Stool Pigeon

There are hundreds of stupid and dishonest claims in Daniel Cassidy’s book, How The Irish Invented Slang. None is more stupid or dishonest than Cassidy’s theories about the phrase stool pigeon.

The facts are well-known. A stool pigeon was originally a decoy, a pigeon attached to a stool or some other wooden structure used to lure other pigeons. There is some doubt about the real meaning of the stool element. Some people regard it as a corruption of a word stall which originally meant a decoy.

Its earliest occurrence is in this context, in a work of 1812 called History of Animals: Designed for the Instruction and Amusement of Persons of Both Sexes by Noah Webster:

In this manner, the decoy or stool pigeon is made to flutter, and a flock of pigeons may be called in their flight from a great distance.

It was not long before it acquired the meaning of spy or informer.

Cassidy decided, for no particular reason, that it really came from Irish, so he got a dictionary and set about trying to make up a ‘well-known phrase’ that would fool a few suckers. His first attempt, as published in the Linguistlist on July 24 2003, was stuail beidean, ‘a storer of lies and calumny’, along with stoolie coming from stuailai, a ‘storer of slander’. The word béideán is a dialectal variant of béadán, which means gossip or slander. Cassidy used the alternative version because it sounds more like pigeon. Béadán is pronounced ‘bay-dahn’. Stuáil is a gaelicisation of the English verb to stow. Its main meaning is to pad, to pack or to stow.

By the time the book was published, he’d invented another ‘Irish’ phrase, using the verb steall, which means spout. It can have the meaning tattle, but there is no evidence that anyone, anywhere, has ever used phrases like steall béideán in Irish to mean anything, let alone a police informer.

Ina leabhar amaideach How The Irish Invented Slang, maíonn sé na céadta rud nach bhfuil ciall ar bith leo ach níl ceann ar bith acu chomh bómánta le teoiricí Cassidy faoin fhrása stool pigeon.

Ní deacair teacht ar na fíricí. Is é a bhí I gceist le stool pigeon ná éan cluana, colúr a bhí ceangailte de stól nó de chreatlach adhmaid de chineál éigin, le héanlaith eile a mhealladh. Tá amhras éigin faoin fhocal stool. Measann saineolaithe áirithe gur stall a bhí ann, seanfhocal Béarla ar éan cluana nó decoy.

Tá an téarma seo le fail den chéad uair sa bhliain 1812, I leabhar darbh ainm History of Animals: Designed for the Instruction and Amusement of Persons of Both Sexes le Noah Webster:

In this manner, the decoy or stool pigeon is made to flutter, and a flock of pigeons may be called in their flight from a great distance.

Níorbh fhada go bhfuair sé an chiall bhreise de spiaire nó brathadóir de chuid na bpóilíní.

Shocraigh Cassidy, ar chúis éigin nach eol do dhuine ar bith ach é féin, gurbh ón Ghaeilge a tháinig sé, agus mar sin de, thóg sé foclóir agus thosaigh sé ar ‘chor cainte’ a chumadh a chuirfeadh dallamullóg ar roinnt glasóg gan chiall. An chéad iarracht a rinne sé, foilsíodh ar an Linguistlist é ar an 24 Iúil 2003. Séard a bhí ann ná stuail beidean, ‘a storer of lies and calumny’, (recte stuáil béadán) maraon le stoolie, a tháinig, dar le Cassidy, ó stuailai, a ‘storer of slander’ (recte stuálaí). Is leagan malartach canúnach é béideán den fhocal béadán, a chiallaíonn cúlchaint nó feannadh. Bhain Cassidy úsáid as an leagan sin cionn is go bhfuil sé níos cosúla le pigeon. Is leagan Gaelaithe stuáil den bhriathar Béarla to stow. Ciallaíonn sé pacáil nó líonadh.

Faoin am ar foilsíodh an leabhar, bhí frása eile ‘Gaeilge’ cumtha aige, steall béideán. Ciallaíonn steall an rud céanna le sceitheadh. Tá an chiall cúlchaint ag baint leis, ach níl fianaise ar bith ann gur bhain duine ar bith, áit ar bith, úsáid as frásaí mar ‘steall béideán’ i nGaeilge le ciall ar bith a chur in iúl, gan trácht ar an chiall ‘brathadóir de chuid na bpóilíní’.

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