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.
There is nothing mysterious about the origin of the word sketch. By the 1660s, it was found in English as a word for a rough drawing. It comes from Dutch schets or Low German skizze, both apparently borrowings from Italian schizzo “sketch, drawing.” By 1789, it had acquired the meaning of a ‘short play or performance, usually comic’.
By the 19th century, a hot sketch came to mean something or someone very funny. Of course, it didn’t always come with the ‘hot’. Sometimes it would be ‘an absolute sketch’, or ‘he really is a sketch!’
Anyway, Daniel Cassidy decided that this had to come from Irish, so he made the claim that it derives from ‘ard scairt’. Ard scairt, according to Cassidy, means a loud scream and is pronounced h-ard skartch. Of course, words that begin with a vowel in Irish are not pronounced with a h-, and when an adjective and a noun or a noun and a noun form a compound in Irish, they are written as one word – ardscairt. Otherwise the adjective has to come after the noun as scairt ard. This just shows how bad and inadequate Cassidy’s knowledge of Irish was and it also shows that the native Irish speakers who were supposed to have helped Cassidy with his ‘research’ did not exist.
I need hardly say that there is no evidence of anyone describing a funny person as a scairt in Irish. People call a funny person a scream in English, of course, but that doesn’t mean you can do that with Irish.