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.
Cassidy claims that rookie, meaning a raw recruit, comes from the Irish rúcach, which also means a raw or inexperienced person or a boor. In spite of the similarity of both sound and meaning, rookie is almost certainly not from rúcach, as it is apparently from the way a drill sergeant would pronounce the word recruit- RUH-croot!
Interestingly, in Cassidy’s version, he misses out the primary meaning of the Irish word as given by both Ó Dónaill and Dinneen. Its primary meaning is rook, because it is a borrowing of the English word rook. The earliest reference I can find to it in Irish is from the 1750s. Here is Ó Dónaill’s definition:
rúcach, m. (gs. & npl. -aigh, gpl. ~). 1. Rook. 2. Raw, inexperienced, person. 3. Rough, raw-boned, person or animal. 4. Rawness in throat. (Var:rúca m)
This is similar to Cassidy’s treatment of the word puncher, where he omitted the information that paintéar comes from the English word painter because it would disprove an Irish origin for the word.
The derivation from recruit has a clear advantage in that it is based on and in English. It is unlikely that there was much Irish spoken in West Point in the 19th century.