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.
According to Daniel Cassidy the term ‘billy club’ (a policeman’s truncheon) comes from Irish. The orthodox dictionaries tell us that this is an American term first recorded in 1848, and was originally burglar’s slang for ‘a crowbar’. According to these sources, it is probably derived from the personal name William/Billy, on the analogy of terms like jack and jimmy and jemmy and jenny, all of which also meant crowbar (jemmy still does).
Cassidy (of course) disagrees with the experts. According to him it is a buille club, with buille being the Irish for ‘blow, stroke, hit, whack’.
Let’s just examine this claim carefully. Firstly, what is the Irish for club? Dredging words up from my own memory, there is bata, sail éille, cleith ailpín, maide and smachtín. A search of the dictionaries also brings up words like lorga and lorgaid. However, it seems bizarre to put the word for blow next to any of these words, just as it would seem strange to talk about a blow-club in English. And buille is pronounced bwullya, which really isn’t that close to billy anyway.