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 top banana was the top-billed comedian in a vaudeville show. According to a book quoted on line, Phil Silvers (yes, the great Bilko himself) claimed that it derives from a very popular comedy skit by a man called Steppe involving three comedians trying to divide two bananas between them. Even if this isn’t true, bananas are inherently funny things, and the association of the highest billing with the highest banana on the tree makes perfect sense.
Cassidy claims that this comes from the Irish phrase baothán nathánach (pronounced bweehaan nathaanah). Like béal ónna and hundreds of other phrases in Cassidy’s book, this is not a genuine Irish phrase. It is a concoction made by putting two obscure words together. It doesn’t sound much like banana, because this phrase has five syllables while banana only has three. There is no evidence that anyone has ever used this bizarre phrase to mean a comedian. The usual words for a comedian or clown are fear grinn, fuirseoir, bobaide, leadhbaire, fleascach.