Category Archives: An Ghaeilge

Brag

I have noticed that many of the early posts on this blog get relatively little traffic, so I have decided to start republishing some of them.

According to the fake etymologist Daniel Cassidy, the terms ‘brag’ and ‘braggart’ in English derive from the Irish words bréag and bréagóir.

So, is there any truth to this claim? Well, the word bréag does exist in Irish and the word bréagóir is given as a variant (by Dinneen) of the more common expression bréagadóir. O Dónaill’s dictionary doesn’t even mention bréagóir as an alternative version. The problem is that while both of these expressions, bréag and bréagadóir/bréagóir, are somewhere in the ballpark, they are out with the hot-dog sellers rather than in the diamond. Bréag means ‘a lie’. It doesn’t mean the same thing as bragging or boasting. There are a number of expressions for bragging: ag déanamh mórtais, ag braigeáil (a loan word from English brag!), maíomh a dhéanamh as rud, ag déanamh a mhór díot féin and half a dozen others.

And, as it happens, brag is well attested in English as far back as the 14th century, which means that it didn’t come from bréag and has nothing to do with Irish slang in America. For example, the Michigan Middle English Dictionary has this, written around 1400 in the poem Piers Plowman:

He bosteth and braggeth with many bolde othes. (He boasts and brags with many bold oaths.)

And finally, let’s all have a good laugh at Cassidy’s expense. Bréag is pronounced brayg, to rhyme with Haigue or Craig. Broadly speaking, there are two ways of doing the phonetics in books like this. You can either learn the International Phonetic Alphabet and use it as the basis for your description, which looks a bit off-putting to anyone without linguistic training, or you can produce an ad hoc system of your own based on English, as I did with brayg above.

This is the IPA version: bʲɾʲeːɡ. At least, I think this is right. I’m no expert!

Cassidy wrote b’ríǒg as his version of the phonetics of the word bréag. Nobody trying to work out the pronunciation of bréag would have a chance of pronouncing it properly from this. While it looks as technical and scientific as the IPA, it is complete nonsense. Pure codology. God alone knows what Cassidy thought he was doing when he produced this silly little piece of pseudo-phonetics but it just goes to show what a complete charlatan, doofus and moron he was!

These words, of course, are all Irish: síorliodán meaning ‘an eternal rigmarole’, dubhfhios meaning ‘black knowledge’ or figuratively, ignorance, and mór-rón, a big fat stupid seal. (Of course, in reality, none of these is derived from Irish, but it just shows how easy it is to produce crap like this using Cassidy’s fake ‘methodology!’)

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Hoodoo

I have noticed that many of the early posts on this blog get relatively little traffic, so I have decided to start republishing some of them.

According to Cassidy, the term ‘hoodoo’ derives from an Irish expression uath dubh, which (according to Cassidy) means:

Uath Dubh, (pron. h-úŏ doo): dark specter, evil phantom, a malevolent thing; horror, dread; a dark, spiky, evil-looking thing. Uath, n., a form or shape; a spectre or phantom; dread, terror, hate. Old Gaelic name for the hawthorn. Dubh, (pron. doo, duv), adj., dark; black; malevolent, evil; wicked; angry, sinister; gloomy, melancholy; strange, unknown.

 (O’Donaill, 457, 1294; Dineen, 374, 1287; De Bhaldraithe, English-Irish Dictionary, 755; Dwelly, 988)

Looking at this list of dictionaries, you would think that Cassidy had actually found the phrase uath dubh recorded in one or all of them. In fact, no dictionary records the phrase uath dubh. Uath is in Ó Dónaill’s dictionary, where it is described as a literary term meaning fear or horror (for literary, read ‘old-fashioned’ or ‘not in current use.’) It is also given in Dinneen, where it is defined as:

A form or shape, a spectre or phantom; dread, terror; hate.

It is not found in De Bhaldraithe, which is an English-Irish dictionary and seems to have been thrown in to make the list of references look more impressive. Dwelly is a Scottish Gaelic dictionary and therefore quite irrelevant in this context.

There is also another old-fashioned term uath, an entirely different word, which means the whitethorn bush.

So, the situation is this. The first part of Cassidy’s definition above (Uath Dubh, (pron. h-úŏ doo): dark specter, evil phantom, a malevolent thing; horror, dread; a dark, spiky, evil-looking thing) was invented by Cassidy. And not only is the supposed Irish source of ‘hoodoo’ not in any dictionary or any other source, Cassidy mixes up two quite separate words and throws in the adjective spiky for good measure because a whitethorn bush is spiky!

If you are sympathetic to Cassidy, you are probably saying, if uath exists and dubh exists, couldn’t Cassidy be right? Couldn’t the two words have been combined by Irish speakers to mean an evil apparition?

I don’t think so. Even leaving aside the fact that uath was an old-fashioned word by the 19th century, where is the evidence that the Irish ever believed in a supernatural being called the uath dubh? Why hasn’t this word survived in any books or poems or stories or songs? Why didn’t the collectors of Irish folklore find any trace of it? Why isn’t it as well known as the banshee (bean sí) or the pooka (púca)?

Suppose someone decided that in English there was a supernatural being called a spritegoblin. Is it enough for them to prove that the words sprite and goblin both exist in English? Wouldn’t you expect them to find specific references to the compound word spritegoblin?

Unfortunately, Cassidy’s book is haunted by hundreds of spritegoblins, made-up phrases which don’t exist outside of Cassidyworld.  Cassidy, on his own admission, spoke no Irish at all. He claimed that he ‘checked’ his words with a native speaker of Irish. Exactly how he did this is unclear. I have visions of him walking into an Irish bar, asking if anyone was an Irish speaker, showing the putative native speaker his list of words and asking them if they were OK, and then when they nodded sagely and said ‘Oh yes!’ he would buy them a pint as a reward. Maybe this is a bit cynical on my part, but  I can’t imagine that he did the thing that anyone would do if they seriously wanted to prove their case. I’m sure he never gave a list of words and phrases like uath dubh and sách úr to native speakers in a blind test to see whether they really are recognisable as what Cassidy thought they meant. Cassidy obviously preferred to include all kinds of rubbish and not check his facts at all because with even a slight scrutiny of his materials he would have ended up with a pamphlet rather than a book.

The origin of hoodoo is a mystery but there is absolutely no evidence linking it to the Irish language or to the island of Ireland. Unless Cassidy’s supporters can find even one reference to the uath dubh somewhere in the vast corpus of Irish literature, we can reasonably assume that it doesn’t exist and that it is yet another figment of Daniel Cassidy’s imagination.

Sneeze

I have noticed that many of the early posts on this blog get relatively little traffic, so I have decided to start republishing some of them.

 

Here’s another example of my issues with Cassidy’s theories. According to Cassidy, the English word sneeze derives from Irish:

Sní as (pron. snee’as, flowing, dripping, leaking, coursing out of) is not to be sneezed at. It is the Irish origin of the English sneeze.

There are several points to be noted here. First of all, the phrase sní as doesn’t exist in Irish as a way of referring to sneezing. Nor could it exist, as far as I can see. The word sní refers to slow movement of liquids, such as a running, a dripping or a flowing, or to the slow movement of snails or slugs. Here is the entry from Mícheál Ó Siochfhradha’s Irish-English, English-Irish Dictionary published in 1973 by the Talbot Press in Dublin:

Sní, f. flowing slowly (as water); crawling (as snail)

As sneezing is one of the fastest and most dynamic actions the human body is capable of, it hardly seems likely that sní would be used to describe it! It would be far more likely to be used (if at all) as a way of describing a nose running because of a cold.

Then again, there is an Irish word for sneeze. It’s in all the dictionaries. Sraoth is the word. So if you want to say “I sneezed”, you would say lig me sraoth. If you want to say ‘I was sneezing’, you say bhí mé ag sraothartach (or in my Ulster dialect, bhí mé ag srofartaigh).

And last but by no means least, we have to look at borrowings between languages. Generally speaking, languages borrow words that they don’t have a word for themselves. Thus banshee, or kosher, or imam have been borrowed into English because English doesn’t have words for those concepts. But people have always sneezed, so why wouldn’t English have had a word for sneezing before the Irish gave them an expression?

Of course, the English did have an expression for sneezing. It’s the word sneezing. English is a Germanic language, which is why Irish fear is ‘man’ in English and ‘Mann’ in German, or Irish lámh is ‘hand’ in English and ‘Hand’ in German, because the core vocabulary of the Germanic languages is related. If we look at words for sneeze in the Germanic languages, sneeze is ‘niesen’ (pronounced ‘neezen’) in German and ‘niezen’ (neesa) in Dutch. Apparently all of these words originally had an f in front of them which in English was somehow replaced with an s, probably on the analogy of words like sniff, snort, snivel. As it happens, the version with f- is not found in any Old English text but this doesn’t mean it never existed.

By the time of Chaucer, the word already existed in English as snesen. The words sneeze, niesen and niezen are obviously the same word (and phonetically far closer than many of Cassidy’s fake associations like block and bealach or sách úr and sucker) and none of them has any direct connection with Irish.

Baloney

I have noticed that many of the early posts on this blog get relatively little traffic, so I have decided to start republishing some of them.

Another oft-quoted piece of Cassidese is the phrase béal ónna. According to Cassidy, béal ónna is the origin of the American slang word baloney, meaning nonsense or rubbish.

Béal ónna (pron. bæl óna), silly loquacity, foolish talk; blather; blarney; stupid gossip.

There are two major points we need to be clear on here. First of all, the Irish phrase béal ónna is not an Irish phrase. It does not exist. It is composed of two words: béal, which is very common and means mouth, and ónna, which is so uncommon and obscure that it doesn’t even get a mention in Ó Dónaill’s 1300 page dictionary of Modern Irish. Before Cassidy, nobody had ever linked it to béal to make a phrase béal ónna. If you used the phrase among Irish speakers they would look at you in confusion and wonder what you were talking about. It is pure invention from a total fantasist.

Look it up on Google! You will find no references to the phrase on line apart from direct quotes from Cassidy. The only other example I came up with was on a forum, where it was used casually to mean nonsense by someone whose username was Dancas1 – obviously Daniel Cassidy the great fantasist himself!

Secondly, baloney is an example of an interesting linguistic phenomenon called the minced oath. This is quite common, and exists in many languages. A minced oath is simply where an obscene or blasphemous or unpleasant word is disguised by cutting bits off it, or by saying a word which sounds a bit like it.

Thus the French avoid saying Sacré Dieu (Holy God) by saying Sacré Bleu (Holy Blue). The Irish say dar fia (by deer) instead of dar Dia (by God) or daingniú air (strengthening on it) instead of damnú air (damnation on it). The English say things like Gee Whizz (Jesus) and Blimey (God Blind Me) or Sugar (shit).

It isn’t a difficult concept. It explains terms like Baloney, which is a minced oath for balls or bollocks. It also explains phrases like Holy Moly or Holy Mackerel and a number of other minced oaths for which Cassidy proposed ridiculously improbable Irish meanings.

There are many naïve and silly people out there who have looked at Cassidy’s claims and asked the question, how did scholars miss these obvious Irish derivations? If you stop to think about it, the answer is pretty clear. There have been lots of clever Irish people who spoke Irish and English and if these phrases were really so obvious, they would have been spotted and suggested before.

The reason why scholars didn’t spot them is simply because almost all of them were invented by Cassidy and don’t exist!

The Accidental Racist

A few weeks back, there was a big to-do over a letter by Mike McCormack, National Historian of the AOH (hopefully ex-Historian of the AOH by now, if that organisation has any respect for its good name at all!) in the magazine History Ireland. McCormack made a gratuitous, childish and entirely unwarranted attack on Liam Hogan, the Limerick historian who has done such excellent work in challenging the racist Irish Slavery Meme.

Bizarrely, McCormack characterised some of Hogan’s work as ‘Paddy-bashing’. Why? Well, Liam Hogan has been criticising the spread of the Irish Slavery meme among Irish Americans, and the way that racists and people who are ignorant of their own heritage have used this fake revisionist version of history to belittle the terrible injustices suffered by the African American community by saying that the Irish were slaves too and that they suffered worse than African Americans but they aren’t ‘bitching and moaning’. That this kind of racist nonsense has been spread far and wide, shared by hundreds of thousands of people of Irish descent, is undeniable. Go on line looking for Irish Slaves on social media and you will find plenty of hateful, nasty comments directed at groups like Black Lives Matter. Mike McCormack, in his absurd letter, claimed that Hogan is distorting the truth and exaggerating this racist presence on the internet in order to depict Irish Americans as racists. Apparently, because Mike McCormack doesn’t know any racists in the Irish American community, there aren’t any, and people like Hogan are being racist against Irish Americans by pointing out the spread of this racist poison in that community.

Liam Hogan isn’t a racist. Neither is Mike McCormack, judging by some of the articles he has written. The problem is that McCormack is refusing to look at the implications of the Irish Slavery meme honestly. There were no Irish slaves. There were Irish indentured servants, some of whom were involuntary (prisoners of war or effectively poor people kidnapped from Ireland). Their servitude was time-limited (even the prisoners, who were characteristically given servitude contracts of ten years). It was totally different from the slavery that African Americans were subjected to.

The problem with revisionist theories like the Irish Slavery Meme is that there are many people who don’t share the racist views of many of the people who spread them. They aren’t racists but the ideas they are spreading are clearly giving support to those who do hold racist views. To give just one example, one of the most popular Irish Slavery books is Rhetta Akamatsu’s book The Irish Slaves: Slavery, Indentured Servitude, and Contract Labor Among Irish Immigrants. Rhetta Akamatsu is presumably not a white supremacist, as her husband is of Japanese descent. But her book is badly researched and full of mistakes (for example, the Amazon Irish slaves of 1612, who didn’t exist), which is unsurprising in that she is not a proper historian but a writer specialising in books about the paranormal. One revealing article says that she often sits down to watch her favourite programmes, including Ancient Aliens! I’ll say nothing …

There are lots of these accidental racists. Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin ended up in hot water in 2016 with a badly-considered tweet about how three hundred thousand Irish were sold as slaves. Máirtín Ó Muilleoir of Sinn Féin is part of a media consortium which owns IrishCentral, which carried an appalling article peddling nonsense originating in the claims of a Holocaust-denier called Hoffmann. (I notice that the article is now no longer available on IrishCentral. Perhaps if they’re removing lies from that site, they could ditch the rubbish by Brendan Patrick Keane as well!) Neither Adams nor Ó Muilleoir are racists, and the policies of their party are clearly and unambiguously opposed to all forms of racism. The fact that they have found themselves on the wrong side in these debates is down to stupidity, not malice.

And it’s very interesting that, though Barry Fell was not a racist, the ideas that he spread about Europeans coming to the New World fit in well with a whole tradition about the spread of civilisation from the drowned continent of Atlantis, ideas which suggest that civilisation came from white people and wasn’t developed independently by Amerindians. (Norman Totten, a friend of Barry Fell’s, set up a straw man in his posthumous defence of Fell, which you can read here: http://www.equinox-project.com/esop81.htm In reality, none of the three comments quoted accuses Fell of being racist – they state, quite rightly, that Fell’s theories can have racist implications.)

It’s also interesting to note that while I’m sure Fell wasn’t a Maori-hater, he spent a long time in New Zealand and his ideas about white settlers in ancient times in the Pacific fits in with the ideas of 19th century writers like Tregear, whose beliefs were nonsense but were pro-Maori (author of The Aryan Maori: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Tregear). Fell’s ideas and Tregear’s theories have given rise to a looney-tune far-right movement in New Zealand which has completely reversed Tregear’s respect for the Maori and claims that Celts went to Aotearoa in ancient times and that the Maori are therefore just blow-ins who have no prior claim to the land. This is probably the closest correspondence you could find to the use of the White Slavery Meme as a means of attacking African Americans.

In other words, you don’t have to be a racist to be an accessory to racist ideas. You should always check the accuracy of the ideas you are claiming. I don’t really care if Mike McCormack is a racist or not. But he should be as worried as I am about the spread of racist memes about Irish history. He should be doing everything in his power to stop such ideas in their tracks but because of his ignorance and lack of historical knowledge, he has helped to propagate the most vile pieces of nonsense and propaganda about the forced breeding of young Irish girls with ‘Mandingo warriors’, not because he is a white supremacist who hates black people, but because his sense of ancestral victimhood is more important to him than the truth.

I do not like thee, Dr Fell

In another post, I dealt with some of the late Barry Fell’s weird theories about Celts, Libyans, Ancient Egyptians and other groups in the Americas in ancient times.

Fell’s book, America BC, is full of absurdities. An ‘inscription’ found on the shore apparently reads: “Cargo platforms for ships from Phoenicia.” Yet, as other critics have pointed out, apart from inscriptions, there is no evidence. Where is all the rubbish which all civilisations produce? Why do no inscriptions turn up in archaeological sites where the stratigraphy can confirm their antiquity? This is a little like some archaeologist in thousands of years’ time (probably a genetically-enhanced chimp) finding a sign saying “Ellis Island – Welcome to America” but without finding any trace of New York!

As I have said before, I’m no expert on Libyan, or Ancient Egyptian, or even on Ancient Celtic. However, in order to be suspicious of Barry Fell’s ideas, you don’t need to be an expert. You just need to be sane.

One of the silliest and most incompetent parts of a very silly and incompetent book is the chapter where Barry Fell decides that many place names in New England are of Celtic origin. Fell’s claims are ludicrous. There is a fundamental inconsistency in them. Fell uses the meanings which speakers of Native American/Canadian languages themselves and experts in those languages have identified in the names of rivers and other places as a guide, and then claims to find Celtic equivalents to these meanings. In the process, he twists and corrupts the Scottish Gaelic language, a language which he had a slight knowledge of, and mixes it with Celtic etymological roots to invent phrases which are loosely similar to the Native American names. The logical problem with this is obvious. The meanings derived from the Algonquian language make sense within that language. So how can these names derive both from Algonquian and from Celtic?

For example, according to Russell the Algonquian meaning of the stream Ammonoosuc is “Stream of the small fish.” Fell interprets this as Am.-min-a-sugh using (according to him) Ancient Celtic roots, and comes up with the explanation “small stream for taking out (fish)”. This is highly suspect. Where does the root am come from? There is an Ancient Celtic word ambara, meaning a stream, but am? Then sugh is presumably the same as the modern Irish meaning to absorb. This isn’t likely to be used in the context of fishing.

A place called Cohas which means pine is linked by him to gaelic ghiuthas [sic] which also means pine. (The spelling with gh at the beginning is a clear indication that Fell knew very little Gaelic.) The names really aren’t that similar in the two languages.

From this weak start, it quickly descends into the totally ridiculous. The Merrimack river had a number of Indian names, one of which was Kaskaashadi, the Native American meaning of which is unknown. However, Fell thinks it looks like the supposed Gaelic phrase ‘g-uisge-siadi, which, according to Fell means with waters which flow slowly. But the Gaelic words for slow are mall, slaodach, ríamannach, sialtach. Where does siadi come from? What’s that ‘g doing there? I’ve no idea but at least I’ve more of an idea about Gaelic than poor old Barry Fell.

Fell also gives a ‘Gaelic’ derivation to the alternative name Merrimack, which he derives from the ‘Gaelic’ words mor-riomach, which (according to Fell, means ‘of great depth.’) . Try looking up the words mor-riomach, with or without grave accents on the first o and the i, in a Gaelic dictionary. You won’t find anything. Also, if you look it up on Google you will only find references to Fell’s ‘research’. I imagine the root of this word is something akin to réim in Irish, which means range or extent, but who knows? There are no references, no evidence that any of these phrases really exists or could have existed or meant what Fell said they meant.

Another two phrases which seem to be the product of Fell’s imagination are the stream Piscataqua, which supposedly means white rock, and another stream called Seminenal, which he claims means grains of rock. Fell’s Gaelic candidates are Pios-cata.-cua, and semen-aill. I have no idea what is happening with Pios-cata.-cua. Pios is obviously a loanword from Middle English or French, the same word as the Irish píosa or the English piece, so this dates it to the last eight hundred years, no earlier. The cata and cua aren’t usual or comprehensible words for white or rock. I don’t recognise them and I can’t be bothered looking for them.

According to Fell, the name Quechee corresponds to the Gaelic cuithe, meaning a hole or ravine. In fact, if you look up the word cuithe in a Gaelic dicionary you find that it means pit, trench; bank, drift; breastwork; stronghold. The ‘ravine’ meaning seems to be Fell’s invention. As always with this kind of pseudo-scholarship (it’s found throughout Daniel Cassidy’s work), minor tweaks are made to the meanings of both the source and target language so that it looks like there is an amazingly close correspondence. When you examine the primary sources, these amazing correspondences disappear.

Fell also claims that the New Hampshire name Uncanoonucks, a name which translates from the Algonquian as ‘a woman’s breasts’ can be compared to Scottish and Irish expressions for hills using the term Paps in English. He claims that this represents the Scottish Gaelic Uchd-nan-Ugan. This expression uchd-nan-ugàn is a total fabrication on Fell’s part. Uchd (Irish ucht) means breast, while ugàn is a Scottish Gaelic expression for top of the breast or neck. In other words, this bizarre phrase would really mean something like ‘breast of the tops of the breast.’ In reality, the word used for these geographical ‘paps’ is cíoch in Irish and cìoch in Scottish Gaelic, as in Sgurr na Cìche (The Paps of Jura) in Scotland and the Paps of Anu in Kerry (Dá Chíoch Anann).

Even more dishonest than that is the claim that the element –nock is used in New England place names for hills or mountains. This is true, it does occur in such names. But it isn’t the element that means hill or mountain, so any similarity to Irish cnoc is completely meaningless.

I could keep going and trash the rest of Fell’s ‘research’ on place names in New England but it really isn’t worth it. This is not a serious attempt to arrive at the truth. Fell was simply a fantasist and his book America BC is a worthless testament to human folly, just like Daniel Cassidy’s book on slang.