Tag Archives: charlatan

Nice Buns

Apart from its use for a bread roll, the word bun has a number of uses in English slang. One use, which dates back about a hundred years, is in phrases like ‘to have a bun on’, which means to be mildly intoxicated. Another, more common use, is buns meaning buttocks. This is more recent and it is always used in the plural. Daniel Cassidy, in his moronic book How The Irish Invented Slang, claims that both these terms come from the Irish word bun, meaning base or foundation.

Is there any chance that Cassidy is right about this? Firstly, bun is not used in modern Irish for buttocks. However, there is some evidence that the Scottish Gaelic word bun was borrowed hundreds of years ago into the Scots language as a word for a rabbit’s or hare’s tail or scut (this is also believed to be the origin of bunny for a rabbit) and that by extension bun is used in Scots dialects (in the singular) for a bottom because of this. This is also found in Ulster dialects, along with derivatives like bundie, a childish term for the bottom.  However, it seems to me obvious that the more modern version buns as in “nice buns”  is not likely to be related to this. Buns look like buttocks and this is the likely origin of the term.

As for “having a bun on”, the origin of this phrase is unknown. Cassidy lifts the meaning foundation out of context and claims that this would mean a basic level of drunkenness. This is one hell of a stretch and of course, bun is not used in Irish in this way. There are plenty of terms for levels of drunkenness in Irish, and a mild drunkenness would be described with terms like ar bogmheisce and meidhreach.

As usual, this is just another foolish distortion of the facts. Cassidy was just a sad, deluded crank with no talent and no qualifications.

Advertisements

An Update

This is just a quick update on the state of my investigations into Cassidy’s academic record. Did he have any degrees? Did he claim to have degrees when he applied for academic jobs? Apart from Cassie Dembosky at Cornell, a registrar who plainly takes her responsibility to combat academic fraud seriously and who replied promptly with the information that Cassidy did not have the claimed degree from that institution, I have tried emailing a number of institutions but with no result, not even a negative reply. However, as I have said before, I am not going to give up on this. I have written a number of formal letters and sent them off by snail mail. Hopefully the recipients will respond to them just as Cassie Dembosky did, by doing the right thing. If they don’t, I have a number of other plans. I will not rest until the full extent of Cassidy’s fraud and deceit is exposed to the world.

Two Plus Two Still Equals Four

In Orwell’s 1984, there is a famous piece where the interrogator, O’Brien, tries to get the central character, Winston Smith, to deny that two and two make four.

“How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.”

“Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”

The unitary nature of truth and the multiplicity of lies is a commonplace of world literature and it is built into the very fabric of language itself. We talk about duplicity for dishonesty in English, we say that people are two-faced, or in Irish that someone is Tadhg an Dá Thaobh (Tadhg of the Two Sides, Tim Turn-coat). The English poet Spenser, who has been mentioned several times here, who lived in County Cork, decided to give his true and virtuous fairy queen the name Una, while the deceitful opponent was called Duessa. And we could also mention Tolstoy’s comment: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

In other words, the ideal, the perfect, the correct is always unitary, while the possible incorrect versions are inexhaustible. In the case of 2 + 2 = 4 (assuming that this is in base ten), four is the only correct answer. The incorrect answers are as numerous as the integers available, and that is an infinite set.

Cassidy’s supporters are continually trying to get people like me to accept that two and two equals something other than four. When people like me point out that the Irish phrases given by Cassidy aren’t genuine Irish phrases, that nobody has ever said (or at least that nobody can be proven to have ever said) the phrase béal ónna in Irish, their answer tends to be that in the teeming ghettoes of North America, the rules of Irish usage fell away and people produced a new version of Irish. Maybe this happened and probably it didn’t. But if it did happen, the range of possible corrupt versions of Irish is almost as inexhaustible as the integers, so the idea that Cassidy’s fake versions will map accurately onto the versions that supposedly existed in Irish slums in America in the 19th century is absurd (even when we take into account that Cassidy made these phrases up to resemble English expressions phonetically). After all, Cassidy himself regularly changed his Irish expressions when he noticed one that he liked better (as in the case of dingbat, variously from duine bocht or duine bod according to the Great Fraud).

Why does baloney have to come from béal ónna just because these were the words Cassidy chose? What about béal omhna, tree-trunk mouth, because of the clumsy nonsense stuck in it? Or béal abhna (a variant of abhann), meaning river-mouth, because the person has a mouth as big as the mouth of the Liffey or the Lagan? Or béal uainín, a little lamb’s mouth, because of the innocence of the stupidities coming from it? Or béal Eoghnaí, from someone called Eoghan who was notoriously thick? Or béal eorna where eorna (barley) stands ‘figuratively’ for whiskey? Or béal eamhnaithe, doubled or twinned mouth, because the person is deceitful? Or hundreds of other possible but not probable explanations?

And then, of course, there’s the two plus two equals four explanation. That baloney is the name of a cheap type of sausage originating in Bologna in Italy and that it came to be used as a euphemism for balls, bollocks or bullshit in American English, just as people say ‘sugar’ as a mild oath instead of ‘shit’.

An Tuairisceoir

There has been a lot of activity on the site since Eoin published his excellent article on Cassidy on the blog An Tuairisceoir. Dozens of visitors and hundreds of hits. Over on An Tuairisceoir, there have been a few comments in relation to this. At the risk of sounding like a bit of a misery, I was a little annoyed at the response of Ciarán Dunbar (who I gather is An Tuairisceoir himself). While he agrees with Eoin’s (and my) sentiments, he tries to have it both ways and to make light of the damage Cassidy has done. Here is part of his comment:

Mar fhocal freagartha ar seo agus aontaím féin leis dála an scéil.
Sa chéad dul síos, cha raibh ann ach píosa spraoi sa leabhar seo agus is trua gur glacadh dáiríre é – tarlaíonn sé sin go minic sa saol acadúil.
Ach is minic a chuala mé Daniel Cassidy ag caint ar an leabhar agus bhí sé ionraic faoi dar liom – ní raibh aon Ghaeilge aige agus ní dhearna sé ach an foclóir a léamh agus rudaí a chumadh.
Chuirfinn féin an chuid is mó den locht ar an fhoilsitheoir.
Ach seans go ndearna sé maitheas éigin – seans go raibh níos mó tionchair ag an Ghaeilge ar Bhéarla Mheiriceá ná mar a cheapadh go dtí seo – tá ar an lucht acadúil leabhar Cassidy a bhréagadh anois agus seans go bhfaighfear fírinne éigin ann más ann de thimpiste é fiú.

(As an answer to this and I myself agree with it, by the way. Firstly, this book was only a bit of fun and it’s a pity that it was taken seriously – that often happens in the academic world. But I often heard Daniel Cassidy talking about the book and he was honest, I think – he didn’t have any Irish and all he did was read the dictionary and make things up. I would put most of the blame on the publisher.

But perhaps he did some good – perhaps Irish had more influence on the English of America than was thought until now – the academics have to refute Cassidy’s book now and perhaps some truth will be found in it even if it’s by accident.)

With respect, this is neither accurate nor fair. All of the issues raised by Ciarán Dunbar have been discussed again and again in this blog but I will go through them again briefly here. If the book was taken seriously, this was because Cassidy presented it not as a bit of fun, but as a serious work of scholarship. This man attacked real scholars in the most vitriolic terms for daring to question the insane nonsense he published in this book. Did it occur to you, Ciarán, that Cassidy was honest in front of a room full of Irish people because he didn’t have a choice but to try to plead ignorance and rely on charm in those circumstances? And when he did have a choice, when he was addressing American people who didn’t speak the language either, he could afford to change his story and pretend to be an expert! Ciarán Dunbar’s reference to ‘this happens in the academic world’ is quite bizarre. Can you give us another example of tongue-in-cheek works of scholarship being misinterpreted as real? And blaming the publisher is hardly fair. There isn’t much evidence that CounterPunch did anything other than arrange for it to be printed. The book is very, very amateurish and doesn’t look as if it’s been edited at all.

And as for the idea that he did some good! Yeah, tell it to all the poor bastards who bought this book in good faith thinking it to be real. Tell it to the academics and others who were friendly towards him and who incorporated Cassidy’s insane ideas into articles, books and even TV programmes, rendering them permanently flawed. Tell it to the people who have been accused of not doing their jobs because Cassidy told the world they had lied to play down the Irish contribution to Americana.

The truth is, of course, that Cassidy would not have changed academic attitudes because he had no facts to offer, and if he had, then the correct avenue would have been to publish a couple of papers, not to write a bestseller full of nonsense and let other people sift a handful of gems out of the slurry tank.

The factitious Irish in this book is an insult to every Irish speaker. The internet is awash with fake Irish, and that is directly down to Cassidy and his army of cronies. Nobody should be making light of what Cassidy did. Anger is the correct, the only response.

Finally, while the site is enjoying a brief spike in popularity, I will repeat an appeal I have made several times before. Cassidy’s book still has a high rating on Amazon. If you have an Amazon account and you accept that Cassidy’s book should be burned rather than praised, log on and give it the poor review it really deserves.

More on Charles Mackay

In a post a number of months ago, I wrote about the strange case of Charles Mackay, a journalist, author and poet of Scottish descent. Mackay is of great interest for several reasons. As a writer of verse, he was a forerunner of Kipling. As an author, he is well known for one of the first works of debunking, Popular Delusions and The Madness of Crowds. He was also famous (or infamous) for a book which claimed Gaelic (Scottish Gaelic) origins for hundreds of words in English, French and even Hebrew. In other words, Mackay was both a crank-buster and a crank.

Daniel Cassidy, another major crank who proposed a very similar set of fake derivations from Irish in his How The Irish Invented Slang, gives a nod to Mackay in the book.

“In his Gaelic Etymology of the languages of the world, published in Edinburgh in 1879, Charles Mackay derived the mysterious word blow from the Scots-Gaelic buille and the Irish verb buail and its verbal noun bualadh. Mackay’s etymological dictionary was dedicated to the Duke of Edinburgh, who had sponsored and financed it. But a few blows from the Irish Fenian Movement in the 1880s and Mackay’s thesis of a substantial Irish and Gaelic influence on English was unthinkable – like Irish Home Rule.” 

This is typical Cassidy nonsense. For one thing, it shows his dire lack of knowledge of Irish or Scots Gaelic, as buille, buail and bualadh are all identical in both Irish and Scottish Gaelic. It also shows an ignorance of linguistics and a shocking laziness, as blow is obviously linked to cognates in German and is plainly a Germanic word. There is no mystery about it!To the best of my knowledge, the Duke of Edinburgh did not fund the book and the Dictionary of National Biography states that Mackay lost £300 as a result of the book’s publication. As for the Fenians, while there was a campaign of violence in the 1880s, the most important atrocity in Britain was the Clerkenwell Bombing in 1867 which killed 12 people and injured over 50. If this didn’t cause the Establishment to turn against Gaelic, why did the Fenian activities of the 1880s have such a profound effect? The fact is, Cassidy is simply trying to explain away the fact that the very top of the British Establishment was prepared to back a work which claims Gaelic etymologies for words in English in 1879, because according to Cassidy they should have been completely opposed to it! (Brendan Patrick Keane also repeats this nonsense about Mackay’s book and Anglophilia in the comments to his IrishCentral article).

The reality is very different. In fact, Mackay’s book was given negative reviews in the year of its publication by a fellow lover of the Gaelic language, Andrew D. Mackenzie. It is instructive to read the article, which was written in the Celtic Magazine of 1879, as it shows the eternal struggle in intellectual life between cranks like Mackay, Cassidy and Brendan Patrick Keane and rational human beings like the author of the article, Grant Barrett and myself.

 The style is very different from modern English, of course, but the arguments used are the same arguments used by the rational critics of Cassidy. The author states that sometimes no answer is better than a crazy answer.  “Where a definite conclusion cannot be reached, better were it to leave the word alone, and that on the plain principle that better far is no beacon than a false one and no guide than a blind one.”

He then mentions a book which he has on his shelves in which an Irish man called Arthur O’Connor indulged in the same kind of etymology by sound as Mackay. This raises a very valuable point – where etymology is based on sound research, different scholars will come up with the same derivations. Where it is based on fanciful nonsense, the results are all different. He demonstrates this with words in Mackay’s book which are also given by O’Connor, but the two authors give totally different derivations for them! 

The same is also true for Mackay and Cassidy, of course. Although Brendan Patrick Keane claims in an article about Irish that Mackay has been unjustly criticised because of prejudice, the fact is that many of the derivations as given by Mackay are quite different from the derivations given by Cassidy. For example, Mackay claims that boss comes from the Gaelic bas meaning palm, while Cassidy claims that it comes from Irish bas meaning boss. And Mackay’s explanation for the cant word blowen is quite different from Cassidy’s.

The author of the article criticises the fact that Mackay’s derivations are purely based on accidental correspondences of sound, and not on an examination of the different branches of Indo-European and the way that different words are expressed in them. “Too often have the weapons of sarcasm been flung, and flung to some purpose, against what is styled phonetic etymology; but here the reader every now and then encounters in sound and in sense alike the most unaccountable violations of probability.”

Isn’t it remarkable that this individual, writing 130 years ago, expresses the same rationality and scepticism that drives people like me, while Daniel Cassidy and Brendan Patrick Keane are driven by the same crankdom which guarantees that almost anything they say will be wrong? Isn’t it amazing that the eternal battle between wish-fulfilling fantasy and good sense is still being played out in cyberspace just as it was in the pages of the Celtic Magazine in 1879!

 

Some Loose Ends

Over the past ten months, I have done my best in these posts to demolish the theories of a charlatan called Daniel Cassidy, who wrote a ridiculous book in which he claims that thousands of English words derive from Irish. He claims this on the basis of slight phonetic similarities but takes no account of the usage of Irish words or of the known history of the English words he discusses. I have decided to move on and do something more creative with my time. However, before doing that, I would like to give a brief thumbnail account of some of the words I haven’t had time to deal with in detail and explain why Cassidy’s derivations are ridiculous in these cases as well.

Hip – This is a term first used in American slang in the early twentieth century. To be hip to something originally meant to be informed about it. Cassidy claims that it comes from the Irish aibí, meaning mature, ripe or sensible. This doesn’t sound much like hip (it is pronounced something like abbey or appy) and being ‘mature to the trip’ doesn’t really work, does it?

Cracker – This is a term meaning a white person. There are various theories about its origin. Cassidy selectively quotes sources to ‘prove’ that it comes from the Irish word craicire, meaning a boastful person. (This word is not given at all in Ó Dónaill, though it is given in Dinneen.) Craicire, like craic, is an obvious borrowing from dialect English or Lowland Scots. In fact, the term cracker is used by Shakespeare in the sense of boastful person, and in spite of some other crazy people’s claims, Shakespeare was not Irish.

Bummer – Cassidy claims that this comes from the Irish bumaire. In fact, the origins of this word are very complex and there are certainly a number of different meanings and derivations involved. There is the English word bum meaning backside, which is an ancient Germanic word. Then there is bum-bailiff (borrowed into Irish as bum-báille) which apparently comes from bum meaning backside (because he comes up behind people and catches them). Then there is the word bum meaning to boast or brag, which is still very common in Irish English. (He’s always bumming and blowing about that new motor!) The word bumaire is an obvious borrowing from this dialect word. And lastly, there is a word for a tramp or hobo in American slang, which comes from German. It is this that gives rise to expressions like ‘a bum steer’ or ‘it’s a bummer’.

Boiler room. In slang, this is the nerve centre or HQ of a racket like illegal gambling. It is perfectly understandable as a metaphor. Like water in a central heating system, all the money comes in and goes out of this central point, which is a hotbed of activity. According to Cassidy, it comes from bailitheoir, meaning collector. Yeah, that’ll be right! How could anyone be taken in by this rubbish?

Racket – Cassidy derives racket from raic ard, a high noise. In fact, racket is an English expression, a version of an earlier term rattick. The word raic in Irish is probably a borrowing from some related English word or perhaps from (w)rack, a dialect version of wreck (as in the ‘rackers’ who used to break into people’s houses and smash them up during agrarian disturbances in Ireland), or perhaps it’s just coincidence?

Racketeer – Again, this claim involves a complex set of words. The truth is probably quite simple. At some stage, racket as in to make a sound became linked to words like rack (to put someone on the rack) and rack-renting (to extort rent from someone) and thus a racket came to mean a criminal enterprise. This then gave rise to racketeer. Cassidy ransacks dictionaries looking for obscure Irish and Gaelic terms like reicire, which means a seller and in one obscure dialect also meant an ‘extortioner’, according to Dinneen (the alternative form reacadóir isn’t given with this sense, in spite of what Cassidy says). There is also a Scottish Gaelic term ragair, which apparently means an extortioner or bully, but how many Hebridean gangsters were there in 19th century New York, I ask myself?

Sketch – A sketch is a term for a humorous skit, so there is really no mystery about the use of phrases like ‘he’s an absolute sketch!’ However, Daniel Cassidy decided that this had to be Irish too, so according to him it comes from scairt, meaning a scream. If people ever said Is scairt é of a funny person, or if sketch didn’t mean something funny in English, this might be half-believable. They don’t and it isn’t.

Then there are the many examples where Cassidy is essentially right or may be right about an Irish or Gaelic derivation but he was not the first one to make such a claim.

Slew – Nothing new here. This word is from Irish slua. This is accepted by the ‘dictionary dudes’ and is completely uncontroversial.

Whiskey – Who’d have thought it? Whiskey comes from Irish uisce (beatha). There’s a surprise, mar dhea!

Twig – This is the slang term for understand, not branch. Twig in this sense is probably from Irish tuig and many different sources give this, including Brewer’s. This just goes to show that where there is a genuine similarity, other people can see it apart from Cassidy. Only Cassidy saw the similarity between hoodoo and uath dubh because before Cassidy, the phrase uath dubh didn’t exist!

Dig – Cassidy claimed that dig also comes from tuig, or more specifically from phrases like An dtuigeann tú? (Do you understand?) This is possible, but it didn’t originate with Cassidy. It is already given as a source in the Dictionary of American Slang.

Cock-eyed. Cassidy claimed that this comes from caoch-eyed, blind-eyed. This is not a ridiculous suggestion, though the other explanations to do with cocking a gun or the general notion of something being skew-whiff when it is cocked (to cock your hat) need to be investigated too. The fact is, even if Cassidy is right about this, all he did was copy other sources like Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, which mention Irish or Gaelic as a possible origin.

Queer

The liar Daniel Cassidy, in his ridiculous attempt to ‘queer the pitch’ of Irish linguistics, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that the word queer was of Irish origin.  

As usual with Cassidy’s claims, this is fanciful, childish nonsense. The word queer is first recorded in English about 1500. It is thought to be derived from Scots and to be a cognate of the German quer, which means ‘oblique, perverse, odd’. It acquired the modern meaning (originally pejorative but now reclaimed by gay and lesbian activists) of ‘gay’ in the 20th century.

Cassidy derives it from the Irish word corr, meaning odd. The problem is that corr doesn’t sound anything like queer. It is pronounced kor or kore. 

This is just another bit of stupid made-up nonsense from the pole-nosed Pinocchio of Irish Studies.