Tag Archives: certainty creep

Certainty Creep and Accuracy Slip

To anyone studying pseudoscience and weird beliefs, the idea of certainty creep is an important one. I thought I had invented this term but when I looked it up on Google, I found that others have coined it before me. The idea is very simple. You start with a theory which is tentative. You claim, for example, that jasm comes from the Irish teas ioma, which means (according to you) excessive heat or ‘figuratively semen’. Then it enters cyberspace and people start to copy it. Do they copy the whole thing? No, they copy the most satisfying, wow-factor bit, so teas ioma becomes a phrase meaning semen. Then someone else copies it and it becomes ‘the Irish for semen’. And so on until all doubt and negativity have been removed and a silly made-up phrase is passed off as genuine Irish. 

Related to this is the useful concept of accuracy slip. This is basically what happens in Chinese whispers. Gradually, the claim gets further and further away from what was originally suggested. Of course, in a sense, certainty creep is a sub-category of accuracy slip. In some cases, the transformation of material will be fairly random, but in other cases it will be motivated by a desire to make the story ‘better’ – i.e. to make the facts fit the myth, and that is certainty creep.

Incidentally, in the example above, teas does mean heat. Ioma is a variant of iomaí, which means excessive but cannot be used the way Cassidy uses it, so teas ioma is just a meaningless piece of nonsense. Even if it did mean ‘excessive heat’, is this really going to mean the same as semen?

Hardly! This is yet another example of Daniel Cassidy’s bizarre fantasy world. 

Some Other Oirish Bullshitters

Daniel Cassidy was certainly King of the Irish-American Liars. However, the Irish and people of Irish descent are not averse to making odd claims about the Irish origin of obscure items of vocabulary in English and Cassidy was not alone in this kind of Goropian nonsense. (I’ll explain this reference some other time!)

One of the most bizarre of these claims hit the news in 2006 when headlines appeared in the international press about the Irish origin of the word didgeridoo, which according to a researcher at Flinders University in Australia, Dymphna Lonergan, derives from a phrase meaning ‘black moaner’ – dúdaire dubh. (This is the way it’s defined in some of the online descriptions. Ó Dónaill defines dúdaire as ‘long-necked person, hummer, crooner’).

There is no evidence for this claim, of course and you would have to say that there are plenty of other words or phrases which would be more likely to be used to describe the didgeridoo or the sound it makes. This claim is really quite bizarre, especially as it came from someone who has since become a serious academic (at the time, she was a doctoral candidate). I wonder how she feels about this claim and the publicity it received now?

Then there is the claim made by Gearóid Mac an Bhainisteora, that the word spondulicks comes from the Irish phrase sponc-diúlach, spunk-chap. Like Cassidy’s work this is definitely etymology by sound (which is not sound etymology) and it is hard to see that even in the seedier backstreets of Galway city there would ever have been an automatic semantic link between guys, spunk and money. The mind boggles … However, I should point out that with the exception of this little lapse, Mac an Bhainisteora’s books are actually useful little guides to Irish usage and should be on every Irish learner’s shelves.

And then there is that astonishing claim made by some ‘experts’ that Dracula has no connection with Vlad Dracul but is really from the Irish droch fhoula meaning bad blood. Bram Stoker was from Dublin of course, so that proves it!! (I’m being ironic again.) Of course, droch fhoula doesn’t mean bad blood. ‘Bad blood’ is drochfhuil. Droch fhoula is based on a genitive of drochfhuil, drochfhola. And Dracul is a matter of historical record and Stoker set the origins of his count in the Carpathian Mountains, not Conamara.

Thank God! Can you imagine what Hammer films would have been like had Stoker emphasised an Irish connection? Instead of pubs full of rustics in leather trousers with yokel English accents, it would be red-haired beardy men in Aran sweaters bejabering away as though God were telling them to …

“Oh bejasus, Pat, sure an’ you’re not going out when it’s da full moon, begorrah, and all o’ dem vorgins have been goin’ a-missin’ of late, so dey have …”