Category Archives: Uncategorized

June’s Twit of the Month – Joe Lee

A couple of weeks ago, on the 22 May 2018, there was a symposium in honour of Joe Lee at Glucksman Ireland House in New York. The symposium was called J.J. Lee and Irish History: Scholar, Colleague, Mentor.

As I have written before, Lee has done some good work. Lee is a genuine historian, who has written a lot of excellent books and articles. However, as I have also said, Joe Lee was friendly with many friends of Daniel Cassidy, and that is probably the reason why he wrote this positive review for the book How The Irish Invented Slang:

“In this courageous, crusading manifesto, Daniel Cassidy flings down the gauntlet to all those compilers of dictionaries who fled to the safe haven of ‘origin unknown’ when confronted with the challenge of American slang …The originality and importance of the argument makes this an exciting contribution to both American and Irish Studies. This is a landmark book, at once learned and lively, and quite enthralling as to how American English acquired so vibrant a popular vocabulary.”

This review is rubbish, of course, because Cassidy’s book is rubbish. I have no idea why Lee chose to support a piece of fake scholarship like How The Irish Invented Slang.

It is very interesting that two of Cassidy’s friends were in conversation with Lee at the Symposium: 12.30 pm: Reflections of Directors of Glucksman Ireland House: Prof. Bob Scally & Prof. Joe Lee in Conversation with Dr. Terry Golway. Golway was a crony of Cassidy’s, and Bob Scally wrote a review which was as positive as Lee’s on the back of Cassidy’s book:

Irish Americans especially will be delighted to know they have been speaking Irish all along in their slang and American English, while believing and bemoaning that they had lost their native tongue many years ago. With imagination and scholarship, Cassidy has restored this hidden treasure to us in a book that is filled with revelations, wit and humour.

As I said, I don’t know why Joe Lee and his friends chose to ignore the evidence and insult the Irish people like this. It’s hard to understand it, especially in the case of Lee, a man who has enough Irish to recognise immediately that the likes of béal ónna and béalú h-ard and pá lae sámh are not Irish.

One thing is sure: like everyone who was friendly with Cassidy, Lee has been diminished as a scholar, as a teacher and as a human being because of that friendship. I don’t know if Lee is a fraudster and a liar, but he certainly supported Cassidy’s dishonest book, and that is a huge stain on his reputation.

That is why I am pleased to bestow the title of Twit of the Month for June 2018 on Joe Lee, who helped a con-man to sell a bad book and didn’t do a hand’s turn subsequently to rectify the situation.

Advertisements

Puncher

The word ‘puncher’ meant a cowboy. The word punch means to strike or to prod or to poke. It derives from French and has been in common use in English for six hundred years.

Daniel Cassidy, in his atrocious book How The Irish Invented Slang, doesn’t mention these facts in his discussion of the word. He chooses instead to trace the word to the Irish paintéar, which he says means ‘a tying cord or rope, a noose, a lasso, a snare for catching animals …’ He cites Dinneen’s Irish dictionary as a source. Strangely, this isn’t what Dinneen’s dictionary says. Dinneen’s entry for paintéar begins thus: ‘a painter or panter, a snare, noose, gin or trap, a binding cable …’

In other words, this is an Irish word, certainly, but it was borrowed from the English word painter, which is a nautical term for a rope used to tie up a boat. This is also of French origin (i.e. the English borrowed it from French) but unrelated to the French term which is really the origin of punch.

In other words, you obviously don’t get to be that incompetent by accident. Cassidy deliberately missed out the important information relating to the real origins of puncher and the English origins of paintéar in order to make a fake case for an Irish origin. What a con-man!

 

 

Is focal eile ar bhuachaill bo é ‘puncher’. Ciallaíonn an focal punch bualadh nó broideadh nó sá. Tagann sé ón Fhraincis agus tá sé in úsáid go coitianta sa Bhéarla le sé chéad bliana anuas.

Ina leabhar amaideach How The Irish Invented Slang, ní luann Daniel Cassidy na fíricí seo ar chor ar bith.  Ina áit sin, maíonn sé gur tháinig puncher ón Ghaeilge paintéar. Deir sé go gciallaíonn paintéar ‘a tying cord or rope, a noose, a lasso, a snare for catching animals …’ Luann sé foclóir an Duinnínigh mar fhoinse. Ach ní hé sin an sainmhíniú a bhí ag an Duinníneach. Tosaíonn cur síos Uí Dhuinnín ar an fhocal paintéar mar seo: ‘a painter or panter, a snare, noose, gin or trap, a binding cable …’

Lena rá ar dhóigh eile, is focal Gaeilge é paintéar, cinnte, ach iasacht atá ann ón fhocal Béarla painter, focal bádóireachta a chiallaíonn rópa a úsáidtear le bád a cheangal. Tháinig an focal seo ón Fhraincis fosta (fuair lucht an Bhéarla ón Fhraincis é) ach níl baint ar bith aige leis an téarma Fraincise a thug an focal punch don Bhéarla.

Lena rá ar dhóigh eile, ní de thaisme a tharlaíonn bréaga mar seo. Is d’aon turas a theip ar Cassidy an fhaisnéis thábhachtach a bhaineann le fíorstair an fhocail puncher agus bunús Béarla paintéar a lua ionas go dtiocfadh leis cás bréige a dhéanamh gur Gaeilge a bhí ann. A leithéid de chaimiléir gan náire!

 

Gaff

In Daniel Cassidy’s insane and inane book, How The Irish Invented Slang, Cassidy tried to prove that hundreds of words in English derive from Irish.

His methodology was simple: he hunted through Irish dictionaries to find a word which resembled the target word in English. When he couldn’t find anything suitable (which was usually the case), he took two or three Irish words and combined them into a ‘well-known phrase’ which had never been used in Irish, and for which Cassidy was happy to provide a fake definition.

Occasionally, Cassidy found words which seemed a good fit (at least for some of the meanings) but made no attempt to establish whether they were loanwords into Irish or loanwords from Irish to English.

Cassidy claimed that the word gaff meaning a boat-hook comes from the Irish gaf or geaf. However, gaf or geaf really comes from English and English got the word from Provencal  gaf via French.  The word gaffe meaning a blunder, is the same word. A quick search on the free and fully-searchable Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language will confirm that gaf/geaf is not an ancient word in Irish. It is plainly, obviously and clearly a loanword.

Incidentally, the unrelated word gaff meaning a home or a place is from Romani gav.

 

I leabhar amaideach, craiceáilte Daniel Cassidy, How The Irish Invented Slang, rinne Cassidy iarracht a chruthú gur tháinigh na céadta focal i mBéarla ón Ghaeilge.

Bhí a chuid modhanna simplí: chuaigh sé a chuardach i bhfoclóiri Gaeilge le focal a aimsiú a bhí cosúil leis an sprioc i mBéarla. Nuair nach bhfuair sé a dhath (rud a tharla níos minice ná a mhalairt), fuair sé dhá fhocal nó trí fhocal i nGaeilge agus chuir sé le chéile iad le ‘frása coitianta’ a chruthú nach raibh riamh ann i nGaeilge, agus bhí Cassidy sásta sainmhíniú bréige a chur ar fáil fosta.

Ó am go ham, thagadh Cassidy ar fhocail a bhí fóirsteanach i gcosúlacht (maidir le cuid de na ciallanna, ar a laghad) ach ní dhearna sé iarracht ar bith a fháil amach an iasachtaí  a fuair an Ghaeilge ó theanga eile a bhí iontu, nó iasachtaí ón Ghaeilge sa Bhéarla.

Mar shampla, rinne Cassidy iarracht a mhaíomh go bhfuarthas an focal Béarla gaff, a chiallaíonn crúca báid, ón Ghaeilge gafgeaf. Is é fírinne an scéil, áfach, go bhfuair an Ghaeilge na focail gafgeaf ón Bhéarla, agus go bhfuair an Béarla an focal ón Phroibhinsis gaf tríd an Fhraincis.  Is ionann é agus an focal Béarla gaffe, a chiallaíonn botún. Má dhéanann tú cuardach are DIL, foclóir Gaeilge atá saor in aisce agus atá go hiomlán inchuardaithe, beidh tú ábalta a dhearbhú nach focal seanbhunaithe sa Ghaeilge é gaf/geaf. Is léir agus is ríléir gur iasacht atá ann.

Dála an scéil, níl baint ar bith ag an fhocal seo leis an fhocal gaff a chiallaíonn baile nó áit. Is ón Romainis gav a tháinig an ceann sin.

Twits of the Month – Internet Experts

This month’s twits are a broad category rather than an individual, though I will refer to individuals who belong to this class as well. The category is that of Internet experts. By this, I don’t mean people who are experts on the Internet or its use. I mean people who have appointed themselves as experts on topics like etymology and who go around ‘helpfully’ adding information and reviews about the subject on public forums and sites like Amazon and Goodreads. Here’s an example, a man called Brian McCarthy who gave Cassidy’s ridiculous book a glowing review and a four star rating on Goodreads. Whatever changed his mind, he then wrote the following as a comment:

Further to my review – the book has a lot of conjecture (as do dictionaries) so you can’t assume it’s all correct. Some say it’s enjoyable fiction or even 100% false. You can’t prove it one way or the other but if you have an open mind you can learn from it.

I need hardly point out that comparing the outright fantasies in Cassidy’s book to the (generally) intelligent speculations of lexicographers is stupid. However, the thing that most annoys me here is the idea that ‘you can’t prove it one way or the other’. Why can’t you prove it one way or the other? I’ll return to that question below.

There are lots of people like this, and they come from all walks of life. For example, on Quora, we find the following from a retired academic with a number of degrees, Dr Robert Jeantet (https://www.quora.com/Where-did-the-term-Holy-cow-originate-from):

When one thinks of expressions as “gee whiz”, “gee whillikers”, “darn”, or even “holy cow”, it is easy to trace them to New York slang of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Their origin, however, escapes the learned minds of most classically-trained linguists who do not know Irish Gaelic. Fortunately some fluent speakers of Gaelic have been able to explain the origin of these terms, including “holy cow”. I quote below from Daniel Cassidy’s book, “How the Irish Invented Slang”.

On the same thread, there is a comment from someone called Stephen Taylor, who styles himself an ‘amateur etymologist’, who also takes all Cassidy’s claims like Holy Cow from Holy Cathú and Gee whillikers from Dia Thoil(l)eachas and Gee Whiz from Dia Uas as genuine.

Now, I’m sure these are decent people and well-intentioned (though not all the people on line who support Daniel Cassidy’s dross are nice or well-intentioned people, by any means), but they do deserve to be criticised. Why? Well, there is enough bogus shite out there on the internet already. The idea that things cannot be proven so all you can do is decide what you want to believe is a cop-out. When you encounter claims from people like Daniel Cassidy or Graham Hancock or Erich von Daniken, you need to check all the facts carefully and make a decision accordingly.

Let’s just take the example of Holy Cow. You can easily find accounts of the genuine explanations here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_cow_(expression).  You can also look up Irish dictionaries here (https://www.focloir.ie/ga/dictionary/ei/Dia) where you will find that there is no evidence for the existence of the phrases Dia Thoil(l)eachas, Dia Uas, Holy Cathú or Holy Mac Ríúil. They are completely fake phrases, invented by Cassidy to sound like the English targets. The Irish for God’s will is Toil Dé, not Dia Thoil(l)eachas. Cathú means temptation, not grief (though grief is an obscure subsidiary meaning) and there is no evidence it’s ever been used in an exclamation. And the phrase Mac Ríúil doesn’t exist at all.

Of course, Cassidy claimed that these were real phrases. He offered no evidence. No explanation for why nobody else had ever made the connection between these phrases and the Irish equivalents. No explanation why the only references to these ‘Irish’ phrases on Google are to Cassidy and his book (unlike real Irish phrases like Dia ár sábháil).  And Cassidy had a proven record of inventing things, randomly grabbing terms like Ku Klux Klan, Gunga Din, Abracadabra and Bailiwick to claim them for Irish. (Though he had dropped three of these particular fantasies by the time he came to write the book.)

In other words, I think people like McCarthy and Jeantet and Taylor should just ask themselves this simple question. If there were a law against spreading bogus information, if you could end up fined or in jail for doing it, would you still enthusiastically click that button, or would you do five minutes of research before helping to increase the amount of fake nonsense in the world? If the answer is the latter, perhaps you should be doing that anyway.

Stool Pigeon

There are hundreds of stupid and dishonest claims in Daniel Cassidy’s book, How The Irish Invented Slang. None is more stupid or dishonest than Cassidy’s theories about the phrase stool pigeon.

The facts are well-known. A stool pigeon was originally a decoy, a pigeon attached to a stool or some other wooden structure used to lure other pigeons. There is some doubt about the real meaning of the stool element. Some people regard it as a corruption of a word stall which originally meant a decoy.

Its earliest occurrence is in this context, in a work of 1812 called History of Animals: Designed for the Instruction and Amusement of Persons of Both Sexes by Noah Webster:

In this manner, the decoy or stool pigeon is made to flutter, and a flock of pigeons may be called in their flight from a great distance.

It was not long before it acquired the meaning of spy or informer.

Cassidy decided, for no particular reason, that it really came from Irish, so he got a dictionary and set about trying to make up a ‘well-known phrase’ that would fool a few suckers. His first attempt, as published in the Linguistlist on July 24 2003, was stuail beidean, ‘a storer of lies and calumny’, along with stoolie coming from stuailai, a ‘storer of slander’. The word béideán is a dialectal variant of béadán, which means gossip or slander. Cassidy used the alternative version because it sounds more like pigeon. Béadán is pronounced ‘bay-dahn’. Stuáil is a gaelicisation of the English verb to stow. Its main meaning is to pad, to pack or to stow.

By the time the book was published, he’d invented another ‘Irish’ phrase, using the verb steall, which means spout. It can have the meaning tattle, but there is no evidence that anyone, anywhere, has ever used phrases like steall béideán in Irish to mean anything, let alone a police informer.

Ina leabhar amaideach How The Irish Invented Slang, maíonn sé na céadta rud nach bhfuil ciall ar bith leo ach níl ceann ar bith acu chomh bómánta le teoiricí Cassidy faoin fhrása stool pigeon.

Ní deacair teacht ar na fíricí. Is é a bhí I gceist le stool pigeon ná éan cluana, colúr a bhí ceangailte de stól nó de chreatlach adhmaid de chineál éigin, le héanlaith eile a mhealladh. Tá amhras éigin faoin fhocal stool. Measann saineolaithe áirithe gur stall a bhí ann, seanfhocal Béarla ar éan cluana nó decoy.

Tá an téarma seo le fail den chéad uair sa bhliain 1812, I leabhar darbh ainm History of Animals: Designed for the Instruction and Amusement of Persons of Both Sexes le Noah Webster:

In this manner, the decoy or stool pigeon is made to flutter, and a flock of pigeons may be called in their flight from a great distance.

Níorbh fhada go bhfuair sé an chiall bhreise de spiaire nó brathadóir de chuid na bpóilíní.

Shocraigh Cassidy, ar chúis éigin nach eol do dhuine ar bith ach é féin, gurbh ón Ghaeilge a tháinig sé, agus mar sin de, thóg sé foclóir agus thosaigh sé ar ‘chor cainte’ a chumadh a chuirfeadh dallamullóg ar roinnt glasóg gan chiall. An chéad iarracht a rinne sé, foilsíodh ar an Linguistlist é ar an 24 Iúil 2003. Séard a bhí ann ná stuail beidean, ‘a storer of lies and calumny’, (recte stuáil béadán) maraon le stoolie, a tháinig, dar le Cassidy, ó stuailai, a ‘storer of slander’ (recte stuálaí). Is leagan malartach canúnach é béideán den fhocal béadán, a chiallaíonn cúlchaint nó feannadh. Bhain Cassidy úsáid as an leagan sin cionn is go bhfuil sé níos cosúla le pigeon. Is leagan Gaelaithe stuáil den bhriathar Béarla to stow. Ciallaíonn sé pacáil nó líonadh.

Faoin am ar foilsíodh an leabhar, bhí frása eile ‘Gaeilge’ cumtha aige, steall béideán. Ciallaíonn steall an rud céanna le sceitheadh. Tá an chiall cúlchaint ag baint leis, ach níl fianaise ar bith ann gur bhain duine ar bith, áit ar bith, úsáid as frásaí mar ‘steall béideán’ i nGaeilge le ciall ar bith a chur in iúl, gan trácht ar an chiall ‘brathadóir de chuid na bpóilíní’.

Twenty tips for learning Irish

 

For Bliain na Gaeilge 2018, this is a list of twenty tips for people who are thinking of learning Irish. Don’t forget that the best tip of all is START NOW AND DO A LITTLE EVERY DAY!

 

Learn a song from YouTube, and hunt down the lyrics on Wikipedia or other sources. (Suggestions: Coinleach Ghlas an Fhómhair, Don Oíche Úd i mBeithil, Éamonn an Chnoic.)

Write shopping lists in Irish. By the time you’ve written oinniúin or trátaí or bainne twenty times, you’ll never forget it!

Extend this to to-do lists, caithfidh mé na héadaí a iarnáil, caithfidh mé arán a cheannach, caithfidh mé dul chuig an gharáiste, ba mhaith liom an chistin a ghlanadh, ba mhaith liom siopadóireacht a dhéanamh.

Listen to Irish music by Clannad or Altán.

Use online resources like Duolingo and Transparent Irish.

Use Focloir.ie to find interesting phrases and check pronunciations.

Write a list of common words or phrases on paper and carry them round with you.

Keep a diary, using very simple sentences – don’t be over-ambitious!   Chuaigh mé chuig an Ollmhargadh. Cheannaigh mé bia. Bhuail mé le mo chara sa chaifelann. D’ól mé caife. Labhair muid srl.

Buy some post-it notes and put them up in your house so that you are seeing the words fuinneog, doras, cófra, inneall níocháin all the time.

Read up on a news story in English and then search for an article on Tuairisc.ie

Find a radio programme on Raidió na Gaeltachta and listen to it, just to get the sound of the language in your head.

Find a programme on TG4 that interests you and watch it a few times.

Check out the Irish material on BBC NI and other online sites.

Buy a children’s picture dictionary (First 1000 words in Irish).

If you’re a Potterhead, buy the Irish version of book 1 Harry Potter agus an Órchloch and read a little bit each day.

If you’re not, get a classic book like Kidnapped or Round the world in 80 days or Dracula and read the English side by side with the Irish translation.

Change the settings on BBC Weather so that you get some of the details in Irish.

Find an Irish Word of the Day on your phone or email.

Draw a mind map of a particular topic and attach words and phrases to it.

If you’re religious, learn a prayer in Irish and use it every day.

Join theirishfor and other Twitter feeds on and in Irish.

December’s Twit of the Month – Michael Krasny

December’s Twit of the Month was originally intended to be Peter Linebaugh, an indifferent Marxist historian who has given his support to Cassidy’s crazy theories about the Irish origins of slang. However, a week ago, I happened on an interview given by Cassidy late in 2007, and broadcast on St Stephen’s Day (26th of December) in that year. You can find it here: https://ww2.kqed.org/forum/2007/12/26/daniel-cassidy/

The interview was conducted by a radio presenter and academic (a professor of English at San Francisco State) called Michael Krasny. Like all interviews with Daniel Cassidy, it is an embarrassing mixture of arrogance, stupidity, fake modesty and name-dropping. As with other interviews with Cassidy, Krasny makes no attempt at all to cut through all the bullshit and establish the truth.

Anyway, the nonsense in this KQED interview begins almost immediately. Michael Krasny reels off a list of some of the fake derivations given by Cassidy, words like scram, skedaddle and jazz. All of these have been dealt with here. Use the search box above to find out more.

The interview begins with Daniel Cassidy trying to pretend that he speaks some Irish by reciting a sentence he has learned by heart – badly. Unfortunately, Krasny interrupts him several times, so he has to repeat the first phrase three times. This phrase is supposed to be “Tá áthas orm” (I am happy) but what he actually says three times is “Tá amhas a’am” (I have a hooligan). The rest of it is not much better and demonstrates beyond doubt that Cassidy knew no Irish and probably didn’t have access to anyone who could speak good Irish either (for example, áit a bhí an Ghaeilge beo should be áit a raibh an Ghaeilge beo – anyone comfortable with Irish grammar would know this).

The rest of this tiresome interview is no better. It’s the same old shite. Cassidy says that glom, a word meaning to grab, comes from Irish. As we’ve already seen, it came into standard English from Scots glaum, and it probably originates in Scottish Gaelic. This is the explanation given by the mainstream dictionaries. It completely invalidates Cassidy’s claim. Why Krasny couldn’t look up a dictionary himself, or at least adopt the time-honoured motto that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, is unclear. I note that Krasny taught in San Francisco State university. So did Cassidy, before he became a lecturer at New College of California. Did they know each other?

It would take too long to go through every lie, every piece of incompetence, every wasted opportunity to bring out the truth in this appalling interview. Brag doesn’t come from Irish and the OED doesn’t say that it is from a word meaning trousers (that’s a similar French word which doesn’t enter English until long after brag was first used and is therefore not the origin of brag in English). Duking doesn’t come from Irish tuargain, which is not pronounced as duking anyway. Spiel, as Krasny says but doesn’t press for, comes from Yiddish and has no connection to a Scots Gaelic word speal (which isn’t pronounced spiel, as Cassidy pronounces it here) and which doesn’t mean a sharp hoe (it’s a scythe). All of Cassidy’s claims, about jazz and sucker and kike and cant are all crap. The man blithely lies and mispronounces and fakes meanings and fails to point out that his idiotic ‘Irish’ equivalents for baloney and nincompoop and bunkum were his own inventions, not real phrases in the Irish language.

Krasny doesn’t seem to care. He gives Cassidy an easy time of it, buys all his bullshit, gives him a platform to sell this arrogant trash to unsuspecting people and even attacks his fellow academics for their anti-Irish bias in not recognising Cassidy’s made-up rubbish as fact.

However, the worst of it is in the phone-in section of the programme. A couple of people are critical of Cassidy but Krasny doesn’t dig deeper. In fact, when one caller points out that he has got it wrong about the origins of the word tinker, and says ‘it goes to prove the point many people have called – you are reaching’, Krasny and Cassidy thank him quickly and move on.

Finally, I feel I should explain what I meant by Cassidy’s false modesty. Cassidy says several times that he isn’t sure of every word. On the surface, he sounds like a reasonable human being. Yet a little more than a month after this, using a fake identity, Cassidy answered critics on a forum about language like this:

“Barret the Parrot had better kiss the toin (buttocks) of his publishers at Oxford. With his books down around 270,000 and 600,000 on Amazon, whereas Cassidy’s book is in 5th reprint in 7 months and just won an American Book Award.

Is it a twerp (duirb, a worm)? Is it a dork (dorc, a dwarf)? Or is it Barrett the Parrot? No it’s “Superscam” (aka Barret the English Parrott) and his phoney made-up quotes.

Here are REAL QUOTES that haven’t been hahahahaha deleted hahahahahahaha.

Believe Barrett the Parrott (AKA Superscam) or Dr. Joe Lee, who is a native Irish speaker and the Director of Irish Studies at NYU? Professor Lee is one of the foremost scholars in the field of Irish Studies in the US and Ireland.”

(Lee, of course, was a friend of Cassidy’s.) In other words, while he was being treated the way he felt he had a right to be treated, as a genuine academic with a valid theory, Cassidy managed to pretend to be a sane and reasonable person. When anyone tried to confront him with the truth, he regressed to being an ignorant, infantile narcissist who was completely incapable of dealing with the least challenge to his fragile ego.

Krasny should have spotted the logical inconsistencies, smelt the bullshit and acted accordingly. Instead, he became one of this man’s many unwitting enablers and accomplices in his project of deceiving Irish America and lining his own pockets with the profits of his fraud. It is for that reason that I am happy (or should that be, I have a hooligan?) to award Michael Krasny December’s Twit of the Month Award.