Category Archives: Drossary

A glossary entry about one of Cassidy’s crazy theories, debunking that particular word or phrase and explaining why it is nonsense.

Gandy Dancer

Gandy dancer is a term from the old days of the expansion of the railroads in America. A gandy dancer was a labourer who hooked an iron bar under the tracks, then ‘danced’ on the bar to lever the track up so that others could shovel stones and gravel underneath it.

There is no certainty about where the term came from, but there are many stories and claims. The iron pole used was called a gandy, but whether this came from the expression gandy dancer or gave rise to it is not known. Some claim that a gandy dancer was originally a fairground term for a dealer in cheap shlock. Some claim it was used by George Borrow, who died in 1881. Others say that there was a Gandy Manufacturing Company in Chicago, but there is no evidence of this. A gandy is also Newfoundland slang for a pancake and an English term for a goose.

This uncertainty was like shite to a bluebottle for Daniel Cassidy. Unfortunately, there was no appropriate term available in Irish, but he managed to find something which was close enough to fool a few suckers. His candidate was cinnte, which he claimed meant ‘constant’. In other words, the gandy dancers were ‘constantly’ dancing on the iron rod to lift the rails.

Why isn’t this a good candidate? Well, firstly, there’s the pronunciation. Imagine that somewhere there is a town in England called Kinchester. Knock off the –ster at the end, and you have a reasonable approximation for cinnte. Kin-cha, gandy. Kin-cha, gandy. Not even slightly similar, are they? And in case you don’t believe me, look at focloir.ie (http://www.focloir.ie/ga/dictionary/ei/certain), which gives sound files for the word cinnte in the three main dialects of Irish.

As for the meaning, Cassidy does his usual trick of distorting the truth and rewriting definitions. Cinnte is defined by Ó Dónaill as certain, sure; definite; mean, stingy; constant. You can find the full entry here: http://www.teanglann.ie/ga/fgb/cinnte  Even though constant is given as one meaning in the dictionary, (apparently fearthainn chinnte can be used to mean constant rain, though I’ve never heard it) I don’t think any Irish speaker would give it this meaning independent of any other clues. Cinnte means sure, certain, and it’s a very common word. If someone said damhsa cinnte to me, it would make me think of it as certain dancing, or definite dancing, or determined dancing, (whatever they might mean!) not constant or continual dancing. And even if it did mean constant, isn’t this a bit strange, in English or in Irish? After all, if someone is called a dancer, isn’t this because they perform their ‘dance’ on the iron rod most of the time? So why would it be so important to specify that they do it a lot?

Of course, Cassidy again displays his ignorance of the language by mixing modern spellings from Ó Dónaill with old spellings from Dinneen, and he copies the phrase fearthainn chinnte wrongly as fearthainn cinnte, showing once again that he knew nothing about the language.

In short, wherever gandy dancer comes from, we can be quite sure it doesn’t come from the Irish adjective cinnte. This claim was first made relatively recently by a narcissistic idiot in California and it is high time it was consigned to the dustbin of crap etymologies along with the rest of Cassidy’s ridiculous theories.

All About Baloney

I have already dealt with Cassidy’s claims about the Irish origins of the word baloney elsewhere on this blog. However, I don’t think I’ve ever told the whole story of Cassidy’s lies in relation to this word.

Put simply, Cassidy claimed that the American English term baloney, the name of an Italian sausage from Bologna, used as a disguised version of blarney or balls or something similar, really comes from the ‘Irish’ phrase béal ónna:

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

As I said before, the phrase béal ónna doesn’t exist. What’s more, Cassidy was actually told this before the book was published. However, before I deal with that, let’s just look at the ‘Irish phrase’ béál ónna. Béal is a well-known Irish word. It means a mouth. Ónna is an old, literary word meaning naïve, simple, innocent. It isn’t found at all in the main modern Irish dictionary, Ó Dónaill. It is found in the earlier Dinneen’s dictionary, which tends to mix up words from different registers and eras.

There is actually a word that is quite similar to ónna in English, the word callow. Callow is no longer a current word in the language. You get it in phrases like ‘a callow youth’ but many English speakers wouldn’t know it or use it. As for people using the phrase ‘callow mouth’ to mean nonsense, there is just as much evidence of this as there is for Cassidy’s béal ónna. In fact, people don’t say ‘stupid mouth’ or ‘dumb mouth’ or ‘idiot mouth’ for nonsense either. And in Irish, they don’t combine béal with more common words for stupid to make béal amaideach, or béal bómánta, or béal dúr.

On 25 April 2006, an unregistered guest on the Daltaí Boards posted the following on a discussion on language survival and gender:

Your wingnut assertion about women killing the Irish language is a bunch of béal ónna agus dríb. You sound like a leathcheann foirfe.

This was Cassidy. Béal ónna was his version of baloney, and dríb was his candidate for the English tripe. The smartass tone and the wordplay is so distinctive and so typical of Cassidy. When another person said that they didn’t understand ‘a bunch of béal ónna’, Dennis King posted this comment:

Bain triail as Google. [Try Google] It’s one of the cockeyed concoctions of Dan Cassidy (or is that Jerry de Rossa?). Ní Gaeilge é ar chor ar bith. [It’s not Irish at all.]

Then Cassidy (using a different IPA and identity) posted three comments in succession on 26 April:

A Chara,

Re: béal ónna, simple, silly, foolish talk.

Is it incorrect to use ónna with béal?

ónna, indec. adj., simple, silly. (Dineen, p. 821.)

I should have written leathdhuine: a half-witted person, or a half-smart fool.

But I thought béal ónna was grammatically correct, though I defer to the experts on this site and stand corrected if it is improper.

Of course, a leathdhuine only uses leathcheann (one side of the head.

Why is the adjective ónna incorrect with the noun béal? I am very new to Irish.

Thanks,

Ed “a Lorgaire (Seeker) from New Jersey”

‘Ed’ then posted two citations which prove that ónna existed in 17th century Irish. Nobody bothered replying to any of these comments. Of course, ónna does exist and that is beyond question. Béal ónna doesn’t and that is also beyond question. And there is nothing ungrammatical about béal ónna. Béal is a noun, and ónna is an adjective. Almost all adjectives come after the noun in Irish. Cassidy was missing the point. Callow mouth isn’t ungrammatical in English either but that doesn’t mean it exists. My guess would be that because nobody bothered to reply to his posts, Cassidy thought he had won the argument.

That’s how ignorant and stupid the man was.

 

 

Pash

Daniel Cassidy, in his insane work of fake etymology, How The Irish Invented Slang, tried to convince people that he had made a major discovery. This discovery was that the Irish language didn’t die out in America and had a massive influence on the speech of ordinary Americans, a contribution which has been ignored by snobbish scholars and lexicographers and apparently went unnoticed even by Irish linguists and academics who could actually speak the language. Cassidy, who didn’t have any qualifications at all, and knew no Irish, was a fantasist and liar and con-man. Most of the supposed ‘Irish’ candidates for the origins of slang terms were made up by Cassidy himself. There is no evidence for their existence.

Even after years of debunking this pompous rubbish, I can still open his book and quickly find another example of the kind of puerile crap that demonstrates that Cassidy, far from working like a true scholar, was more like a toddler playing with fuzzy felt.

For example, Cassidy claims that the English slang term pash comes from Irish:

Pash, n., a long and enthusiastic kiss; passion. “Australian and New Zealand term for French or tongue kissing. Used mainly by teenagers and preteens. Used also in a situation so that adults won’t know what they are talking about …” (Urban Dictionary Online.)

Páis [pron. pásh], n., passion.

Apart from the obvious point that pash is just as likely to be a shortening of English passion rather than anything from Irish, we should also remember Cassidy’s total ignorance of the Irish language and his willingness to doctor and distort the material he found in dictionaries to convince badly-educated people of his case. Here’s what Ó Dónaill’s Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla has to say about the word páis:

páis, f. (gs. ~e). Passion, suffering. An Pháis, P~ Chríost, P~ ár dTiarna, the Passion (of Christ, of Our Lord). Domhnach, Seachtain, na Páise, Passion Sunday, Week. An Pháis a léamh, to read the Passion (from the gospels). ~ oíche a fhulaingt, to endure a night of travail, of suffering.

In other words, páis is used pretty much exclusively in the religious sense of a crucifixion or a torment. There is another word, a straight Gaelicisation of the English passion (and pronounced the same), paisean. It is this word – or a native equivalent like tocht – which is used for strong emotions like love or desire, not the word páis.

More On Boliver

A while back, I published a post on Cassidy’s claims about the nickname Boliver. According to Cassidy, his Irish grandfather was nicknamed Boliver because it represented the Irish words bailbhe [boliva] or balbhán [balawaan], which come from balbh meaning ‘dumb’ or ‘unable to speak’. This was because, according to Cassidy, his grandfather was notoriously quiet.

As I pointed out at the time, this is very unlikely. Firstly, there are kinder words for silent or laconic, like grusach, ciúin, beagfhoclach, béaldruidte. Then balbhán (a dumb person, a person unable to speak) doesn’t sound a lot like Boliver and bailbhe is an abstract noun meaning dumbness. Irish nicknames are simply not formed out of abstract nouns. Mostly they are formed from adjectives and it’s quite unlikely that a noun like bailbhe would be used as a nickname.

There is also a question about what else Boliver might mean. After all, Simón Bolívar was the revolutionary saviour of Latin America and throughout the twentieth century, his image was on advertising posters and cigar boxes all over the States. There is also the vaudeville character Patsy Bolivar, a kind of stooge in a comedy act in Boston in the 1870s or 80s. This is believed to be the origin of Patsy as in “I’m just a patsy.” Patsy is a common Irish version of Patrick.

However, the plot thickens (slightly). I recently came across a word in Ó Dónaill’s Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla, the word baileabhair. It is defined thus:

baileabhair, s. (In phrases) ~ a dhéanamh de dhuine, to make a fool of s.o. Tá mé i mo bhaileabhair acu, they are exasperating me. Ná déan ~ díot féin, don’t speak, act, in a silly manner.

Could this be the origin of Bolivar in the name Patsy Bolivar, and thus the ultimate origin of the nickname Bolivar? Was Cassidy right about the Irish origin but wrong about the word it derives from?

It seems unlikely for one very clear reason. In most parts of Ireland, a broad –bh- is pronounced as a w. Only in Munster is a bh routinely pronounced as a v, even when broad. The word baileabhair is found in the early nineteenth century in a story set in Tyrone by the native Irish speaker William Carleton, in the form bauliore. It is also found in similar forms in Mayo, Connemara and Wexford. There is no evidence of it in Munster and no evidence of it being pronounced as boliver instead of balour.

In other words, while baileabhair looks like a good lead, it turns out to be improbable. (And interestingly, Cassidy missed it, in spite of it being on the same page of Dinneen’s dictionary as bailbhe!) It is much more likely that it is from Simon Bolivar, whose portrait was on cigar boxes and cigar stores all over America from the beginning of the twentieth century.

However, this also demonstrates the fact that in many cases (like ‘so long’) there are lots of different possible explanations. It’s not enough to make a claim of Irish origin. You have to discount – or at least examine – the other possible explanations too. Of course, Cassidy distorted the evidence by refusing to look at any explanations but his own.

 

Slats

Cassidy points out the amazing similarity between the word slats in English, which can be used as a slang term for the ribs, and an identical word in Irish:

Slat, pl. slats, n. a rib or ribs, especially those of a person.

Slat, pl., slata,n. a rib, ribs (of the body), (Dinneen, 1052).

This is a typically stripped-down, sculpted presentation of the facts. The reason why Cassidy doesn’t quote from the major modern Irish dictionary, Ó Dónaill, is that it doesn’t give the meaning ribs for the word slat. You can find the following entry at the excellent focloir.ie:

slat1, f. (gs. -aite, npl. ~a, gpl. ~). 1. Rod. (a) Slender stick; cane, switch. ~ sailí, choill, sally-, hazel-, rod. An t~ a thabhairt do dhuine, to take the rod to s.o. Bhain sé ~ a sciúr é féin, he cut a rod for his own back. ~ bhuachailleachta, tiomána, rod used to herd, to drive, cattle. ~ iascaigh, iascaireachta, fishing-rod. ~ ribe, rod with snare attached. ~ chlaímh, sword-stick. ~ mhaoile, strickle (for levelling). (b) Wand. ~ draíochta, magic wand. ~ ríoga, sceptre. Bheith faoi shlat ag duine, to be ruled by s.o., to be under s.o.’s thumb. ~ mhaoraíochta, big stick, control, coercion. (c) Slender bar. ~ chopair, iarainn, copper, iron, rod. ~ croiche, transverse bar of pot-rack. ~ chuirtín, curtain-rod. ~ ghunna, ramrod. ~ loine, piston-rod. ~ phota, pot-hook. ~ teallaigh, fire-iron. ~ tumtha, dip-stick. El: ~ charbóin, since, carbon, zinc, rod. S.a. crios 3. (d) ~ tomhais, measuring-rod; yardstick, criterion. ~ a chur ar rud, to measure sth.; to run the rule over sth. Dá gcuirfeá ~ ar Éirinn (ní bhfaighfeá a leithéid), if you were to search the whole of Ireland (you wouldn’t find the like of it). ~ dá thomhas féin a thabhairt do dhuine, to pay s.o. in his own coin. (e) Rail. ~ staighre, stair-rail. ~ droichid, rail guarding side of bridge. (f) Nau: ~ bhéil, ~ bhoird, gunwale. Tá sí síos go ~ an bhéil, it (boat) is down to the gunwale, heavily loaded. (g) Nau: ~ seoil, sail-yard. ~ bhrataí, jack-staff. (h) ~ droma, backbone. Síneadh ar shlat a dhroma, ar shlat chúl a chinn, é, he was stretched on the broad of his back. (i) Arb: ~a dubha, mountain willow. S.a. domhnach 1. (j) Algae: ~a mara, sea-rods. S.a. ceann1 1(l). (k) Bot: ~a gorma, bitter-sweet, woody nightshade. ~a dearga, spotted knot-grass. (l) Sapling, slip, scion. ~ de bhuachaill, de chailín, slip of a boy, of a girl. (m) Astr: ~ an Rí, an Bhodaigh, an Cheannaí, belt of Orion. (n) Physiol: ~ (fhearga), penis. 2. Meas: Yard. ~ ar fad, a yard long. Rud a thomhas ina shlata, to measure sth. in yards. ~ éadaigh, yard of cloth. S.a. cóta 2. 3. (pl.) Outskirts. Ar shlata na cathrach, on the outskirts of the city. (Var: pl. ~acha)

Dinneen’s Irish dictionary does give the meaning ribs for slat, but buried among these many other meanings. It is also worth remembering that the usual word for rib in Irish is easna.

As for the English word slat, Dictionary.com says:

a long thin, narrow strip of wood, metal, etc., used as a support for a bed, as one of the horizontal laths of a Venetian blind, etc.

The same source tells us that it is sometimes used as a slang term for the ribs and that its origin is from French: 1350-1400; Middle English sclat, slatt a slate < Middle French esclat splinter, fragment …

The French language Wiktionary tells us that the ultimate root of this word is a Frankish (i.e. Germanic) word which is etymologically linked to the English word slit.

A look on eDIL shows that slat is a very ancient term for a rod or stick in Irish. It has cognates in other Celtic languages and derives, according to McBain’s Gaelic Dictionary (which contains etymological notes) from the Proto-Celtic *slattā, which means a stalk or staff.

In other words, there is absolutely no room for doubt that these two words, in spite of the fact that they sound the same and are similar in meaning (both mean a kind of rod or stick), have no etymological connection. People who are ignorant of languages will assume that the fact that they are similar in both meaning and form means they must be related. However, we have already discussed such random similarities in the context of the Irish daor, which means expensive, and the English dear, with the same meaning. These two words also have totally different etymologies and are unrelated. The fact is, when comparing thousands and thousands of words from one language with the thousands and thousands of words in another, it would be surprising if we didn’t find matches of this kind. What makes them more than random coincidence is when we find lots of them following a regular pattern, which is not the case here.

Beak

According to Daniel Cassidy, in his lying piece of trash, How The Irish Invented Slang, the word beak, an old English slang term for a constable or a judge or a schoolmaster, comes from the Irish beachtaí or beachtaire.

According to Cassidy’s book:

Beak, n., a judge, a magistrate.

Beachtaí, beachtaire, n., a critic; a correcting, captious judgmental person; fig. a judge. Beacht, al. beachd (Gaelic), n., judgment, opinion.

What’s wrong with Cassidy’s argument? Well, the main thing is the pronunciation. Most people reading Cassidy’s book would probably assume that beachtaí is pronounced as beek-tay or beek-tee. Cassidy probably thought the same, because his knowledge of Irish was practically nil. In fact, beachtaí is pronounced bach-tee, with the ch more or less an h sound or the ch of Scottish loch or the j of Baja California. It sounds nothing like beak. As for the meaning, a beachtaí (or its variant beachtaire) is a quibbler, a hair-splitter. It does not mean a judge. As we’ve pointed out before, where the letters fig. are used in Cassidy’s book, they stand for figment of Cassidy’s imagination, not for figuratively as they do in most books. O’Dónaill’s dictionary defines it as “Critical, captious, person.”

It is true that beachd can be a noun meaning judgement in Scottish Gaelic but Scottish Gaelic is a different language entirely. This meaning isn’t found in Irish.

So where does beak come from? The simple answer is, we don’t know. You can find a few suggested origins here: http://www.businessballs.com/clichesorigins.htm

Ring

This is one of the many cases in Cassidy’s book where he ignores the correct and straightforward explanation in favour of a creaky and unconvincing origin of his own invention. As he says in the book:

But if a button is … ringing (roinn, pron. ring, to deal) in a crooked deck, every Punter is a loser. (Page 52)

In other words, Cassidy is claiming that ringing, a slang word for substitution, is from the Irish word roinn, the basic meaning of which is divide. Why a word meaning divide or deal would acquire the meaning of substitute is not explained, but then Cassidy didn’t put this one in the glossary, so presumably he was well aware that it was bullshit.

In reality, the term ringing dates back to the early nineteenth century as an expression for substitution, probably from the bell-ringing phrase ‘to ring the changes’. Then in the late nineteenth century, we get the expression a dead ringer, meaning a horse which resembles another horse and is substituted for it to banjax the gambling odds.

Cassidy’s claim is simply nonsense, like nearly everything in How The Irish Invented Slang. Incidentally, there is an even sillier explanation doing the rounds for dead ringer, that it refers to people putting telephones into graves in case they were buried alive. This just goes to show that people are absolute suckers for fake etymology.