Tag Archives: bad scholarship

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.

More on Sean Sweeney

I found another piece online from Sean Sweeney, who is apparently some kind of big wheel (mar dhea) in New York local politics. Sweeney obviously thinks that Cassidy was right, though he doesn’t have a great record in picking reliable friends and allies. His close ally in SoHo, Don MacPherson, is currently serving a long sentence for a massive mortgage fraud. Sweeney was apparently convinced of MacPherson’s innocence (http://observer.com/2009/04/crank-or-champion/) but that didn’t stop MacPherson from pleading guilty at the trial!

Anyway, back to Sweeney’s irrational and half-baked defence of Cassidy’s absurd book. After failing to provide any evidence for his crackpot friend’s theories when challenged to do so and failing to convince the administrators on Wikipedia that he had anything worthwhile to say about Cassidy’s lying dreckfest, Sean Sweeney then decided to post his irresponsible nonsense on a discussion on the website of Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. An individual called Sean Mc Shee had posted on January 30, 2013, about the phrase ‘so long’.

I’ve wondered if it derived from the Gaelic “slan” – sometimes used as a goodbye – it sounds like it could be an anglicized spelling of a word heard orally. And if first appears right after the potato famine.

This is a perfectly reasonable comment and there is nothing wrong with wondering or asking the question. The answer which Sweeney gave was much less reasonable. On June 17, 2014, he posted the following reply:

Actually, it does. Unfortunately, because it originated as street slang, dictionaries are loathe to list it and just add “origin unknown”, something they do with many US slang words of Irish origin. I urge you to read Daniel Cassidy’s “How the Irish Invented Slang” to learn more.

The same old rubbish. Not ‘it might do’ or ‘it’s possible’. The expression must come from Irish, because Sweeney says so and Sweeney knows it all! The truth, of course, is very different. It always is with Sean Sweeney! And of course, there’s no word of warning about Cassidy’s book containing nonsense, in spite of the fact that he admitted as much in his comments here. (“Some of Cassidy’s derivations may be nonsense …”)

For those who don’t share Sweeney’s delusional belief in his own omniscience and want to learn the real facts about the possible origins of the phrase ‘so long’, I suggest you follow these links:

http://vernondent.blogspot.co.uk/2005/12/carnival-of-etymologies_15.html

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=so+long

The truth is, slán is only one of a number of possible derivations, some of which are considerably more credible than the Irish one. And what evidence does Sweeney have for the claim that the dictionaries ignored it because it originated as street slang? None whatsoever, of course! The real reason why they say that its origin is unknown is because there are a number of different possible origins and there is no way of knowing which is correct. But if you’re as important as Sean Sweeney thinks he is, you don’t have to bother with boring details like facts. You don’t have to defer to the opinions of experts in the field who really know what they’re talking about! Whatever you say instantly becomes the truth, and of course any rubbish books produced by your mates also instantly become the truth as well!

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work with statements given in a police station or a court of law … Nach mór an trua é sin ach nach beag an t-iontas!

A Cold Snap

We have recently had something of a cold snap here in Ireland, though the ‘worst winter in living memory’ promised by the Express or Mail or whichever English rag it was has failed to materialise, just as it fails to materialise almost every winter. However, the cold snap got me thinking about that word snap. I said back in July 2013 in the post titled Did Cassidy ever get it right? that I thought there was some chance the word snap as in a cold snap comes from Irish, though I said I wasn’t sure.

So, does snap come from Irish? Well, there is no doubt that snap is used in this way in Irish. Dinneen’s Irish dictionary gives various meanings for snab, including a snap, an end or fragment, a spell or turn (cf. “a cold snap”). The book also gives snap with the meaning “a snapping, a sudden assault or seizure.”

The word snap is also found with the sense of a cold spell of weather in English. Its first recorded use in this sense is in the 1740s.

So, which is it? An English word borrowed into Irish or an Irish word borrowed into English?

The evidence is very clearly in favour of this being an English word in Irish for a number of reasons. Firstly, Ireland was subject to English control for hundreds of years and there are many English borrowings in Irish but relatively few Irish borrowings in English, so the balance of probabilities is in favour of an English origin. There is no evidence for the existence of the word snap in Irish before the modern era. (You can check this on eDIL.) Furthermore, snap is recorded in the sense of a snap or sudden bite from the 15th century, and it has ancient cognates in other Germanic languages. It is related to Germanic words like snout.

Once again, Cassidy got it badly wrong about this word.

Hall of Shame Special – James R. Barrett

I recently came across another deserving target for my wrath, a book called The Irish Way: Becoming American In The Multiethnic City by Professor James R Barrett. It includes several pages of Cassidese nonsense like the following: 

“Corruptions of the Irish Gaelic language survived in the memories of old-timers and were refreshed by more recent immigrants. Irish words, phrases, accents and pronunciations seeped into the English of working-class neighbourhoods.”

Why am I angry about this?  Well, in some ways, I shouldn’t get worked up. There are things which are far more important in the world and I should watch my blood pressure and not allow idiocy like this to annoy me, but I just can’t help it. Here we have a career academic who quotes from Cassidy describing him as ‘linguist Daniel Cassidy’  Linguist? Cassidy was not a linguist in the sense of speaking many languages (judging by the book, he could barely speak English and didn’t know any Irish at all) and he certainly wasn’t trained in the theoretical study of language. Presumably this man Barrett read the book or at least looked at it. Didn’t he get suspicious at the lack of methodology, the lack of a bibliography, the fact that nothing is properly referenced? The claim that the name of a fictional character in an Indian poem by Kipling is really derived from Irish didn’t set any alarm bells ringing?

Apparently not, because James Barrett gives a list of words like slugger, dude, square, sucker, stool pigeon, squealer, swell, taro (I think he means faro, the card game, not taro the Japanese sweet potato), racketeer, scam and jazz. Of course, Cassidy claimed that all these words derive from Irish.  Readers of this blog will know that none of these words is really from Irish or Scottish Gaelic. And Barrett would know it too, if he had bothered looking these words up in dictionaries to see what real experts who know what they are talking about have said about them.

I mustn’t get angry … But, really! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE? This man is a highly qualified academic but apparently he is so lacking in scepticism and common sense that he just buys all of this tosh from Cassidy as if it’s real, without questioning it or investigating it or confirming it, even by surfing on Google for a quarter of an hour. And remember that this book came out in 2012 (and is about to be reprinted – it will be interesting to see if it still contains the same crap about slang). This is too early for cassidyslangscam, but not too early for a lot of other people who credibly and skilfully demonstrated that Cassidy’s book is simply nonsense written by an unqualified con-man. (Actually I should rephrase that: Cassidy was certainly a highly qualified con-man but he was unqualified to carry out any kind of academic work.)

Worse still, Barrett’s book has been reviewed in all kinds of publications and by all kinds of people. As far as I can see, not one of them has picked up on the claims that terms like square and jazz and block come from Irish and questioned their validity. Not one reviewer has taken issue with Barrett using Cassidy’s book as a source, in spite of the fact that it is like someone including theories about aliens building the pyramids in a serious book on Egyptology.  

Is this really what we’ve come to, a situation where the education system is so bad that even highly educated people are completely unable to recognise an insane load of cacamas for what it is?

Nag

This will be a short post, because Cassidy’s claim is so obviously wrong for so many reasons. Cassidy claims that nag (meaning an old or clapped-out horse) comes from the Irish n-each, meaning a horse. He states that each is the Irish for horse and that n-each is a ‘form of’ this. English is a relatively uninflected language. Words tend to be hard pebbles of meaning which change little, so it is hard for English speakers to understand that particles like n- have no meaning outside of a particular context and so they are very unlikely to be borrowed. It is a little like taking the phrase ‘They shouldn’t ‘ve gone’ and deciding to take out the ‘ve gone bit and treat it as a meaningful unit. N-each is not a word. And in any case, each is not the word for horse in modern Irish; this is capall or beithíoch depending on the dialect. And while the origin of nag is not clear, there is no doubt that it has been in English for a very long time. It was first recorded as nagge (pronounced naga) in the 14th century, so even if n-each existed and even if it were a good candidate for the origin of nag, it would be unlikely to be the source of the word because there is no convincing way that it could have entered English that early. In short, this is typical Cassidy horse feathers and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is flogging a dead horse.