Cassidese Glossary – Gazoonie

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 gazoonie was apparently originally a fairground or carny term for a young, inexperienced worker. A search on Google shows that in some circles it now means a young man in a gay relationship with an older man.

Cassidy claims that this derives from an Irish word, garsún, meaning a boy. There is nothing inherently improbable about this. The word garsún does exist and it does mean boy.

However, this is not enough to convince a genuine scholar. For one thing, garsún may be an Irish word, but it’s not of Irish origin. Garsún derives, of course, from Norman French. Anyone who knows a little French will recognise the word garçon which means both boy and waiter. Cassidy actually mentions garçon and the Latin word garcio from which it derives, but only with cf., which means compare. He doesn’t state that the Irish word is a loanword.

It entered Irish in two forms, as garsún and as gasúr. The dialects of Connemara and of Ulster use gasúr (though the meaning is different in the two areas – gasúr is a boy in Ulster but a child of either gender in Connemara). In Munster they say garsún. It isn’t used in Irish outside Munster, to the best of my knowledge. In Hiberno-English, the word has also been borrowed as gossoon. Wiktionary also claims that it exists in the form gazoon in Ulster, but this is not in the OED Ulster  Dictionary. Its source seems to be a piece of rather stage-Irish dialogue from a travel book by an American called Ellberg, published in the 1930s, (say this is no place for a gazoon that wants to see Father O’Houlihan before he kicks the bucket,” and Pat strode off with the subtleness that bespoke youth and fine trim), so I am quite suspicious about gazoon being a real word in Ulster dialect.

The problem with Cassidy’s claim is this. How can we be sure it didn’t come directly from French? There are plenty of French Canadians and there were plenty of French speakers in places like Maine and Louisiana. Cassidy doesn’t try to exclude the French origin from the equation. A real researcher would need to do this, and they would also have to make sure that the word doesn’t have an equivalent in some other Romance language, such as Italian. (The official Italian for a boy is ragazzo, sometimes shortened to gazzo, but there are lots of dialects in Italy and carnival slang is known to contain a large Italian element through the jargon known as Polari.)

In other words, it’s entirely possible that gazoonie comes from garsún or indeed from Hiberno-English gossoon. But it is also just as likely that it comes directly from French or from some other Romance language and a proper researcher would have checked that out before claiming this as a certainty.

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