Monthly Archives: November 2017

Booze

I have noticed that many of the early posts on this blog get relatively little traffic, so I have decided to start republishing some of them.

This is a typically ridiculous Cassidy claim. Scholars have quite rightly identified that this word is Germanic in origin and is linked to the Dutch word busen, which meant to drink to excess. Booze is a long-established word in English, both as a verb and as a noun. For example, searching on the Michigan Middle English Dictionary website, I found this, from around 1325: Hail, ȝe holi monkes..Late and raþe ifillid of ale and wine! Depe cun ȝe bouse. (Hail, you holy monks. Late and early filled with ale and wine! Deep can you booze.)

Cassidy disagrees. On the basis of his vast knowledge of the Irish language (!) he believes that this word derives from an Irish word beathuis. Now, you will search in vain for this word in the dictionary. Beathuis is not a real word. Even if it were real, it wouldn’t sound much like booze. It would be pronounced as bahish.

Where did Cassidy get this word? Well, there is a word beathuisce (life-water) in the dictionaries. It is a variant of the vastly more common uisce beatha (water of life) which is the origin of English whisk(e)y. This variant seems to be found mostly in songs and poems and is probably used in these contexts for reasons of metre, because it has 3 syllables rather than 4. It is pronounced bahishka. So what about the inconvenient –ka at the end? After all, nobody talks about boozeka in English! According to Cassidy, beathuisce was shortened to beathuis. He gives no evidence of this or reason for it, and it seems about as likely as someone in English contracting the word water to wart.

So, to recap, there is a perfectly good derivation from Dutch which fits the facts, sounds right and has the right meaning, and was established in English by the early 14th century. And there is a completely improbable candidate which doesn’t sound like booze and which was made up by Cassidy by mutilating a rare variant word beathuisce, the ‘word’ beathuis.

Which is correct? I’ll leave you to make up your own mind on that one!

 

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Sharon A. Hill

I have just read a very interesting post by Sharon A. Hill. I always enjoy reading what Sharon Hill has to say, even if I don’t always agree with her. She writes well and argues intelligently, and this article was no exception. You can find it here: http://sharonahill.com/how-can-people-be-so-stupid-a-skewed-perspective/

She was discussing the attitude of the sceptical community to the phenomenon of people who believe the earth is flat. (This has been in the news recently because of a conference of Flat Earthers.)The prevailing attitude among those who regard themselves as sceptical and rational has been a mixture of cruelty, smugness and mockery.

As she says: “One comment expressed elimination of such people from society. Yeah, really. As with the Darwin Awards discussion, there are too many people who practice some very intolerant humanism. If I was exploring the concept of skepticism and saw that this kind of sentiment was acceptable, I’d be turned off right away.”

I actually agree with her about the Darwin Awards, where people who have contributed to their own demise in stupid ways are somehow regarded as improving the human gene pool. In my opinion, it’s tasteless, juvenile and does no service to Darwinism by linking it to this kind of callousness.

However, anyone reading my blog will quickly realise that I am quite capable of cruelty, smugness and mockery. I am quite prepared to twist the knife when I think someone is promoting stupid ideas like Cassidy’s theories on the origins of American slang or the Irish Slavery Meme and I make no apology for this.

The problem I have with Sharon A. Hill’s view is that it is over-kind. Yes, there are many reasons why people believe stupid things. As Sharon Hill says: “It’s not a lack of intelligence or because they skipped out on science class, it’s far more nuanced and complex than that.” However, this can lead to a kind of rampant relativism, where evidence doesn’t matter and people have to be allowed their beliefs, regardless of how daft they are. I know that isn’t what Sharon Hill wants, but I still think it can lead to that. And isn’t there something a little patronising about NOT criticising people who are saying really idiotic things? Shouldn’t they have to take responsibility for the nonsense they are spreading? Is there anything wrong with asking someone to provide evidence for their beliefs or shut up if they can’t? Or pointing out the networks of cronyism (like all those friends of Cassidy who lied their arses off to support him) or the foul political agendas that sometimes underlie these weird belief-systems (like the White Supremacist supporters of the Irish Slavery Meme)? And if some sceptics are very smug and arrogant, they are nowhere near as smug and arrogant as some of the True Believers, who disdain any kind of rational approach but treat people who use logic and evidence as blinkered establishment stooges.

I realise that Sharon A. Hill is a kind and decent person. Perhaps I’m not. Perhaps there is something aggressive and destructive about me that drives me to adopt this tone with people I consider to be supporters of obvious rubbish. And there is one point that she makes which I think is true, that this kind of mockery and unkindness generally doesn’t help to change the minds of people who believe silly ideas. If anything, it can make them more entrenched, because admitting that they believed something stupid is admitting their own folly.

However, I think this misses the point. People who have committed to believing silly things may become more entrenched in their silliness as a result of such criticism but what about the thousands of people who haven’t made their minds up yet? While the core of supporters around Cassidy seem to be as unwilling to admit the truth as ever, the casual nonsense published about Cassidy’s ideas in newspapers every St Patrick’s Day has disappeared, he is less quoted in books and articles and his book seems to be out of print now. In other words, it may not work on True Believers, but it certainly helps to stop them recruiting more innocents to their viewpoint. And if it works to that extent, I’m all for it.

Crony

I have noticed that many of the early posts on this blog get relatively little traffic, so I have decided to start republishing some of them.

Another oft-quoted claim of Cassidy’s, which has absolutely no basis in fact, is the notion that crony can be traced back to an Irish phrase comh-roghna. Cassidy says that this word means “fellow chosen-ones, mutual-sweethearts, fellow favourites, close friends, mutual pals”.

This is typical of Cassidy’s fantasies. While comh– exists and rogha/roghanna (roghna is the older version of the plural, roghanna the modern spelling) exists there is no evidence in the Irish language of either roghanna or comhroghanna being used to mean friends or pals. Comhrogha and comhroghanna are not even in Ó Dónaill’s dictionary, though the word comhrogha has been used with the abstract senses of rival, alternative or choice. Rogha itself means a choice. There are plenty of words and phrases for the concept of friends or mates – cairde, compánaigh, comrádaithe. Comhroghanna and roghanna are not among them. The word comhroghanna does not occur in the dictionaries with these meanings and they are not used in speech in this sense.

While the other words for companion or comrade, comrádaí, compánach and cara occur many times in Corpas na Gaeilge (a database of Irish), comhrogha only occurs five times and always in the sense of choice or alternative, never to refer to friends. In any case, comhroghanna (koh-ray-anna) doesn’t sound much like croney and it is plural – loanwords tend to be borrowed in their most basic, singular form.

It is also widely believed to be Cambridge university slang, derived from Greek chronios, meaning old. It first occurs in English contexts, not Irish.

A Christmas Warning

When I last looked at Amazon, Daniel Cassidy’s absurd book How The Irish Invented Slang was unavailable, though you can still buy a second-hand copy for a couple of dollars. If there were any justice, this trashy, awful book would never have been published in the first place. However, it’s Christmas, the world is full of suckers, so we can expect a few copies to be sold as naïve people look around for a present for their relatives and take this nasty piece of fakery as a genuine contribution to our knowledge about the Irish past.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again – if you give this book as a present, you are giving out a clear message about yourself. At least some of the recipients will find this blog or other negative reviews of this book. If they have any sense at all, they will realise that you are an idiot. A crank. A flat-earther. A flake. A total amadán, just like its author.

So, this Christmas, if you can’t think of anything to give people, don’t give this rubbish. Give a global gift from Trócaire or Oxfam or whatever the equivalent is where you live, or make a contribution to a charity on their behalf and put the receipt in a card. Give hope and help to people who need it, and say something positive about yourself.

Don’t give the gift of ignorance this Christmas.

Brag

I have noticed that many of the early posts on this blog get relatively little traffic, so I have decided to start republishing some of them.

According to the fake etymologist Daniel Cassidy, the terms ‘brag’ and ‘braggart’ in English derive from the Irish words bréag and bréagóir.

So, is there any truth to this claim? Well, the word bréag does exist in Irish and the word bréagóir is given as a variant (by Dinneen) of the more common expression bréagadóir. O Dónaill’s dictionary doesn’t even mention bréagóir as an alternative version. The problem is that while both of these expressions, bréag and bréagadóir/bréagóir, are somewhere in the ballpark, they are out with the hot-dog sellers rather than in the diamond. Bréag means ‘a lie’. It doesn’t mean the same thing as bragging or boasting. There are a number of expressions for bragging: ag déanamh mórtais, ag braigeáil (a loan word from English brag!), maíomh a dhéanamh as rud, ag déanamh a mhór díot féin and half a dozen others.

And, as it happens, brag is well attested in English as far back as the 14th century, which means that it didn’t come from bréag and has nothing to do with Irish slang in America. For example, the Michigan Middle English Dictionary has this, written around 1400 in the poem Piers Plowman:

He bosteth and braggeth with many bolde othes. (He boasts and brags with many bold oaths.)

And finally, let’s all have a good laugh at Cassidy’s expense. Bréag is pronounced brayg, to rhyme with Haigue or Craig. Broadly speaking, there are two ways of doing the phonetics in books like this. You can either learn the International Phonetic Alphabet and use it as the basis for your description, which looks a bit off-putting to anyone without linguistic training, or you can produce an ad hoc system of your own based on English, as I did with brayg above.

This is the IPA version: bʲɾʲeːɡ. At least, I think this is right. I’m no expert!

Cassidy wrote b’ríǒg as his version of the phonetics of the word bréag. Nobody trying to work out the pronunciation of bréag would have a chance of pronouncing it properly from this. While it looks as technical and scientific as the IPA, it is complete nonsense. Pure codology. God alone knows what Cassidy thought he was doing when he produced this silly little piece of pseudo-phonetics but it just goes to show what a complete charlatan, doofus and moron he was!

These words, of course, are all Irish: síorliodán meaning ‘an eternal rigmarole’, dubhfhios meaning ‘black knowledge’ or figuratively, ignorance, and mór-rón, a big fat stupid seal. (Of course, in reality, none of these is derived from Irish, but it just shows how easy it is to produce crap like this using Cassidy’s fake ‘methodology!’)

Hoodoo

I have noticed that many of the early posts on this blog get relatively little traffic, so I have decided to start republishing some of them.

According to Cassidy, the term ‘hoodoo’ derives from an Irish expression uath dubh, which (according to Cassidy) means:

Uath Dubh, (pron. h-úŏ doo): dark specter, evil phantom, a malevolent thing; horror, dread; a dark, spiky, evil-looking thing. Uath, n., a form or shape; a spectre or phantom; dread, terror, hate. Old Gaelic name for the hawthorn. Dubh, (pron. doo, duv), adj., dark; black; malevolent, evil; wicked; angry, sinister; gloomy, melancholy; strange, unknown.

 (O’Donaill, 457, 1294; Dineen, 374, 1287; De Bhaldraithe, English-Irish Dictionary, 755; Dwelly, 988)

Looking at this list of dictionaries, you would think that Cassidy had actually found the phrase uath dubh recorded in one or all of them. In fact, no dictionary records the phrase uath dubh. Uath is in Ó Dónaill’s dictionary, where it is described as a literary term meaning fear or horror (for literary, read ‘old-fashioned’ or ‘not in current use.’) It is also given in Dinneen, where it is defined as:

A form or shape, a spectre or phantom; dread, terror; hate.

It is not found in De Bhaldraithe, which is an English-Irish dictionary and seems to have been thrown in to make the list of references look more impressive. Dwelly is a Scottish Gaelic dictionary and therefore quite irrelevant in this context.

There is also another old-fashioned term uath, an entirely different word, which means the whitethorn bush.

So, the situation is this. The first part of Cassidy’s definition above (Uath Dubh, (pron. h-úŏ doo): dark specter, evil phantom, a malevolent thing; horror, dread; a dark, spiky, evil-looking thing) was invented by Cassidy. And not only is the supposed Irish source of ‘hoodoo’ not in any dictionary or any other source, Cassidy mixes up two quite separate words and throws in the adjective spiky for good measure because a whitethorn bush is spiky!

If you are sympathetic to Cassidy, you are probably saying, if uath exists and dubh exists, couldn’t Cassidy be right? Couldn’t the two words have been combined by Irish speakers to mean an evil apparition?

I don’t think so. Even leaving aside the fact that uath was an old-fashioned word by the 19th century, where is the evidence that the Irish ever believed in a supernatural being called the uath dubh? Why hasn’t this word survived in any books or poems or stories or songs? Why didn’t the collectors of Irish folklore find any trace of it? Why isn’t it as well known as the banshee (bean sí) or the pooka (púca)?

Suppose someone decided that in English there was a supernatural being called a spritegoblin. Is it enough for them to prove that the words sprite and goblin both exist in English? Wouldn’t you expect them to find specific references to the compound word spritegoblin?

Unfortunately, Cassidy’s book is haunted by hundreds of spritegoblins, made-up phrases which don’t exist outside of Cassidyworld.  Cassidy, on his own admission, spoke no Irish at all. He claimed that he ‘checked’ his words with a native speaker of Irish. Exactly how he did this is unclear. I have visions of him walking into an Irish bar, asking if anyone was an Irish speaker, showing the putative native speaker his list of words and asking them if they were OK, and then when they nodded sagely and said ‘Oh yes!’ he would buy them a pint as a reward. Maybe this is a bit cynical on my part, but  I can’t imagine that he did the thing that anyone would do if they seriously wanted to prove their case. I’m sure he never gave a list of words and phrases like uath dubh and sách úr to native speakers in a blind test to see whether they really are recognisable as what Cassidy thought they meant. Cassidy obviously preferred to include all kinds of rubbish and not check his facts at all because with even a slight scrutiny of his materials he would have ended up with a pamphlet rather than a book.

The origin of hoodoo is a mystery but there is absolutely no evidence linking it to the Irish language or to the island of Ireland. Unless Cassidy’s supporters can find even one reference to the uath dubh somewhere in the vast corpus of Irish literature, we can reasonably assume that it doesn’t exist and that it is yet another figment of Daniel Cassidy’s imagination.

Sneeze

I have noticed that many of the early posts on this blog get relatively little traffic, so I have decided to start republishing some of them.

 

Here’s another example of my issues with Cassidy’s theories. According to Cassidy, the English word sneeze derives from Irish:

Sní as (pron. snee’as, flowing, dripping, leaking, coursing out of) is not to be sneezed at. It is the Irish origin of the English sneeze.

There are several points to be noted here. First of all, the phrase sní as doesn’t exist in Irish as a way of referring to sneezing. Nor could it exist, as far as I can see. The word sní refers to slow movement of liquids, such as a running, a dripping or a flowing, or to the slow movement of snails or slugs. Here is the entry from Mícheál Ó Siochfhradha’s Irish-English, English-Irish Dictionary published in 1973 by the Talbot Press in Dublin:

Sní, f. flowing slowly (as water); crawling (as snail)

As sneezing is one of the fastest and most dynamic actions the human body is capable of, it hardly seems likely that sní would be used to describe it! It would be far more likely to be used (if at all) as a way of describing a nose running because of a cold.

Then again, there is an Irish word for sneeze. It’s in all the dictionaries. Sraoth is the word. So if you want to say “I sneezed”, you would say lig me sraoth. If you want to say ‘I was sneezing’, you say bhí mé ag sraothartach (or in my Ulster dialect, bhí mé ag srofartaigh).

And last but by no means least, we have to look at borrowings between languages. Generally speaking, languages borrow words that they don’t have a word for themselves. Thus banshee, or kosher, or imam have been borrowed into English because English doesn’t have words for those concepts. But people have always sneezed, so why wouldn’t English have had a word for sneezing before the Irish gave them an expression?

Of course, the English did have an expression for sneezing. It’s the word sneezing. English is a Germanic language, which is why Irish fear is ‘man’ in English and ‘Mann’ in German, or Irish lámh is ‘hand’ in English and ‘Hand’ in German, because the core vocabulary of the Germanic languages is related. If we look at words for sneeze in the Germanic languages, sneeze is ‘niesen’ (pronounced ‘neezen’) in German and ‘niezen’ (neesa) in Dutch. Apparently all of these words originally had an f in front of them which in English was somehow replaced with an s, probably on the analogy of words like sniff, snort, snivel. As it happens, the version with f- is not found in any Old English text but this doesn’t mean it never existed.

By the time of Chaucer, the word already existed in English as snesen. The words sneeze, niesen and niezen are obviously the same word (and phonetically far closer than many of Cassidy’s fake associations like block and bealach or sách úr and sucker) and none of them has any direct connection with Irish.