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.
Butter and Eggman is a phrase that was used in the Jazz Era for a ‘sugar daddy’, a person who pays for someone else’s food and board in exchange for certain favours. How do I know this? Well, Cassidy conveniently provides a quotation which says as much:
“I’ll buy you all the pretty things that you think you need ‘cause I’m your big butter and egg man …”
However, in spite of giving this quotation, Cassidy does not believe that this phrase has anything to do with butter or eggs. No, according to Cassidy, this comes from an ‘Irish’ phrase bodaire an aicme án, which Cassidy says means a debauchee of the noble class or ‘figuratively’ a wild upperclass lout. This is nonsense, for a number of reasons.
For one thing, the word bodach would be familiar to me, though it sounds very old-fashioned, but I have never heard bodaire in use. Cassidy took an enormous dictionary, found things that looked a bit like the sound he was trying to find, and then used obscure variant forms of those words given in the dictionaries if they sounded closer. In this case, he doesn’t stop with Irish dictionaries, throwing in the Scottish Gaelic bodair from Dwelly’s dictionary for good measure! This is a bit like going to a Dutch dictionary if you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for in a German one!
The word aicme is modern Irish and is used in Irish in words like meánaicmeach, middle class. It is not used to mean social class in ordinary conversational Irish and indeed, its use in sociology would only be found in the mid to late 20th century, too late to be relevant here.
The word án is old-fashioned and not at all common in modern Irish – certainly not as common as Cassidy’s use of it in his etymologies would suggest.
And then again, the word aicme is feminine, so in genuine Irish, the phrase would have to be bodaire na haicme áine, not bodaire an aicme án.