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Dymphna Lonergan’s Bad Etymology

I have commented on Dymphna Lonergan before. She is Irish-born but she has carved out a career for herself as an academic at Flinders University in Australia. A few years ago, she published an entire book about the Irish influence on Australian speech. I have tried to obtain a copy of her book but it is not easy to find a second hand copy and I am not prepared to spend a large amount of money on this. However, some claims made by Lonergan are well represented and covered in other sources on line, so I feel that I am being fair by limiting myself to these claims where I have sufficient information to make a clear judgement.

Interestingly, she has commented on Daniel Cassidy’s work (https://researchnow.flinders.edu.au/en/publications/global-irish-words-submitted):

The American writer Daniel Cassidy in his book How the Irish Invented Slang claims most American slang comprises Irish words in disguise. His claims have been challenged, but I suggest his work is still of value in seeing Irish words existing outside that language and in American English, Australian English and Newfoundland English where they sometimes serve new purposes.

It is quite extraordinary that anyone studying the area of Irish influence on English would choose to ignore the hundreds of made-up Irish expressions in Cassidy’s work but it is quite clear that Lonergan’s research in this field falls well short of the standards that a genuine academic would expect.

Anyway, I will divide my posts on Lonergan into three parts. The first will cover a rag-bag of minor absurdities. The second will cover the foolish claims made by Lonergan about the origins of the term didgeridoo. The third will cover her equally dodgy claims about the origins of the Australian term ‘sheila’ for a woman.

So, why do I think Lonergan is such a poor researcher? Well, let’s start with a couple of very clear examples.

For example, on a blog called Tinteán, we find a comment from Lonergan on the term pampootie. The pampootie or pampúta is a type of moccasin worn traditionally by the people of the Aran Islands in the west of Ireland. They are usually known as bróga úrleathair (rawhide shoes) in Irish but the term pampúta is also found. The origin of the word is unknown but it is worth noting that almost no native Irish words begin with the letter p.

Here is Lonergan’s claim:

In a similar vein the Irish pampúta, ‘a moccasin or primitive shoe made from two pieces of leather’, originating on the Aran Islands, has made its way into Australian Aboriginal English as pampuu, meaning ‘a shoe’.

Do you see the problem with this argument? Basically, the problem is that it isn’t an argument. It’s a random assertion without any attempt to provide evidence. While it’s possible that an Aran Islander made his or her way to remote parts of Australia and that the Aboriginal speakers adopted the term from them, this isn’t the only possibility, or indeed the most probable. The word pump means a flat shoe in English. It has had that meaning in English since the 16th century and the English word isn’t derived from pampootie or pampúta. Doesn’t pampuu sound more like pump than pampúta? Of course it does!

If this were an occasional lapse on Lonergan’s part, you could forgive it, but unfortunately, this kind of garbage is far from occasional in her work. In the same source, we find this claim about the word doodeen. Doodeen is a familiar Hiberno-English term, a transliteration of the Irish dúidín, which refers to a short clay pipe. However, here’s another gem from Lonergan in relation to this word:

Another Irish word that has travelled globally is the word dúd ‘a stump’ in its diminutive form dúidín. It can still be heard in Irish English as doody, the word for a baby’s pacifier.

Why do I object to this? Well, there are lots of terms like this for a baby’s dummy or pacifier in lots of areas. Here in the north of Ireland, we call it a dodie. They also call it a dodie in the north of England, where Irish influence is very unlikely. These terms resemble also the word diddy, which is a common term for a nipple in various dialects of English. It’s not completely impossible that Lonergan is right about this but … where’s the evidence? There isn’t even a decent examination or discussion of easily available evidence, never mind a search for more obscure sources. Lonergan thinks it comes from dúidín, therefore it comes from dúidín!

One source I found was a lecture given by Lonergan in TCD in Dublin. I was astounded at a couple of instances she gives of phrases quoted from Irish people in Australia that she thinks prove that they were thinking in Irish. The first is from a prisoner called Paddy Galvin who was being whipped to make him rat on his fellow conspirators and who said that:

You may as well hang me now, for you will never get my music from me.

Lonergan says that this has been supposed to be poetic but according to her, it really reflects the fact that Galvin was thinking in Irish, because the word music can mean information in Irish. Really? Her only ‘evidence’ is from the Ó Dónaill’s dictionary, which cites the expression ‘beidh ceol faoi seo’ as meaning ‘there will be talk about this’. That isn’t the same as saying that ceol (music) means information. It doesn’t. There is no evidence of anyone using ceol in this way. Does a song mean a row because you can say ‘don’t make a song and dance about it’? No. If Galvin said something like ‘Bheadh sé chomh maith agaibh mé a chrochadh anois, mar ní bhfaighidh sibh mo chuid ceoil asam go deo na ndeor,’ that sounds every bit as poetic and unprosaic in Irish as it does in English. Her claim that Galvin’s utterance represents a normal Irish expression that sounds poetic when translated is simply nonsense.

She also quotes a comment about a priest, who was said to have ‘the swiftest and sweetest tongue of Irish that I ever heard’. This, according to Lonergan, shows that the person who said this was thinking in Irish because the term sweetest tongue evokes the Irish term blasta, meaning tasty but often applied to language. The problems with this are so obvious it hardly seems necessary to point them out. For one thing, there are other terms in Irish that correspond more closely to sweetest tongue. What about briathra meala, honeyed words, or binnghlórach, sweet-voiced? And then, of course, you would have to prove that the image of words being sweet or honeyed is not used in other languages like English. Again, this is nonsense. You only have to think of words like mellifluous, honey-flowing, a term often applied to language.

But Lonergan doesn’t bother working this out. ‘I knew they were Irish speakers, because of the way they spoke English’. No, you really don’t know that, because there is nothing in these utterances that suggests their original language of composition was Irish.

Before leaving this initial look at silly claims made by Lonergan, let’s look at the expression brumby. She seems to be quite proud of having conned compilers of dictionaries into taking her claim seriously but it really is quite stupid. The term brumby is used to refer to feral horses in the Australian outback. The most likely explanation is that brumbies descend from horses originally belonging to James Brumby who left some horses when he relocated to Tasmania in 1804. Lonergan thinks that brumby really comes from bromaigh, the plural of the Irish word bromach, which means a colt, a young male horse. Quite apart from the fact that Brumby is a well-attested character who can be proven to have existed, there are several problems with Lonergan’s claim. One is that words tend to be borrowed in their most simple form in language contact, so you would expect it to be borrowed as bromagh and the plural to be bromaghs. Which sound even less like brumby. The other is that of all the words for horse, why would it be bromach? Why not a generic term for a horse like capall or beithíoch? Why would a word for a young male horse become the term for all wild horses? I can’t see any reason why it would!

In other words, I think Lonergan is a terrible researcher and I have demonstrated as much above. However, the worst myths she has been guilty of promoting are the ones about the slang term Sheila for a woman and the utterly ridiculous idea that didgeridoo comes from Irish. I will deal with each of these in an individual post. Watch this space!

Coming up on CassidySlangScam

I have had very little time to contribute to Cassidyslangscam recently but I am not completely finished with the blog. There are a number of loose ends that I have not tied up yet and I intend to get them all done some time this year. Hopefully!

What kind of material will be included? Well, I would like to start (soon) with a brief article about an interesting Irish idiom (mún dreoilín san fharraige) and its links to similar idioms in other languages. Watch this space for that one!

I also plan to publish a review of the fascinating research of Barbara Freitag into the Sheila-na-gig, statues which are found on churches and castles in Ireland (and in other countries) of naked female figures displaying their genitalia. Are they pagan fertility symbols or Christian warnings against licentiousness? Where does the expression Sheila-na-gig come from and what are its origins in the Irish language? I hope to be able to provide some information on these questions and others here.

I would like to write a proper debunking of the abysmal ‘research’ of the Australian academic Dymphna Lonergan, originator of the notion that didgeridoo is derived from an Irish phrase, whose work is almost as amateurish and phoney as Cassidy’s.

And I would dearly love to have a go at a man called Bob Quinn and his ridiculous theories about the north African origins of the Irish. That has been on the cards for a long time but I would like to research it properly and do the subject justice (even if Quinn couldn’t be bothered doing that!)

In other words, I do plan to post here when I have the time to do so. I will also answer questions or comments when they warrant an answer. That is, when the comment or question is coherent and actually raises a sensible issue. Believe me, many of the comments I have had here are completely incoherent and absolutely not worth answering!

Beware of Fakelore!

Oíche Shamhna Shona daoibh!

cassidyslangscam

This is an old blog post I have decided to republish for Halloween.

We are getting ready for Hallowe’en here. It is one of my favourite festivals of the year. To our Celtic ancestors, it was Samhain, the end of summer, the Celtic New Year. (Pronounced sow-inn, with the sow part as in female pig, not Sam-hain as in the way Donald Pleasance mangles it in the film.) Because the Celts believed in the importance of liminality, of the edges between realities, they believed that this festival night between one year and the next was somehow outside of ordinary time. It was therefore a gateway which allowed worlds to bleed into each other. On this night alone, the dead were able to return to the places they loved in this world.

I love folklore and tradition. I have no problem with traditions that grow and change (ever tried carving a…

View original post 1,070 more words

A Recommendation

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

Bliain Úr Faoi Mhaise Daoibh

So, several vaccines are now ready for distribution. Personally, I can’t wait to get my injection. I will take it as soon as it is offered to me, just as I take the flu vaccine every year, because I trust in the integrity of the healthcare professionals and academics who provide vaccines. I know that there has already been a lot of nonsense in cyberspace about how the vaccine will restructure your DNA, make women infertile, inject you with a microchip that will turn you into a slave of Bill Gates …

I once described Cassidy’s theories as a ‘dumbass conspiracy theory’ and it is interesting that one of the buffoons who has supported Cassidy’s nonsense in a number of places is also a strong promoter of anti-vaxx woo and nonsense. It is interesting to see how the same thought processes (if it is right to dignify them with that name) are in evidence in both Cassidy’s garbage and the anti-vaccine narratives. Indeed, somebody once described Cassidy as ‘the Andrew Wakefield of linguistics’.

Anyway, let me explain how conspiracy theories work with a simple guide on how to be a conspiracy theorist. If you’re sad enough to think that this is a worthwhile way of spending your time, this is how you do it.

Firstly, the experts are always wrong. It doesn’t matter how many degrees they have, how much they are respected by their peers, a bunch of sad and lonely and totally unqualified people on the internet can see right through their bullshit and know much better than professors and scholars and lecturers – mar dhea (that’s the Irish for – NOT!)

Secondly, the experts are corrupt. So even if they know they’re wrong, they’ll try to sell you a false version because the experts are corrupt and they’re all in it together. They are stooges of the Man, keeping the likes of you and me in our place for nefarious forces that actually control everything, who are lizard people, or Bill Gates, or the Chinese, or the Illuminati, or the English, or the Freemasons, or the Communists, or the international Judaeo-Levantine conspiracy (Delete as appropriate – or hell, why bother? Why don’t you just blame ALL the usual suspects and claim they’re all conspiring together!)

Thirdly, while the experts are wrong or corrupt, there are occasional experts out there who really know their stuff and that’s why all the other experts have ganged up on them (‘Nine out of ten doctors believe the other doctor is a dick’). People like Andrew Wakefield, and of course, the late Daniel Cassidy, who was cold-shouldered by the dictionary dudes of the Oxford English Dictionary FOR NO OTHER CRIME THAN SHOWING THEM UP BY BEING RIGHT! (Of course, Cassidy was almost never right about anything and Wakefield was struck off but let’s not get hung up on boring little details like the truth!)

Fourthly, don’t be afraid to sling the shit. People who disagree with you aren’t just people with a different perspective (probably caused by their possession of more facts and a better education than you). No, they’re doing it for some nefarious and malicious reason. People who disagree with you that the Jonestown massacre was caused by CIA mind control experiments or that JFK was killed by aliens are pro-English, or anti-Irish, or opposed to liberal agendas, or in favour of liberal agendas, or racists, or not racist enough or all of the above. Calling them all fascists or stooges of the Man is so much easier than trying to argue with them, especially if your particular theory is some moronic shite like ‘Polio isn’t a serious disease’ or ‘Fauci refused to listen on AIDS and millions died as a result’, which are obviously total bullshit.

Fifthly, lay it on with a trowel. Use flattery on the people who agree with you. They’re probably not very bright either, so they won’t realise they’re being manipulated when you invite them to laugh at the stupidity and lack of street-smarts of the experts who can’t see the facts that a sensible non-sheeple type like you can see so clearly. That Covid-19 is a hoax, for example, or that the silly experts think that brag comes from a Gaulish word for trousers. (Covid isn’t a hoax and the experts don’t think that brag comes from a Gaulish word for trousers, but don’t worry, these people don’t do any fact checking, so just say whatever lies come into your head! They’ll never know the difference!)

Of course, don’t forget to monetarise the shit you’re promoting. The really diehard conspiracy theorists probably spread this nonsense pro malo publico, without profiting from their fantasies, but remember you can exploit the clickbait potential of lies to earn a few extra quid. In Cassidy’s case, he was more traditional, selling his ludicrous collection of fake, made-up derivations to unsuspecting members of the public.

And finally, as we’ve said, the people who buy into this rubbish aren’t very clever, so the chances of them going to Snopes or other sources to check up on what you’re saying (or believing it if they do) are not very high. However, if you do want to stop sensible people from finding out what a moron you are, there are ways of protecting yourself from criticism. One of these is to keep it vague. People can’t argue with you if you just hint at things without actually saying anything specific. Saying Covid is a hoax is general so if someone tries to argue with you, you can always say that that isn’t what you meant and they are missing the point. Other good methods are to be really cryptic (“you have plainly swallowed what should not be swallowed. I will leave you to ponder your own folly”) or to recommend obscure articles and books (they don’t have to be relevant), with a vague “If you read this book you will realise I am right”. As long as you don’t explain why or how, they can’t argue with you, even if they get hold of the book or article concerned.

Anyway, that’s my take on how conspiracy theorists roll. If I sound angry and bitter, then you’re dead right! I am. People have been spreading nonsense about the Irish language for more than a decade, claiming that hundreds of entirely fake expressions are ‘Irish’, and all because of one dishonest, nasty little con-man and a gaggle of shallow and stupid people with egos the size of oil tankers for whom doing a U-turn is an impossibility. However, nobody is going to die because of the internet being full of phoney Irish Gaelic, however irritating it may be. When people spread nonsense about vaccines and Covid, people die. Some people who might have had five or ten or twenty or more years of healthy and useful life are dead because of the ignorance and arrogance of people who would rather believe nonsense from someone on the internet than listen to the people who actually know what they’re talking about. Which is unforgiveable. I don’t care how much free speech is your right, or how much you long to have your opinion heeded by others on some on-line echo chamber, or how mentally ill you are. Spreading dangerous lies is not the way to make yourself feel better.

To everybody else, to all those sensible and decent people like me who don’t spend all their time leaking poison on line and who aren’t compelled to lie like a fucking carpet for no particular reason, let’s hope you and yours have a much better 2021. We all deserve it.

The Letters Q and R

There are 22 new headwords in the Q and R sections of the glossary in Daniel Cassidy’s How The Irish Invented Slang: 4 in the Q section and 18 in the R section. With the 344 words covered in previous sections, we now have 366 words. As with the other sections, there is no evidence that Cassidy got it right in any case. There are no words that are ‘smoking guns’, irrefutable evidence that stands up to all scrutiny and reverses the previous orthodoxy. Rather, what we see is more and more sloppy research, definitions rewritten, words drawn from Irish and from Scottish Gaelic willy-nilly, made-up phrases that no Irish speaker would ever use.

The next section will cover the words in the S section of the glossary. This will be quite a long section but it will also contain many interesting words.

The Letters N, O and P

By the time I had finished the last batch of headwords from the glossary of Daniel Cassidy’s etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, I had covered 315 words in total. The letters N, O and P yielded a total of 29 new words. The new total stands at 344 words.

As in the other 315 words, none of Cassidy’s claims stands up to any scrutiny, with the exception of a handful of words like puss (face), phoney and pet, all of which have a convincing link to Irish or Scottish Gaelic but in every case, these links have been dealt with before in great detail by orthodox etymologists. It is interesting that the word nain for a grandmother seems to appear in Irish long before Nan appeared in this sense in English but it occurs in Welsh centuries before it appeared in Irish.

The majority of Cassidy’s claims in this section are utterly without merit and many of them show Cassidy’s characteristic dishonesty and lack of integrity. For example, Cassidy fails to share the information about the genuine origin of the hobo slang terms poultice and Poultice Route. In the case of the word puncher, he distorts the definition of the Irish word paintéar, removing the reference to its source, the English word painter. He claims that pusa can be used to mean vagina in Irish but in reality, this is an obscure and little-used term for the lips as in face. It is not used for labia or vagina.

In short, there is nothing in the 344 words discussed so far that constitutes evidence for anything but Cassidy’s dishonesty and lack of talent. Far from being a Copernican revolution or a paradigm shift, this book is a criminal waste of time and money, supported only by flakes, trolls and/or friends of Daniel Cassidy.

 

Over the next few weeks, I will deal with the letters Q and R. While I will keep an open mind, it seems unlikely that there is anything worth having in that section either.

Nollaig Shona agus Bliain Úr Faoi Mhaise Daoibh

Ba mhaith liom an deis a thapú anseo míle buíochas a ghabháil le gach duine a lean nó a léigh an blag seo i rith na bliana. Go raibh bliain den scoth agaibh sa bhliain 2020!

Seo daoibh carúl galánta sa teanga s’againne, Don Oíche Úd i mBeithil:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBgcClx2wnM

Ba é Aodh Mac Cathmhaoil (Aodh Mac Aingil) a chum an t-amhrán galánta seo. Rugadh Mac Cathmhaoil sa bhliain 1571 i gContae an Dúin, níos lú ná 30 míle ar shiúl ón áit a bhfuil mise ag scríobh an bhlaig seo sa teanga a shaothraigh seisean ar feadh a shaoil. Bhí saol lán eachtraíochta agus léinn aige in Éirinn, sa Bheilg agus san Iodáil. Fuair sé bás sa bhliain 1626 sa Róimh agus is in Eaglais San Iseadór a cuireadh é.

Baineann an leagan seo úsáid as an tseaniolra thabharthach –aibh (col ceathrair –ibus na Laidine, mar shampla, sa tseanfhocal ‘e pluribus unum.’) Níl sin le fáil sa teanga nua-aoiseach. Agus is minic a bhíonn ‘faoin ghrian’ nó ‘faoin ngrian’ sna leaganacha nua-aoiseacha, cionn is nach dtuigeann Gaeilgeoirí an lae inniu an frása ‘ar grian’ a chiallaíonn ‘ar domhan.’ Níl baint ar bith aige leis an fhocal bhaininscneach grian (‘sun’ an Bhéarla).

Don oíche úd i mBeithil

beidh tagairt ar grian go brách,

don oíche úd i mBeithil

gur tháinig an Briathar slán;

tá gríosghrua ar spéarthaibh

‘s an talamh ‘na chlúdach bán;

féach Íosagán sa chléibhín,

‘s an Mhaighdean Á dhiúl le grá

 

Ar leacain lom an tsléibhe

go nglacann na haoirí scáth

nuair in oscailt gheal na spéire

tá teachtaire Dé ar fáil;

céad glóir anois don Athair

sna Flaitheasaibh thuas go hard!

is feasta fós ar an talamh

d’fhearaibh dea-mhéin’ siocháin!

 

Yon Night In Bethlehem (English translation of the above)

I would like to take the opportunity here to thank everybody who has followed or read this blog during the year. Have a great year in 2020!

 

Here is a beautiful carol in our language, Don Oíche Úd i mBeithil:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBgcClx2wnM

This beautiful carol was composed by Aodh Mac Cathmhaoil (Aodh Mac Aingil). Mac Cathmhaoil was born in 1571 in County Down, less than 30 miles away from where I am writing this blog in the language that he cultivated throughout his life. He had an eventful and studious life in Ireland, in Belgium and in Italy. He died in Rome in 1626 and he was buried in St. Isidore’s Church in that city.

 

Yon night in Bethlehem

will be talked of on earth forever

yon night in Bethlehem,

the night the Word was born;

there is a glow in the skies

and the earth is covered with white;

behold Jesus in the cradle

and the Virgin feeding Him with love.

 

On the bare stones of the mountain

where the shepherds take their shelter

when in a bright opening of the sky

God’s messenger is there;

a hundred glories to the Father,

in the Heavens above so high!

and forever after on the earth

peace to men of good will!

Cassidese Glossary – Jackpot

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.

In his work of false etymology, How The Irish Invented Slang, Daniel Cassidy claimed that the word jackpot derives from the Irish word tiach along with the English word pot. As we have seen with the word jack, tiach does not mean money and it sounds nothing like the English word jack.

Furthermore, it is widely accepted that jackpot is a poker term derived from the card, the jack. Follow this link for further details: https://www.etymonline.com/word/jackpot

Cassidese Glossary – Hip, Hep

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.

There is no agreement about the origins of the word hip (in the sense of cool, trendy, not as in the thing at the top of your leg). You can find a discussion of the word here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hip_(slang)

The late Daniel Cassidy, in his work of fake etymologies, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that hip and its earlier form hep derive from the Irish word aibí (or abaí). Cassidy defines this word as:

Aibí (pron. h-abí; contraction h-ab’), adj., mature, quick, clever, quick-witted; fig. wise.

As usual, this is arrant nonsense. The word is defined by Ó Dónaill as ‘ripe, mature; quick, clever; crisp’. Its primary meaning is ripe. Dinneen defined it as ‘ripe, mature, quick-witted’. It does not mean wise, it is not pronounced with a h-, and while it is conceivable that a short vowel at the end of a word would be lost in speech, there is no reason to suppose that this would ever happen to a long vowel like the -í at the end of this word. The word is pronounced abbey or appee or abwee, depending on dialect (this is why it is sometimes spelled abaí). Why would appee or abwee become hip or hep? Wherever the word hip came from, it didn’t come from Irish and as it’s associated with African-American culture, it seems more likely that its roots, whatever they are, lie there.