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 one of the many cases in Daniel Cassidy’s work of false etymology where he ignores the correct and straightforward explanation in favour of a creaky and unconvincing origin of his own invention. As he says in the book:
But if a button is … ringing (roinn, pron. ring, to deal) in a crooked deck, every Punter is a loser. (Page 52)
In other words, Cassidy is claiming that ringing, a slang word for substitution, is from the Irish word roinn, the basic meaning of which is divide. It is not pronounced the same as ring. Why a word meaning divide or deal would acquire the meaning of substitute is not explained.
In reality, the term ringing dates back to the early nineteenth century as an expression for substitution, possibly from the bell-ringing phrase ‘to ring the changes’ (but see my theory below). Then in the late nineteenth century, we get the expression a dead ringer, meaning a horse which resembles another horse and is substituted for it to banjax the gambling odds.
It is just possible (and this is only a suggestion, not a statement of fact) that the notion of a fawney ring being a substitute for a real gold ring could have led to the term ring being used for substitutions in general.
Cassidy’s claim is obviously untrue. Incidentally, there is an even sillier explanation doing the rounds for dead ringer, that it refers to people putting telephones into graves in case they were buried alive. This just goes to show that people are absolute suckers for fake etymology.