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.
Beat means, according to Cassidy, ‘to rob, cheat or swindle’ or to be robbed, cheated or swindled. A ‘bad beat’, according to Cassidy, is a severe loss in poker and of course, a ‘dead beat’ is a person who is down and out. All of these meanings are perfectly easy to understand in terms of the various meanings of the English word ‘beat,’ meaning to flog, to defeat, to overcome.
Cassidy’s explanation for the origin of this word is that it comes from the Irish word béad, which, according to him, is defined as ‘(bad) loss; crime, robbery, injury. To be robbed or cheated badly.’
This multifaceted definition doesn’t come from any Irish dictionary. While the diminutive béadán is common enough in modern Irish (it means ‘gossip’), béad isn’t. Ó Dónaill’s dictionary says simply that the word béad is a literary (old-fashioned or obsolete) term for ill deed. Dinneen’s dictionary says that béad means ‘a deed; crime or injury; sorrow, ill tidings or doings’. No definition says ‘To be robbed or cheated badly’. I can find no examples of this word in use in modern Irish, though it was used in poetry in phrases like ‘Is mór an béad’ (Great the sorrow) until the 1850s.
Strangely, Cassidy gives no pronunciation guide. Béad would be pronounced baid, to rhyme with laid or made, so its transformation to beat would be hard to explain.
(This is Cassidy’s entry for ‘bad beat’. A few pages later, he gives an entry for ‘Beat’. The ‘information’ given – such as it is – is pretty much the same, so I have not bothered dealing with the later entry.)