Last week, I completed the section for the letter L and M from Cassidy’s ludicrous book, How The Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads. There were 38 words in Cassidy’s glossary for these two letters. Added to the 277 words covered in the entries for the letters from A to K, this is a total of 315 headwords.
In the words for L and M, there were a handful of genuine Irish words and phrases. For example, the word meitheal does exist in Irish, and it was used by the union activist Mike Quill in the USA. However, it is an Irish word. There is no evidence that it ever crossed the language barrier and became an English word, used by non-Irish speakers as part of their language. And machree, macushla and mavourneen (mo chroí, mo chuisle and mo mhuirnín) are all part of the stage-Irish vocabulary of sentimental songs and plays, but again, none of them ever really became English.
There are also a couple of words like mucker and longshoreman, which have been claimed by other people before Cassidy to be of Irish origin, though these claims are also improbable.
As for the rest, they are complete nonsense. There is no chance at all of them being correct. Most of the candidate phrases, absurdities like liú lúith or leathluí géag, were invented by Cassidy, and even when words are genuinely to be found in Irish dictionaries, the entries given in those dictionaries are not given accurately, but rewritten by Cassidy to make them closer to whatever term he was trying to promote. We can see this rewriting clearly in words like the noun mug, which Cassidy claims comes from muc meaning a scowling, piggish face. Except that muc doesn’t mean a scowling, piggish face. This meaning was invented by Cassidy.
As I have said before, it is hard to know exactly how much of the garbage in Cassidy’s book should be attributed to outright dishonesty, how much to stupidity and how much to mental illness. It seems to me that the truth has to be somewhere between these three extremes. He managed to fool a lot of people, so presumably he wasn’t completely or obviously nuts. He was clearly very stupid and ignorant, though he must have been smart enough to fool people of limited ability. And he was certainly a liar, not only because of the claims made in the book, but because having failed his BA degree in the 1960s, he turned up thirty years later working as a professor in a small private university in California. There is no evidence that he ever acquired any qualifications in the intervening thirty years and he never mentions any subsequent studying in interviews. He also seems to have lied about many other aspects of his past, such as the claim that he was in the newsroom of the New York Times when Kennedy was shot.
If Cassidy had simply been mad, it would perhaps have been wrong of me to criticise him so strongly, but it would also have been unnecessary. If he had been obviously crazy, nobody would have believed him, least of all the high-profile Irish and Irish-American twits who have disgraced themselves by publicly supporting him and his work.
Anyway, over the next few weeks, I will turn my attention to the letters N, O and P, and we’ll see if Cassidy actually managed to find any genuine examples of words from Irish in the English language. Don’t hold your breath!