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.
In his work of false etymology, How The Irish Invented Slang, Daniel Cassidy claimed that words like dukes and dukin’ it out come from the Irish word tuargain (toorgun), which means to pound. This isn’t a perfect match phonetically, though the meaning isn’t too far off. However, with Cassidy’s work, it is important to examine the claims made carefully to see if Cassidy is distorting the known facts. This is the case here.
Firstly, the basic word here is not dukin’ but duke. Duke has been used as a slang term for the hands since at least the middle of the 19th century. The verb ‘dukin’ it out’ is only on record since the 1960s so it’s reasonable to assume that it is a derivative of ‘duke’ rather than the other way round.
Where does duke come from? The most likely explanation is that it comes from Cockney rhyming slang. Since the mid-18th century, the word ‘fork’ is found as a slang term for hand, for obvious reasons. Then the phrase Duke of York probably gave rise to the term duke for hand. This is the most convincing explanation, though some people have also linked it to a Romany term to do with palm-reading.
There is no evidence for tuargain being the origin of these words and it is hard to explain why the word dukes for hands seems to have existed long before the verb dukin’ if the noun is a back-formation from the verb, as Cassidy claims. (A back-formation is a word like burger, which derives from hamburger because people mistakenly believed that the ham referred to the meat.)
Cassidy also claims that ‘dukie’ as in someone who uses his dukes is not an extension of these English words but that it comes from tuarga, which Cassidy says means ‘a solid block of a man’. In reality, tuarga is a dialect variant of the word tuairgnín, which means:
tuairgnín, m. (gs. ~, pl. ~í).1. Beetle, pounder. 2. Pestle. 3. ~ (fir), a solid block of a man.
The question is, does tuarga in its dialect have all the meanings of the word tuairgnín? It may well have, but I don’t know this for sure and neither did Cassidy.
As usual, Cassidy presents no evidence and his claims are completely unconvincing.