Tag Archives: Captain Grammar Pants

A Reply to Amy Kelly

I have had a message from someone called Amy Kelly on my post on Captain Grammar Pants. You may remember that the Captain (a.k.a. Seán Williams) is a blogger on matters of grammar who happened to endorse a large number of Cassidy’s idiotic claims in a book she wrote on Irish traditional music. She later contacted this blog and said that she had got it wrong about Cassidy but since then she has published several silly claims about the Irish origins of English words on her blog. Anyway, here is the message from Amy Kelly:

You made some errors of your own.

…not one of the morons who insist [one who insists, not morons who insist]

You do not seem to make use of the Oxford comma, which I understand is a matter of choice, but it is almost always needed and I am of the opinion that it is needed in the following, as well as a colon after opinions:

to express all kinds of opinions: true, false, benign, or repugnant

What Amy Kelly seems to be saying here is that I make mistakes. This is not news to me. It is impossible not to make mistakes and what pedants tend to ignore is that it really doesn’t matter, because language is a tool, not an ornament, and it is quite robust. While grammar bores tend to pretend that they are trying to improve people’s powers of expression and stop the rot, the fact is that there is no evidence that any civilisation ever collapsed because people got sloppy about their accusatives and to the best of my knowledge, nobody was ever murdered by a psychotic panda because they misused the odd comma.

So, what is it really all about? Well, call me an old cynic, but it seems to me that what it’s really about is condescension, ego-tripping, snobbery and nit-picking. Which is why, if you’re the kind of person who likes that kind of thing, you need to do your homework and make sure your ‘corrections’ are themselves correct.

Amy Kelly is trying to say that I am wrong to say that Captain Grammar Pants ‘is not one of the morons who insist that a prestigious institution is one which practices illusion and deception’ because one insists. This is plainly nonsense. If this were a sentence like ‘one of the children was sick’ then she would be right, because ‘were’ would be inappropriate. However, the two structures are not the same. In this case, ‘insists’ would be wrong, because I am talking about the morons who insist that a prestigious institution is one which practices deception and as I say, Captain Grammar Pants is not one of them.  If Ms Kelly can’t spot the flaws in her own argument without my assistance, she is obviously not as clever as she thinks she is. In my experience, grammar bores usually aren’t.

As for the Oxford comma, it is very kind of her to enlighten me on her opinions about punctuation. They have been duly noted and will be studiously ignored because … well … because I think my punctuation is clear and comprehensible enough and I really couldn’t give a rat’s arse if Amy Kelly disagrees.

Cuddle and Codail

In the past I have criticised Sean Williams (aka Captain Grammar Pants) a blogger on matters of language. She published a book on Irish traditional music a number of years ago which was full of nonsense taken from Cassidy’s book. In a comment on one of my posts, she admitted that she no longer believed in these derivations and that she had got it wrong. However, since then, she has lapsed a couple of times, making silly and indefensible claims about supposed Irish derivations of English words. Just recently, on the 25th of December last year, she claimed that the English word cuddle comes from Irish codail (sleep).

Is this true? No, of course it’s not! We don’t really know where the English word cuddle comes from. It’s a apparently a nursery word (which tend not to be recorded). It may or may not be linked to other terms like coddle, mollycoddle and huddle.

Where did the claim of a connection with codail come from? In this case, it wasn’t from Cassidy. Loretto Todd, in her book Green English, mentions that cuddle might be linked to codalta [sic – it should be codlata), the genitive of codladh, meaning sleep. I have already written about Todd’s book, which is dubious but not as bad as Cassidy’s.

Anyway, could codail really be the origin of cuddle? After all, cuddling and sleep are sometimes linked and they are both about warmth and enfolding … and soft furnishings are often involved.

The answer to that is “no”! We need to think rationally about these things, about the processes involved. It’s not enough for a word to be somewhere in the same vague semantic ballpark. When a word is borrowed from one language to another, there is always a bilingual situation (usually involving a community of bilingual people) who tend to do what linguists call code-switching. This simply means that people use words and sometimes phrases and structures from one language while speaking another. In other words, some group of people who were bilingual said “Would you look at the pus on that child?” because the original would have been “An bhfeiceann tú an pus ar an leanbh sin?” And thus, after the word had been used many, many times in this community, the young monoglot English-speaking generation came to use the word pus(s) as a slang word in American contexts like sourpuss, glamourpuss and a dig in the puss.

So, the implication is that someone, somewhere, said something like “The child was crying and Máire gave him a codail”. Why would they, when nobody would say “Bhí an leanbh ag caoineadh agus thug Máire codail dó?” Codail isn’t the Irish for cuddle. And you don’t give someone sleep, especially not the word codail which is an imperative verb (an instruction to sleep) not the noun for sleep, which is codladh. And of course, hugging is not always, or not even primarily, about sleeping. It’s about warmth, intimacy, closeness. There is no plausible connection between codail and cuddle. If Captain Grammar Pants could be bothered doing the most elementary fact-checking, she would realise that.

The Captain Returns/Filleann an Captaen

Some while back, I gave out to and about Captain Grammar Pants (a.k.a. Sean Williams of Evergreen State) for buying into Cassidy’s nonsense and helping to spread it far and wide through her grammar and ‘etymology’ site on FaceBook. After a while, she contacted me and admitted that she had made a mistake with Cassidy’s rubbish. Fine, I thought. At least one sinner has returned to the fold …

However, imagine my surprise when I came across this piece of crap on Captain Grammar Pants the other day. It was published about four months ago. (October 2017)

Dude! Slang can be fun and mystifying at the same time; its meaning also changes over time. Today we sort out DUDE (Irish, “incompetent fool”) …

Oh, for God’s sake! Didn’t you learn anything last time? There is a word dúid in Irish. It means 1. Stump 2. (a) Stumpy object, protuberant part; (short) horn, (cropped) ear, tail. (b) Short-stemmed (clay) pipe. 3. (Craned) neck, throat. 4. (a) Stumpy person. (b) Mopish, shy person; numbskull.

So where did the definition “incompetent fool” come from? Who invented that one? It’s not a direct quote from Cassidy but it’s close enough. And dude means a dandy or fop, which dúid doesn’t. The English dude almost certainly comes from Yankee DOODle DANDY, who stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni (which was also slang for a fop or dandy in the 18th century). There are several other possibilities but dúid isn’t as good a candidate as Yankee Doodle Dandy, as these sources agree:



So, Captain Grammar Pants, PLEASE wise up and stop misleading people about language!


Tamall beag ó shin, thug mé amach do Captain Grammar Pants (nó Sean Williams ó Evergreen State mar is fearr aithne uirthi) as glacadh le raiméis Cassidy agus as cuidiú lena scaipeadh i gcéin is i gcóngar tríd an suíomh gramadaí agus ‘sanasaíochta’ atá aici ar FaceBook. I ndiaidh tamaillín, chuaigh sí i dteagmháil liom agus d’admhaigh go raibh meancóg déanta aici le cacamas Cassidy. Go breá, arsa mise liom féin. Ar a laghad, tá peacach amháin i ndiaidh filleadh ar an tréad … Samhlaigh an t-iontas a bhí orm, áfach, nuair a chonaic mé an cacamas seo ar Captain Grammar Pants an lá faoi dheireadh. Tuairim is ceithre mhí ó shin a foilsíodh é (Deireadh Fómhair 2017):

Dude! Slang can be fun and mystifying at the same time; its meaning also changes over time. Today we sort out DUDE (Irish, “incompetent fool”) …

Ó, ar son Dé! Nár fhoghlaim tú a dhath an uair dheireanach? Tá an focal dúid sa Ghaeilge, ceart go leor, ach ní hé sin a chiall. Seo na sainmhínithe, de réir FGB (Ó Dónaill):

  1. Stump 2. (a) Stumpy object, protuberant part; (short) horn, (cropped) ear, tail. (b) Short-stemmed (clay) pipe. 3. (Craned) neck, throat. 4. (a) Stumpy person. (b) Mopish, shy person; numbskull.

Cá háit a bhfuarthas an sainmhíniú sin “incompetent fool” mar sin? Cé a chum an ceann sin? Ní sliocht díreach as saothar Cassidy atá ann ach tá sé cóngarach go leor. Agus ciallaíonn dude gaige nó scóitséir. Níl an chiall sin ag an fhocal dúid, ar ndóigh. Tá sé chóir a bheith cinnte gurbh ó Yankee DOODle DANDY a tháinig an focal dude, ‘who stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni (focal a raibh an chiall gaige nó ‘dandy’ leis i mBéarla an ochtú haois déag). Tá roinnt moltaí eile ann, ach níl dúid chomh maith mar bhunús an fhocail le Yankee Doodle Dandy, mar atá le feiceáil sna foinsí seo:



Mar sin de, a Chaptaein, LE DO THOIL, bíodh ciall agat agus stad de bheith ag cur dallamullóg ar dhaoine faoi chúrsaí teanga!

Captain, Oh Captain!

I recently noticed another Irish-related stupidity on Sean Williams’s Captain Grammar Pants blog on Facebook. On the 14th of May, in a discussion of the plural forms of you in English, she informs the sheeple who enjoy her particular mixture of incompetence and pedantry that “YOUSE and its variant spellings came into English from the Irish language, and youse will find it in gangster movies from the 1930s and 40s, which feature a disproportionate number of Irish and Irish Americans in the roles of both police officers and criminals.”

Of course, youse did not come from the Irish language. What she means, presumably, is that youse probably originates in the English of Ireland, where it was formed as an English plural of the English word you as the equivalent of the Irish sibh, which is a plural form of you, because Irish speakers were used to making the distinction between singular and plural you and felt uncomfortable speaking without it.

It is extraordinary that whatever nonsense the Captain comes out with, none of the commentators on her blog seem to have even the most basic linguistic knowledge which would enable them to contradict her or correct her obvious and elementary mistakes.

Captain Grammar Pants

In the posts on this site, I have been unkind about a fair number of people. I have lambasted Cassidy himself, along with the numerous cronies who have boosted his reputation and misled people into thinking he was a credible scholar. Along the way, I have also had a go at others, for example, people who claim that the British banned the Irish language. (I object to people claiming this for two reasons: 1. it isn’t true 2. it gives the impression that Irish was some hidden argot whispered in secret, which distorts the truth that the language was still hugely significant in Ireland quite late on in history and therefore provides ammunition for the enemies of the Irish language, north and south, who claim that it barely made it out of the Middle Ages before becoming marginalised and irrelevant.)

Because of these unkind words, some people might regard me as a bit of a bully. I don’t see it that way. As I have explained before, the Internet is a place which makes it possible for people to express all kinds of opinions, true, false, benign or repugnant. We shouldn’t suppress opinions but people should be prepared to be held to account for the rubbish they spout. If you don’t want to be criticised, don’t put your stupidities in a public place where people like me can find them!

Now, I’m about to be unkind again. Recently, I came across a blog by a person calling herself Captain Grammar Pants. The name of the blog and the picture of its author wearing a captain’s hat would be enough to put me off on their own.

You see, I have a love/hate relationship with grammar and usage sites. Some of them are excellent guides to usage. (Jeremy Butterfield’s blog, for example.) Others confirm my prejudice that many grammar pedants are simply anally retentive bores who use shibboleths of marginal relevance as a stick to beat people who are already socially disadvantaged. Captain GP is somewhere between the two camps – way too irrationally pernickety for my tastes but not one of the morons who insist that a prestigious institution is one which practices illusion and deception or that you can only evacuate buildings and not people from buildings (Don’t ask – just take it from me that cranks like this exist!)

Apparently, her real name is Sean Williams and she teaches ethnomusicology at Evergreen State. The reason why she merits a mention here is that in 2006-7, she was teaching a number of Cassidy’s stupid claims at that university and in 2010, she published a book on Irish traditional music which also reiterates a number of Cassidy’s completely ludicrous derivations. And in September 2014, on CGP, she published the following:

Here are some words we English speakers received from the Irish language: ballyhoo, baloney, blather, buddy, clamour, coney, crony, cuddle, dig, dude, fluke, galore, gimmick, glom, hobo, kibosh, longshoreman, malarkey, moolah, muck, phoney, scam, shanty, slogan, slugger, smack, smear, smithereens, snazzy, snoot, so long, swank, wallop, whiskey, and yacking. And that’s just SOME of them! I also particularly like the fact that with galore, we have not just the word, but also the accompanying syntax. It’s never “galore chocolate”; it’s “chocolate galore.” I LIKE the idea of chocolate galore.

Now, I have already made it abundantly clear that I have little sympathy for people who promote this flim-flam. These are false etymologies derived from Cassidy’s work (with one or two thrown in from Todd’s Green English). Only a handful of the words above (galore, phoney, slogan, smithereens, whiskey and possibly dig and snazzy) are genuinely of Irish origin. I have no idea why any intelligent person would republish this dross years after it was revealed to be a fraud. I note that Williams was born in California but it’s a big state and it doesn’t necessarily mean that she is one of the Cronies. The strangest thing about it is that she co-wrote a book on sean-nós singing recently with Dr Lillis Ó Laoire, who has excellent Irish. Why she didn’t ask him his opinion is a mystery. I don’t want to put words in Ó Laoire’s mouth, but I would be shocked if he endorsed rubbish like Cassidy’s book.

I mentioned before that I do look at English grammar and usage sites quite often and I am not above using a little shibboleth or test of my own to determine whether I agree with the author or not, the test of whether alright is a word in its own right distinct from ‘all right’. I have always written alright in some circumstances. It seems to me perfectly logical that, on the analogy of already/all ready and altogether/all together, it is perfectly reasonable to make a distinction between Those answers were alright and Those answers were all right. As Jeremy Butterfield says in the Oxford A-Z of English Usage (it might seem a bizarre coincidence that one of the first corroborating comments I found on Google came from Jeremy, who has commented here but if you think about it, this particular corner of cyberspace is probably quite small):

There is no logical reason for insisting that alright is incorrect and should always be written as all right, when other single-word forms such as altogether have long been accepted.

What does Sean Williams say? According to her, alright is all wrong. But then according to her, crony comes from comh-róghna (sic) and baloney from béal ónna and longshoreman from loingseoir etc. so her opinions on language are clearly a mixture of ludicrous pseudo-Irish etymology and irrational prescriptivism, two things which I really despise.

However, it is doubly important for me to criticise Sean Williams for one very simple reason. Most of the people who support Daniel Cassidy’s claims on line are so preternaturally stupid that they couldn’t find their own arses with a hot iron. Williams has a doctorate, some knowledge of Irish (though not enough to know that go leor can precede nouns as well as coming after them in Irish!) and a lot of credibility. Naming and shaming some of the dunderheads who support Cassidy hardly seems worth it. In the case of an academic and language blogger who blithely regurgitates all the nonsense Cassidy invented, it seems more than justified. (In fairness, she has since recanted and now no longer accepts Cassidy’s lies. I thought of removing or altering the articles which criticise her but she was remiss in not checking the facts in the first place, even though she has had the uncommon decency to make a public retraction.)