have frequently referenced in this blog) has published a link to CassidySlangScam on Facebook with the words: “Salute to this site for patiently and persistently picking apart bad popular etymology”.

It’s always nice to know that my efforts are appreciated and doubly so when it comes from etymologists who really know what they’re doing.

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Why The Rubber Bandits Were Conned

I have decided to write a brief post here just to explain to casual visitors why the Rubber Bandits were conned when they decided to publish a list of some of Daniel Cassidy’s fake derivations of American Slang from Irish on August 11th. Anyone who wants to know more can look at the older posts on this blog, where the material below is explained in greater detail.

Daniel Cassidy was born into a lower-middle class Irish-American family in NY in 1943. His father ran a bar and he was raised in the green pastures of Long Island (though he carefully cultivated the image of streetwise ghetto man-of-the-people). He was a bright child and went to NY Military Academy (alma mater of Donald Trump) on a music scholarship. From there, he went to Cornell University. While at Cornell, he wrote some poetry which was published but he then got into drugs and flunked out without a degree.

He worked for a little while in the NY Times, went to California, then ended up in rehab for two years. He learned to play guitar in rehab, cut an album (unsuccessful) and became a musician. For years, he disappears from the radar. Then he wrote some scripts. He claimed that he sold one of these scripts to Francis Ford Coppola but in different interviews, he mentions two different scripts as the one he sold. In the mid-90s, he produced a couple of pro-Sinn Féin video documentaries about the Six Counties, which aren’t even mentioned on IMDB.

He became a Professor of Irish Studies (!) in 1995 at a small radical college in SF called New College of California. How he became a professor when he didn’t have any qualifications is a mystery, but it seems clear that Cassidy himself claimed to have degrees he didn’t. According to one allegation from a person who contacted me, he was a serial sleaze who continually hit on female students. He used his position to cultivate ‘friendships’ with high-profile Irish-Americans and Irish people who could be useful to him. In 2007, he published a book called How The Irish Invented Slang, a nonsensical piece of crap which claims that lots of American slang comes from Irish. However, because Cassidy didn’t speak any Irish, he just made up lots of bizarre phrases which have never existed in Irish. Honky-tonk, apparently, comes from aingíocht tarraingteach, which means something like attractive peevishness. Baloney is from béal ónna, which Cassidy claimed meant nonsense (literally ‘naïve mouth’). Geezer comes from gaosmhar, which Cassidy claimed means wise person. It doesn’t. And in many cases, Cassidy simply ignored the fact that the words already had perfectly clear derivations. A longshoreman is a ‘man along the shore’, not an old-fashioned Irish word for a sailor. There are hundreds of these fake, made-up derivations. Almost none of these claims has any substance, and the handful that do were plagiarised by Cassidy from other people.

The book was criticised immediately and strongly by real scholars but Cassidy and/or his wife used sock puppet identities to attack anyone who told the truth about the book. Meanwhile, Cassidy’s friends and cronies were ever-present, boosting his reputation, providing good reviews, generally lying their arses off in support of the book. And because the book pretended to be a radical departure, a man-bites-dog story about how Anglophile scholars had systematically excluded the story of Irish’s influence on English, lots of people who think with their arses instead of their brains were quite prepared to make this arrant raiméis a viral phenomenon.

Cassidy fell sick shortly after the book was published and died of cancer in 2008. Unfortunately, the book and the ridiculous theories are still with us.

In short, if you ever look around and wonder why the world is such a shite place and why we have the leaders we have, look no further than the Cassidy Scandal. The same stupidity, pomposity, arrogance, narcissism, cronyism and manipulation that have allowed Cassidy’s nonsense to thrive are what fuels people like the Tea Party and Donald Trump and the supporters of the Irish Slavery Meme. Nobody should support this garbage, least of all people who believe in decent, liberal, democratic values.

And that’s why Murchadh Mór is right. The Rubber Bandits left their sense outside with the horse when they chose to support this shite.

A Quick Update

There is quite a lot of news to report. Firstly, Murchadh Mór has posted an alternative to the Rubber Bandits’ silly piece of Cassidese nonsense in Nós (http://nos.ie/gniomhaiochas/teanga/na-rubberbandits-an-ghaeilge/) and on Facebook. What he has done is to give a number of words that really do come from Irish. I hope that this will have some effect and that it will be spread the way the original list of nonsense derivations has been spread.

I’m not sure if it will, for one very simple reason. The original list, along with the rest of Daniel Cassidy’s book, is full of words for which nobody would ever have suspected an Irish origin. Longshoreman from Irish loingseoir? Really? Sucker comes from Irish sách úr? What? Wanker from uath-anchor? That’s amazing!! Except Cassidy’s claims are all lies and nonsense, a concoction of fake Irish and deliberate distortion. The list given by our friend Murchadh Mór is considerably less ball-grabbing, simply because it’s actually true and because of that, the claims made are less bizarre and left-field.

I hope the Rubber Bandits will see sense and stop spreading this childish shite. We all know it’s rubbish (including the Bandits by now). And hell, it’s not as if myself or Murchadh Mór are implacable enemies of the Rubber Bandits and all they stand for. We’re not irate peasants standing here with blazing torches and pitchforks shouting “Aargh! Burn the rubber-faced spawn of Lucifer!” In terms of political and social opinions, I doubt if you could get a Rizla paper between us. I was posting happily in support of Liam Hogan months before any of this stuff came up on Twitter and I reckon most of our opinions coincide closely. Plus much of their material is actually very funny. It’s just that in this case, they’re peddling fake news and supporting a bunch of liars and I’d rather they didn’t.

As a result of the controversy over the RBs’ tweet, the number of hits on this site has spiked. Every year, the number of visitors and hits has surpassed the year before. This year, the number of visitors outstripped last year’s figure about a month ago and just today, we surpassed the number of hits we achieved last year. Which means that more and more people have now been informed about Cassidy’s nonsense, thanks to this blog and to others with a sense of responsibility and a love of the language like Murchadh Mór and Ciara Ní Aodha.

Finally, I would like to point out that someone has commented on the derivation of the term leprechaun. Apparently an Italian academic suggested that lúchorpán (small-bodied creature) is not the genuine origin of later terms like leipreachán. His idea, given in an article in the Cambrian Journal of Celtic Studies, is that it derives from the Latin Lupercus, the Roman version of Pan whose festival was the famous Lupercalia. I don’t know if he has any evidence for this and I really don’t care, because it doesn’t change the fact that the English word leprechaun comes from Irish. Its ultimate origins are completely irrelevant. Apparently the word Gael comes from a Welsh word meaning ‘wild man’ but there is no doubt that Gael and Gaelic entered English from Irish or Scottish Gaelic, not from Welsh, so we say that they are Gaelic loanwords in English. The ultimate derivation of the word is not relevant because how far back do you go and where do you stop? And after all, if the word lúchorpán is the correct origin, the chorp part of it is a loan from the Latin corpus anyway.

Leprechaun is absolutely, definitely an English word of Irish origin. It occurs in Irish first in the 14th century, where the lúchorpáin are found in the sea under Dundrum Bay in County Down, though that story is thought to be a rewriting of an earlier version. In English, it first occurs as ‘Irish lubrican’ in 1604. And I know that ‘hey, did you know that leprechauns aren’t Irish … they’re fucking Italian … I shit you not!!’ has a lot more wow factor than the truth. Unfortunately though, like many glittery little factoids, it happens to be a pile of utter shite garnished with iron pyrites, and some of us still care about not wasting our time with things like that.

Gee and Sheela-na-gig

Gee (pronounced hard like Indian butter, not soft like half a horse) is a modern expression for a vagina used in the south of Ireland. Nobody knows where it originates. There is no Irish word resembling it, not in the dictionaries or indeed in Ó Luineacháin’s wonderful Ó Ghlíomáil go Giniúint. There is a word found in English dialects, gig, with the same meaning, and some people think its origin lies there.

Recently, some people have tried to suggest on line that gee comes from Sheela-na-gig:

Probably from the ancient Irish Síle na Gig, transliterated as sheela-na-gig: the carvings, often found in churches, of naked women grasping giant exaggerated versions of their naughty bits.

This seems to have appeared first in 2014 in an extremely dim and badly-researched article in the Daily Edge, from which the quotation above is taken: (http://www.dailyedge.ie/irish-slang-origins-1468945-May2014/)

It is hard to see where they got this idea from. It is completely implausible. My guess would be that someone logged on to one or two websites on the origins of the Sheela-na-gig (such as http://www.sheelanagig.org/wordpress/ or http://www.irelands-sheelanagigs.org/) and got the wrong end of the stick. The latter, in particular, is insistent on the link between the name of the Sheela-na-gig and the slang word gee. However, it is also quite clear that its author, Gabriel Cannon, is saying that Sheela-na-gig comes from gee and not the other way round.

Incidentally, since I last read anything about the Sheela-na-gig decades ago, Sheela-na-gig-ology has really come on leaps and bounds. There are lots of new theories and new bits of information, including that an 18th century RN ship was called Sheelanagig after ‘an Irish female sprite’ and that Sheelanagig or Shilling a gig was a popular tune in 18th century Ireland. Perhaps I’ll do some research and post on it, as it really is fascinating.

More on Shanty

One of the most disappointing and irritating things about the recent flurry of Twitter activity surrounding a tweet by the Rubber Bandits was that several people (the Rubber Bandits included) tweeted that ‘the Irish’ for old house is ‘Sean Tí’.

Since the efforts of the Irish state to provide you with a basic knowledge of your own linguistic heritage obviously failed woefully because YOU WEREN’T PAYING ATTENTION, here’s a brief Irish lesson:

The Irish for ‘old house’ is SEANTEACH, pronounced SHANCHAH, with the ‘cha’ as in cha-cha-cha.

The Irish for ‘house’ is teach. It’s only in the genitive. means ‘of a house’, so doras tí is door of a house. But on its own means nothing.

Sean is an adjective. Most adjectives in Irish come after the noun, so teach mór is a big house. However, a handful are prefixes which are attached to the noun. So it’s seanteach. Not sean teach or sean-teach. And still less sean tí or sean-tí.

As for the question of the meaning, imagine that you are standing in a mining camp out in the wilds somewhere. You have just chopped down some trees and built yourself a rough cabin. One of your neighbours comes up and says,

“Hi Séamus, nice house! What do you call a house like that in your language?”

“Well, sure, I call it seanteach, which in my language means ‘old house’.”

And your neighbour scratches his head and says,

“So you’ve just finished building the thing, and your hand sticks to the wall on account of all the pine resin oozing from the freshly-cut logs, but you call it an old house?”

“Aah, but you’re forgettin’ dat I’m Irish, and we have a reputation for quirkiness, eccentricity and irrationality to uphold, so we do!”

Yeah, right, you gowls! And then there’s the fact that we have one book written as a memoir in Irish (Micí Mac Gabhann, Rotha Mór an tSaoil) by a Donegal man who joined the gold rush and lived in a mining camp. When he refers to the houses in the camp, he uses the words bothán, cábán, teach and sometimes cábán tí. He never talks about seantithe. And why the fuck would he?

So long to the Irish origin of ‘so long’

One of the language myths that have been brought to light by the Rubber Bandits’ recent tweet on Cassidy’s eymology is the claim that the English colloquial ‘so long’ is really a corrupted form of Irish slán, a parting salutation.

There are several claims for the origin of this term. Some derive it from Arabic salaam, or from Hebrew shalom. Neither of these seems very convincing. The etymology websites (along with Cassidy’s book – unusually, he admits that he didn’t come up with the slán derivation) say that it first appears in 1860 in the works of Walt Whitman.

Most of them agree that it probably comes from the German expression Adieu so lange (something like ‘farewell until we meet again’) or from related Scandinavian phrases Norwegian Adjø så lenge, Farvel så lenge, Mor’n så lenge, literally “bye so long, farewell so long, morning so long;” and Swedish Hej så länge “good-bye for now,” with så länge “for now” attested since 1850 according to Swedish sources. The German expression Adieu so lange dates back to at least 1791.

In a recent OED blog post, Anatoly Liberman quotes a Mr Paul Nance who has found an earlier reference to so long from 1835.

However, I think I can do better than that. I Googled the phrase the other day and I have come across an earlier example of it. It’s in a book of humorous material called Salmagundi written in magazine form by Paulding in New York. The book is available on Google Books. It is dated 1835 but the internal headings show that the particular magazine containing the entry was first published in 1819.

The article takes the form of a humorous letter from a lady of means, who signs herself off at the end with the salutation: Adieu, so long, Aurelia.

Personally, I think that’s a smoking gun and gives a clear bridge between the German and the English expressions. But even if you choose to say that it’s just a coincidence that the earliest known use of so long in English has Adieu stuck in front of it, there are other reasons for dismissing the Irish origin. Why is this expression always written as two words? Why does it never occur as slawn, or slong? And why does it never have any other words attached? Why don’t we find it sometimes as so long go foyle (slán go fóill), or so long lath (slán leat) or so long a wallah (slán abhaile)? These are common expressions in Irish. And then again, why don’t we find it commonly in stage-Irish idiom? Begorrah, sor, it’s so long and farewell to yous

So, let’s just forget the idea that the expression so long comes from Irish. There’s no evidence for it and there’s something so needy and desperate about these attempts to trace words to Irish. It’s as if our language and culture have no reality or value outside their relations with the English-speaking world. Anyone who thinks that should learn some real Irish – NOW!

The Downside of Twitter

I have to say, I don’t tweet. I can see that it’s useful but it seems to me that it suffers from the same problems as many other internet-based activities. Unfortunately, much of the recent activity surrounding a tweet on Cassidy’s work by the Rubber Bandits shows the same dreary, depressing lack of common sense which has bedevilled the whole debate about Daniel Cassidy and his works.

Having said that, it’s not all bad news. A number of people like Ciara Ní Aodha, Eoin Ó Murchú, Liam Hogan, Ronan Delaney, James Harbeck, Ben Walsh, Cruiskeen Lawnmower and Donald Clarke called the list of ‘etymologies’ given by the Rubber Bandits for the bullshit they are.

However, others just reeled off the same old crap we’ve seen any number of times before. The Rubber Bandits came out with the same old shite about how there were lots of Irish speakers and so there’s nothing implausible about the idea that the Irish contributed to slang. No, there’s nothing implausible. But where’s the evidence?

And that is really the problem with the internet. Someone posts that they heard that jazz comes from Irish teas. (There are loads of possible origins and the Irish one is pretty much bottom of the list.) Someone else heard that Uncle Sam comes from the Irish acronym SAM (Stáit Aontaithe Mheiriceá = USA). Even though Uncle Sam dates back to 1775, before the USA came into existence. They think so long comes from slán, apparently, even though most sources trace it back to the German Adieu so lange (Goodbye for now) or a Scandinavian equivalent. Then some other dimwit decides to throw in a recommendation to Thaddeus Russell’s book, The Renegade History of the United States, because it gives loads of slang of Irish origin. Except that slang is copied verbatim from Daniel Cassidy’s book, so it’s full of rubbish which has been comprehensively debunked here and elsewhere. And yet another numpty takes the definition of dúid given by the Rubber Bandits (a foolish-looking fellow defined by his clothing choices) seriously and tweets that it’s great that Irish has such a word. Of course, it doesn’t. This is the meaning of dúid:

dúid, f. (gs. ~e, pl. ~eanna).1. Stump. Rud a ghearradh (amach, aníos) ón ~, ó bhun na ~e, to cut sth. right down to the stump. Chuir an tarbh an adharc go bun na ~e, go filleadh ~e, ann, the bull stuck his horn right into him. 2. (a) Stumpy object, protuberant part; (short) horn, (cropped) ear, tail. (b) Short-stemmed (clay) pipe. 3. (Craned) neck, throat. ~ a chur ort féin, to crane ones neck; to turn ones head shyly away; to eavesdrop; to mope around. Greim ~e a fháil ar dhuine, to grasp s.o. by the neck, to fasten on s.o. Rud a chur ar do dhúid, to swallow hard at sth., to gulp sth. down ones throat. 4. (a) Stumpy person. (b) Mopish, shy person; numbskull. (Var:~eán m)

Anything there about clothing choices? Another twat opines that: “A lot of what he says is completely reasonable but about 50% requires a deeply held nationalist belief system.” Anyone who thinks 50% of what Cassidy says is reasonable should realise they’re an idiot and stop tweeting before double-glazing salesmen and other assorted conmen recognise what they are and find out where they live.

Then there is some dimwit called Michael Ireland, who tweeted that: Many of these slang words were based on broken Gaelic brought to New York by famine survivors. Well, thanks for that! Pure Cassidese bullshit! The interesting thing is that when you look in his twitter feed, he just retweets any right-wing, homophobic, racist, Islamophobic, Tea Party shite he can find. Not hard to see why a thick bastard like this fell for Cassidy’s tosh …

What really frustrates me is that the internet may be a wilderness full of trolls and losers but it’s also the greatest library that has ever existed. You can look up almost anything and get real, valid answers, virtually instantly. Yet how many people tweeting around this subject looked up an online Irish dictionary to confirm whether gaosmhar is really the Irish for a wise person? (It isn’t.) How many of them bothered to check the veracity of the suggestions they were making before they posted them? Hardly any – certainly not the Rubber Bandits themselves, anyway!

There seems to be some strange notion that instead of looking for evidence to prove or disprove the accuracy of the claims being made, the required response is to flounder in ignorance and talk endlessly around the subject. Because in cyberspace, apparently, all truth is relative and nothing can be proven.

Bollocks to that! Truth isn’t relative and there is nearly always evidence. If Uncle Sam dates back to before the USA, why even suggest that it comes from the Irish acronym for the USA? Why not just look up the facts and reject it from the start rather than continuing to spread rubbish and look stupid? Or perhaps the two minutes checking the veracity of what you’re saying is considered too great a waste of time. After all, you could be spending those two minutes tweeting another piece of absolute shite dredged up from the top of the back of your head …