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 term spalpeen entered English in the late 18th century. It is a borrowing of the Irish spailpín, best-known from the song An Spailpín Fánach (The Wandering Labourer). A spailpín was a farm labourer who went from place to place doing a spailp (spell, bout or turn) of work. Like many itinerants, spalpeens had a reputation for being rogues and because of this rascally character, the term was sometimes used as a term of endearment as well.
There is nothing controversial about the Irish origins of spalpeen. In fact, the existence of words like spalpeen discredits several of Cassidy’s pet arguments, because spalpeen sounds almost exactly like the Irish spailpín (no ‘phonetic overcoat’) and it is universally acknowledge as being a word of Irish origin, in spite of the supposed prejudice of English-speaking lexicographers.