Tag Archives: Ciarán Dunbar

How Daniel Cassidy Invented Etymology, Part Two

About a week ago, Eoin P. Ó Murchú published an interesting review of Cassidy’s work on an Irish-language site called An Tuairisceoir. Ó Murchú’s attitude to Cassidy’s book was very similar to mine. He thought that Cassidy was an appalling charlatan and he strongly recommended people to avoid Cassidy’s book. I reblogged Ó Murchú’s article a few days ago but for the benefit of those who don’t speak Irish, I have produced a rough translation here.

Interestingly, there have been a few comments about the review. Breandán Delap supported the views expressed by myself and Ó Murchú, while several others (Ciarán Dunbar and someone calling themselves Fear N Fearn) made some attempt to defend Cassidy’s book. However, it is worth pointing out that there is a big difference between the debate expressed in these comments and the debate as found among English speakers and especially among Irish-Americans. The debate as found in the Anglo world tends to be between people who believe that there was a kernel of truth in Cassidy’s work, which according to them was slightly ‘overreached’ but still contains a core of valid etymologies, and those of us who think that Cassidy was a pernicious, half-crazy liar. The Irish-language debate on An Tuairisceoir is between people who think that Cassidy’s work was a harmless bit of fun and that Cassidy was just joking and those who think he was a pernicious, half-crazy liar. In other words, the view from within the Irish language is that Cassidy didn’t discover anything and made no valid contribution to human knowledge. This is the view even among Irish speakers who are favourable to Cassidy and perhaps this should be a wake-up call to Irish-Americans who support this nut-job’s theories and take them at face value.

Anyway, here is a rough translation of Ó Murchú’s excellent review:

HOW DANIEL CASSIDY INVENTED ETYMOLOGY

I came home the other day to find a substantial book. It was a present. Although I had heard tell of it I couldn’t say that I derived much pleasure from it as a present. It was How The Irish Invented Slang by Daniel Cassidy. What Cassidy sets out to demonstrate in this book is that large swathes of American English slang, and consequently of the slang of the whole world, come from Irish. He believes that there was a conspiracy by English speakers to suppress this information.

This will surprise many of us, because it was thought that we had not given much more than ‘smithereens’ and ‘banshee’ to English. Anyone who has even a slight interest in word etymologies will suspect very quickly that there is no basis to Cassidy’s opinions. Anyone with a fleeting knowledge of etymology will realise that it is essential always to be sceptical about the little stories which people spread. For some strange reason, people have the habit of believing strange little stories in spite of the evidence which would prove them wrong. This book is questionable for a number of reasons.

The main thing which planted the seed of doubt in my mind was that Cassidy goes with very unlikely Irish explanations when it would be much easier to find an explanation within the English language. He thinks the term ‘crusher’(a term for a policeman) is the same as an expression which comes from ‘cuir siar ar‘ (sic) Now, isn’t it strange that an Irish saying without much meaning would stick to the police and isn’t it odd that there should be no connection between ‘crusher’ and the English word ‘crush’?

Cassidy says that ‘S lom é’ is the origin of the English ‘Slum’. Isn’t that a really strange expression to borrow. Can you really imagine that that expression would slip from the mouth of an Irish speaker into speech? Can it be found as a common saying to describe slums? No. Not only that, Cassidy gives definitions and pretends that they come from the Irish dictionaries when that is not true at all. He loves to slap fig. onto things, saying that this is an additional meaning but in reality it is simply his own invention. (’teas ioma’ – an abundance of heat and passion; figuratively semen) I cannot find any source which demonstrates this additional meaning of ‘teas ioma’(sic). It seems likely that Cassidy couldn’t either.

‘As if that wasn’t enough, he uses whatever version he likes of any word. Joint’ an Bhéarla? Well, there is díon in Irish. What’s the plural of that? Díonta, great, that’s more like it. He goes even further, imposing whatever sound he wants on words. ‘Jeenta’, perfect!

Irish left few words in the English of Ireland in reality, so how would this language of paupers, which it was, have such a great influence on the speech of the USA? Cassidy has no satisfactory explanation for this. How did these not develop in Ireland too, how come the Gaels decided not to give these words to us too? He has no explanation for this either. If bizarre words which a competent Irish speaker of the present day would not recognise form the basis for many expressions, why aren’t common Irish words to be found in American speech too? Yet again, poor Cassidy has no explanation for this.

The kind of method he uses is to take a phrase. ‘Daniel Cassidy’ for example, then he decides that it comes from Irish. Then off he goes on his little spree of creativity. Daniel -‘Dath- ‘n-aoil’ lime-faced, white-faced, fig. white supremacist. ‘Cassidy’. Cas-a-dí The turning of her drink, surname of a bartender, mixologist, figuratively mixer, nixer. So, Daniel Cassidy means ‘white supremecist cocktail maker? Well, it means that in his own universe of lies and fraud. (I made up the bit above, just in case of any misunderstanding).

Unfortunately, many people are still supporting Cassidy. Where’s the harm, some people say, it’s only a bit of fun. In reality the opposite is true, linguistics is a difficult thing and when idiots are allowed to tackle it as they will the whole thing becomes as clear as mud. Because of the influence of the internet Cassidy’s ‘etymologies’ are there forever, they will be believed (some of them at least) in perpetuity. We should show interest in the words which the Irish gave to English but not give in to a numbskull like this who distorts the truth completely.

Cassidy was a consummate liar. A 300 page book which is full from cover to cover with fake etymologies, nonsense and lies. There is no doubt that Cassidy understood that the vast majority of these etymologies are phoney. It seems that he sought out phrases in Irish dictionaries which looked like English expressions and then he set out to forge a link.

There is an excellent blog here which pulls Cassidy’s arguments apart. http://cassidyslangscam.wordpress.com/ Whoever wrote it was driven to distraction by Cassidy and they have done an unabashed, clinical dissection of Cassidy’s lies. Cassidy is dead now, and it is my fervent hope that these lies will disappear with him. Do not buy this book and do not support nonsense like this.

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.