Category Archives: An Ghaeilge

Derevaun Seraun

This is a question I have been meaning to deal with for a while. It was never discussed by Cassidy but it is of some interest.

Derevaun Seraun is a phrase found in Joyce’s Dubliners story Eveline. It is uttered by a dying old woman, the mother of the eponymous Eveline.

There is no doubt that it sounds Irish and some people claim to hear some clear message in it. As a fluent Irish speaker, do I hear anything Irish in it? Well, I have to admit that when I say it to myself, I do find Irish words in it. I hear (in a Munster accent) the words dearbhán saothrán. Dearbhán means a voucher, as in a card exchangeable for a certain amount of money in a bookshop or a restaurant and saothrán means a culture, specifically a culture of bacteria or fungus on a Petri dish.

Neither of these words or concepts was much discussed in the Gaeltachts of Ireland when Joyce was attending Irish classes (which he did – he was not as hostile to the language as many modern Gaelophobes would like to think). I doubt if dearbhán existed when Joyce was writing and saothrán certainly didn’t.

So, if it doesn’t mean that, what does it mean? As is always the case with Irish, the anglophone world is never slow to project all kinds of ridiculous fantasies onto our language.

So, according to one person, there is a ‘simple naturalistic meaning’ of ‘the only end worms’, (explained as deire amháin with the word pronounced ‘Seraun’ used in Connemara for worms). Okay.… Does deireadh amháin mean ‘the only end’? Kind of, but only kind of.  To me, deireadh amháin means ‘one end’ (of a number). I would express the only end in other ways – an t-aon deireadh, for example. As for során, this is a word meaning wireworms, which are a problem for gardeners but aren’t really associated with death, unlike cruimheanna or péisteanna.

A frequently quoted claim is that Derevaun Seraun is a corrupt Irish phrase meaning ‘the end of pleasure is pain’ but I have never seen the supposed Irish original of this. Another is ‘the end of song is raving madness’, presumably suggesting that the majority of deveraun is linked to the Irish amhrán, meaning song, while seraun is presumably meant to be siabhrán, meaning a slight derangement, confusion or mental delusion. How you get the word for end in there is another matter!

Or then there’s the other claim that it means ‘I was there, you should go there’ in Kerry Irish. Apparently, the first bit is supposed to be ‘do raibh ann’, which can’t be right. It would be ‘do bhíos ann’ or ‘(do) bhí mé ann’. There’s no reason for the raibh form here.

Neither is deireadh saothair likely (the end of labour or effort) as it doesn’t really sound anything like the phrase and deireadh saor doesn’t mean the end of freedom (freedom is saoirse). Deireadh saor means ‘a free end’ or ‘the end of carpenters’.

So, again, what does this phrase mean? The late Breandán Ó hEithir had some strange and rather right-wing ideas but in relation to this, I think he was spot-on when he said that the phrase was ‘probably gibberish’.  It’s meant to sound Irish without meaning anything. It suggests Irish but leaves the whole thing open to interpretation. I imagine that Joyce chose these meaningless Irish-sounding words very carefully, knowing that a tantalising puzzle with no solution would have critics of his work swarming all over it like flies on shite.

A Recommendation/Moladh

A while back, I bought a copper photo etching from talented New Zealand artist Chris O’Regan. I had intended to write about it before now but I’m only just getting around to it. Anyway, the picture took a while to make its way from the Land of the Long White Cloud to Ireland but I was really delighted with it and I promised Chris that I would give him a bit of publicity here.

The effect of the picture is very unusual. According to Chris himself, the etching process involved uses a polished copper surface where the etched areas are treated with a patina (a chemical) that permanently turns the recessed areas black and brown and the unetched areas are left with the copper shining through. The image will literally last hundreds of years because of the way it was made. It came in a tasteful and elegant wooden frame.

Chris has done several of these pictures. My picture is of Brian O’Nolan (otherwise known as Flann O’Brien or Myles na gCopaleen).

The picture is a fitting tribute to one of the greatest of Irish writers. As I am a Flannatic and a Mylesian, I am delighted to have such an attractive image of my favourite writer on prominent display in my house.

However, there is a special reason why I notice this picture every day as I go past it. Anyone who has ever lived near the sea will know that a seascape is never the same from one hour or one day to the next. As with the sea, the fact that this picture has a reflective copper surface means that it is always different depending on the light filtering in from outside. It is muted on a dark, cloudy day, while on a sunny day, the image of the great man’s face stands out and captures your attention.

If you are looking for an unusual and tasteful ornament for your home, or a different and special gift for someone who loves Irish culture and literature, check out Chris’s website here:

Home – Celtic Art Dagda Metalwork

Tamall beag ó shin, nuair a bhí an phaindéim i mbarr a réime, cheannaigh mé eitseáil ghrianghraif chopair ó ealaíontóir cumasach ón Nua-Shéalainn darb ainm Chris O’Regan. Bhí sé ar intinn agam scríobh ar an ábhar seo roimhe seo ach idir rud amhain agus rud eile níor éirigh liom é a dhéanamh go dtí anois. Thóg an pictiur tamall maith lena bhealach a dhéanamh ó Thír an Scamaill Fhada Bháin go hÉirinn ach b’fhiú go mór fanacht air. Bhí mé agus tá mé thar a bheith sásta leis agus gheall mé do Chris go dtabharfainn giota beag poiblíochta dó ar an bhlag.

Ta cuma thar a bheith neamhchoitianta ar an íomhá. De réir Chris féin, baineann an próiseas eitseála usáid as dromchla snasta copair ar a ndéantar na hachair eitseáilte a chóireáil le paitean (ceimiceán) a thiontaíonn na codanna ionsuite dubh agus donn agus fágtar na codanna neamheitseáilte gan athrú. Mairfidh an íomhá na céadta bliain mar gheall ar an dóigh a ndearnadh í. Ní hamháin sin, ach tháinig an pictiúr i bhfráma breá galánta.

Tá dornán de na pictiúir seo déanta ag Chris. An pictiúr atá agamsa, is de Bhrian Ó Nualláin é (ar a dtugtar fosta Flann O’Brien nó Myles na gCopaleen).

Ómós cuí atá ann do dhuine de na mórscríbhneoirí is fearr de chuid na tíre seo. Tá dúil as cuimse agamsa i saothar Myles agus tá mé thar a bheith sásta íomhá chomh galánta tarraingteach den scríbhneoir is fearr liom a bheith ar taispeáint in áit fheiceálach sa teach s’agamsa.

Ní hamháin sin, ach tá fáth ar leith a dtugaim an pictiúr seo faoi deara agus mé ag dul thart leis gach lá. Duine ar bith a bhí ina chónaí cois farraige riamh, tuigfidh sé nó sí nach mbíonn muirdhreach mar an gcéanna ó uair go huair nó ó lá go lá. Agus mar a bhíonn i gcás na farraige, mar gheall ar an dromchla fhrithchaiteach lonrach ar an phictiúr copair, bíonn sé i gcónaí difriúil ag brath ar an tsolas ag síothlú isteach ón tsaol amuigh. Bíonn sé maolaithe ar lá scamallach dorcha ach nuair a bhíonn sé grianmhar amuigh, bíonn aghaidh an mhórscríbhneora le feiceáil go suntasach agus tá idir líonadh súl agus líonadh croí ann.

Má tá tú ag iarraidh maisiúchán neamhchoitianta toighseach a fháil don teach s’agat, nó bronntanas difriúil speisialta a cheannach do dhuine a bhfuil dúil aici nó aige i gcultúr agus i litríocht na hÉireann, mholfainn duit spléachadh a thabhairt ar shuíomh gréasáin Chris anseo:

Home – Celtic Art Dagda Metalwork

More on the etymology of leprechaun

I have virtually stopped posting over the last few months, largely because I have other, more urgent, things to do and partly because I have said what I wanted to say about Cassidy, the gaggle of selfish and arrogant Irish and Irish-American twitterati who have supported him against all the evidence and the way that academia needs to start defending itself and its values against the growing tide of disinformation on the internet.

I don’t regret writing the blog and I’m glad it’s there as a resource for people with enquiring minds who want to know the truth about Cassidy and his insane theories but at the same time, I am happy to move on and do something else with my time. However, there are certain things I planned to do and just haven’t had the chance, so I will try to get them finished over the next month.

The first and most important of these jobs is to review the known facts about the etymology of the word leprechaun.

Last Christmas, I reviewed this book, which I praised and recommended, calling it a “beautifully produced and very interesting book on key words in the Irish language”:

A history of Ireland in 100 words: Amazon.co.uk: Arbuthnot, Sharon, Maire Ni Mhaonaigh, Toner, Gregory, McLaren, Joe: 9781911479185: Books

While I really liked this book, I happened to comment that I was very unsure about the supposed connection between leipreachán/leprechaun and Lupercus, which was lit on and made much of in reviews of the book at the time. The connection goes back to an article by a Celtic scholar called Bisagni. I commented here that I was unable to find a copy of this. A man called Martin very kindly sent a link to this article, Bisagni, Jacopo. 2012. “Leprechaun’: A New Etymology.” Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies. Vol. 64. Winter. Pp. 47-84., and since then, I have intended to read and review it.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/289720627_Leprechaun_A_New_Etymology.

According to the scraps of information I had seen online, Bisagni was arguing that the Luperci, a kind of cult priesthood in ancient Rome associated with the Lupercalia festival, were associated with water and because of this, their name was used as the name of a class of aquatic supernatural beings in Irish mythology. After many centuries, the name Lupercii became Luprachán, and this was changed by folk-etymology to lúchorpán, which refers to a small body.

My initial scepticism was around the idea that the Lupercii were associated with water. The evidence for this is very slight, though some accounts talk about them jumping into water and swimming. And none of the accounts of Bisagni’s theory on line gave a clear statement of what evidence links Luperci to an aquatic race in Irish tradition.

However, having read the article by Bisagni, I think his idea certainly has value and that he has defended his position very well. Please note that while I am an Irish speaker, I am not a Celtic scholar, so my opinions are personal and limited by my own ignorance and I would recommend people to follow the link and read it for themselves.

There are three main arguments provided by Bisagni. Firstly, he demonstrates that versions like lupracán and lúchorpán are alternatives that are found as far back as the word has been in the language so there is no evidence that lúchorpán is the ‘original’ and that lupracán is a later variant.

Secondly, he throws doubt on the idea that lú- can be used as a prefix meaning a small thing. He shows that there are very few examples which (apparently) show this element in use and that even the examples we have are dubious.

Thirdly, he makes an excellent argument for the aspect that I found dubious. I won’t go into the details here (again, look at the original paper) but it is quite clear that Bisagni was not clutching at straws and that the argument that the Luperci were transformed into a mythical aquatic race in Irish tradition and could easily have been the origin of the Lupracáin is the strongest aspect of his argument.

I think he is quite probably right and that this is probably the strongest contender for the origin of our leprechauns, so hats off to Bisagni for a solid and very interesting piece of research and many thanks to Martin for providing the link and satisfying my curiosity!

More on Smashin’

I have frequently used this blog to criticise the tendency of people who know nothing about language or languages to set themselves up as experts on the subject. I am not just talking about Cassidy here but also about thousands of ordinary people who contribute ‘interesting’ little factoids to internet discussions, informing the world that the Celtic languages are of Phoenician origin or that Shakespeare’s language shows Irish features or that Jamaican slang is all Gaelic in origin. The instant internet expert is one of the worst aspects of the digital age. And however annoying I find it, I realise that for doctors, trying to save people’s lives while immature, dim-witted arseholes undermine their efforts at every turn, it must be so much worse than annoying!

Anyway, I recently heard an interview on RTÉ with an ‘expert’ on the Irish language in Liverpool. Most of this interview was reasonable enough, dealing with well-trodden ground relating to the history of the Irish community in Liverpool. However, the final bit was a typical piece of fake etymological nonsense which I have dealt with before. According to the expert, tara whack comes from tabhair aire, a mhac. (in reality, tara is a local variant of ta-ta, which is found all over England, while the original form of whack was whacker, and it was only shortened to whack in the 1960s!) He also quoted the tired old chestnut about smashing coming from the Irish is maith sin.

While I have also dealt with this question before, it is perhaps worth going through it again here.

Firstly, why do so many people believe that the English slang word smashing comes from the Irish is maith sin? Well, there is a phrase ‘Is maith sin’ which is found in Irish and in Scottish Gaelic (though it really isn’t very common) and which is pronounced much the same as smashin’ and which means ‘That’s good!’  Many people with no training in linguistics will automatically assume that that is enough to prove the connection. Case closed!

However, as we’ve mentioned before, there is an old maxim among etymologists, “Etymology by sound is not sound etymology”. In other words, a formal similarity is only ever a starting point for further research. In and of itself, it means nothing, because when a word in language A resembles another word in language B, this doesn’t automatically mean that A borrowed that word from B. There are other possibilities, such as that B borrowed it from A, or that both A and B borrowed it from C, or that A and B are related languages which developed from an earlier language and inherited a similar word from that parent-language (i.e. the two words are cognates). Or, of course, that the similarity is pure coincidence.

Coincidence is not as uncommon as you would think. We have already discussed a good example here, the fact that daor in Irish and dear in English are both adjectives, both mean expensive and they sound very similar. However, if we follow their etymologies back, they are completely unrelated, and any similarity is a matter of random chance.

Such random similarities are even less likely to be significant when the meaning is somewhere in the same ball-park but not identical. For example, we have had the example here of someone (not Cassidy) who claimed that the English word muck and the Irish muc (pig) must be related because pigs are mucky. Again, when you research the etymology of these words in their respective languages, there is no connection at all.

So, what about smashing and is maith sin? Well, firstly let me say, for the sake of transparency, that it is not impossible that smashing comes from is maith sin. I cannot categorically prove that there is no link. However, if we look at the facts objectively, it is highly improbable that there is any connection.

For one thing, the word smash meaning to break or destroy exists, and there is nothing odd about using a term meaning to hit or break with the meaning of excellent. Smash was first used in English (as a noun meaning a blow) in 1725 and it was first used to mean a success in the early 20th century. There are many metaphorical expressions using terms for breaking and hitting in the sense of success. We have a thumping good film, a hit,, a belter, or bostin’ (busting, a Midlands English expression) and of course, cracking, a term which has been used in just the same way as smashing since the 1820s. In other words, smashing coming from English smash is perfectly reasonable as an explanation.

There is no evidence of an Irish or Gaelic origin. Smashing does not occur first in Irish or Scottish contexts and there are no conscious references to it as an Irish or Gaelic expression. This is not what we find with hubbub, or shebeen, or banshee, or Tory, or claymore, or slogan.

Another problem is the way the two expressions are used. In English, smashing is used in lots of ways that do not correspond to the use of is maith sin. When smashing is used as a stand-alone phrase (Smashing! I like it!) then it’s reasonably close to the way is maith sin is used. However, a bilingual Irish or Gaelic speaker would not say “That’s really is maith sin!” or “We had an is maith sin time!” These make no sense. And when we look at the history of the word smashing, it is used as an adjective first and as a stand-alone phrase later, which we would not expect to find if this were a word of Irish or Gaelic origin.

I realise that this will disappoint a lot of people, because the claim about Is maith sin and smashing has been around for a long time and was certainly well-known long before Cassidy came along. There are many other folk etymologies like this, for example that shanty comes from seantí or that so long comes from slán or that mucker comes from mo chara or that longshoreman comes from loingseoir. None of these derivations is likely to be true, in spite of the fact that they are widely quoted and believed by people in Ireland and in Irish America.

Still less is there any chance of Cassidy’s claims being true, because we need to remember that Cassidy lied about virtually everything. Most of the phrases he gives are outright invention and where he does quote from dictionaries and other authoritative sources, he usually doctored and rewrote the material to make it sound more convincing. Almost nothing in Cassidy’s book is trustworthy and it is safer to simply assume that anything he said is untrue.

A Reply To Damien Kirwan

I received a message a few weeks ago from someone called Damien Kirwan and I have decided to answer it briefly, just as a way of showing what kind of comments deserve an answer and what kind of comments do not. Here is what Kirwan says:

I read the book when it came out. I don’t see why you are so angry with Dan Cassidy. His explanation for the origin of the words such as dig, slum, jazz, phoney and the phrase to “say uncle” have merit and gives dignity to a modern European language that has almost vanished. God be good to Dr Cassidy RIP, ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

This, of course, is the kind of comment that really doesn’t deserve an answer and I am fully aware that in publishing this and replying to it, I am doing the poor moron who wrote it no favours. However, the fact is that I have put a lot of work into this blog because I felt that the Irish language needed some protection from lying con-men like the late Daniel Cassidy and it bothers me that some arrogant bómán like Damien Kirwan wants to set me straight about Cassidy without bothering to read any of the blog. The fact is, if he had bothered to look through the material dealt with here, he would know that the possible (but not very likely) origin of dig was first discussed in a paper by Eric Hamp in 1981, that phoney deriving from fáinne has been in the public domain for decades before Cassidy came along and was discussed by Eric Partridge and that the ‘say uncle’ theory was first proposed in an article in American Speech vol 51, 1976. In other words, none of these theories was invented by Cassidy. He merely claimed them without giving proper credit.

He would also have learned that there is no evidence for Cassidy’s claims about slum and jazz. The idea that Cassidy’s wholesale invention of hundreds of nonsensical phrases in fake Irish contribute to the status or dignity of Irish is also ludicrous and quite offensive. And to top it all, this arrogant moron refers to Daniel Cassidy, dim Dan from San Fran, who flunked his degree from Cornell and never acquired any qualifications at all, as Dr Cassidy!

I would like to point out here to people like Damien (and a certain member of the O’Keeffe family who should learn the difference between codail and chodail) that I am not under any obligation to provide a forum for people to express their stupidity and arrogance and I certainly do not have to dignify their semi-literate nonsense with a reply. I have better things to do with my time. If people really want to comment on these matters, they can always start their own blog.

Boogaloo

A recent exchange with one of Cassidy’s supporters on the comments section of this blog (which I have since removed) had one useful outcome, as I realised that my treatment of Cassidy’s claims about the origins of the word boogaloo were not detailed enough.

The origins of boogie are mysterious enough. The known facts are that boogie was originally recorded in 1917 as a term for a rent party. Among poor black people, when they were unable to make the rent, they had a party (with alcohol during Prohibition) as well as music to raise the money to keep them from eviction. According to the excellent Etymonline, a song title “That Syncopated Boogie-boo” first appears in 1912. The style of music known as boogie or boogie-woogie dates back to 1928. The term boogaloo is quite late, being recorded first in the 1960s.

Cassidy ignores these subtleties and claims that the word boogie is from the Irish bogadh. He doesn’t mention boogie-woogie (because he can’t twist it into an ‘Irish’ form) but emphasises the late word boogaloo.

Bogadh is an Irish verbal noun. Its main meaning in modern Irish is ‘to move’. Because of this, Cassidy doesn’t mention the rent party origin, emphasising instead the meanings of dancing and movement. The word bogadh is a bad match in terms of sound. Bogadh is pronounced boggoo in the north and bogga in southern Irish.

As we have said, boogaloo is a very late development of the word boogie. Cassidy claims that it comes from an ‘Irish’ phrase bogadh luath. The word luath has the primary meaning of early, but can also mean fast. Because of this ambiguity, it is unlikely that it would be used in phrases like this rather than a word that unambiguously means fast, like gasta, tapa or mear.

To convince ignorant and gullible people that bogadh luath is an Irish phrase, Cassidy gives several examples of sentences using it. He claims that Níl bogadh luath ann means ‘he is unable to move fast’, while according to him, bogadh luath as áit means ‘to move fast out of a place; to boogaloo out of a joint’. Where did these examples of bogadh luath in use come from?

The answer, of course, is that they are crude fakes manufactured by Cassidy. He copied two phrases from Ó Dónaill’s dictionary, Níl bogadh ann and bogadh as áit, and then randomly stuck the word luath into them and pretended that they would make sense.

In fact, Níl bogadh ann is an all-or-nothing kind of a phrase. The best comparison would be expressions like the English ‘There wasn’t a peep out of him’. Just because you can say that doesn’t mean you can say ‘There wasn’t a big peep out of him’ if he spoke a little bit.

As for bogadh luath as áit, if you said ‘they moved quickly out of the house’, you would have to say bhog siad (or bhogaidis) as an áit GO luath. You need the adverbial particle go. People don’t bogadh luath or dul gasta or teacht réidh in Irish. Of course, Cassidy was completely ignorant of the Irish language and wouldn’t have had a clue what was right and what was wrong, either in terms of Irish grammar or personal morality.

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig

St Patrick’s Day will soon be here, so it seems like a good opportunity once again to attack Cassidy’s rubbish book of fake Irish, to encourage people to learn a little of the real thing, and to say a couple of words about the philosophy of language learning.

At this time of year, many people in the Irish diaspora take an interest in their culture and history. Because of the irresponsible behaviour of a number of prominent members of the Irish-American establishment like Peter Quinn, Joe Lee, Michael Patrick MacDonald, Tom Deignan and countless others, who recommended and continue to recommend this nonsense to gullible people, this book is still in print and still being sold. This is a disgrace. Cassidy’s ‘research’ is a cruel and disgusting hoax and IMHO no decent person would support it. However, thanks in part to this blog, people are now much more aware of how dishonest and foolish this book is, so the newspaper articles about Cassidy’s linguistic ‘revelations’ which used to appear at this time of year have been considerably fewer over the last couple of years. The only major organ (yes, I’m aware of the innuendo) of the diaspora which still supports this raiméis is the egregious IrishCentral. They continue to republish a semi-literate ‘review’ of Cassidy’s book by some 9/11 Truther called Brendan Patrick Keane.

Anyway, it seems appropriate to celebrate St Patrick’s Day with some handy (and GENUINE) phrases in our beautiful Ulster dialect of the Irish language.

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig duit! (OR Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig ort!)

Ban-akh-tee na fayla pahrig ditch!

Blessings of St Patrick’s day to you!

Go raibh míle maith agat.

Go roh meela moy oggut!

A thousand thanks! (Thanks very much)

Tá sé iontach deas inniu.

Tah shay intah jass inyoo.

It’s very nice today.

Sláinte mhór agus saol fada agat!

Slahn-chya wore ogus seel fadda oggut!

Good health and long life to you!

If you want some more information on these things, there are hundreds of resources on line. Focloir.ie is particularly good and has audio files for common words. Just don’t trust anything you read on IrishCentral, in any language, and don’t use Cassidy’s book as a source for learning Irish!

As for the philosophy of language learning, here’s a few points for people thinking of learning Irish:

DO

  • learn a little every day – start NOW!
  • label things you use every day – fridge, cooker, car, door
  • write common words or phrases on cards and carry them round with you
  • learn a few proverbs or songs by heart
  • use apps and words of the day and the Kindle and other new technology
  • get output by TG4 and Raidió na Gaeltachta and listen to the language as much as possible (without bothering about understanding it) just to get used to the sounds and intonation

DON’T

  • go to a class once a week and forget about it the rest of the time
  • try to learn everything at once and get disheartened when you can’t
  • use Google Translate to translate INTO Irish (it’s useful to get an idea of what a text means in a language you don’t speak well or at all but, for example, if you put I cycled a lot into Google Translate, you get Rothar mé go leor, which is garbage!)
  • make up sentences which are too complicated for you – stick to the structures you know to be correct. Walk, then run! There’s no point in practising elaborate structures which are wrong. Stick to simple sentences which are right! 

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig daoibh!!

Daniel Cassidy – A Study in Dishonesty

People have frequently visited this site and deposited hostile comments, usually without bothering to read the evidence first. Occasionally, I have answered these criticisms, which is usually a mistake. The debates can get very heated, on both sides, and the critics are usually totally unwilling to take the evidence on board or deal with it in a rational way.

One of the main criticisms tends to be that Cassidy was honest and that my depiction of him as a con-man and a fraud is misplaced. According to these people, Cassidy’s book of fantasy etymologies was basically well-intentioned, an interesting attempt but Cassidy ‘overreached’ a little so the core of truth has to be sifted out of less believable material. This is utter nonsense.

As I have shown on this blog, there is no core of truth in Cassidy’s work. Cassidy certainly tapped into a number of common folk-etymologies linking English words to the Irish language and he probably obtained these through an Irish-language learners’ forum he used. This gave him words like twig and dig, say uncle, longshoreman, phoney, pet. All of these have been dealt with in great detail and have nothing to do with Cassidy. (Some of them like twig from tuig and phoney from fainne are certainly possible, while others like longshoreman are very unlikely.) He then set to work looking for further words and phrases derived from Irish. In doing this, he tried to claim links between words like case as in case the joint and Irish casadh, gump and Irish colm and a host of other ludicrously improbable etymologies. He deliberately ignored any alternative derivations or anything that did not confirm his ridiculous hunches.  For example, he claimed that swoon comes from Irish suan, meaning sleep. Sounds convincing, except that swoon has an impeccable genealogy in English going back to Anglo-Saxon, so the similarity with suan is pure coincidence.

However, if he had stuck to single words like this, his book would still have been a pamphlet, so he made up lots of ridiculous phrases like béal ónna, uath dubh, uath-anchor, gus óil, éamh call, árd-iachtach-tach, sách úr etc. etc. Hardly any of the phrases in Cassidy’s book are genuine Irish. The vast majority are the most imbecilic concoctions. As David L. Gold has pointed out, Cassidy’s contribution to the study of etymology was less than zero, because not only did he fail to produce any genuinely valid or potentially interesting derivations, he muddied the water by producing hundreds of entirely fake ‘Irish’ phrases which are still doing the rounds on the Internet.

If that weren’t enough, there are also huge questions to be answered about Cassidy’s academic record.  When I started this blog in 2013, I still thought Cassidy had a university degree. This in itself would raise questions because you would normally expect a university lecturer to have at least a Master’s and often a doctorate. However, Cassidy’s sister Susan (no fan of her brother) told me that he had flunked his Cornell degree in 1965. This was confirmed by the Cornell registrar, Cassie Dembosky. In other words, there is not a shred of evidence that Cassidy had any qualifications at all, so it is hard to see how he managed to work for twelve years as a university lecturer. The only explanation, as far as I can see, is that he lied about his qualifications.

There are other strong indications of Cassidy’s dishonesty. He left reviews of his book on line using sockpuppet identities, which is not only highly unethical, the way it was done was incredibly incompetent. You would be in no doubt reading these fake reviews that Cassidy was the author.

Other details of his biography also raise questions. He was apparently working in the newsroom of the New York Times when JFK was shot. Except in reality, he didn’t work there until two years after Kennedy died.

Everything about this man is dodgy, suspect, hooky. His American and Irish cronies, lackeys and enablers can deny the truth as much as they want. It remains the truth. What is important to me is to get the message across that Cassidy knew nothing about Irish and that most of his claims are based on made-up expressions which clearly demonstrate Cassidy’s profound lack of respect for the Irish language and the people who speak it.

Cuddle and Codail

In the past I have criticised Sean Williams (aka Captain Grammar Pants) a blogger on matters of language. She published a book on Irish traditional music a number of years ago which was full of nonsense taken from Cassidy’s book. In a comment on one of my posts, she admitted that she no longer believed in these derivations and that she had got it wrong. However, since then, she has lapsed a couple of times, making silly and indefensible claims about supposed Irish derivations of English words. Just recently, on the 25th of December last year, she claimed that the English word cuddle comes from Irish codail (sleep).

Is this true? No, of course it’s not! We don’t really know where the English word cuddle comes from. It’s a apparently a nursery word (which tend not to be recorded). It may or may not be linked to other terms like coddle, mollycoddle and huddle.

Where did the claim of a connection with codail come from? In this case, it wasn’t from Cassidy. Loretto Todd, in her book Green English, mentions that cuddle might be linked to codalta [sic – it should be codlata), the genitive of codladh, meaning sleep. I have already written about Todd’s book, which is dubious but not as bad as Cassidy’s.

Anyway, could codail really be the origin of cuddle? After all, cuddling and sleep are sometimes linked and they are both about warmth and enfolding … and soft furnishings are often involved.

The answer to that is “no”! We need to think rationally about these things, about the processes involved. It’s not enough for a word to be somewhere in the same vague semantic ballpark. When a word is borrowed from one language to another, there is always a bilingual situation (usually involving a community of bilingual people) who tend to do what linguists call code-switching. This simply means that people use words and sometimes phrases and structures from one language while speaking another. In other words, some group of people who were bilingual said “Would you look at the pus on that child?” because the original would have been “An bhfeiceann tú an pus ar an leanbh sin?” And thus, after the word had been used many, many times in this community, the young monoglot English-speaking generation came to use the word pus(s) as a slang word in American contexts like sourpuss, glamourpuss and a dig in the puss.

So, the implication is that someone, somewhere, said something like “The child was crying and Máire gave him a codail”. Why would they, when nobody would say “Bhí an leanbh ag caoineadh agus thug Máire codail dó?” Codail isn’t the Irish for cuddle. And you don’t give someone sleep, especially not the word codail which is an imperative verb (an instruction to sleep) not the noun for sleep, which is codladh. And of course, hugging is not always, or not even primarily, about sleeping. It’s about warmth, intimacy, closeness. There is no plausible connection between codail and cuddle. If Captain Grammar Pants could be bothered doing the most elementary fact-checking, she would realise that.

Nollaig Shona Daoibh!

I have been thinking that I should make my Christmas message a bit different this year. Usually, I post a message warning people not to give the gift of lies and ignorance by bestowing Cassidy’s ludicrous and offensive piece of cultural appropriation, How The Irish Invented Slang, on their friends and family. I still stand by that, of course. Cassidy’s book is utterly and completely worthless, as you can see by reading the material on this blog. All you are saying when you give this book as a gift is ‘I am an idiot’.

However, this year, I thought I would mention a few books that you can give to people of Irish descent or with Irish links without feeling totally ashamed of yourself, books that will actually inform them about their cultural history. While it may be a little late (we’re already past Black Friday), this year is a little different from the usual and who knows, perhaps some people will be delaying their present-giving until they actually get to meet up again. And then, there are always birthdays and other celebrations where a gift like this might be appropriate. So here are a few suggestions.

The best one I’ve read recently was this:

A history of Ireland in 100 words: Amazon.co.uk: Arbuthnot, Sharon, Maire Ni Mhaonaigh, Toner, Gregory, McLaren, Joe: 9781911479185: Books

This is a beautifully produced and very interesting book on key words in the Irish language. It is full of interesting material. I agree with almost everything in it. (The only thing I’m still very unsure about is the supposed connection between leipreachán/leprechaun and Lupercus. I still haven’t seen any evidence for this and I find it unlikely but who knows, perhaps I’m wrong!) It is based on the Word of the Week section on Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language and it is wonderful.

Another book which is quite similar is Manchán Magan’s Thirty-Two Words for Field. This is also extremely attractively-produced and it contains some interesting stuff. It is not as rigorous or scholarly (by any means) as the history of Ireland In 100 Words, but it is worth reading. Magan is a bit of a romantic and I would take bits of it with a pinch of salt but I really enjoyed it. You can find it here:

Thirty-Two Words for Field: Amazon.co.uk: Manchan Magan: 9780717187973: Books

Another pair of books I’ve mentioned before are Motherfoclóir and Craic Baby. As regular readers of this blog will remember, I have misgivings about some of the material in these books (especially anything to do with etymology) but I do think they are worth reading and I would recommend them.

Motherfoclóir: Dispatches from @theirishfor: Dispatches from a not so dead language: Amazon.co.uk: Darach O’Séaghdha: 9781786691866: Books

Craic Baby: Dispatches from a Rising Language: Amazon.co.uk: Darach O’Séaghdha: 9781788545259: Books

A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa is a fantastic book about the famous lament for Art Ó Laoghaire (written in the 18th century by Eibhlin Dhubh, a relative of Daniel O’Connell and of James Joyce) by a bilingual poet who has had a long-standing interest in the lament.

A Ghost in the Throat: Amazon.co.uk: Doireann Ní Ghríofa: 9781916434264: Books

This is a very interesting book on the history of the language:

A History of the Irish Language: From the Norman Invasion to Independence (Oxford Linguistics): Amazon.co.uk: Doyle, Aidan: 9780198724766: Books

And this is another lovely book written by a journalist about his re-engagement with his Irish heritage. Again, a lovely book and well worth reading:

Coming Home: One man’s return to the Irish Language eBook: McCaughan, Michael: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store

Finally, if you can afford it, and if you are very interested in the Irish language, why not invest in a copy of the new Irish dictionary? This is a monumental work of scholarship but it is also very unstuffy and full of the language of the people. If you can’t afford it, then don’t worry, because it is available on line and has already proven its worth as a resource for the Irish-speaking community.

Concise English-Irish Dictionary (focloir.ie)

I hope you will have a wonderful Christmas and that you decide to learn some Irish in 2021.

Nollaig Shona agus Bliain Úr Faoi Mhaise Daoibh!