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Cassidese Glossary – Big Bug

For some time now, some of my on-line friends have advised me to provide a version of CassidySlangScam without the invective aimed at Cassidy and his supporters. In response to that advice, I am working on providing a glossary of the terms in Cassidy’s ludicrous book How The Irish Invented Slang with a short, simple and business-like explanation of why Cassidy’s version is wrong.

The term ‘big bug’ is an American expression that corresponds to terms like ‘bigwig’, big cheese, big wheel, big shot. In other words, it means someone important.

Cassidy points out that there is a very similar phrase in Irish, boc mór, which means a ‘big buck’. It is used in the same way as the English term. You could imagine someone using this term in the same way as big bug and with the same meaning.

Síleann sé gur boc mór é.

He thinks he’s a boc mór.

He thinks he’s a big bug.

In other words, this is a very good match. This is about as good as it gets in Cassidy’s ‘research’. However, while I accept that the link is possible, it is far from certain that there is any link between big bug and boc mór, because there is no evidence, and the English expression ‘big bug’ makes perfect sense on its own – at least as much sense as big cheese or big wheel.

Cassidese Glossary – Biddy

For some time now, some of my on-line friends have advised me to provide a version of CassidySlangScam without the invective aimed at Cassidy and his supporters. In response to that advice, I am working on providing a glossary of the terms in Cassidy’s ludicrous book How The Irish Invented Slang with a short, simple and business-like explanation of why Cassidy’s version is wrong.

Biddy was originally an expression for an old woman and was also used later in America as a slang term for an Irish maid. Both these terms derive from the English Biddy (or Irish Bidí), which were familiar forms of the common name Bridget. (See the excellent Etymonline: https://www.etymonline.com/word/biddy#etymonline_v_11127.) It is best known in phrases like ‘an old biddy’.

Cassidy refuses to accept the well-known explanation associating it with the name Bridget. His claim is that it comes from the Irish word beadaí, both a noun meaning an epicure or a fastidious person and the adjective for fussy or fastidious. It can also mean ‘a goose’. Beadaí is pronounced ‘baddy’ and its meaning of fastidiousness has nothing to do with the English meanings of the word biddy. Old biddies are usually gossips and busybodies, not fussy people.

 

Cassidese Glossary – Bicker

Daniel Cassidy in his book, How The Irish Invented Slang, claims that the word bicker, meaning to argue, comes from the Irish word béicire, which means ‘a shouter, a person who shouts’.

As Cassidy admits, the word bicker goes back a very, very long way in English. It is found in Chaucer. This in itself suggests that it is not of Irish origin, as there was little Irish influence on the English language that far back. In fact, there is no evidence that the Irish word béicire existed back then, though the word béicc (a shout) did exist at that time and some earlier equivalent of béicire may well have existed. The word béicire is a poor match for bicker. It doesn’t sound like bicker (the word béicire sounds more like English baker). If we substitute the meaning of béicire into sentences using bicker, it is clear that the meaning is problematic:

The kids were [shouty person] in the back of the car all the way home.

Why do you two always have to [shouty person]?

There is absolutely no doubt that bicker, in the form biker, is found as early as the thirteenth century in English. The University of Michigan online Middle English Dictionary (an excellent resource for the history of English gives a number of examples of the use of the words biker and bikeren: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/med/.

As the excellent Online Etymological Dictionary says:

early 14c., bikere, “to skirmish, fight,” perhaps from Middle Dutch bicken “to slash, stab, attack,” + -er, Middle English frequentative suffix (as in blabber, hover, patter). Meaning “to quarrel, petulantly contend with words” is from mid-15c.  where exactly it came from, though some of the dictionaries suggest a possible connection with a Dutch word bicken, meaning ‘to slash or attack’. Bicker is found in English texts from the 13th century in the form biker.

As usual, Cassidy doctored the information found in other sources to make his own claims seem more probable (or even possible). Here, he says that “Bicker is (inexplicably) said to be formed in English from Middle Dutch bicken, to slash.” Plainly, a Middle English word biker meaning to skirmish deriving from a Middle Dutch word bicken meaning to slash, stab or attack is considerably more explicable than a Middle English word for to skirmish deriving from an Irish Gaelic word for ‘a shouty person’.

Cassidese Glossary – Ben

A benny, or ben, was a slang term for an overcoat in America. This is believed to derive from the word Benjamin, with the same meaning. Cassidy actually mentions the word Benjamin as an alternative to ben, but only at the end, which suggests that ben came first and Benjamin came later. This is not the case. Ben is a shortened form of Benjamin.

Apparently, in the eighteenth century, in England, the term for an overcoat was a Joseph, from the Biblical story of Joseph’s coat of many colours. By the early 19th century, the term Benjamin was also used in England of a smaller or tighter style of coat, because Benjamin was Joseph’s younger brother.

Cassidy does not mention these facts, opting instead to claim that benny or ben is from the Irish báinín, which Cassidy defines as:

Báinín (pron. bánín) n. a jacket or overcoat made of woolen cloth; any type of overcoat or jacket.

As usual, this is not an honest representation of the facts. A báinín is not primarily a coat or jacket. Báinín is a diminutive of the word bán, meaning white. The ‘little white’ of báinín was a type of rough, homespun woollen cloth. It can also be used to refer to a jacket or waistcoat made of báinín or bawneen cloth. It is not used of all types of jackets or coats. It is entirely unbelievable that people who had made it in the USA would refer to their finery as báinín/bawneen, cheap home-made cloth which was a badge of poverty. Here is the definition as given in Ó Dónaill’s dictionary:

báinín, m. (gs. ~, pl. ~í). 1. ~ (tíre), woven woollen cloth. ~ brocach, speckled homespun cloth. ~ bán, white homespun cloth. 2. Flannel. ~ dearg, glas, red, grey, flannel. 3. Jacket made of white homespun woollen cloth. F:Fear an bháinín (bháin), the Connemara labourer.

Cassidese Glossary – Bee’s Wax

For some time now, some of my on-line friends have advised me to provide a version of CassidySlangScam without the invective aimed at Cassidy and his supporters. In response to that advice, I am working on providing a glossary of the terms in Cassidy’s ludicrous book How The Irish Invented Slang with a short, simple and business-like explanation of why Cassidy’s version is wrong.

In How The Irish Invented Slang, Daniel Cassidy claimed that the expression ‘mind your own bee’s wax’ comes from the Irish word béasmhaireacht. Béasmhaireacht is an incredibly obscure word for politeness. It is a variant of béasaíocht, béasacht or béasúlacht. These are defined (in the only dictionary quoted by Cassidy, Ó Dónaill, as ‘Mannerliness, politeness’. Strangely, Cassidy defines it as ‘morality, manners, habits’. His inability to simply copy the dictionary entries without rewriting them is a major issue with his research.  Nobody would ever use béasmhaireacht to say ‘mind your own business’ in Irish, and in any case, béasmhaireacht doesn’t sound anything like ‘bee’s wax’, in spite of Cassidy’s phonetics which make it look like it has something to do with bees (beeswǝraċt). In fact, béas is pronounced like English base, not like English bees.

The real explanation for ‘mind your own bee’s wax’ is given here in the excellent World Wide Words:

http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-min1.htm

The truth is, quite simply that ‘mind your own bee’s wax’ is a joking or slightly softened version of ‘mind your own business’.

By the way, this is how you say ‘mind your own business’ in REAL Irish:

https://www.focloir.ie/en/dictionary/ei/mind+your+own+business

Cassidese Glossary – The Bee’s Knees

For some time now, some of my on-line friends have advised me to provide a version of CassidySlangScam without the invective aimed at Cassidy and his supporters. In response to that advice, I am working on providing a glossary of the terms in Cassidy’s ludicrous book How The Irish Invented Slang with a short, simple and business-like explanation of why Cassidy’s version is wrong.

I had assumed that ‘the business’ for something great or outstanding was the original and that ‘the bee’s knees’ was a jocular version of this. Apparently, this is not the case. It seems that the bee’s knees came first and that this was then reinterpreted as ‘the business’. You live and learn. For example, the OED website has this:

(https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/explore/what-is-the-origin-of-the-phrase-the-bee-s-knees/)

The phrase was first recorded in the late 18th century, when it was used to mean ‘something very small and insignificant’. Its current meaning dates from the 1920s, at which time a whole collection of American slang expressions were coined with the meaning ‘an outstanding person or thing’. Examples included the flea’s eyebrows, the canary’s tusks, and one that still survives – the cat’s whiskers. The switch in meaning for the bee’s knees  probably emerged because it was so similar in structure and pattern to these other phrases.

Cassidy’s claim is that this comes from the ‘Irish’ phrase an béas nuíosach, which he claims means:

Béas núíosach (pron. bæs núísǝċ, bæs núísǝh), fresh new style, novel manner; fig. the new thing.

Of course, this is not a real Irish phrase and invented phrases do not have figurative meanings. Try putting it in inverted commas and searching for it in any Irish dictionary, corpus, database, or indeed on Google itself. The only references you will find to it are in connection with Cassidy and his book. Note also the peculiar ‘system’ of transcription invented by Cassidy, using bits of outmoded Irish orthography (ċ), current Irish orthography (í), and the IPA (æ, ǝ).

Incidentally, go to the online Irish dictionary here to find out how you say ‘the bee’s knees’ in REAL Irish: https://www.focloir.ie/en/dictionary/ei/the+bee’s+knees

 

 

Cassidese Glossary – Beef

For some time now, some of my on-line friends have advised me to provide a version of CassidySlangScam without the invective aimed at Cassidy and his supporters. In response to that advice, I am working on providing a glossary of the terms in Cassidy’s ludicrous book How The Irish Invented Slang with a short, simple and business-like explanation of why Cassidy’s version is wrong.

This is not the word beef in the sense of cow meat but in the slang sense of to have an argument or a complaint against someone. The origins of this expression are unknown. There are various suggestions on line involving disputes between sheep-herders and cow-punchers in the old west or soldiers complaining about their rations in the Civil War. Neither of these seems very likely. The most interesting and attractive claim is that it comes from an early 18th century term which seems to have been a forerunner of rhyming slang, ‘to call hot beef’ which apparently was a way of shouting ‘stop thief!’ From that, the phrase ‘to cry beef’ or ‘to call beef’ came to mean ‘to raise the alarm’ or to make a complaint against someone.

Cassidy’s claim is that this comes from the ‘Irish’ phrase b’aifirt, which he claims means ‘rebuked, blamed, accused, complained; reproached, “beefed”’. (The dictionary definition of aifirt is to rebuke, reproach.) The phrase b’aifirt is odd because the copula is and its past and conditional form ba are usually used with adjectives (is breá liom) or with nouns (ba ghrá leo é). I cannot think of any circumstances where a verbal noun is used like this with a copular structure, either the present tense or the past/conditional form.

Even if we accepted that this is a genuinely possible phrase, it would be pronounced baffirch or baffirt. Why would this become beef, and why would a phrase meaning something like ‘was a rebuke’ be used as a noun, rather than perfectly good Irish words meaning complaint or blame or cause of conflict like gearán, clamhsán, casaoid, milleán, locht, cnámh spairne?

Cassidese Glossary – Beak

For some time now, some of my on-line friends have advised me to provide a version of CassidySlangScam without the invective aimed at Cassidy and his supporters. In response to that advice, I am working on providing a glossary of the terms in Cassidy’s ludicrous book How The Irish Invented Slang with a short, simple and business-like explanation of why Cassidy’s version is wrong.

This is a slang term for a magistrate, judge, constable or headmaster – basically it has been used for any figure of authority. As Cassidy says, there is no convincing explanation for its origin. People have suggested that it comes from a Dutch term for a boss (I am unable to find any trace of this word), or a word for a gold ornament which was an ancient symbol of authority, or because such people wear robes that make them look ‘bird-like’. Apparently the earliest forms of this word in the 16th century are beck, not beak.

Cassidy’s suggestion is that this comes from beachtaí or beachtaire. Beachtaí is defined by Ó Dónaill as ‘a critical, captious person’. Beachtaí would be pronounced bakhtee (with the kh representing the ch of Scottish loch or the j of Spanish jamón) which is quite unlike beak and beck. The meaning is only a partial match. While a judge may be a critical or captious person or a person given to captiousness (beachtaíocht) this is not the word for a judge. A judge or magistrate is a breitheamh or giúistís.

In short, Cassidy’s claim is not a good match in terms of phonetics or of meaning and is unlikely to be the origin of this word.

Cassidese Glossary – Bard

For some time now, some of my on-line friends have advised me to provide a version of CassidySlangScam without the invective aimed at Cassidy and his supporters. In response to that advice, I am working on providing a glossary of the terms in Cassidy’s ludicrous book How The Irish Invented Slang with a short, simple and business-like explanation of why Cassidy’s version is wrong.

It is hard to understand why Cassidy included this word, except as padding. All the English dictionaries are in agreement that this word derives from the Old Celtic bardos. There is no certainty as to how it came into English from Celtic, as it could have been from Scottish Gaelic, Irish or Welsh and it may have been influenced by Classical writers like Strabo, who wrote that the three branches of the Celtic priesthood were the vates, the bards and the druids. The word bard certainly has nothing to do with slang.

The usual theory now is that the word came into Scots from Scots Gaelic in the 15th century and spread into English.

 

 

Cassidese Glossary – Banshee

For some time now, some of my on-line friends have advised me to provide a version of CassidySlangScam without the invective aimed at Cassidy and his supporters. In response to that advice, I am working on providing a glossary of the terms in Cassidy’s ludicrous book How The Irish Invented Slang with a short, simple and business-like explanation of why Cassidy’s version is wrong.

It is difficult to understand why this word is even in Cassidy’s book. There has never been any doubt about its origin. It is from the Irish bean sí, fairy woman. There has never been any doubt about its Irish origin and this is acknowledged in all English dictionaries.

Incidentally, about 60 years ago there was a comprehensive overhaul of the Irish system of orthography. At that time, the earlier spelling, bean sidhe was superseded by bean sí. While not everybody has been enthusiastic about the spelling reform, it has met with general acceptance and is the form favoured by the education system and government, and this is the form that should be given in discussions of words of Irish etymology in dictionaries.