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.
- crook, hooked stick
- camogie stick (camogie is the women’s version of hurling)
- camóg ara, hollow of temple
- a. concave scallop shell
- b. small wooden dish
- wisp (of smoke)
- ripple (on water)
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.