For some time now, some of my on-line friends have advised me to provide a version of CassidySlangScam without the invective aimed at Cassidy and his supporters. In response to that advice, I am working on providing a glossary of the terms in Cassidy’s ludicrous book How The Irish Invented Slang with a short, simple and business-like explanation of why Cassidy’s version is wrong.
Boondoggle is an American term which refers to a project which is regarded as a white elephant or a waste of money. According to Wikipedia:
‘The term arose from a 1935 New York Times report that more than $3 million had been spent on recreational activities for the jobless as part of the New Deal. Among these activities were crafts classes, where the production of “boon doggles,” described in the article as various utilitarian “gadgets” made with cloth or leather, were taught. The term’s earlier definition is thought to have its origin in scouting, particularly in reference to a woggle.’
Daniel Cassidy, in his book, How The Irish Invented Slang, claims that boondoggle is really Irish. He says that it comes from a phrase buan-díchiall, which according to him means ‘permanent-foolishness, perpetual folly’. There are a number of reasons for doubting this.
Firstly, the phrase buan-díchiall (like one of Cassidy’s other made-up words, buanchumadh, the supposed origin of bunkum) does not exist in Irish, though the constituent words buan and díchiall do. Even if it did exist, it wouldn’t sound anything like boondoggle. It would be pronounced something like boo-an-jee-heel. Thirdly, the available accounts in English suggest that the woven leather items were the boondoggles and the act of making them was boondoggling. The meaning of a costly waste of effort came later. This doesn’t fit with the meanings of Cassidy’s ‘Irish’ phrase.