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 work of false etymology, How The Irish Invented Slang, frequently ignored perfectly good English explanations for words in favour of improbable or impossible made-up Irish derivations. This is a perfect example. Chicken means scared and a chicken is a coward. This apparently comes from the English word chicken which is a nervous type of bird. In English, phrases like hen-hearted go back to the 14th century at least. As early as the 15th century, the churles chekyne was used as an expression for a coward. It is obvious, realistic, and it ticks all the boxes.
Cassidy disagrees with this and claims that chicken comes from the ‘Irish’ teith ar cheann, which means – according to Cassidy – to run away first. In fact, teith ar cheann (if it existed) would mean ‘flee at the head of’ rather than flee first. In other words, it is incomplete, as it would have to be at the head of something.
There are lots of expressions for a weakling or coward (meatachán, cladhaire etc) in Irish and any of them could have been used in slang, so it seems strange that anyone would have used a grammatically meaningless and unfamiliar phrase in preference to these words.