I was looking at Amazon recently and I was heartened to see that Cassidy’s ridiculous book, How The Irish Invented Slang, is now placed at 819,713 in Books. This means that it is a long way down from where it was a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, I have not been keeping a record of Amazon sales for this book but I note that Stephen Pinker’s book The Language Instinct is at number 10,600, which is far ahead of Cassidy. Another heartening piece of information is that there are 66 used copies of the book available at prices as low as 29 cents, which suggests that the bottom has fallen out of the market. (Still 29 cents too much, but I’m not complaining!) With a bit of luck, commentators like myself are starting to get the message across that this book is not to be trusted and that recommending it to other people is simply announcing to the world that you are naïve, stupid or dishonest.
The phrase ‘puncher’ was an alternative term for a cowboy. It derives from a term of French origin which has been in common use in English for six hundred years, which means to strike or to prod or to poke, including the use of those activities to drive cattle.
The liar and charlatan, Daniel Cassidy, in his atrocious book How The Irish Invented Slang, mysteriously omits these facts from his discussion of the word. He chooses instead to trace the word to the Irish paintéar, which he says means ‘a tying cord or rope, a noose, a lasso, a snare for catching animals …’ He cites Dinneen’s Irish dictionary as a source. Mysteriously, he omits some pretty important information from this dictionary too. Dinneen’s entry for paintéar begins thus: ‘a painter or panter, a snare, noose, gin or trap, a binding cable …’
In other words, this is an Irish word, certainly, but it is an Irish word of English origin. It is derived from the word painter, which is a nautical term for a rope used to tie up a boat. This is also of French origin (i.e. the English borrowed it from French) but unrelated to the French term which is really the origin of puncher.
To drive the point home, you obviously don’t get to be that incompetent by accident. Cassidy deliberately missed out the important information relating to the real origins of puncher and the real origins of paintéar in order to magic a fake connection into existence. What a con-man!
This is a question that has bothered me a lot. Was Daniel Cassidy (author of How the Irish Invented Slang) insane, was he consciously and deliberately dishonest, or was he too stupid to know the difference between real research and idiotic speculation?
It is a tricky one. While there is quite a lot of evidence that Cassidy was a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic, I don’t think we can say that he was completely insane. He managed to write the book and talk at public meetings with a semblance of rationality. His view of the world might have been very strange, but he wasn’t a carpet-chewing crazy.
There is also clear evidence that he was dishonest. He added entire phrases to definitions to make them accord more closely with what he wanted. He adopted unconvincing sock-puppet identities to attack his critics. However, I also get the impression that he actually believed that his ‘research’ was largely right.
Cassidy was certainly stupid. He lacked any knowledge of the Irish language or of linguistics and his conclusions show an astounding inability to think, or to distinguish between bullshit and reality.
So, which is it: mad, bad or stupid? In a sense, I think Cassidy was all three. I never met him, so I am judging purely on the basis of his public persona, but he reminds me of a lot of news stories about people with narcissistic personality disorders, fantasist con-men with an appetite for publicity, an inflated sense of their own importance, the capacity to believe in their own spiel as if it were the truth, an ability to charm and manipulate, and a tendency to turn very nasty when criticised or crossed.