Tag Archives: Athbhreith Céad Athbreith

Abracadabra – It’s Disappeared!

When Cassidy was embarking on his publicity campaign for the book before it was published, he gave a lot of interviews and wrote a lot of articles. One of the most interesting things about these articles, and one of the most telling pieces of evidence that he was making it up, is the existence in them of many claims which never made it to the book. Cassidy confidently stated them to be facts in these interviews and articles but by the time he was ready for publication, he had changed his mind.

For example, on the 9th of December 2003, a letter by Cassidy was published in the San Francisco Chronicle, which includes the line: The word slum is from two Irish words: saol lom, meaning “the world of poverty”. In the book, this has changed from saol lom, meaning ‘bleak world’ to ’s lom é, a phrase meaning ‘it’s bleak’. The real origin is almost certainly something to do with the English word slumber, as the word slum originally meant a cheap room, a place to sleep.

Cassidy also claimed that bailiwick comes from baile aíoch, meaning a hospitable home. At some stage between making that claim public and the book coming out, he must have realised that this is wrong, so by the time the book came out, he was merely claiming that the bailey part of the word comes from the Irish báille (though the Irish báille obviously comes from the Norman French!) 

In the San Francisco Chronicle article (12 March 2004) he claimed that the English term duds for clothes comes from the Irish d’éadaíse which he says means clothing or ‘your clothes.’ By the time the book came out, the emphatic particle –se had been dropped, so the ‘original’ phrase had become do éadach. Incidentally, neither is correct, as Irish speakers will tell you that clothes are always talked about as a person’s ‘part of cloth’ (cuid éadaigh). Thus my clothes is mo chuid éadaigh and your clothes is do chuid éadaigh.

In the San Francisco Chronicle article, Cassidy said that the magician’s word abracadabra is really aithbhreith céad aithbhreith, and means “the act of regenerating many things.” (It literally means ‘rebirth of a hundred rebirths.’)  We know that this isn’t the origin of abracadabra, because the word abracadabra first appeared in the third century AD in a Latin medical text,  De Medicina Praecepta Saluberrima by Quintus Serenus Sammonicus.  In this book, the author describes how it was written in a triangle on amulets to ward off illness. Someone must have pointed this out to Cassidy, because by the time Cassidy’s book was published, abracadabra!  The claim had disappeared!

On The Daltaí Boards, an Irish language forum, Cassidy suggested on September 7 2005 that bootlegger comes from buidéalaí gar, a local bottler, an obliging bottler (according to him – gar wouldn’t be used in this way). This claim has disappeared completely from the book. Presumably Cassidy had a sudden moment of lucidity where he realised it was rubbish. Pity it didn’t last …