Cassidese Glossary – Bunk, Bunkum

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 late Daniel Cassidy in his work of false etymology, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that the American slang expression bunkum comes from the Irish word buanchumadh.

There are two problems with this. Firstly, the real origin of bunkum is well known. Felix Walker, a 19th-century congressman from North Carolina, whose district included Buncombe County, made a long-winded speech during the discussions that led to the 1820 passage of the Missouri Compromise. As he was filibustering away, several people asked him to stop but he carried on, stating that the people of his district expected it, and that he was bound to make a speech for Buncombe.

Thus, buncombe or bunkum came to mean foolish talk. Grant Barrett deals with this in his excellent post at

The second problem is that the word buanchumadh doesn’t exist. It isn’t in any dictionary or corpus. I have never heard it used or seen it in print. Furthermore, it looks and sounds odd. Why? I have mentioned before how Cassidy combined things in odd ways because he had no knowledge of how the language is really used. This is a perfect example. In general terms, buan is used with words which describe states, not actions. Buanghrá is eternal love, buanchónaí is permanent abode, and buanfhírinne is an eternal truth. But cumadh is an action, not a state, and actions tend to use the prefix síor– rather than –buan. You could say bíonn siad ag síorchumadh scéalta (they are perpetually making up stories) but buanchumadh is just weird.

Cassidy pretends that he is an expert on Irish and that he can confidently state that words not found in any dictionary are real: If it were a long made-up story, one would say in Irish: níl ann ach buanchumadh, it is just a “long, endless invention or tale”. This is completely untrue. In reality, there are a number of ways of talking about a shaggy-dog story or long story in Irish. The word fadscéal is defined by Ó Dónaill as ‘a long-drawn-out story’.  There is scéal i mbarr bata (a story in the top of a stick), thought to be a reference to one of Colm Cille’s prophecies or the ancient custom of carrying messages in a forked stick. There is also the lovely expression scéal ó Shamhain go Bealtaine, which means ‘a story from November to May’, which happens to be the winter period when people gathered in céilí houses to tell stories and sing and chatter.

Finally, Cassidy uses the reference to Buncombe County (he regards the Felix Walker story as a shaggy-dog story) to talk about the Gaelic influence on Black American speech. In doing so, he once again reveals his total ignorance of the Irish language. He says that the word tuig is pronounced dig, which is wrong. It is the question form An dtuigeann that is pronounced with a d. He also quotes the expression Tuig é nó ná. This is incorrect. Tuig é nó ná tuig is a common Irish expression ( Cassidy’s version is just nonsense.

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