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.