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.
A heeler or ward heeler was the representative of a politician in the local community in American politics in the 19th and early 20th centuries. As Cassidy sneers: ‘The well-heeled editors of most Anglo-American dictionaries derive heeler from the heel of a shoe.’ In other words, the mainstream (and almost certainly correct) view is that a ward heeler who walked the ward making sure that the electorate were happy with the politician.
Cassidy claims that this word is really the Irish éilitheoir. Cassidy says that this is pronounced éló’r or h-ælór. This is Cassidy’s ad hoc personal system of transcription, so it makes little sense but I should point out that words beginning with a vowel are not pronounced with a h- sound in Irish, as Cassidy thought. The word éilitheoir would be pronounced aylihore. Its meaning is given by Ó Dónaill as:
éilitheoir, m. (gs. -ora, pl. ~í).1. Claimant; claimer (ar, of). 2. Complainant, plaintiff.
Dinneen says that this is: éilightheoir, one who demands or charges; a petitioner, a suitor;
a creditor, a claimant : an accuser, a plaintiff.
This is a long way from Cassidy’s ‘one who demands or charges; a petitioner; a claimer; a friendly petitioner; a claimsman, an advocate; one who makes friendly inquiries about; one who visits in a friendly manner’.
The English heeler makes a lot more sense for someone who continually walked around the ward resolving issues. I cannot see why claimant or plaintiff or accuser would have anything much to do with the work of a ward heeler.