Tag Archives: bullyrag

Cassidese Glossary – Ballyrag

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.

Ballyrag or bullyrag is an American term dating back to the late 18th century. There is no certainty about its origin, though it is probably linked to bully or to rag, both of which carry the meaning of verbal attack. There is an interesting discussion of its possible links on the OED blog here:

https://blog.oup.com/2012/11/shakespearean-passions-around-bullyragging/

Cassidy claims that it comes from the Irish word bollaireacht. The link with bollaireacht is very improbable. For one thing, the –cht ending sounds nothing like a g, so the sound similarity is unconvincing. Secondly, the meaning of bullyrag (or bullyrag) is very specific. It means to harangue, browbeat or verbally bully someone. Bollaireacht is an obscure word meaning boasting. Boasting to someone and bullying them are completely different behaviours and there seems no reason to suppose that there is any connection between these two words.

Origin Unknown?

It is amazing how many people online have rushed to repeat Cassidy’s claim that most or many of the words in Cassidy’s book are given as ‘origin unknown’ or ‘origin uncertain’ in the dictionaries, without checking the facts for themselves. For example, here’s a quote from Joe ‘The Prof’ Lee:

Daniel Cassidy flings down the gauntlet to all those compilers of dictionaries who fled to the safe haven of ‘origin unknown’ when confronted with the challenge of American slang. 

And here’s another one from the infantile Educational Cyber Playground:

The Dictionary has printed that most of Cassidy’s English words are listed “origin unknown,” and when you think about the huge diaspora, it’s a certainty that the Irish would have contributed words to English.

The Dictionary? Where can I buy THE Dictionary? And did anyone ever really claim that the majority of words in Cassidy’s crapfest are ‘origin unknown’,  even Cassidy himself? He certainly played down the amount of information available about many of the words he proposed daft origins for, but I don’t think the majority of his entries contain the phrases ‘origin unknown’ or ‘origin uncertain’. 

In a number of posts on this blog, I have already pointed out that Cassidy played fast-and-loose with the dictionaries and claimed that a lot of expressions were origin unknown when their origins were very well-known (grumble, for example). 

I therefore decided to go through  Cassidy’s book and compare Cassidy’s version to the reality. However, I am not a masochist and the thought of reading every page of Cassidy’s sad testament to human ignorance was just too much for me, so instead of that, I checked the first hundred headwords in the glossary part of it and researched them. Some words like blowen (ever heard that one? Me neither!), or beak (magistrate) or boogie are certainly origin unknown. But many others were misrepresented by Cassidy. Being generous (and assuming that my sample is representative of the document as a whole), no more than 10% of the words are really lacking a reasonable explanation. For example, Cassidy says that bullyrag is ‘origin unknown’. Yet a quick glance online shows that rag can mean ‘to scold, torment or tease’. So bullyragged might just mean ‘browbeaten by a bully’, which is pretty much what it means anyway. And an aggressive shill being called a capper makes perfect sense to me. A person makes an offer, the shill caps that offer and pushes the bid up, so they are a capper.

I should also point out that in most of the cases where the word is ‘origin unknown’, Cassidy’s supposed ‘Irish’ origins are nonsense and could not possibly be correct. 

The idea that Cassidy found vast numbers of words labelled ‘origin unknown’ with clear origins in Irish which the Anglophile linguists had deliberately ignored is another red herring, created by this evil con-man to deceive the fans of his book who he treated with the same easy comtempt as he treated the Irish language, the world of academia and the people who were foolish enough to regard him as a friend.