When is a troll not a troll?

In 2013, I decided to start this blog as a response to Daniel Cassidy’s book How The Irish Invented Slang. My reasons for hating this book were numerous: I am a lover of the Irish language, and Cassidy’s idiotic book is stuffed full of fake Irish which has nothing to do with the genuine article; Cassidy was good at sliming and sucking up to well-connected people and he used these carefully-cultivated links to give an air of scholarship to a work that is no more scholarly than Erich von Daniken; Cassidy cultivated an image of radicalism, so that any attempt to tell the truth about Cassidy’s hoax has been attacked as an attempt to protect mysterious right-wing and Anglophile cliques in the world of linguistics. During my research on Cassidy, I also found out (from his sister) that he failed his degree at Cornell and that the only explanation for his ‘professorship’ at New College of California is straightforward and simple fraud.

Over the last five years of blogging, I have been criticised many times. On a number of occasions, I have been accused of being a troll. The last time I was accused of trolling was a couple of months ago, by Cassidy’s brother Michael.

So, I have been thinking recently about what a troll is and what a troll is not and I thought I would share these thoughts with my readers here. Firstly, let’s take a common definition of the term, such as the definition from Wikipedia:

In Internet slang, a troll is a person who starts quarrels or upsets people on the Internet to distract and sow discord by posting inflammatory and digressive, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the intent of provoking readers into displaying emotional responses and normalizing tangential discussion, whether for the troll’s amusement or a specific gain.

The first point that leaps out here is the bit about ‘in an online community’. CassidySlangScam is a blog established by me to tell the truth about Daniel Cassidy’s book, and also to provide information about genuine and not so genuine claims about Irish etymology made by people other than Cassidy. On those occasions where I have left messages on more public forums, I have never deliberately sought to cause offence. My primary aim here is to provide information, to counter the lies and the nonsense spread by Cassidy and his crony friends.

The problem seems to be that some people regard not agreeing with them as trolling. It isn’t. I am not primarily trying to upset people, though I really don’t care if I do upset people who deserve it. The fact is – and it is a fact – that Cassidy and his odious clique of hangers-on began this. They spread fake information, slandered genuine scholars, attacked anyone who disagreed with what was an obvious and demonstrable piece of dishonesty. There is a long list of ugly, misshapen and entirely bogus phrases in Cassidy’s book. In this blog, I have consistently challenged Cassidy’s defenders to provide genuine, objectively-verifiable evidence of any of his claims. None of them has ever done so. These people think they are special, better than the rest of us, just as Cassidy did. They think they have a right to have their ideas taken seriously, even when those ideas are pure invention and they are not prepared to defend them with proof.

They also like to pretend that Cassidy was an honest and well-intentioned man who just got it a bit wrong. This also flies in the face of all the evidence. This blog gives dozens of examples of this man’s dishonesty, pomposity, arrogance and bad faith. This man deserved no respect. He was not even deserving of my pity.

If anyone thinks I should be kinder about Cassidy (and presumably those who call me a troll are claiming that my attacks on Cassidy are unjustified), then they need to offer some proof that he wasn’t a liar. Nobody has ever provided any proof that Cassidy was anything other than a narcissist and a fake. Until they do, I’ll keep on telling the truth and saying that Cassidy and anyone who defends his hoax is a shameless liar.

After all, if they could disprove this blog and give evidence that Cassidy was right, wouldn’t that strengthen the case that I’m a troll? But if they think everyone should accept their beliefs without evidence, and that they have a right to come here and insult me and other critics of Cassidy without any attempt to argue rationally, isn’t that proof that they are the trolls?

3 thoughts on “When is a troll not a troll?

  1. Marconatrix

    TBH I’m puzzled over why this is all such an issue for you.

    A man publishes a silly book — not exactly an unheard of event. Especially when it comes to little-known languages, and indeed etymology in general, a great deal of what you come across, outwith the scholarly literature, in ‘popular culture’ that is, is at best amusing nonsense, nothing more. You are of course fully entitled to have a bit of fun debunking his inventions, and hopefully interesting and educating your readers a little in the process. Fair do’s!

    But why you clear anger? Do you have a personal grudge or something? Where is your dog in this race?

  2. D. L. Gold

    People who do not like a message should either refute it or accept it.

    Those who do not like the message but cannot refute it and cannot accept it should remain silent. If they instead attack the messenger (= ad hominem remarks), they lack scruples.
    Cassidy’s supporters therefore have four options. The one that each of them picks will reveal something about that person.

    There are no Anglophile cliques or anti-Irish cliques or anti-Cassidy conspiracies in linguistics. Where Irish has influenced English, that influence is recognized. Where Irish influence has been claimed but the available evidence does not support the claim, the claim has been rejected or questioned, depending on the strength of the counter-evidence. Where Irish influence has been empirically proven but not yet acknowledged, it will eventually be recognized.

    Are we to believe that Cassidy, with no training in linguistics, found accurate Irish etymologies for several hundred English words which countless linguists have overlooked? Would you believe someone with no training in medicine who claimed to be able to cure several dozen illnesses which medical science still finds incurable?

    Why have the departments of English and the departments of Irish in Irish universities not hailed his research? Is it because they are Anglophilic and anti-Irish?

    Before Cassidy’s book was published, he submitted the manuscript to an Irish publishing house, which rejected it. Are we to believe that an Irish publishing house too is Anglophilic and anti-Irish? Why did other Irish publishers not snatch it up? Imagining anti-Irish cliques or anti-Cassidy conspiracies suggests psychosis.

    Since Cassidy possessed no linguistics (and no Irish…), he had no idea of how etymological research proceeds and what the stringent requirements of the discipline are for an acceptable etymology. His conception of etymological research was that of all other Sunday-afternoon and cocktail-party etymologists: if word x looks or sounds like word y, word x must be derived from word y.

    Impressionism has its place in cinematography, literature, music, painting, photography, and sculpture, but not in the most exact of the social sciences and the most social of the exact sciences, namely, linguistics, where (1) the dictum “if x looks or sounds like y, they must be related” is not recognized and (2) “if x and y look or sound alike, they may be related” is only a tentative first-step assumption, to be followed, obligatorily, by as thorough an analysis as possible to determine whether a genetic connection exists and, if so, what the nature of the connection is: (1) x comes from y, (2) y comes from x, or (3) x and y come from z.

    Were etymological research as easy as finding similarities and not proceeding to any analysis, data-matching software could do it.

    The challenge remains: if you believe that Cassidy’s etymology of this or that English word is right, prove it and disprove all the others proposed for it.

    It is true that linguists may be mistaken about the empirical truth. Today’s “empirical truth” may be tomorrow’s baseless myth. Self-respecting linguists correct their mistakes when they become aware of them. That is one of the reasons why dictionaries and other products of linguistic research are revised.

    By contrast, Cassidy felt no loyalty to the empirical truth and he lacked the honesty to recognize even one of his mistakes.

    Those denouncing Cassidy’s numberless blunders show a true love of the Irish language – in contrast to his feigned love – because they want the language to be presented in a true light.

    An accurate picture is not measured by the number of English words one can claim to be of Irish origin, no matter whether they are of that origin or not. True love is measured by the accuracy of the description of the language, which includes an accurate description of its influence on other languages, whether such influence is considerable or inconsiderable, not by falsifying the description to make Irish look more influential than it has been.

    As you make your bed, so must you lie in it. In the annals of linguistics, Cassidy has gone down, in a footnote, as having contributed nothing.

    With respect to the “dog in the race,” there are actually three, which are those of all sciences: (1) ascertaining the empirical truth, (2) informing the public of the empirical truth, and (3) informing the public of claims that do not comport with the empirical truth.

  3. DebunkerOfCassidy Post author

    Marconatrix, much as I appreciate your contributions here, we have been down this road SO MANY times before! 🙂 David’s points above reflect exactly what I think – that even where the facts are obscure and apparently unimportant, the truth is always important. Facts are facts, lies are lies, and we confuse them at our peril.

    I have no grudge. I never met Cassidy. He was long dead when his poisonous nonsense about my language and culture came onto my radar. However, you are right that my response is emotional as well as rational. Other pompous fakes like Von Daniken and David Icke are not invited to talk at New York University. They are not lauded and applauded by genuine scholars who happened to be part of their social circle. Cassidy was everything I despise. A lazy, smug, dishonest, self-worshipping prick who faked his qualifications to get a job as an academic, pretended to be a radical and a man of principle, and who was incredibly good at conning people who should have been a lot more careful about where they put their trust.

    My dog in this race? A big, snarly Rottweiler which will continue to rip this worthless, pompous charlatan to shreds as long as I have the strength to carry on …


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