Tag Archives: American slang comes from Gaelic

Anatomy of a Cromance

I have previously criticised the crony friends of Daniel Cassidy, charlatan and fake etymologist, who have been responsible for artificially boosting Cassidy’s reputation and selling his irritating and insane drivel to Irish American suckers.

It is interesting to look at the way some of these cronies operate. Let’s just look at the particular constellation of cronies who founded the Irish American Writers and Artists back in 2008. According to that organisation’s website this historic event took place at a literary festival in Charlottesville, Virginia. After the session, Peter Quinn and T.J. English, ‘historian and author Daniel Cassidy’ (!!!),  New York Times columnist and author Dan Barry, and Maureen Dezell, all adjourned to the pub and founded the IAWAA. I am not criticizing the supposed aims of the IAWAA here. Insofar as there is any genuine radicalism among these people, I would support it. We know that Cassidy’s radicalism was completely fake, of course. I mean, what possible justification could you give for taking a job as a college professor without even having a degree, or faking Ivy League qualifications to claim such a job? How is that serving the cause of social justice? It’s not as if straight chalk-white Christian dudes like Cassidy are under-represented at the highest level in American society!

However, if we look at the reviews on Amazon, we find that Cassidy’s book was supported by a certain paquinn47, who gave it a rave review and five stars.

“Cassidy’s thesis isn’t going to go away and overwrought denunciations should give way to the work of grappling with the certainty that Cassidy has started a revolution of Copernican dimensions.”

The same paquinn47 also gave five stars and a rave review to Dan Barry’s book ‘City Lights: Stories About New York.’

In neither review does he give the slightest indication that he is Peter A. Quinn the novelist or that he knows the authors. In one case, of course, he wrote the introduction to the book he’s reviewing, which is a pretty big vested interest. Another reviewer of Dan Barry’s book is a certain Daniel P. Cassidy, who tells the reader to ‘Buy this book. Then buy another and give it to a friend. Read it and feel renewed.’

Again, there is no indication in the review that these people knew one another. In the case of the Barry book, there are only six reviews on Amazon. The reviews from his two mates, Cassidy and Quinn, are one third of the ratings.

Daniel P. Cassidy also reviewed Peter Quinn’s book Hour of the Cat, again without revealing anything about the relationship between himself and Quinn, such as the fact that a character called Danny Cassidy is mentioned in the book or that one of his later books was dedicated to him. ‘Hour of the Cat is flat-out one of the best books I have read in a dog’s age’.  Daniel P. Cassidy only wrote three reviews on Amazon. One for Dan Barry, one for Peter Quinn, and a hostile one about a book which Cassidy criticises as being full of ‘wing-nut etymologies’. Talk about pots and kettles!

The question is, is it wrong to review books by your cronies without giving any indication that they are cronies? It certainly isn’t illegal but I think it’s completely unethical. After all, people read the reviews to find out whether to buy the book. If you are the author’s best friend, you should really declare that in the review.  It isn’t enough to give your name. How many people would know that paquinn47 is Peter Quinn or that he is a friend of Cassidy and Barry? (As opposed, for example, to the Irish Peter Quinn of Belfast Media Group, former GAA chairman, who was involved in the purchase of the Irish Echo in 2008, a paper which allowed Cassidy to write a column on his ‘discoveries’ just before his death.)

Some of you will remember the Orlando Figes incident a few years back, where the expert on Russian history, Orlando Figes, wrote scathing reviews of his rivals using the false name Historian. Figes apologised and claimed that he was suffering from depression at the time. I believe him. People do strange things when they’re depressed and his actions were so pointless and ultimately damaging to his reputation. He was and is a successful historian and didn’t need to resort to tactics like that.

Cassidy, of course, wasn’t a talented historian. He wasn’t even an historian. He knew nothing about anything, and without his loyal cronies spreading nonsense about what a great book How The Irish Invented Slang is, it is unlikely that he would have sold many copies of this truly dreadful piece of garbage.

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In Cahoots

There is no certainty about the origin of the term ‘in cahoots.’ It is first found in American English in 1829. There are two sensible theories about its origins, plus the usual ridiculous nonsense from Cassidy.

The explanation given by the Oxford English Dictionary is that English got the expression from the word French cahute, meaning a cabin or hut, which was borrowed into Scots in the 16th century. The metaphor is the same as being ‘in bed together’ – the conspirators are in a narrow space, close together. There is then a mystery about how it survived without reference for hundreds of years and surfaced in American speech in the 19th century. However, that is not so strange. Many settlers came from Scotland and it is not so strange that expressions would survive in isolated mountain communities without being written down.

However, there is another explanation, and perhaps a better one. The OED states that others have claimed an origin in the French word cohorte, the source of the English ‘cohort,’ which originally meant a band of soldiers and now means a friend or companion.

Cassidy’s claim is typically stupid and dishonest. He says that the Irish comh-údar means ‘a co-author, co-originator, co-instigator, fig. partner.’ This is one of Cassidy’s made-up definitions. In fact, comhúdar (there isn’t a hyphen in it in modern Irish) isn’t given in the dictionary, though comh (meaning joint or co-) is a common enough prefix in Irish. While údar has a range of meanings on its own, there is no evidence of anyone using comhúdar to mean anything else but a co-author of a book, document or report. Comhúdar doesn’t sound much like cahoots. If people said cahooder, he would have a point. But they don’t and comhúdar is just too wide of the mark, even if it really meant partner, as Cassidy claimed.

My money would be on the French-Scottish shed but we will probably never know for sure because the evidence simply doesn’t exist. But at least the words cahute and cohort actually existed and can be proven to have existed. There is no Irish expression comh-údar meaning a partner. It was invented by a narcissist in California about ten years ago.

A Really Stupid Review of Cassidy’s Book

In the post I wrote on the word cac (Irish for shit), I criticized a foolish and pseudo-intellectual article by Jonathan Scott in the Journal of Socialism and Democracy online. This review of Cassidy’s book manages to build a towering edifice of pretentious verbiage on the shifting quicksand of Cassidy’s insane speculations, and I feel that it is high time that I had a further go at dismantling the foolish arguments advanced by the author.

The author of this childish and pompous review, Jonathan Scott, was obviously impressed with Cassidy:

Daniel Cassidy’s How the Irish Invented Slang is a specialist work of linguistic scholarship, but it cuts across many academic disciplines. This explains its particular power, for it cannot be reduced to linguistics, Irish studies, American studies, ethnography or cultural theory, and yet none of these disciplines can remain the same as a result of his work.

Of course, in reality, Cassidy’s work was simply a hoax and a con-job manufactured by a narcissist with no genuine qualifications and no knowledge of Irish, linguistics, history or (apparently) anything else. It has had and will have no lasting influence on any of these disciplines, though some naïve and foolish individuals have taken some of Cassidy’s claims seriously and suffered the consequences by shaming themselves in public.

One of the stupidest claims in this article is the one about the phrase ‘Don’t be a pussy!’ It’s worth quoting in full here because it’s so ridiculous and so full of nonsense:

By the end of Cassidy’s study not only is the claim that Shakespeare was Irish plausible, but also many mysteries of American vernacular, extremely perplexing hitherto, are finally solved – the offensive word “pussy,” for example. From a feminist standpoint, the word is pornographic and its use morally indefensible, as it associates the female genitalia with weakness and cowardice, thus belonging to misogynist discourse. Cassidy shows that “pussy” is an Irish word, both a noun and an adjective (pusaire: n., a crybaby; pusach: adj., pouting, whimpering, sulking). In Irish, “Don’t be a pussy!” means “Stop crying all the time!” or “Be brave!” Of course this is how American boys and men, and girls and women too, always use the word, but without knowing its Irish root they’re indeed guilty of deploying it in sexist way, by comparing their (almost always male) object of ridicule to a female’s private parts – what everyone wrongly assumes when they say it. The original Irish meaning of the word is actually gender-free – it can refer to a male or a female – and has no connection whatever to the Latin word pusa, which refers to the labia. “Pussy,” like all the Irish words in Cassidy’s text, was passed down from one generation of Irish-Americans to the next, and then adopted by Americans of all languages and ethnicities, both because of its appealing lyrical quality and its special knack for signifying precisely what the speaker is trying to say. 

This is, of course, total and complete horse feathers. Leaving aside the nonsense about Shakespeare being Irish, it is true that the word pus in Irish means a sulky expression or a protruding mouth. This is well known as the origin of expressions like sourpuss in English. It is commonly used in Irish dialects of English as well as in American dialects.

However, there is no evidence that pussy in phrases like ‘don’t be a pussy!’ derives from Irish words like pusachán or pusaire or pusach. Where’s the evidence? Why don’t people in communities in Ireland where the tide of Irish retreated only a couple of generations ago say things like ‘don’t be a pussy?’ They don’t because these are Americanisms, not Irishisms. And what about the tendency of borrowed words to follow the syntax of the language they came from? People say ‘don’t be an ommadawn’ because they realise that amadán (fool) is a noun. If they borrowed amaideach (foolish), they would say ‘don’t be amaideach!’ not ‘don’t be an amaideach!’ So, if they said ‘don’t be pussy’ or ‘don’t be a pussahawn’ or ‘don’t be a pusser’, Cassidy might have a case. They don’t and he doesn’t.

Furthermore, the author seems to be throwing things in here which are not even claimed in the book. He claims that pusa is Latin for the labia. It isn’t. The Latin for the labia is … labia, stoopid! There is a word pusa in Latin. It means a girl, not a vagina. Cassidy claimed (wrongly) that pussy in the sense of vagina comes from the plural of pus in Irish, pusa – not Latin – and thus means lips and figuratively vagina, so Cassidy’s claim was that pusa, pusaire, pusach and pusachán are all related anyway, which, if it were true, would invalidate the argument made above.

In fact, Cassidy was wrong about this as well. (After all, Cassidy was wrong about nearly everything.) There is no evidence of anyone using the word pusa in Irish to mean vagina or labia and the fact is, pussy for vagina is clearly of Germanic, not Celtic or Latin origin. The usual word for vagina in Irish is pit or pis (pronounced pitch or pish). Even more damningly for the incompetent attempt at an argument above, a common pejorative word for an effeminate man and (in more recent usage) for a gay man in Irish is the word piteog. The –eog part is a feminine diminutive, so it literally means ‘a little vagina.’ In other words, an ignorant native speaker of Irish might well attack someone they consider to be weak or effeminate with a phrase like ‘ná bí i do phiteog!’ which literally means ‘don’t be a little vagina!’ (And allow me to get up on my soapbox here. As in English, the use of words like piteog in Irish is a mark of stupidity and bigotry. It says a lot about the deficiencies of the person using it and nothing at all about the victim of the homophobic abuse. It should be avoided by anybody with a brain.)

Of course, Cassidy wouldn’t have known any of this because Cassidy didn’t speak any Irish. He didn’t know anything about the language or the culture surrounding it or the historical context or the methods used by real academics. He was a total arse and that’s pretty much all there is to say about the matter.

 

Boot and Babhta

Daniel Cassidy, in his absurd and ridiculous work of pseudo-scholarship, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that the word boot (as in ‘to boot’) comes from the Irish word babhta.

In fact, the etymology of the words boot and bout in English is quite complex.

Boot comes from the Old English bot ‘help, relief, advantage; atonement,’ while bout comes from a Middle English word bught meaning ‘a bend’. Neither of these words has any connection with boot meaning shoe (which is from French) and only a distant connection with booty meaning captured prize, which is from Germanic through French (and acquired its current meaning as in ‘bootilicious’ through Black American English). Freebooter is from Dutch.

At some stage over the last four hundred years, the English word bout was borrowed into Irish as babhta. There is no doubt that this is a borrowing into Irish and not the other way round. As we have said before, the only words with this pattern of sounds in Irish are borrowings, words like stabht (the drink, stout), clabhta (clout), dabht (doubt) or fabht (fault).  In Irish, the meanings of the two English words boot and bout are conflated in babht, because we find expressions like de bhabhta, to boot, as well as babhta tinnis, a bout of illness.

Picnic Basket Cases

I came across an interesting parallel to Cassidy’s nonsense recently. Apparently, beginning in the 1990s with a hoax email, many people in the USA have been persuaded that the use of the word picnic is racist. The email claimed that the term originally referred to a lynching, where southern bigots randomly ‘picked a negro’ to lynch and brought the whole family out to eat fried chicken and drink mint juleps in the southern sun.

In an excellent article in Black Voice News (http://www.blackvoicenews.com/more-sections/commentary/41888-an-urban-legend-that-binds-us-the-word-picnic-.html) by Richard O. Jones, the author describes his distaste at being sent a similar email (apparently not the original hoax but someone else spreading this nonsense independently). Here is part of the email he received:

This e-mail is being sent to you as a public service announcement and as information in the form of a little known Black History Fact. This information can also be found in the African American Archives at the Smithsonian Institute. Although not taught in American learning institutions and literature, it is noted in most Black history professional circles and literature that the origin of the term “picnic” derives from the acts of lynching African-Americans. The word “picnic” is rooted from the whole theme of “Pick A Nigger.” This is where individuals would “pic” a Black person to lynch and make this into a family gathering. There would be music and a “picnic.” (“Nic” being the white acronym for “nigger.”) Scenes of this were depicted in the movie “Rosewood.”

We should choose to use the word “barbecue” or “outing” instead of the word “picnic.” Please forward this e-mail to your family and friends and let’s educate our people.

Jones’s comment is just as applicable to the garbage spread by Cassidy and his asinine followers as it is to the case of picnic:

I don’t wish to misinform my friends and family with the likes of another vicious Internet hoax. Many Black people are too quick to believe negative rumors; therefore, I refuse to contribute to national ignorance. These type of hoaxes only serve to make Black people look stupid and by no means is an advancement in education. It is too easy to go to the library and research the origin of words in dictionaries and/or encyclopedias to believe and spread every bit of garbage that comes through cyberspace.

As Jones so rightly says, in the case of picnic  just as in Cassidy’s ridiculous claims, it is very easy to disprove this rubbish. Piquenique originated in France in the 17th century. It has no connection to the American south and nothing to do with black history. The worst thing is that lynching was a real phenomenon. In fact, it still is, though a gun seems to be the weapon of choice now rather than a rope.  Denial of this supposed etymology of picnic doesn’t mean that you are denying lynching or the evils of racism. And denying the validity of Cassidy’s claims about the Irish origins of hundreds of English words doesn’t mean that you are denying the value of the Irish language or supporting an elite of WASPs against your ancestral culture. In fact, it is Cassidy’s supporters who are betraying our language and our culture out of a misplaced loyalty to an ignorant charlatan, just as supporters of the racist picnic idea are allowing themselves to be manipulated by a person or persons unknown whose agenda, whatever it is, has nothing to do with the truth.

My Arse, Cassidy!

As I have repeated over and over again in this blog, Daniel Cassidy’s claims about Irish are almost entirely rubbish. His methodology consisted of finding phrases in English, deciding that they came from Irish, and then hunting through Irish (and/or Scottish Gaelic) dictionaries to find Irish equivalents. However, as there was hardly ever a satisfactory equivalent in the dictionaries, Cassidy put words together in ridiculous and unrealistic ways. According to his supporters, this doesn’t matter, because the Irish in 19th century slums supposedly forgot all their grammar and apparently stuck words together in random and incomprehensible ways.

Here’s a clear example of what Cassidy did. Suppose I am Cassidy and I decide that the phrase ‘My arse’ as an expression of scepticism at someone else’s words doesn’t come from the English words ‘my’ and ‘arse’. So I go to an Irish dictionary. I don’t actually speak any Irish, of course, and I’m not really sure about the pronunciation, but what the Hell! I’m Daniel Cassidy! I’m a genius! So, I find the word maith which means good or well, and which is pronounced mah or moy. So far, so good! Then I look for something which might go with it. Ah, there’s a word arsa, which means ‘said’.

So, if I put maith and arsa together, I get the ironic ‘Irish’ phrase maith arsa, which means ‘well said!’

Of course, this isn’t a real phrase, and it only makes sense if you pluck definitions for the component words randomly out of dictionaries. In Irish, the word arsa is limited in its use. It only ever occurs sandwiched between reported speech and the name of the person speaking. Almost all of the phrases in Cassidy’s book are like this, childish fakes based on misunderstood out-of-context dictionary entries which bear no relation at all to the genuine Irish language, a language of which Cassidy was totally ignorant.

Pud

Daniel Cassidy, in his infantile work of pseudo-scholarship, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that the word ‘pud’, a slang term for penis, derives from the Irish word bod, with the same meaning.

If pud had no meaning in English, this would be a reasonable enough claim. However, pud does have a meaning in English. It is a common shortened form of pudding, which is on record as having been used as a slang term for a penis in British English as early as 1719. Several types of sausage commonly eaten in Ireland are called puddings – black pudding (putóg dhubh) and white pudding (putóg bhán or drisín).

There is absolutely no sensible reason to suppose that pud is anything but English.