Tag Archives: ciabhóg

Cassidese Glossary – Kike

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.

The term kike is an offensive ethnic slur used by the ignorant and anti-Semitic in reference to Jewish people. There are numerous theories about its origins but no agreement. The main theories seem to be that it is from the Yiddish for circle, because Jewish people who were illiterate in the Roman alphabet often signed with a circle where Christians made their mark with a cross, or that it comes from the common Jewish name Isaac.

The late Daniel Cassidy, in his work of false etymologies How The Irish Invented Slang, assumed that he had solved this riddle with his revelation that almost all American slang derives from the Irish language. According to Cassidy:

Ciabhóg (pron. k’i’óg), a person adorned with a forelock or sidelock; al. a forelock, a sidelock. Ciabhóg (pron. k’i’og a forelock, a sidelock curl) is the Irish word for the long sidelocks of the Orthodox Jews called peyos, as well as a person that wears forelocks or sidelocks.”

Cassidy, who spoke no Irish at all, made use of dictionaries to do his ‘research’. This claim is based on the entry for ciabhóg in Dinneen’s dictionary (the expanded 1927 edition):

ciabhóg, -óige, -óga, f., a small lock of hair; a fore-lock, a sidelock; a person adorned with a fore-lock or side-lock.

Of course, this is a diminutive of ciabh, meaning a lock of hair. In spite of the fact that it says sidelock, this simply refers to a lock on the side of person’s head. There is no specific word in Irish for the sidelocks worn by Orthodox Jews. It is entirely possible that native Irish speakers created a term for these sidelocks in the slums of the USA when they encountered Jews who wore sidelocks but I have no idea what that term was and neither did Cassidy. The word ciabhóg, like almost all Irish words referring to people and ending in -óg, is applied to women and girls, not to men or boys. (The only exceptions I can think of are gasóg and scológ.) The only instance of ciabhóg being used of a person in the Corpas (a corpus of Irish-language texts) is a political poem by an anonymous poet of the sonnet-like type known as trí rainn agus amhrán, where Ireland is addressed as a faithless (female) lover – mo léan, is bréagach an chiabhóg thú (alas, you are a false, curly-haired girl!)

However, the main reason why ciabhóg and kike could not be connected is pronunciation. Ciabhóg is pronounced keea-wogue or keea-vogue. It sounds absolutely nothing like the English kike. The only similarity is the first letter.

Geek and Kike

There is a pair of interesting words in Daniel Cassidy’s incredibly stupid book, How The Irish Invented Slang, the words geek and kike. Geek is defined by Cassidy as a fairground term for a long-haired person, which is pushing it – the geek was frequently the ‘wild man’ in a fairground (think of Sideshow Bob on the Simpsons) but this seems to be a relatively late meaning.  The word kike is a racist insult used by ignorant bigots to refer to Jews. The reason why they are placed together in this post is because Cassidy derived both of them from derivatives of the Irish word ciabh, meaning tress or curl.

Cassidy’s claims about these words are just as absurd as the rest of this crazy book.

Leaving aside the fact that ciabhóg and ciabhach are quite similar but they supposedly gave rise to two words which sound very different in English, and that neither word sounds much like either geek or kike, it is a measure of how random and arbitrary Cassidy’s Irish explanations for American slang were that he decided to assign kike to ciabhóg but geek to ciabhach. If you accepted an Irish derivation for these words, it would be just as reasonable to argue for it the other way round, with kike coming from ciabhach and geek coming from ciabhóg, or derive both from ciabhach or both from ciabhóg, or derive one or both from caidheach (a bit like kayak but with the final k sound like the ch in Scottish loch) which means filthy or from caoch meaning blind or from gíoc (pronounced geek) meaning a squeal or a chirp. I’m not actually suggesting that any of these are the origin of these terms. I am merely showing how unreliable and shoddy and dishonest Cassidy’s methods were and how unlikely it is that methods like this will reveal anything of value, even by accident.

Back in the real word, geek is from a Germanic word meaning a fool, geck, which was actually used in the 18th century in the Austro-Hungarian empire for people in travelling freak shows. As for kike, there are various explanations, the most likely of which is that it comes from the Yiddish word for circle, because illiterate Jewish immigrants used to sign with a circle rather than with the cross used by Christian immigrants.