September 2018’s Twits of the Month – The Vintage News

The September 2018 Twit of the Month is a site called The Vintage News. They have put up a short video called American slang words we never knew were invented by the Irish. In the video, a lot of ridiculous derivations made up by Cassidy are given, along with a couple which Cassidy borrowed from more trustworthy sources:

Snazzy =Snasah: (sic, Snasach is the right version). Cassidy didn’t make this one up. Although the connection between snazzy and snasach is believable enough, it is not likely to be correct. When the term snazzy was first used, it referred to a person called Snazelle – Snazzy was his nickname.

Spiel = Speal. A speal is a scythe, an instrument used to cut grass. It rhymes with the name Al. There is a similar word in Scots Gaelic and there is a subsidiary meaning in that language, namely, sharp words. In other words, that isn’t its meaning in the Irish language. And of course, spiel comes from German (apparently, it’s not from Yiddish – see comments below).

Baloney = Béal ónna. Of course, there is no such phrase as béal ónna. Daniel Cassidy made it up.

Bunkum = Buanchumadh. We have discussed this one before. It is a reference to Buncombe County, and a politician called Felix Walker. There is no such phrase as buanchumadh. It is simply nonsense made up by Daniel Cassidy.

Swell = Sóúil. Sóúil means luxurious (hardly a match to any meaning of the word swell) and it is pronounced so-ool, which doesn’t sound much like swell either. Also, the real origin of swell is well-known and explained here:

Slugger = slacaire. Slacaire sounds like slackarra, so why would it have become slugger, not slacker? Also, there are lots of words in English which have meanings like beating, trudging, words like slug and slog and slag, as well as words like schlagen in German. You can find some notes on them here:

Dork = dorc. According to this idiotic piece of non-information on Vintage News, the Irish dorc means dwarf. Really? News to me. And the word dork is widely believed to be a disguised form of ‘dick’.

Croney = comh-roghna. Again, this is an entirely fake phrase invented by Cassidy. Croney is believed to be Cambridge slang of the late 17th century and derived from Greek chronios, old.

Phoney = fáinne (ring). This is quite likely true (in my opinion) but predates Cassidy by decades. It possibly derives from fake gold rings used in scams, known as fawneys. However, the link is not universally accepted, and David L. Gold, who is a knowledgeable and intelligent etymologist, is one of the sceptics.

Dude = dúd. There is no evidence for a Gaelic origin of dude, a 19th century term for a dandy. Most scholars regard it as derived from the song Yankee Doodle Dandy, who stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni (macaroni was 18th century slang for a dandy).

Slum = ‘s lom (é). Is lom é is a made-up Cassidy phrase. Even if it did exist, anyone with any background in linguistics will realise that phrases like this are not usually borrowed. Also, slums are not usually bare, which is the meaning of lom. And of course, as it originally referred to bedrooms or flophouses, the word slum almost certainly comes from slumber.

Fluke = fo-luach. According to Cassidy, this phrase means a windfall or a rare reward. The phrase fo-luach does not exist and if it did, it would mean something like a ‘subsidiary value’. Pure nonsense.

Nincompoop = naioidhean. Actually, Cassidy’s original claim was that nincompoop comes from the ‘Irish’ naioidhean ar chuma búb, supposedly an insulting phrase meaning an infant in the shape of a booby. This is not a real phrase, of course. Nincompoop probably comes from the Latin phrase Non compos mentis.

Scam = ‘s cam é. Cassidy claims that scam comes from this phrase, which might just mean ‘it is crooked’. So, when you say, it’s a scam, you are apparently saying It’s an it is crooked. Yeah, right. In reality, there are a number of possible origins for scam. The front runner is probably the Spanish escamotear, which is a verb meaning to scam or to rob.

Boogaloo = bogadh luath. According to Cassidy, the phrase boogaloo comes from Irish. Boogaloo comes from bogadh luath, which means ‘early moving’ and is pronounced bogga looa or boggoo looa. Why? What connection does this have to the known uses of boogaloo? Your guess is as good as mine. Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, boogaloo is believed to have been coined in the 1960s, and derives from the onomatopoeic music style boogie-woogie.

Puss = pus. This is true but is accepted by all dictionaries and predates Cassidy by decades. Puss as in a dig in the puss or a sourpuss (not puss as in cat) comes from the Irish word pus, which means a pouting lip.

So, what have we got here? A couple of (perhaps) genuine derivations from Irish, along with a large collection of fantasy nonsense invented by the late Daniel Cassidy in his book How The Irish Invented Slang. The comments, which number nearly 2000, are interesting. Many people expressed scepticism about this nonsense, especially spiel, which is the most obviously wrong. Eoin Ó Murchú pointed out that this was all rubbish derived from Cassidy’s book. One person, Dilean Mac Searraigh, said “Most of these are ridiculous … there are Irish words in English … but these are totally inaccurate gibberish. Someone literally just made them up.”

The critics were then rebuked by someone called Rhonda Pennington:

I can’t believe a fun post like this has generated such snarky remarks. It’s all in fun. Why does everything have to be an argument these days? Where is your sense of humour, people?

I’m sure others will be wondering the same as me. Where exactly is the fun? Where’s the humour? This is largely a collection of fantasy without any foundation in fact. Yet there is no indication that this is ironic or not meant to be true. What has promoting non-facts that aren’t true about other people’s languages and cultures to do with fun, especially languages which have been subject to discrimination for generations? If this were claiming to be a list of words and phrases from Gullah or Cherokee but it was mostly made-up, I’m inclined to think that it wouldn’t be regarded as fun. I think most people would regard it as cultural appropriation or (and this is the way I view it) as racism.

I choose to take The Vintage News’ rubbish as a deliberate attempt to deceive, because the facts about Cassidy and his dishonesty have been out there for years. The people at Vintage News did no research. Vintage News is responsible for deliberately spreading nonsense as if it were fact, and nobody is deserving of anyone’s respect or tolerance for being a liar, however funny they think these lies are.

10 thoughts on “September 2018’s Twits of the Month – The Vintage News

  1. David L. Gold

    Of course you are right that English spiel does not come from Irish.

    It does not come from Yidish either. Rather, German is the source of the word. Details here:

    Gold, David L. “The Etymology of English spiel and spieler and Scots English bonspiel.” In his Studies in Etymology and Etiology (With Emphasis on Germanic, Jewish, Romance, and Slavic Languages). Selected and Edited, with a Foreword, by Félix Rodríguez González and Antonio Lillo Buades. Alicante. Publicaciones de la Universidad de Alicante. 2009. Pp. 563-570.

  2. DebunkerOfCassidy Post author

    Hi David, Thanks for that information. For those of us who don’t have access to this text, could I ask you briefly to explain why Yiddish is out of the running? I note that shpil has the same range of meanings as German spiel. I am not questioning your claim here (I accept that you know a vast amount more about Yiddish and Hebrew than I do) but I am genuinely interested in the reasoning behind your rejecting the Yiddish derivation, even as a remote possibility.

    1. David L. Gold

      Here are highlights of that chapter:

      Argument 1. Meaning.

      When you say that the German and Yidish words have the same range of meanings, I think that you are looking only at Standard New High German, as presented in German-English dictionaries, but if one looks at nonstandard German, one finds Spiel ‘gossip, talk’ (cognate with English spell ‘charm, incantation’), which could easily have resulted in English spiel ‘a usually high-flown talk or speech, especially for the purpose of luring people to a movie, a sale, etc.; a pitch’.

      Yidish shpil ‘game’ (as in “chess is a game”) or ‘play [dramatic work]’ would not yield the meaning of the English word.

      Argument 2. Chronology

      American English speil ~ spiel ‘gamble’ (verb). The earliest known evidence for the word is dated 1859 — too early for any Yidish influence on American English (though not for Yidish influence on British English).

      Argument 3. Ethnic context

      The earliest known use of the English verb spiel ‘play music’ is dated 1870 and the context is German (in the ethnic sense), not Jewish.

      That is just a sample to illustrate how I look at each meaning separately, try to find the earliest evidence for it, and glean whatever additional information (ethnic context, for example) might lead us to prefer one etymology over another.

      One or two uses of the word do point to Yidish rather than German (mentioned in the chapter) but they are rare and the context is clearly Jewish. The most frequent uses of the English word spiel — those listed in general dictionaries — are from German.

      1. DebunkerOfCassidy Post author

        Thanks very much for giving us the heads up on that, David. Just goes to show, what looks like common sense (surely spiel must be Yiddish!) is often completely disproved when it comes in contact with real evidence. Much appreciated! 🙂

  3. Marconatrix

    TBH, sir, I think you really do protest too much.

    So called “folk etymology” has probably been around almost as long as language itself. If Irish is in the cases you quote targeted as the imaginary source, it’s surely simply because Irish is now little spoken and not too well known. Anyone with a serious interest in linguistics, language history etc. quickly learns to take such ‘derivations’ with a very large pinch of salt.

    Sin mo bheachd fhéin, có-dhiù 🙂

  4. DebunkerOfCassidy Post author

    Welcome back, sir! I take the point (and it’s one you’ve made before!) Cassidy’s book is a special case for a number of reasons. Firstly, this is not folk etymology by any stretch of the imagination. This was one man who didn’t speak Irish, who didn’t have any degrees or qualifications and who had never lived in Ireland, who sat down and invented hundreds of fake Irish expressions. Secondly, Cassidy was good at sucking up to important (or at least, well connected) people, so he was able to pretend to be a professor, get loads of respected academics to provide him with positive reviews for a book that was essentially no more scholarly than Graham Hancock or Erich Von Daniken. The fact that our languages are not widely spoken certainly helped him as well but to me, if you anyone is going to promote crap like this, they should do a two minute check on Google beforehand. What’s wrong with checking and getting stuff right for a change, even with the Twittergrambook Generation? And if they can’t be bothered doing any fact-checking before endorsing the most ludicrous shit on the internet, I think they deserve to be treated as imbeciles. 🙂

    Dála an scéil, tá mé ag léamh Air Chuan Dubh Drilseach faoi láthair. Deacair, ach is fiú é a léamh, gan amhras.

  5. DebunkerOfCassidy Post author

    I’ve just come across this pile of dreck on the Vintage News site:

    “However, Irish words that were adopted into the American lexicon only recently began receiving the attention they deserve ― primarily because they crept into the language through slang, which has for far too long been an unpopular subject for academics.

    Despite this, several books on the subjected have been written, which focus on the etymology of words that found common use in modern-day talk of most Americans. Among them, most notable was Niall Ó Donaill’s study Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla, published in 1977, and the more recent How the Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads by Daniel Cassidy, which came out in 2007.

    They discovered an entire body of words which became so integrated into the American-English vocabulary that most of them are today taken for granted.”

    Firstly, slang is not a Cinderella subject. If anything, it’s regarded as fun and interesting and gets at least as much attention as other areas of the study of language. Secondly, Niall Ó Dónaill’s Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla is the main Irish-English Dictionary. It is not a study of slang or the Irish influence of slang on English. While Cassidy cited it as a source, the overwhelming majority of Cassidy’s ‘Irish’ phrases are not in it, because Cassidy made them up.

    Unfortunately, that’s what you tend to get on the internet. Made up rubbish passed off as fact, used as clickbait. Disgraceful!

  6. David L. Gold

    If Rhonda Pennington feels that popularizing drivel about etymology is acceptable (“fun”), how does she feel about spreading misinformation concerning other sciences, say, ecology and medicine?

    Some people think it’s “fun” to joke about a person’s height, weight, age, gender, sexual orientation, color of skin, physical disabilities, mental capacity, language, ethnicity, and so on. Is that acceptable?

    What does Rhonda Pennington think, about jokes that poke fun at women?

    Has she attained any level of intellectuality?

  7. David L. Gold

    Has it been noted that Cassidy got the idea for How the Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads presumably from reading (at the least title of) Thomas Cahill’s How The Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe (a more serious book than Cassidy’s), which has been sharply criticized by Lisa M. Bitel in The Catholic Historical Review (volume 83, no. 2, April 1997) and by Tim Callahan in Skeptic Magazine (vol. 7, no. 1)?

    1. DebunkerOfCassidy Post author

      Yes, Cahill’s book has been mentioned in relation to Cassidy several times, though offhand I can’t remember where. I think one was by his friend Peter Linebaugh. Cahill’s book is less flaky than Cassidy’s but still not great. I’m sure Lisa Bitel is entirely right!


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