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Cassidese Glossary – Yellow

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.

The phrase ‘to be yellow’ or ‘to be yellow-bellied’ (to be a coward) seems to enter English first in the 19th century in America. The origin of the phrase is unknown.

In his etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, Daniel Cassidy claimed an Irish origin for the expression. He said that it comes from the Irish éalú, which is the verbal noun of a verb meaning to escape, to abscond or to steal up on. This is ridiculously improbable. Irish has many good ways of talking about bravery or cowardice but you wouldn’t talk about someone being ‘an escape person’.

By a strange irony, the origin of the expression could conceivably be found in the Irish language but it has nothing to do with éalú. The fact is that in Irish, you can say of someone who is a coward that they have ‘yellow clay in them’ – tá cré bhuí ann. I have always assumed that this means that the pot or whatever you are making is weaker if an inferior kind of clay is found in it, so it breaks up when fired or subjected to any kind of pressure. There is a pretty good case for saying that this phrase explains the origin of the expression yellow for cowardice in English. If Cassidy had known any Irish, he would perhaps have been able to make a reasonable argument for this one.

Cassidese Glossary – Yell

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.

Daniel Cassidy, in his etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that the word yell comes from éamh oll, which Cassidy defines as ‘a great cry, a loud shout, a loud call.’ This is ridiculous for several reasons.

Firstly, éamh oll is not a real Irish phrase. The word oll is only used as a prefix in modern Irish and éamh is a fairly obscure word, much more obscure than words like scairt, gairm, scread, glaoch and liú.

Cassidy, with his customary lack of rigour, misquotes the English dictionaries too. Here is what Cassidy says:

“The OED derives yell from Middle Low German gellen, gillen, weak, Old English galan, to sing.”

This is what the Oxford English Dictionary really says about the origins of yell:

“Forms: OE gellan, giellan, gillan, gyllan, ME ȝeolle, ME ȝelle, ME ȝel, ȝele, yhelle, …

Etymology: Old English (Anglian) gellan , (West Saxon) giellan , gyllan , gillan strong verb, past tense geal , plural gullon = Middle Low German gellen , gillen weak, Middle Dutch gellen strong (Dutch gillen ), Old High German gellan strong (Middle High German, German weak gellen ), Old Norse gjalla , past tense gall (Swedish gälla , Norwegian giella ); < gell- , extended form of gel- : gal- , whence Old English galan to sing, gale v.1, -gale in nihtegale , night- + -gale (in nightingale n.1), Old Norse -gal in hanagal cockcrow, Old Saxon, (Middle) Dutch, Old High German galm outcry.”

It is quite clear from all this that yell had exactly the same meaning and a fairly similar form in Middle and Old English. The OED does not say that the word comes from Middle Low German because Middle Low German came after Old English chronologically and the word was already in use in English in the Old English period. And the reference to strong and weak is nothing to do with the meaning of the word, it refers to it being a strong or weak verb (i.e. one which forms the past tense by a vowel change or by adding –ed respectively: write/wrote is strong, work/worked is weak.)

In other words, Cassidy’s claim here is nonsense. The origin of yell is well-known and of impeccable Germanic origin, éamh oll does not exist and his claim of an Irish derivation is laughable.

Cassidese Glossary – Yacking

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.

Most dictionaries regard yack and yacking as versions of the phrase yackety-yack. In other words, they are an onomatopoeic rendering of the noise a set of teeth make when they are chattering.

In Daniel Cassidy’s etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, Cassidy suggests that it comes from the Irish éagcaoin (properly éagaoin), which is pronounced aygeen and means ‘mourning’ or ‘lamenting’. This is really not similar at all, either in sound or meaning and of course, there is no evidence of yacking having an Irish origin.

Cassidese Glossary – Whiskey

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.

Whisky or whiskey is acknowledged by all lexicographers and scholars of language to be a borrowing and shortening of the Irish or Scottish Gaelic term uisce beatha (uisge beatha), which is a calque based on the Latin aqua vitae (not aqua vita, as Cassidy writes in his book).

Cassidy does not deny this, but he seems to imply that the sound-change found in the transition from uisce to whisky justifies his claim that the words were mangled and transformed completely when they were borrowed from Irish into English:

The archaic English spelling and pronunciation whiskybae, and its contraction whiskey, demonstrate how dramatically Irish shape-shifted into English. The slender Irish s, pronounced sh, in uisce (pron. ishkee, water) became the sibilant “s” of “whiskeybae” and “whiskey”.

This is a claim that Cassidy makes throughout the book. Logically, this is nonsense. When Irish words were adopted by English, the process generally left them completely intelligible. Shebeen and síbín, soogan and súgán, coyne and cáin: the form is very similar.

However, there is an interesting point here, which Cassidy raises and does nothing with: why does the slender s (sh) of the Irish become a broad or velarized s in the English in this case? (Both s and sh are sibilants, of course.) The first point that needs to be mentioned is that uisce beatha was borrowed into English as early as the 16th century in forms like uskebeaghe (1581). (The usquebae mentioned by Cassidy isn’t found in English until the 18th century.) In other words, we can’t be absolutely sure of the exact pronunciation of uisge when the borrowing occurred. Secondly, there may be something in the pattern of letters -isce- that makes the s something between a velarized and a palatal consonant; something in the place of articulation. There are other examples of this: the surname Ó Fuaruisce becomes Whoriskey in English, and the word crúiscín (jug) is always written as cruiskeen in English (as in Cruiskeen Lawn).

Cassidese Glossary – Winona (Club)

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.

According to Daniel Cassidy, in his etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, when the Gopher Gang founded their Winona Club in Hell’s Kitchen, this was nothing to do with the town of Winona, Minnesota or the Native American princess it was named after.

According to Cassidy, this was a club for the Uathadh Nua, which Cassidy claims means ‘the new few’. Note that uathadh has the letters Lit. after it in the dictionary, which means that this is an old-fashioned literary term, not in current use now or in the 19th century. As for pronunciation, uathadh nua would be pronounced oo-ah-hoo noo-a, which really sounds nothing like Winona.

Cassidese Glossary – Why-O

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. 

Daniel Cassidy, in his etymological fantasy, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that the Why-o gang in 19th century New York were named for the obscure Irish word uathadh, an ancient poetic term for ‘few’. There is no evidence for this and it is widely accepted that their name comes from their identification call, which sounded like an owl calling.

Cassidese Glossary – Whiz

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 an outdated slang term for being adept or skilled at something. You can be a whiz in the kitchen or a whiz at maths. It is a shortening of the English wizard.

Daniel Cassidy in his etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that whiz in this sense comes from the Irish word uas, meaning outstanding, great, superior. Cassidy says that it is used as a prefix but apparently he didn’t understand what a prefix means. The word uas cannot stand on its own. It can only be used as a fossilised element in other words (like thuas, anuas, uasal) or as a prefix meaning maximum or upper in words like uasteocht (maximum temperature). You can’t say that someone or something is uas at a particular activity. In other words, from the point of view of the Irish language, this claim is nonsense.

Cassidese Glossary – Whale

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. 

It seems that this use of whale as a verb meaning beat or whip first occurs in the late 18th century and it has been suggested (quite reasonably) that it comes from the word wale, to mark with wales (variant of weals) or stripes, which has been used since the 15th century.

Daniel Cassidy, in his etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that this word comes from bhuail, the past tense of buail, meaning hit. As I have said before, words and phrases are not just borrowed randomly between languages and the link between whale and bhuail is highly improbable.

 

Cassidese Glossary – Whisht

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. 

In Daniel Cassidy’s etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, Cassidy claims that the word w(h)isht, used to shush someone, derives from the Irish word éist, which means ‘listen’. If Daniel Cassidy had known any Irish, he would have known that a version of the word wisht or whisht exists in Irish as well, alongside the word éist. In Irish, it is spelled fuist (pronounced fwishch or fwisht). There is no doubt that this word is a borrowing from English rather than the other way round as it is found in English as early as the 14th century.

Cassidese Glossary – Welt

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 improbable claim made by the late Daniel Cassidy in his etymological hoax How The Irish Invented Slang. In American slang, the term welt is used as a verb, in phrases like ‘to welt someone’ (to hit them hard). This is probably an extension of the noun welt which means the mark left on the skin by a blow.

According to Cassidy, this comes from Irish bhuailte. Cassidy furnishes us with an example of bhuailte in use, which will show any competent Irish speaker that Cassidy knew nothing about the grammar of the Irish language. Cassidy claims that ‘That man is beaten’ would be expressed in Irish as Tá an fear sin bhuailte. In reality, this would not be bhuailte but buailte. There is no reason to lenite the word buailte and without the lenition, it is pronounced boolcha, which would not give rise to welt. Cassidy’s claim is nonsense.