Monthly Archives:

Cassidese Glossary – Goon

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 book How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that the word goon, meaning an idiot (and later, a muscle-bound henchman) derives from the Irish word guan, meaning ‘a fool’. There are several problems with this. Firstly, Cassidy states that the English word is ‘origin unknown’, while most dictionaries (including the OED) regard it as a contraction of an earlier word goonie or gooney, which is known since the 16th century and means a fool or a large bird like an albatross. This seems perfectly reasonable and I can see no reason to prefer an Irish derivation to this well-known English origin.

Secondly, guan is not a common word in Irish. It is not given at all in Ó Dónaill’s dictionary, and in Dinneen’s dictionary it is ascribed to Ó Neachtain’s manuscript dictionary of 1730. It is not found in the 7 million word Corpas na Gaeilge. The word guanach for silly or fanciful is certainly common and is given in all dictionaries but guan itself is not.

Cassidese Glossary – Goof

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 late Daniel Cassidy, in his book, How The Irish Invented Slang, claims that the English slang terms goof and goofy derive from Irish gáifeach, which according to Cassidy means ‘exaggerated, given to wild exaggeration, flamboyant, ostentatious, loud, loud-mouthed, querulous.’  This is pronounced guy-fah or gaw-fah depending on the dialect. It is an adjective. There is no noun gáif (the adjective comes originally from gábh, which means danger), so it is hard to explain where the basic word goof would come from if Cassidy were right (which he isn’t).

According to the most reliable Irish dictionary, Ó Dónaill, gáifeach is defined as ‘1a dangerous, terrible 1b (of sound) wild, loud, fierce 2a exaggerated, sensational, given to exaggeration 2b flamboyant, ostentatious’.

None of which really fit the bill of what goofy means, which is ‘foolish or harmlessly eccentric.’ Meanwhile, back in the real world, goof comes from an English dialect term goff, which in turn comes from the Middle French goffe meaning awkward or stupid.

Cassidese Glossary – Goo-Goo

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.

This is another bizarre claim made in Daniel Cassidy’s book How The Irish Invented Slang. Apparently, goo-goo is an American slang term for upper class ‘reformers’. This term derives from the phrase Good Government, and there was a string of Good Government clubs at the end of the 19th century promoting this ideology (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goo-goos).

Daniel Cassidy, of course, begs to differ. No, this well-known and well-attested derivation is wrong. Really, it has its origins in the teeming Irish-speaking slums of New York and represents the Irish guth guth, a reduplication of Irish guth meaning voice or (rarely) blame. So according to Cassidy, this phrase means:

‘guth guth (pron. guh guh), complain, complain; reproach, reproach; blame blame; censure, censure; fig. blah, blah.’

This is not true, of course. Guth guth doesn’t mean anything in Irish, any more than ‘voice voice’ means anything in particular in English. As usual, Cassidy fails to provide any evidence for its existence, because no such evidence exists.

Cassidese Glossary – Gob

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.

This is another clear example of Cassidy’s dodgy methodology, the way that he massaged and distorted and edited the facts to make his case look even slightly convincing.

He quotes the OED as saying “Of obscure origin; possibly … Gael [sic] and Irish gob, beak, mouth …” (OED.) No page number or indication of what edition of the OED he’s talking about.

Having tried to demonstrate that the OED is deficient, he then says that American Slang lexicographers Wentworth and Flexner, in the Dictionary of American Slang, ‘put gob back into the gob of the Irish’.

The facts about gob are well-known and well-established. The fact is, there are two gobs in English (at least). They come from different origins. In other words, the origins of gob are more complex than Cassidy claimed. Not very complex. Anyone of normal ability would have been able to understand them but the late Daniel Cassidy didn’t do complexity.

One gob is the gob of ‘a gobbet of food’. It means a mouthful rather than a mouth. This dates back to the 13th century in English, apparently coming from the French verb gober meaning to gulp or swallow down. This came into French from Celtic (probably Gaulish) and is related to the Irish word gob. The other is a borrowing from either Irish or Scottish Gaelic gob, meaning beak or mouth. This is quite ancient in English too. It is found as far back as the 1540s.

Now, Wentworth and Flexner are probably right in a sense. Gob is used a lot in Hiberno-English, and when people in Irish areas of New York or Philadelphia said ‘I’ll give you a dig in the gob’, there is every chance that this came directly from Irish or from Hiberno-English. However, the Gaelic and Celtic roots of this word were never in any doubt and the Oxford English Dictionary did not doubt this either, whatever Cassidy claimed.

Cassidese Glossary – Glom, Glommer

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.

Glom is one of the words that Cassidy’s supporters hold up triumphantly as a clear-cut example of Irish influence on American English, which is very strange, because a few minutes of research online is enough to prove that glom has little to do with Irish, though it certainly comes ultimately from Scottish Gaelic.

According to The Random House Mavens’ Word of the Day, this word was first used with the sense of ‘to steal’ in 1897, in a book by Jack London, who was not raised in any cabin Irish ghetto. This shows that by the end of the 19th century, this was a common word in English. It was used all over the States by English speakers of all ethnic backgrounds.

In the form glaum, this word has been a Scots dialect word for centuries with the meanings ‘to grope, especially in the dark’ or ‘to grab at something’. This in turn derives from the Scots Gaelic word glàm, meaning to grab. The mainstream dictionaries are quite happy to accept this derivation in spite of their supposed anti-Gaelic bias.

It is true that glàm has a cognate in Irish with the word glám. (As a point of information, glám is not that common and most Irish speakers I know would use sciob instead.) What is absolutely clear is that the fact that Cassidy was nicknamed Glom when he was a child has nothing whatever to do with his Irish family’s roots. Glom was a part of the English which was spoken by everyone around him when he was growing up regardless of their ethnic background. It had become a part of English in Scotland and was an intrinsic part of mainstream American English. Cassidy’s claim (if it means anything at all) has to be about people retaining elements of Irish in their speech from generation to generation and these exotic elements surfacing in the language used by Irish Americans, which is obviously not the case here.

Cassidese Glossary – Glim

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.

Glim is an old cant or flash expression for an eye or a candle or lamp.

Daniel Cassidy claims that it comes from either gealaim, which means I light, I illuminate, or else from geal-laom, a fake compound word invented by Cassidy himself, composed of geal meaning bright and laom, which means blaze or flash. In the case of gealaim, the -aim part is not an intrinsic part of the word. Other versions of this word include gealadh and gealaíonn, and neither of them is likely to be anything to do with glim. Geal-laom is completely unrecorded and Cassidy provides no examples or sources for his claim that it ever existed.

Back in the real world, glim is almost certainly either a version of gleam or a contraction of glimmer.

Cassidese Glossary – Gism

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.

Gism or gasm are slang words for energy or for semen. The origin of these expressions is unknown.

Daniel Cassidy claims that they come from the ‘Irish’ teas ioma, which he claims means ‘an abundance of heat, passion, excitement.’ Cassidy thinks the word iomaí (or ioma) is an ordinary adjective which can follow a noun. It isn’t and it can’t: https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/iomaí

In other words, this is not just a non-existent phrase in Irish. This is an impossible phrase. It is a piece of made-up nonsense which means nothing.

Cassidese Glossary – Gink

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.

Gink seems to be an American slang term for an idiot or just for an ordinary bloke or man. It first appears around the early 20th century and is probably related to words like geek.

Cassidy claims it comes from a complex of words related to the meaning ‘snub nose’. Here is Cassidy’s multi-word, multi-meaning definition:

Geanc, geannc, geancaire, n., a snub-nose; a short-faced surly person; a homely snub-nosed person; a crooked dumpy-looking person; one of the lower and more vicious kinds of fairies, a leprechaun.

In reality, of course, geanc (pronounced gyank) means a snub-nose. It cannot be used of a person. A geancaire or geancachán or geancán can mean a snub-nosed person, while the fairy definition above is the definition of geanncanach from Dinneen’s dictionary.

In short, there is no word similar to gink that means a person and the various offshoot words of geanc are so dissimilar from the meanings of gink that there is no reason to suppose any connection.

Cassidese Glossary – Giniker

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.

This is a word that occurs in one or two texts about a hundred years ago but disappears soon after its appearance. Because it is associated with jazz and pep and linked to the term fizz, it is probably a jocular mispronunciation of the word ginger.

Cassidy claims that it is from the Irish for a fireball, tine caor. (This is an odd and ungrammatical version of the more usual caor thine, only found in Dinneen’s dictionary. It may be a misprint.) As usual, there is no evidence at all for this claim.

Cassidese Glossary – Gimmick

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.

Gimmick first makes its appearance in the 1920s. It originally meant a device for fixing a roulette wheel or something similar at a fairground so that people would not win anything valuable. It then came to mean any kind of magician’s device and then a publicity stunt or politician’s trick.

Its origin is not known. Some have suggested a link to gimcrack or a backslang version of magic but there is little to support these theories. Cassidy’s suggestion is that it comes from the Irish camóg. Camóg is a diminutive of the word cam, meaning crooked.

Here are its definitions, according to the electronic version of Ó Dónaill’s dictionary.

  1. crook, hooked stick
  2. camogie stick (camogie is the women’s version of hurling)
  3. gaff-hook
  4. chinks
  5. camóg ara, hollow of temple
  6. a. concave scallop shell
  7. b. small wooden dish
  8. wisp (of smoke)
  9. ripple (on water)
  10. comma

Is there anything there which makes you automatically think of devices or tricks? Maybe the original gimmick which was used to interfere with the wheel of fortune was hooked. And maybe it wasn’t. But I can’t really see why camóg would become gimmick, where the vowels are completely different and the g and c are reversed. Cassidy spoofed a lot about the ‘English phonetic overcoats’ which cover his candidate ‘Irish’ phrases but the fact is that most genuine borrowed words look a lot like the word they derive from. Samurai, bagel and shebeen may not be exactly like their Japanese, Yiddish or Irish source-words but they’re close enough and I see no reason why fairground folk wouldn’t have talked about kammogs instead of gimmicks if this were really the origin of the word.