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 word cheesy in the sense of resembling cheese goes back to the late 14th century in English. Apparently, its slang meaning of “cheap, inferior” is found as early as 1896 in U.S. student slang. It seems to me that cheesy as in game-show host insincerity probably owes something to the use of the word cheese when taking photographs as well, though I may be wrong about this. Cassidy claims that this word also means cheap in the American sense of mean, frugal, stingy, though I have been unable to find confirmation of this in any online dictionary and the only example Cassidy gives of the word’s use confirms the dictionary definitions of poor quality or second-rate rather than stingy.
Why would Cassidy cite a meaning for the word cheesy that apparently doesn’t exist? Cassidy claims that this word comes from the Irish tíosach, which means thrifty or economical. A person being thrifty and things being shoddy are two different things. There may sometimes be a relationship between them, in that a thrifty person may buy inferior goods, but the connection is only credible if the word cheesy means frugal rather than second-rate.
Of course, Cassidy’s quotation from Ó Dónaill is fake. Ó Dónaill says that ‘Na bí chomh tíosach sin leis an im’ means ‘Don’t be so sparing with the butter’, not ‘Don’t be so “cheesy” with the butter’.