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 slang term sponduliks, a noun meaning money, first makes its appearance in English in the United States in the year 1856. There is no clear derivation for this word, though some scholars believe that it is linked to the Greek word spondylikos, from spondylos, a seashell used as currency (the Greek word means literally “vertebra”).
This doesn’t seem particularly convincing but it is certainly more convincing than the claim made by the late Daniel Cassidy in his etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang. In that book, Cassidy claimed that sponduliks represented the Irish phrase sparán tuilteach, which he defined as ‘overflowing purse, overflowing money bags’. Sparán is the usual irish term for a purse or wallet. (The sporran worn as part of traditional Highland dress is from a Scottish Gaelic cognate of sparán.) However, sparán tuilteach, if it existed, would be pronounced as sporran tull-chah, which sounds nothing like spondulicks.
It is well-known among linguists that individual words rather than phrases are borrowed between languages, and phrases are only borrowed where the phrases are well-established clichés like bête noire or éminence grise. Also, tuilteach is the adjective derived from the word tuile, meaning flood. In other words, sparán tuilteach would mean something like a flooding purse. Of course, sparán tuilteach is a fantasy phrase and does not exist in the Irish language. There is no reason to believe that any Irish speaker would use it instead of something like sparán teann (a tight purse) or sparán lán (a full purse). Strangely, Cassidy also throws in the word tuilleadh (meaning increasing or more) with tuilteach. Tuilleadh has no etymological connection with tuilteach, so this is both confusing and nonsensical.