Tag Archives: béicire

Cassidese Glossary – Bicker

Daniel Cassidy in his book, How The Irish Invented Slang, claims that the word bicker, meaning to argue, comes from the Irish word béicire, which means ‘a shouter, a person who shouts’.

As Cassidy admits, the word bicker goes back a very, very long way in English. It is found in Chaucer. This in itself suggests that it is not of Irish origin, as there was little Irish influence on the English language that far back. In fact, there is no evidence that the Irish word béicire existed back then, though the word béicc (a shout) did exist at that time and some earlier equivalent of béicire may well have existed. The word béicire is a poor match for bicker. It doesn’t sound like bicker (the word béicire sounds more like English baker). If we substitute the meaning of béicire into sentences using bicker, it is clear that the meaning is problematic:

The kids were [shouty person] in the back of the car all the way home.

Why do you two always have to [shouty person]?

There is absolutely no doubt that bicker, in the form biker, is found as early as the thirteenth century in English. The University of Michigan online Middle English Dictionary (an excellent resource for the history of English gives a number of examples of the use of the words biker and bikeren: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/med/.

As the excellent Online Etymological Dictionary says:

early 14c., bikere, “to skirmish, fight,” perhaps from Middle Dutch bicken “to slash, stab, attack,” + -er, Middle English frequentative suffix (as in blabber, hover, patter). Meaning “to quarrel, petulantly contend with words” is from mid-15c.  where exactly it came from, though some of the dictionaries suggest a possible connection with a Dutch word bicken, meaning ‘to slash or attack’. Bicker is found in English texts from the 13th century in the form biker.

As usual, Cassidy doctored the information found in other sources to make his own claims seem more probable (or even possible). Here, he says that “Bicker is (inexplicably) said to be formed in English from Middle Dutch bicken, to slash.” Plainly, a Middle English word biker meaning to skirmish deriving from a Middle Dutch word bicken meaning to slash, stab or attack is considerably more explicable than a Middle English word for to skirmish deriving from an Irish Gaelic word for ‘a shouty person’.

Bicker

One of the many, many insane claims made by Daniel Cassidy in his outrageous piece of nonsense, How The Irish Invented Slang, is that the word bicker, meaning to argue, comes from the Irish word béicire, which means ‘a shouter, a person who shouts’. There is so much wrong with this claim it is hard to know exactly where to start.

Firstly, the word bicker goes back a very, very long way in English. There is some doubt about where exactly it came from, though some of the dictionaries suggest a possible connection with a Dutch word bicken, meaning ‘to slash or attack’. Bicker is found in English texts from the 13th century in the form biker.

The University of Michigan has an online Middle English Dictionary which is fully searchable. You can find it here: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/med/. If you take the trouble to search for the words biker and bikeren in this, you will find that they always referred to skirmishing, battling, quarrelling. So how an Irish word meaning a shouty person could have given rise to an English word which means battle or skirmish at a time when there was very little contact between the two language communities is a mystery and one which Cassidy makes no attempt to explain. It is also comparing like with unlike. Béicire is a modern Irish word from modern Irish dictionaries. I can find no evidence for a word corresponding to béicire in Middle Irish, though the word béicc was certainly in use then and something like béicire may well have existed. However, there is no proof that it did. And béicire sounds like the English baker, not bicker. If it was really an Irish borrowing, why doesn’t it sound more like the Irish word?

So, the chance that Cassidy was right about this is vanishingly slight. Béicire isn’t a good fit in terms of the known history of the two languages, or the meaning of the supposed source, or the pronunciation. The Middle Dutch word bicken is only suggested tentatively as a possible source by the dictionary experts (because they are real experts who insist on proof before stating something as fact) but it is obviously far more likely as a source than Cassidy’s nonsensical explanation.

But Cassidy was such an arrogant, self-worshipping moron that he summarily dismissed the opinion of the experts.

“I do not want to be a bickerer”, he crowed, with his usual feeble sub-Joycean attempts at wordplay, “but deriving bicker from Middle Dutch bicken, to slash, is a scream!”

What a total and utter TWAT!