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 amateur etymologist Daniel Cassidy claimed that the Dead Rabbits gang, shown in the film Gangs of New York as carrying a dead rabbit on a spike as a totem, really had no connection with rabbits at all and that this name is in truth a phonetic rendering of the Irish ráibéad, meaning a ‘hulking person, a broad-shouldered, muscular man’. To him, dead is an English intensifier.
There is no doubt that the Dead Rabbits did carry a dead rabbit into battle with them, or at least that this claim was made a long time ago. As far as I’m concerned, that is pretty much that, because once you accept that their name is connected to dead rabbits, any claim that the name is Irish becomes pointless and unlikely to be correct.
The word ráibéad is an incredibly obscure word, which is not mentioned in Dinneen’s dictionary, though it is mentioned in Ó Dónaill’s, where it is defined as ‘a big, hulking person or thing’ – not a ‘hulking person, a broad-shouldered, muscular man’. Ó Dónaill got it from an article in a journal which was an account of words from one parish in the west of Ireland. In other words, it seems to have been equivalent to the English term ‘whopper’ in the Irish of Indreabhán a couple of generations ago.
In short, Cassidy’s claim is nonsense.