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.
Daniel Cassidy in his book, How The Irish Invented Slang, claims that the word booby as in ‘Daniel Cassidy is a complete booby’ or ‘this book is a booby trap for the unsuspecting reader’ comes from Irish. In reality, the word boob or booby in the sense of a dunce or simpleton is first recorded in English in 1599. It is thought to derive from the Spanish word bobo, which in turn derives from Latin balbus (cognate with Irish balbh). This seems to have been borrowed into Irish as búbaire and a couple of other forms.
Here is Cassidy’s claim:
“Boob, booby, n., a nincompoop, a cry-baby, a loud-mouth dolt. Doubtful origin. (OED.)
Búb; búbaí, búbaire; búbán, búbail, n., vn., bellow, roar, yell; a person that blubbers, a booby, a coxcomb, a bittern bird; roaring, bellowing, blubbering, yelling. (Dineen, 136; Dwelly, 137; Ó Dónaill, 155.)
Chapman’s American Slang derives the loud boob from a German dialect word bubbi, meaning a woman’s breast. (Chapman, American Slang, 38.) But breasts do not blubber like boobs.”
This is typical of Cassidy’s work in a number of respects:
- It treats Scottish Gaelic and Irish as if they are the same language. They are not. Irish speakers have to learn Scottish Gaelic and vice versa.
- The words above are all thrown together without any indication of which words are associated with which meaning.
- He misrepresents the position of dictionaries to set up a straw man argument. I do not have a copy of Chapman’s American Slang, but I would assume that it is the unrelated word boob or booby for a breast that comes from bubbi. The OED online says that booby probably comes from bobo.
Anyway, it is instructive to untangle Cassidy’s version of the definition of these words.
Ó Dónaill’s dictionary only gives the word búbaire, with variants búbaí and búbán.
“búbaire, m. (gs. ~, pl. -rí).(Of person) Booby. (Var:búbaí m, búbán m)”
Dinneen’s earlier Irish dictionary gives the following information:
Bub, -a, pl. id. m. a roar, a yell; hubbub.
Bubáil , -ála, pl. id., f., a roaring, yelling or bellowing.
Bubaire, g. id., pl. -rí, m., bubaire. A bittern (bird).
Bubán, -áin, pl. id., m., a coxcomb.
None of these words has an accent in Dinneen’s version, which means that they would be pronounced bubb, not boob. Cassidy’s búbail is not attested in any source, though Dwelly mentions bùbail. (Note that Scottish Gaelic always uses grave accents, Irish always uses acute accents.) However, in fairness, I should say that eDIL gives the version of búbaire for a bittern. It does not give the other words mentioned by Cassidy.
While roaring and bellowing are mentioned in the Irish sources, blubbering, weeping and lamenting are not. These are only found in Scottish Gaelic. There is no evidence that any of the búb – or bub – words in Irish sources has any association with blubbering or crying. The Scottish Gaelic sources do give blubbering as a meaning. Here is the relevant extract from Dwelly:
pr pt a’ bùbail, vn Bellow, roar. 2* Blubber, as a child. 3 Weep in a most melancholy way.
-a, sm Roar, bellow, yell. Leig e bùb as, he uttered a roar.
-e, -ean, sf Roaring, bellowing, yelling, blubbering, continued bellowing. 2 Lamenting. A’ bùbail, pr pt of bùb. Ciod a’ bhùbail a tha ort? what are you bellowing for? bùbail tairbh, the roaring of a bull.”
In other words, booby came into English first from Spanish, then was borrowed into Irish and Scottish Gaelic in various forms. There may also be an unrelated term, bub, which means an explosive sound. Boob or booby as in breast is a separate word with a separate origin.
Cassidy’s definition given above is not only incompetent, it is a deliberate attempt to deceive by mixing two completely different languages.