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.
There is no certainty about the origin of the term ‘in cahoots.’ It is first found in American English in 1829. The explanation given by the Oxford English Dictionary is that English got the expression from the word French cahute, meaning a cabin or hut, which was borrowed into Scots in the 16th century. The metaphor is the same as being ‘in bed together’ – the conspirators are in a narrow space, close together. There is then a mystery about how it survived without reference for hundreds of years and surfaced in American speech in the 19th century. However, that is not so strange. Many settlers came from Scotland and it is not so strange that expressions would survive in isolated mountain communities without being written down.
However, there is another explanation, and perhaps a better one. The OED states that others have claimed an origin in the French word cohorte, the source of the English ‘cohort,’ which originally meant a band of soldiers and now means a friend or companion.
Cassidy’s claim is that the Irish comh-údar means ‘a co-author, co-originator, co-instigator, fig. partner.’ This is one of Cassidy’s many made-up definitions. Co-author is the genuine meaning and it does not have a figurative meaning of ‘partner’. While údar has a range of meanings on its own, there is no evidence of anyone using comhúdar to mean anything else but a co-author of a book, document or report, which is completely inappropriate here. Even if it did exist and was appropriate, the use of the preposition in makes no sense and the pronunciation of comhúdar does not resemble cahoot or cahoots.