Category Archives: Cassidese Glossary

More on Shanty

I have already discussed the origin of the word shanty and its claimed origin from Irish on this blog. As I said before, the standard explanation among scholars is that shanty comes from chantier, which is a Canadian-French word meaning a lumberjack’s headquarters or a timber-yard or dock, originally deriving from the Latin cantherius, meaning a rafter or frame. This derivation makes sense and is certainly more credible than the Irish claim. I notice that there was a brief exchange a couple of years ago about this subject on Twitter, when a tweeter called HibernoEnglish posted the following:

Shanty – a word known around the world from its association with the Shanty Town – a settlement of poor people – comes from the Irish seantigh – Old house. Shanty itself in Hiberno meaning a ramshackle dwelling.

Another tweeter, Coiste na bhfocal, took issue with this claim:

100% cinnte nach ón nGaeilge a thagann sé [100% sure that it doesn‘t come from Irish]

This is a false etymology. Níl bunús leis. [There is no basis to it]

They also cited this blog in support of the idea that shanty is not from Irish. HibernoEnglish rapidly replied, pointing out that Terence Dolan had supported the idea that shanty came from Irish:

Céad faoin gcéad? Disputed maybe, not 100%. This is the entry in T Dolan’s Dictionary of Hiberno-English. Probably the foremost expert on the dialect, could be wrong but unlikely to fall for the sources cited in the blog post above.

It is quite true that Dolan supported this claim, but Dolan, though he was a good linguist and scholar, was not infallible. Here is what he had to say on the subject:

Shanty / ʃænti/ n., a makeshift cabin; a ramshackle house; a shabby liquor-house <Ir seantigh, old house. ‘He’s up there living inan old shanty at the butt of the mountain, waiting for them to build him a council house (TF, Cavan).

Coiste na bhfocal nua answered the other tweet as follows:

He definitely wouldn’t have fallen for that source but I am sure that origin is incorrect. Dolan’s book is generally excellent but that is a bad miss.

Why did Dolan get it so wrong in this case? First of all, we need to look at what Dolan’s book is aiming to do. It is about the English language as spoken in Ireland. He seems to be saying that because it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that seanteach or seantigh could have crossed into Hiberno-English from Irish, that should be included in the book. I agree with Coiste na bhfocal nua that this is a very unlikely claim. If we could find a reference to “a shanty with ancient whitewashed stone walls and a thatched roof”, that would strengthen the case considerably. But we don’t.

I have already dealt with the fact that in an Irish book dealing with gold mining, Mac Gabhann’s Rotha Mór an tSaoil, the words used for their dwellings are teach, cában and bothán, not seanteach. I have noted that the meaning of shanty in Hiberno-English is not describing an ancient house but ramshackle, makeshift temporary structures, just like in other dialects of English.

However, this is not the only evidence in support of the idea that shanty has nothing to do with the Irish seanteach. There is plenty of other evidence in 19th century newspapers.

What about this early reference set in Canada from the 22nd of September 1833, in a London publication called Bell’s New Weekly Messenger?

About sunset, dripping wet, we arrived near the spot we were in quest of, – a shanty, which an Indian, who had committed murder, had raised for himself. It may be proper to mention here, that a shanty is a temporary shed formed of the branches of trees.

Or what about this, from the Cork Constitution of 23rd of December, 1834:

MURDERS IN AMERICA (From the Baltimore American)

It becomes our unpleasant duty to relate the particulars of a most diabolical outrage which has been committed on the line of the Washington railroad, about 18 miles from this city, involving the murders of three of the deputy superintendents of construction. It appears that on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Gorman, one of the contractors, was assailed in his own shanty by eight or ten men, supposed to be some of those at work on the road.

Or this, from the Mayo Constitution of the 12th of June, 1834?

The Irish laborer, mechanic and farmer, with small capital, must most decidedly better their condition by emigration to the Canadas – but gentlemen accustomed to the comforts of life at home must be losers by the exchange, for they must wield the axe as well as another – they must put up with a salt pork dinner, unless they live near some town or village, for the first few years – they must be content with a log house or shanty, which are easily raised here …

In other words, all of the early references to shanties make it quite plain, not only that the shanty is a makeshift, temporary dwelling, they also make it quite plain that the shanty is a makeshift, temporary dwelling in the wilds of America or Canada!

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.

The Glossary Is Finished

With the entry on Yellow, I have finally completed the Cassidese Glossary. This means that every single word in the glossary which constitutes the bulk of Cassidy’s book has been covered. The T, U, W and Y section contained only 21 entries. Added to the previous total of 465, we now have 486 entries in the Glossary.

The principal claim made by Daniel Cassidy was that Anglophile scholars who hate Irish had decided to exclude Gaelic derivations from the dictionaries out of sheer bigotry. There were, according to Cassidy, hundreds if not thousands of words and phrases of Irish origin in English that these so-called scholars had missed because of their intolerance and bias.

In assessing Cassidy’s claims, we need to establish clear criteria. Firstly, the claims made need to be correct. In other words, the Irish candidate words or phrases need to be close to the English in terms of sound and meaning, and that similarity has to be because they were borrowed from Irish into English, not because they were borrowed from English into Irish or from some third language into both. Secondly, they have to be derivations that appear FIRST in Cassidy’s work.

In some cases, Cassidy claimed that individual Irish words resemble English words in sound and meaning. In most cases, these English words sound little like Cassidy’s Irish candidates, as in the case of swank deriving from somhaoineach or swell deriving from sóúil. In both of these cases, and in many others, the real origins are well-known and have nothing to do with Irish. Cassidy also fails to explain how words could have been transmitted from generation to generation orally in such a mangled form and indeed, this is not what we find in genuine cases. Banshee sounds like bean sí, clabber sounds like clábar, shebeen sounds like sibín.

Of course, there are a small number of genuine Irish or Scottish Gaelic terms in Cassidy’s book, literary phrases like avoorneen and machree, slang terms like puss in sourpuss or slew as in a slew of claims. In total, there are about thirty Irish words, two Scottish Gaelic ones, and two from the Irish traveller language known as Gammon or Shelta in the glossary. All of these words are included in mainstream dictionaries and their Gaelic etymologies are accepted by those dictionaries.

However, as you can see from the posts on the Cassidese Glossary, most of Cassidy’s claims are not individual words in Irish that sound anything like individual words in English. Many of them, and probably the majority, are made-up phrases. For example, according to Cassidy, a top banana is a baothán nathánach (an aphoristic simpleton, no less!) Gibberish is from geab ar ais, gab back. Baloney, says Cassidy, is from béal ónna meaning simple mouth or nonsense. A sucker is from the phrase sách úr, supposedly meaning a fresh well-fed person and thus a sucker. Wanker supposedly comes from uath-anchor, meaning spontaneous abuse. The book is peppered with invented, fantasy nonsense like this, for which there is absolutely no evidence at all.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Cassidy produced a work of such colossal dishonesty, as dishonesty was his default position. This was a man who flunked his degree at Cornell in 1965, yet thirty years later he suddenly cropped up teaching in a university in California claiming to be a graduate of Cornell and Columbia. Just think about that for a minute. There are already plenty of people better qualified than Daniel Cassidy working as baristas and shop assistants and clerks, both here in Europe and in the USA. In the wake of the current Covid-19 crisis, there will be many more. Cassidy claimed to be a socialist and a radical but he put his own interests ahead of his principles time and time again. This worthless piece of trash belonged in a prison, not a college, and though it may be too late to make him pay for his criminal behaviour, we can certainly name and shame the people and institutions who continue to lie in his defence.

Some people will continue to use the ‘real criminals’ argument, saying that there are more important targets than Cassidy and that we should attack them instead. However, as I have said in the past, this is not a two-way choice. Other people can go after the White Slavery Meme, or Creationism, or Ancient Aliens – and good luck to them! I have gone after Cassidy because I have a particular love for the Irish language and a general interest in linguistics.

However, I also have a strong conviction that stupidity should be challenged and attacked wherever we find it. If someone chooses to ignore the facts and believe that a sinister cabal of etymologists is trying to deny that hundreds of Irish expressions made their way into English out of pure Anglophile racism, that person is an idiot. If someone claims that Daniel Cassidy was a genuine etymologist and teacher, they are either a liar or a fool or a bit of both.

Our local Chinese takeaway (on restricted opening because of C19) was recently forced to close because of the abusive calls from morons who believe that the Chinese deliberately released Covid-19 to further their own economic interests. A phone mast near here was attacked by some dim-witted fruitloop who believed that Covid-19 isn’t a virus but a product of waves emanating from the 5G network. People who haven’t learned how to think rationally or distinguish between nonsense and facts are a menace. They need to be challenged at every turn by sensible and reasonable people, whether the subject is the Gaelic etymology of wanker or the prophetic powers of Dean Koontz.

Cassidese Glossary – Yellow

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 phrase ‘to be yellow’ or ‘to be yellow-bellied’ (to be a coward) seems to enter English first in the 19th century in America. The origin of the phrase is unknown.

In his etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, Daniel Cassidy claimed an Irish origin for the expression. He said that it comes from the Irish éalú, which is the verbal noun of a verb meaning to escape, to abscond or to steal up on. This is ridiculously improbable. Irish has many good ways of talking about bravery or cowardice but you wouldn’t talk about someone being ‘an escape person’.

By a strange irony, the origin of the expression could conceivably be found in the Irish language but it has nothing to do with éalú. The fact is that in Irish, you can say of someone who is a coward that they have ‘yellow clay in them’ – tá cré bhuí ann. I have always assumed that this means that the pot or whatever you are making is weaker if an inferior kind of clay is found in it, so it breaks up when fired or subjected to any kind of pressure. There is a pretty good case for saying that this phrase explains the origin of the expression yellow for cowardice in English. If Cassidy had known any Irish, he would perhaps have been able to make a reasonable argument for this one.

Cassidese Glossary – Yell

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.

Daniel Cassidy, in his etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that the word yell comes from éamh oll, which Cassidy defines as ‘a great cry, a loud shout, a loud call.’ This is ridiculous for several reasons.

Firstly, éamh oll is not a real Irish phrase. The word oll is only used as a prefix in modern Irish and éamh is a fairly obscure word, much more obscure than words like scairt, gairm, scread, glaoch and liú.

Cassidy, with his customary lack of rigour, misquotes the English dictionaries too. Here is what Cassidy says:

“The OED derives yell from Middle Low German gellen, gillen, weak, Old English galan, to sing.”

This is what the Oxford English Dictionary really says about the origins of yell:

“Forms: OE gellan, giellan, gillan, gyllan, ME ȝeolle, ME ȝelle, ME ȝel, ȝele, yhelle, …

Etymology: Old English (Anglian) gellan , (West Saxon) giellan , gyllan , gillan strong verb, past tense geal , plural gullon = Middle Low German gellen , gillen weak, Middle Dutch gellen strong (Dutch gillen ), Old High German gellan strong (Middle High German, German weak gellen ), Old Norse gjalla , past tense gall (Swedish gälla , Norwegian giella ); < gell- , extended form of gel- : gal- , whence Old English galan to sing, gale v.1, -gale in nihtegale , night- + -gale (in nightingale n.1), Old Norse -gal in hanagal cockcrow, Old Saxon, (Middle) Dutch, Old High German galm outcry.”

It is quite clear from all this that yell had exactly the same meaning and a fairly similar form in Middle and Old English. The OED does not say that the word comes from Middle Low German because Middle Low German came after Old English chronologically and the word was already in use in English in the Old English period. And the reference to strong and weak is nothing to do with the meaning of the word, it refers to it being a strong or weak verb (i.e. one which forms the past tense by a vowel change or by adding –ed respectively: write/wrote is strong, work/worked is weak.)

In other words, Cassidy’s claim here is nonsense. The origin of yell is well-known and of impeccable Germanic origin, éamh oll does not exist and his claim of an Irish derivation is laughable.

Cassidese Glossary – Yacking

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.

Most dictionaries regard yack and yacking as versions of the phrase yackety-yack. In other words, they are an onomatopoeic rendering of the noise a set of teeth make when they are chattering.

In Daniel Cassidy’s etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, Cassidy suggests that it comes from the Irish éagcaoin (properly éagaoin), which is pronounced aygeen and means ‘mourning’ or ‘lamenting’. This is really not similar at all, either in sound or meaning and of course, there is no evidence of yacking having an Irish origin.

Cassidese Glossary – Whiskey

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.

Whisky or whiskey is acknowledged by all lexicographers and scholars of language to be a borrowing and shortening of the Irish or Scottish Gaelic term uisce beatha (uisge beatha), which is a calque based on the Latin aqua vitae (not aqua vita, as Cassidy writes in his book).

Cassidy does not deny this, but he seems to imply that the sound-change found in the transition from uisce to whisky justifies his claim that the words were mangled and transformed completely when they were borrowed from Irish into English:

The archaic English spelling and pronunciation whiskybae, and its contraction whiskey, demonstrate how dramatically Irish shape-shifted into English. The slender Irish s, pronounced sh, in uisce (pron. ishkee, water) became the sibilant “s” of “whiskeybae” and “whiskey”.

This is a claim that Cassidy makes throughout the book. Logically, this is nonsense. When Irish words were adopted by English, the process generally left them completely intelligible. Shebeen and síbín, soogan and súgán, coyne and cáin: the form is very similar.

However, there is an interesting point here, which Cassidy raises and does nothing with: why does the slender s (sh) of the Irish become a broad or velarized s in the English in this case? (Both s and sh are sibilants, of course.) The first point that needs to be mentioned is that uisce beatha was borrowed into English as early as the 16th century in forms like uskebeaghe (1581). (The usquebae mentioned by Cassidy isn’t found in English until the 18th century.) In other words, we can’t be absolutely sure of the exact pronunciation of uisge when the borrowing occurred. Secondly, there may be something in the pattern of letters -isce- that makes the s something between a velarized and a palatal consonant; something in the place of articulation. There are other examples of this: the surname Ó Fuaruisce becomes Whoriskey in English, and the word crúiscín (jug) is always written as cruiskeen in English (as in Cruiskeen Lawn).

Cassidese Glossary – Winona (Club)

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.

According to Daniel Cassidy, in his etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, when the Gopher Gang founded their Winona Club in Hell’s Kitchen, this was nothing to do with the town of Winona, Minnesota or the Native American princess it was named after.

According to Cassidy, this was a club for the Uathadh Nua, which Cassidy claims means ‘the new few’. Note that uathadh has the letters Lit. after it in the dictionary, which means that this is an old-fashioned literary term, not in current use now or in the 19th century. As for pronunciation, uathadh nua would be pronounced oo-ah-hoo noo-a, which really sounds nothing like Winona.

Cassidese Glossary – Why-O

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. 

Daniel Cassidy, in his etymological fantasy, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that the Why-o gang in 19th century New York were named for the obscure Irish word uathadh, an ancient poetic term for ‘few’. There is no evidence for this and it is widely accepted that their name comes from their identification call, which sounded like an owl calling.

Cassidese Glossary – Whiz

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.

This is an outdated slang term for being adept or skilled at something. You can be a whiz in the kitchen or a whiz at maths. It is a shortening of the English wizard.

Daniel Cassidy in his etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that whiz in this sense comes from the Irish word uas, meaning outstanding, great, superior. Cassidy says that it is used as a prefix but apparently he didn’t understand what a prefix means. The word uas cannot stand on its own. It can only be used as a fossilised element in other words (like thuas, anuas, uasal) or as a prefix meaning maximum or upper in words like uasteocht (maximum temperature). You can’t say that someone or something is uas at a particular activity. In other words, from the point of view of the Irish language, this claim is nonsense.