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.

A Quick Update

There is quite a lot of news to report. Firstly, Murchadh Mór has posted an alternative to the Rubber Bandits’ silly piece of Cassidese nonsense in Nós (http://nos.ie/gniomhaiochas/teanga/na-rubberbandits-an-ghaeilge/) and on Facebook. What he has done is to give a number of words that really do come from Irish. I hope that this will have some effect and that it will be spread the way the original list of nonsense derivations has been spread.

I’m not sure if it will, for one very simple reason. The original list, along with the rest of Daniel Cassidy’s book, is full of words for which nobody would ever have suspected an Irish origin. Longshoreman from Irish loingseoir? Really? Sucker comes from Irish sách úr? What? Wanker from uath-anchor? That’s amazing!! Except Cassidy’s claims are all lies and nonsense, a concoction of fake Irish and deliberate distortion. The list given by our friend Murchadh Mór is considerably less ball-grabbing, simply because it’s actually true and because of that, the claims made are less bizarre and left-field.

I hope the Rubber Bandits will see sense and stop spreading this childish shite. We all know it’s rubbish (including the Bandits by now). And hell, it’s not as if myself or Murchadh Mór are implacable enemies of the Rubber Bandits and all they stand for. We’re not irate peasants standing here with blazing torches and pitchforks shouting “Aargh! Burn the rubber-faced spawn of Lucifer!” In terms of political and social opinions, I doubt if you could get a Rizla paper between us. I was posting happily in support of Liam Hogan months before any of this stuff came up on Twitter and I reckon most of our opinions coincide closely. Plus much of their material is actually very funny. It’s just that in this case, they’re peddling fake news and supporting a bunch of liars and I’d rather they didn’t.

As a result of the controversy over the RBs’ tweet, the number of hits on this site has spiked. Every year, the number of visitors and hits has surpassed the year before. This year, the number of visitors outstripped last year’s figure about a month ago and just today, we surpassed the number of hits we achieved last year. Which means that more and more people have now been informed about Cassidy’s nonsense, thanks to this blog and to others with a sense of responsibility and a love of the language like Murchadh Mór and Ciara Ní Aodha.

Finally, I would like to point out that someone has commented on the derivation of the term leprechaun. Apparently an Italian academic suggested that lúchorpán (small-bodied creature) is not the genuine origin of later terms like leipreachán. His idea, given in an article in the Cambrian Journal of Celtic Studies, is that it derives from the Latin Lupercus, the Roman version of Pan whose festival was the famous Lupercalia. I don’t know if he has any evidence for this and I really don’t care, because it doesn’t change the fact that the English word leprechaun comes from Irish. Its ultimate origins are completely irrelevant. Apparently the word Gael comes from a Welsh word meaning ‘wild man’ but there is no doubt that Gael and Gaelic entered English from Irish or Scottish Gaelic, not from Welsh, so we say that they are Gaelic loanwords in English. The ultimate derivation of the word is not relevant because how far back do you go and where do you stop? And after all, if the word lúchorpán is the correct origin, the chorp part of it is a loan from the Latin corpus anyway.

Leprechaun is absolutely, definitely an English word of Irish origin. It occurs in Irish first in the 14th century, where the lúchorpáin are found in the sea under Dundrum Bay in County Down, though that story is thought to be a rewriting of an earlier version. In English, it first occurs as ‘Irish lubrican’ in 1604. And I know that ‘hey, did you know that leprechauns aren’t Irish … they’re fucking Italian … I shit you not!!’ has a lot more wow factor than the truth. Unfortunately though, like many glittery little factoids, it happens to be a pile of utter shite garnished with iron pyrites, and some of us still care about not wasting our time with things like that.

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Gee and Sheela-na-gig

Gee (pronounced hard like Indian butter, not soft like half a horse) is a modern expression for a vagina used in the south of Ireland. Nobody knows where it originates. There is no Irish word resembling it, not in the dictionaries or indeed in Ó Luineacháin’s wonderful Ó Ghlíomáil go Giniúint. There is a word found in English dialects, gig, with the same meaning, and some people think its origin lies there.

Recently, some people have tried to suggest on line that gee comes from Sheela-na-gig:

Probably from the ancient Irish Síle na Gig, transliterated as sheela-na-gig: the carvings, often found in churches, of naked women grasping giant exaggerated versions of their naughty bits.

This seems to have appeared first in 2014 in an extremely dim and badly-researched article in the Daily Edge, from which the quotation above is taken: (http://www.dailyedge.ie/irish-slang-origins-1468945-May2014/)

It is hard to see where they got this idea from. It is completely implausible. My guess would be that someone logged on to one or two websites on the origins of the Sheela-na-gig (such as http://www.sheelanagig.org/wordpress/ or http://www.irelands-sheelanagigs.org/) and got the wrong end of the stick. The latter, in particular, is insistent on the link between the name of the Sheela-na-gig and the slang word gee. However, it is also quite clear that its author, Gabriel Cannon, is saying that Sheela-na-gig comes from gee and not the other way round.

Incidentally, since I last read anything about the Sheela-na-gig decades ago, Sheela-na-gig-ology has really come on leaps and bounds. There are lots of new theories and new bits of information, including that an 18th century RN ship was called Sheelanagig after ‘an Irish female sprite’ and that Sheelanagig or Shilling a gig was a popular tune in 18th century Ireland. Perhaps I’ll do some research and post on it, as it really is fascinating.

So long to the Irish origin of ‘so long’

One of the language myths that have been brought to light by the Rubber Bandits’ recent tweet on Cassidy’s eymology is the claim that the English colloquial ‘so long’ is really a corrupted form of Irish slán, a parting salutation.

There are several claims for the origin of this term. Some derive it from Arabic salaam, or from Hebrew shalom. Neither of these seems very convincing. The etymology websites (along with Cassidy’s book – unusually, he admits that he didn’t come up with the slán derivation) say that it first appears in 1860 in the works of Walt Whitman.

Most of them agree that it probably comes from the German expression Adieu so lange (something like ‘farewell until we meet again’) or from related Scandinavian phrases Norwegian Adjø så lenge, Farvel så lenge, Mor’n så lenge, literally “bye so long, farewell so long, morning so long;” and Swedish Hej så länge “good-bye for now,” with så länge “for now” attested since 1850 according to Swedish sources. The German expression Adieu so lange dates back to at least 1791.

In a recent OED blog post, Anatoly Liberman quotes a Mr Paul Nance who has found an earlier reference to so long from 1835.

However, I think I can do better than that. I Googled the phrase the other day and I have come across an earlier example of it. It’s in a book of humorous material called Salmagundi written in magazine form by Paulding in New York. The book is available on Google Books. It is dated 1835 but the internal headings show that the particular magazine containing the entry was first published in 1819.

The article takes the form of a humorous letter from a lady of means, who signs herself off at the end with the salutation: Adieu, so long, Aurelia.

Personally, I think that’s a smoking gun and gives a clear bridge between the German and the English expressions. But even if you choose to say that it’s just a coincidence that the earliest known use of so long in English has Adieu stuck in front of it, there are other reasons for dismissing the Irish origin. Why is this expression always written as two words? Why does it never occur as slawn, or slong? And why does it never have any other words attached? Why don’t we find it sometimes as so long go foyle (slán go fóill), or so long lath (slán leat) or so long a wallah (slán abhaile)? These are common expressions in Irish. And then again, why don’t we find it commonly in stage-Irish idiom? Begorrah, sor, it’s so long and farewell to yous

So, let’s just forget the idea that the expression so long comes from Irish. There’s no evidence for it and there’s something so needy and desperate about these attempts to trace words to Irish. It’s as if our language and culture have no reality or value outside their relations with the English-speaking world. Anyone who thinks that should learn some real Irish – NOW!

Chuck

Cassidy introduces his treatment of the word chuck as follows:

Chuck, v., chucking, vn., to throw, especially to throw or pitch a ball; tossing, discarding. Uncertain origin or onomatopoeic. (Chapman, 71; OED)

Cassidy’s claim is that “The Irish teilg (pron. chel’әg, throw) is spelled “chock” when it gets tossed into English slang in the 16th century.”

Why isn’t this true? Well, there are a couple of points to remember. One, Cassidy’s ‘system’ of referencing as shown above is completely inadequate. Cassidy gives information about the meaning and possible origins of the word. Then, he gives two different sources, Chapman and the OED. There is no way of knowing which pieces of information come from which books, or indeed if all the ‘information’ comes from either of them. It was a standard practice of Cassidy’s to slip in his own inventions in these multi-source definitions. And who is Chapman? Well, it’s hard to know when you’re dealing with a book with no bibliography, but I would assume it’s probably Robert Chapman of the Dictionary of American Slang. The OED states that chuck is probably from the Old French chuquer, later choquer, “to knock, to bump”. Other sources concur with this possible origin – for example, Eric Partridge’s Origins (originally published in 1958, though my edition was published in the 1990s). While it is not completely certain, it’s a reasonable guess. It was in Cassidy’s interests to pretend that there is no other possible origin because of the weakness of his own half-baked suggestion.

Another problem with Cassidy’s Irish origin is that the word chuck was first used at the end of the 16th century in English. Cassidy likes to claim that many words were borrowed this early from Irish but the only evidence for this is Cassidy’s own discredited words like dock from tobhach or queer from corr. In reality, there seems to have been little Irish influence on English as early as this (apart from words relating to warfare like kern and gallowglass and bonnaught, which the English had good reason to learn).

However, the main reason is that teilg doesn’t sound anything like chuck. Why would anyone borrow a word from Irish and pronounce it in a completely different way? And how can you prove a connection when the two words are so totally unalike?

Teilg does primarily mean to hurl or throw in modern Irish. It originally meant to release, to throw, to shoot a bow, to give birth, to shed tears. You can find a full list of meanings under telcud at the online dictionary eDIL (http://www.dil.ie/search?search_in=headword&q=telcud). It is pronounced something like chelleg in Ulster dialect while in the south it would be tellig. (You can find sound files for the three main dialects on focloir.ie: http://www.focloir.ie/ga/dictionary/ei/cast#cast__12)

In other words, not only is Cassidy’s claim unlikely, the choquer origin makes a lot more sense, which is why Cassidy pretended it didn’t exist. Which is another good reason to chuck your copy of How The Irish Invented Slang …

 

 

July’s Twit of the Month – Eamonn McCann

In June, my inaugural Cassidyslangscam Twit of the Month was Jeffrey St. Clair, an ‘investigative reporter’ who was comprehensively hornswoggled by Cassidy’s puerile bullshit. In that post, I mentioned a clapped-out media ganch (ganch= a Hiberno-English expression for someone who talks too much) from Derry. For July’s Twit of the Month, I have chosen the aforementioned media ganch, Eamonn McCann of Derry.

This is part of an article McCann wrote on HotPress:

When I wrote here two years ago of Danny’s insistence that “jazz” derived from the Donegal-Irish “teas” (heat), the dominant reaction was derision.

But no-one has since been able to challenge Cassidy’s prodigious research, tracing the term back to post-Famine Donegal, then to “jass”, first used by an Irish-American sports writer of a “hot” pitch in baseball in 1913, and then in evolution to define a form of “Dixieland” music.

In the past year, the New York Times has carried a feature-page filled with testimonials to the solidity of Danny’s research. Academics and writers have accepted the validity of his thesis – that Irish is the source of much American slang.

This is complete crap and it certainly provides no evidence for the claims made. I mean, what research? There are dozens of theories about the origins of the word jazz, which first occurred in a musical context in 1912. Here’s a brief selection of them:

From the word jasmine, because jasmine oil was used in brothels and became associated with sex.

From Creole brothels where jezebels (prostitutes) worked.

From Creole patois jass “strenuous activity,” especially “sexual intercourse.”

From a black entertainer called Jas (James).

From a black entertainer called Chas (Charles).

From a Chicago musician called Jasbo (Jasper) Brown.

From jaser, a French word meaning conversation or intercourse, in various senses.

From the French word chasser, to hunt.

From a variant of jasm, a slang term dating back to 1860 that means ‘pep, energy’ and is related to jism for semen.

From various African languages, words like Mandingo jasi, ‘to become unlike oneself’.

From deas, the Irish for nice.

Cassidy’s claim that the word comes from teas is no more likely than any other claim on the list, and considerably less likely than most. (We also have to take into account that Cassidy believed the word teas was pronounced jass in Donegal – it isn’t, in any dialect of Irish. The difference between teas and deas is as phonemic as the difference between tip and dip or bad and pad in English.) Then Danny Cassidy ‘gusted into the musty world of etymology like a blast of ozone into smog’, as McCann puts it. In reality, of course, the forums of etymology were a bracing open space with continual discussion and debate, an ozone-rich place where nonsense was blown away by gales of common sense. Cassidy, the bearer of a rich urban smog of fanciful nonsense, didn’t last long when he tried to present his rubbish to etymologists. He withdrew himself from any forum he had joined but continued to believe he was right, in spite of all the criticism.

The New York Times article contained no ‘testimonials to the solidity of his research.’ This particular piece of brain-dead pseudo-journalism was simply an interview with Cassidy in a bar where he spouted some of his nonsense. Since the publication of his book, no specialist in the fields of linguistics or Irish studies has endorsed his work. None of his etymologies has been accepted by academia and not because of any anti-Irish bias. It is simply because his etymologies are all shite.

We should also point out that when Eamonn McCann calls Cassidy Danny, this is because he had known him for twelve years at the time he was writing the article. He got to know him when Cassidy was making one of his documentaries and McCann was a talking head on the film. That’s why McCann is taking everything Cassidy said as the truth – not because any of it is true, but because Cassidy was a crony of his. However, I probably wouldn’t have bestowed my Twit of the Month Award on McCann if it weren’t for the following piece, which is not only very stupid but also deeply dishonest.

The Oxford English Dictionary reckons that lunch “perhaps evolved from lump, on the analogy of the apparent relation between hump and hunch, bump and bunch.” Scholarly, eh? Danny’s truer story comes with a tour of 19th century Irish bar-rooms in New York and San Francisco: “Lunch is the plural Irish noun lóinte (pron. lónche) meaning ‘food, victuals, rations, ‘grub’ – from ‘Middle Irish lón, Old Irish lóon; (it is) cognate with Old Breton lon.” (Mac Bain’s Gaelic Etymological Dictionary; Dineen, 675; Ó Dónaill, 800.)

Sounds definitive to me.

Of course, if you look up what the OED really has to say about the vexed and tricky origins of lunch and luncheon, it is a lot longer and more complicated than the eighteen words given above. It’s a fact that lunch was used for a lump of bread or cheese over four hundred years ago in English. It is also a fact that there was a word nuncheon which meant a light meal in the afternoon, and that this is the probable origin of luncheon and that some people think the end was knocked off luncheon giving lunch, and that the modern use of lunch has nothing to do with the older word meaning a lump. If you’re really interested, there’s a link here which explains it all:

http://www.wordorigins.org/index.php/site/comments/lunch_luncheon/

As for Cassidy’s ‘Irish’, it is (as usual) a total distortion of the facts. While Cassidy copied most of the etymological details out of McBain’s Etymological Dictionary, he missed things out and put things in. No dictionary defines lón as ‘grub’, of course. Its meaning was originally ‘fat, lard’, I suppose because people needed to store fat for the winter both as food and lighting fuel. It then came to mean provisions (not exclusively food) and indeed lón cogaidh or armlón mean ammunition in modern Irish. Lón was sometimes used in the plural as lónta or lóinte, but the English etymologies for the English word lunch are far more convincing, even if they are somewhat confusing. Only an anti-intellectual dimwit with a huge chip on his shoulder would call Cassidy’s claims definitive and dismiss the scholarship of the OED.

And that, really, is where McCann has earned his Twit of the Month Award. The word definitive means that something is resolved with authority. Not only is Cassidy’s spiel distorted and devoid of any original research and any merit, the OED treatment of these words is comprehensive and scholarly. It’s also complex and difficult to follow, as the truth very often is. (As McCann found out on the Nolan Show, where he made Diane Abbott look polished.) The idea that Cassidy’s simplistic and twisted account of the facts is in any way comparable to the OED or to any other real scholarly account of etymology is just nonsense. Worse than that, Cassidy was a ‘professor’ who didn’t have any degrees and didn’t speak any Irish and the only reason McCann is supporting him here is because they were mates.

This is the holier-than-yous Eamonn McCann, who constantly excoriates the privileged and their cronyism. However, in this case, he shows that he is just as willing to forget the facts and support a pal because of cronyism, even if that pal betrayed all socialist principles by becoming a professor with only fake qualifications and betrayed the Irish language by pretending to be an Irish scholar without knowing any of the language. And that’s not even taking the allegations of Cassidy’s sexual harassment of his students into account. Still, perhaps, it was ’emotionally true’, even if it was really a pack of lies.

With all this in mind, I am delighted to bestow my July Twit of the Month Award on Eamonn McCann, pompous clapped-out media ganch and unashamed pal of Daniel Cassidy. It is richly deserved.

Miller

I am rapidly reaching the point where I find it hard to find new stupidities in Cassidy’s book that I haven’t already debunked. However, there are odd exceptions here and there. One unplucked piece of low-hanging fruit is the claim that ‘miller’, an old cant term for a fighter or boxer, is from Irish.

Firstly, the most parsimonious explanation is quite simply that this expression is an extension of the word miller, someone who keeps or works in a mill. Millers have always had the reputation as strong, rough men, even back as far as Chaucer. And of course, milling can mean grinding, breaking, destroying. In other words, you don’t need to look any further than English ‘miller’ for the origins of the English slang expression ‘miller’. Unless you’re a flake like Daniel Cassidy, of course.

Cassidy’s explanation, as usual, lacks any evidence.

Miller, n., a boxer, a murderer. “Miller, a Killer …” (B.E.’s Dictionary of the Canting Crew, 1699.)

Míle (pron. m’íl’ə), n., a warrior, a soldier; a champion, a hero. Mill, v., to break, to injure; to damage, to destroy. (Dineen [sic], 742; Ó Dónaill, 859, 860.)

One person’s killer is another person’s miller (míle, pron. m’íl’ə, hero, warrior, soldier; champion; destroyer.)”

The problem with this is that míle is not a particularly good match in terms of sound (it’s pronounced meelya or meela – note that Cassidy’s phonetic transcription was as fake as everything else in his miserable ‘skill set’) and it’s not a particularly common word. There are dozens of other words which suit the meaning of boxer or soldier or warrior far better, words like dornálaí (boxer), or saighdiúir (soldier). Míle is actually a fairly obscure borrowing of the Latin word mīles, the root of military and militia.

And it has no etymological connection with the word mill, meaning to destroy in Irish. (MacBain’s dictionary: destroy, Irish, Old Irish millim: *mel-ni-, root mele, fail, miss; Lithuanian mìlyti, fail; Greek @Gméleos, useless, wretched …) The word destroyer added to the list of meanings of míle above is yet another example of the kind of casual random dishonesty that makes Cassidy’s book so totally worthless. And in any case, only an irrational, brain-burned nut-job like Cassidy would think that giving two totally different words with different etymologies as the origin of one English expression would help his case!

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.