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Cassidese Glossary – Flogging Ground Sweat

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.

Apparently the phrase ‘ground sweat’ is an old slang expression for a grave, and the phrase ‘to flog ground sweat’ means to speak ill of the dead.

There is no mystery about the origin of these expressions. A ground sweat is a reference to the liquefaction of the body when it’s buried, as in the proverb ‘a ground sweat cures all diseases’. (In other words, death puts an end to all sickness.)

Daniel Cassidy, in his book of false etymologies, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that this comes from an ‘Irish’ phrase fliuchadh grian-suite, which he claims means ‘wetting a sunny place,’ or pissing on someone’s grave. Cassidy claims that suite is the Irish for a site (it isn’t, though it is the genitive of suí meaning site.) This would be appropriate in the grammar of fliuchadh griansuite (wetting of a sunny place), if such a term existed, but would make no sense without the fliuchadh. There, it would have to be griansuí, which does not resemble ground sweat.

However, while many American cemeteries have names like Sunnylands, there is no evidence that griansuí (sunsite) has ever been used in the Irish language to mean a grave, though Cassidy states this imaginary definition as established fact. This is yet another example of Cassidy’s apparent inability to distinguish between the truth and his own inventions.

In short, this phrase is completely comprehensible in terms of English. Cassidy’s Irish candidate is pure fabrication and completely lacking in evidence.

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Cassidese Glossary – Doozer, Doozy

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.

Among the many claims made by Daniel Cassidy in his book, How The Irish Invented Slang, is one which is a real doozy, the claim that doozer comes from Irish duaiseoir, meaning a prizewinner, while the slightly different alternative version, doozie, apparently comes from the adjectival version duaiseach. If you don’t know any Irish, this sounds like a perfectly reasonable claim.

Both these Irish words are given in dictionaries. They are both derived from duais, the primary meaning of which is prize or award. However, duaiseoir was probably invented in the mid-twentieth century as the equivalent of English prizewinner. There is no evidence it existed before it appeared in Ó Dónaill’s dictionary in the 1970s. As for duaiseach, this is an adjective, not a noun (Cassidy conveniently gives its primary meaning as ‘a gift’, but this is his own invention – it is not supported by the dictionaries.)

Where does ‘It’s a doozie’ really come from? You can find a genuine and honest discussion of its origins here: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-doo2.htm.

Cassidese Glossary – Bubba

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.

 

Bubba and its shortened form bub are believed to be 19th century American English terms representing a childish mispronunciation of brother. (Though there are other theories – the Anglo-Romani linguist Ian Hancock claimed an African origin through Gullah, though this theory has not met with general acceptance.)

Cassidy claims that the bubba of the poor American south and a 17th century slang term bubber meaning ‘a drinker’ are the same, thus defining the term bubba as meaning ‘a thief, a trickster, a drinker’. In fact, if you look at cant dictionaries, bubber is defined as ‘a large drinking bowl; a drinker’ and there is no logical reason to link bubba with the earlier cant term.

Cassidy derives bub and bubba (and bubber) from the Irish words bob (meaning ‘a trick’) and its derivative bobaire, (meaning ‘a trickster’, though Cassidy claims that it figuratively means ‘a wise guy’.). As these Irish expressions have nothing to do with the meanings of bubba or of bubber, there is no reason to suppose a connection.

 

Cassidese Glossary – Bannock

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.

While Cassidy gives the word bannock, this seems to be in the book for no other reason than as an excuse to mention his mother-in-law’s cooking, as this is not a word of Irish or of Gaelic origin. While there are similar words in both Irish (especially in Scottish-influenced northern dialects like Donegal and Rathlin) and in Scots Gaelic, according to the Oxford Concise Ulster Dictionary, page 15, this word is from ‘Old English bannuc, itself from Latin panicium, “bread”’.

Cassidese Glossary – Baloney

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.

Another oft-quoted piece of Cassidese is the phrase béal ónna. According to Cassidy, béal ónna is the origin of the American slang word baloney, meaning nonsense or rubbish.

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

The phrase béal ónna is not an Irish phrase. It does not exist. It is composed of two words: béal, which is very common and means mouth, and ónna, which is so uncommon and obscure that it doesn’t even get a mention in Ó Dónaill’s 1300 page dictionary of Modern Irish. Corpas na Gaeilge, a searchable database of over seven million words, shows that ónna was used up to the early 18th century in poetry. If we look up béal ónna on Google, we find that all the references are to Cassidy and his theories. This is not the case with genuine terms for nonsense in Irish like seafóid or raiméis. (Try it yourself!) Of course, we cannot prove that béal ónna never existed and as the old maxim says, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. That much is true – but absence of evidence IS absence of evidence. You cannot prove that baloney comes from béal ónna if there is no evidence for the existence of béal ónna in Irish.

The truth is, the phrase baloney almost certainly derives from an anglicised version of Bologna, and was used of a sausage resembling luncheon meat that was originally made in that city. By the 1860s, people were referring to Bologna sausage as baloney in America. The earliest reference to its metaphorical use to mean ‘rubbish’ was in the 1920s. This extension seems to be an example of an interesting linguistic phenomenon called the minced oath. This is quite common. A minced oath is simply where an obscene or blasphemous or unpleasant word is disguised by cutting bits off it, or by saying a word which sounds a bit like it. In other words, people probably said baloney instead of balls, bollocks or bullshit.

Cassidy’s ‘pronunciation guide’ is also very strange. There are basically two ways to construct a pronunciation guide in books on language. The usual way is to use an ad hoc system based on English. For example, you could transcribe béal as bayl or seafóid as shaffoyj. The other way is to use the International Phonetic Alphabet, which is more precise but harder for people without a background in linguistics to interpret and understand. Cassidy mixed up bits of the IPA, bits of Irish orthography and bits of English in a random mess which could hardly be described as a system at all. For example, in this case, he used bæl óna as his version of the phonetics of this (invented) phrase. The æ is from the IPA but Cassidy assumed that it was pronounced as in the vowel of aesthetic, as the ay of bay or the ee of tree. In reality, it represents the vowel sound of ‘cat’. The ó is found in Irish orthography but it is not found in any version of phonetic transcription that I have ever encountered.

Cassidese Glossary – Aroon

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.

Aroon (Irish a rún, ‘oh my secret!) is another common endearment which passed into limited use in English in sentimental Irish plays and ballads.

Cassidy didn’t understand the Irish vocative case. The rule, as given by the Christian Brothers on page 55 of their grammar, is that there is no inflection on a noun in the vocative singular where the expression is used metaphorically or affectionately. That means that it should be ‘a rún’ or ‘a stór’, not ‘a rúin’ or ‘a stóir’.

(See an Irish language explanation of this rule here: http://www.scriobh.ie/ScriobhIe/Media/Graimear%20Gaeilge%20na%20mBraithre%20Criostai_Eag1999.pdf)

Cassidy used both the correct version and an incorrect version of this phrase in his book. In his definitions, he misspells it as a rúin twice but then spells it correctly in the name of the song Siúil a Rún (though he misspells the word Siúil as Siúl, using the verbal noun instead of the imperative).

It should also be noted that Cassidy mentions ‘many songs in North American roots music in which the phonetically written Irish language lyrics are often treated as macaronic or nonsense syllables’. This claim is untrue but it also misuses the term macaronic, which refers to texts that use more than one language, not nonsense language.

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig

I would like to wish everybody who has read or supported this blog a very happy St Patrick’s Day. I will shortly be embarking on a Cassidese Glossary, a series of articles which will debunk Cassidy’s claims succinctly and clearly, one by one.

Ba mhaith liom Beannachtaí na Féile Padraig a ghuí ar gach duine a leigh nó a thacaigh leis an bhlag seo. Beidh mé ag tosú gan mhoill ar Ghluais Uí Chasaide, sraith alt ina mbréagnóidh mé tuairimí bómánta Cassidy i mbeagán focal agus go tomhaiste, ceann ar cheann.