January’s Twit of the Month – Peter Linebaugh

For a couple of months now, I have been meaning to tackle the subject of Peter Linebaugh, a very indifferent Marxist historian who was a friend and crony of Daniel Cassidy and who unwisely lent his support to Cassidy’s ridiculous book and theories. As Linebaugh says in a review of Cassidy’s puerile trash on Counterpunch:

This now will change thanks to Daniel Cassidy’s amazing dictionary. The efflorescence of Irish-American cultural studies which has taught us (referring to a couple of other books) how the Irish saved civilization or how the Irish became white, has now explained How the Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads (2007). Cassidy’s entries are often little essays of social history expressed in caustic wit and erudition, similar to the work of those other people’s lexicographers of the San Francisco Bay, Iain Boal and Ambrose Bierce.

Elsewhere in the same article, he uses a large number of Cassidy’s idiotic fake Irish terms:

If it was an English speaker who said there’s no free lunch, surely it was an Irish one who gave us lunch. On the one hand the Irish distrusts extravagance or b.s. and is quick to spot a phoney or name a wanker or a twerp or a nincumpoop, a hick or a jerk. On the other hand it is capable of all the malarkey and baloney you’ll ever need. It supplies ‘fighting words,’ the pigeon, the sap, the punk, the mug, and the puss, and follow them with a wallop, a slug. And it’ll keep you in stitches, going helter-skelter, in a generalized hilarity of the giggle from the proletarian quarters.

These words have been comprehensively dealt with here, so nobody (including Peter Linebaugh) has any excuse for claiming that lunch, wanker, twerp, hick, helter-skelter, giggle, jerk or baloney have anything to do with Irish. (As we’ve seen before, phoney is almost certainly of Irish origin but predates Cassidy by years.)

Elsewhere (and in 2016, years after Cassidy was totally discredited) he writes: Danny Cassidy supplied … a lexicography from below showing how the Irish language, while severely diminished in Ireland, survived in America as slang!

But the rot goes deeper than this. The problem seems to be the shallow, Google-search style of history that Peter Linebaugh practices and it’s this lack of depth which makes him give credence to Cassidy’s derivations without checking their validity.

The work of Linebaugh’s that I have read (which is, in fairness, two books – it was enough for me) seems to cherry-pick and flit from place to place and era to era in pursuit of support for vague ideological arguments. I am not an expert on history, but it seems that the debate here (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2001/09/20/the-many-headed-hydra-an-exchange/) between Linebaugh (and his co-author Rediker) and David Brion Davis shows the incompetence of their research – “The Many-Headed Hydra is riddled with … blatant errors from the start to the finish.”

John Madziarczyk also claims that Linebaugh is essentially drawing on other, more obscure sources (http://www.losthighwaytimes.com/2007/06/peter-linebaughpopularizer-of-ideas-not.html) like the book Pirate Utopias by Peter Lamborn Wilson and that his work is deeply derivative. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of these observations (and to be frank, I can’t be bothered doing the necessary research in an area so far outside my comfort zone), though I consider the criticisms entirely credible.

Linebaugh and Rediker also come in for criticism here for taking a newspaper account from 1738 of a Native American uprising against settlers in Nantucket as genuine: (http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/166955)

And at the end of the day, I’m of the left and socially very liberal. I am not bothered or offended by Linebaugh’s or Cassidy’s purported leftism. I am bothered by a tendency to make claims unsupported by evidence. This kind of fakery is repugnant, whether it’s coming from some Trump-loving redneck or from a gaggle of Californian liberals and their socialist intellectual friends. The truth is the truth. It has no left or right, no ethnicity or gender or sexual orientation or nationality. If something doesn’t correspond at all to the known and established facts, it isn’t true and nobody, regardless of their beliefs, should waste their time on it.

As Linebaugh says in his CounterPunch article, we Irish distrust bullshit and are quick to spot a phoney or name a wanker or a twerp or a nincompoop … It is for this reason that I am happy to bestow my January 2018 CassidySlangScam Twit of the Month Award on Peter Linebaugh, lousy historian and crony of Daniel Cassidy.

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