Tag Archives: Counterpunch

Cassidese Glossary – Bubba

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.

 

Bubba and its shortened form bub are believed to be 19th century American English terms representing a childish mispronunciation of brother. (Though there are other theories – the Anglo-Romani linguist Ian Hancock claimed an African origin through Gullah, though this theory has not met with general acceptance.)

Cassidy claims that the bubba of the poor American south and a 17th century slang term bubber meaning ‘a drinker’ are the same, thus defining the term bubba as meaning ‘a thief, a trickster, a drinker’. In fact, if you look at cant dictionaries, bubber is defined as ‘a large drinking bowl; a drinker’ and there is no logical reason to link bubba with the earlier cant term.

Cassidy derives bub and bubba (and bubber) from the Irish words bob (meaning ‘a trick’) and its derivative bobaire, (meaning ‘a trickster’, though Cassidy claims that it figuratively means ‘a wise guy’.). As these Irish expressions have nothing to do with the meanings of bubba or of bubber, there is no reason to suppose a connection.

 

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Cassidese Glossary – Brace

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.

Daniel Cassidy, in his work of false etymology, How The Irish Invented Slang, says that a brace game is a crooked gambling game. He claims that it comes from the Irish phrase beir as.

I don’t know where brace comes from in this case, though the strongest suggestion seems to be that it comes from a kind of brace or lever used to fix the device known as a case keeper in the card game Faro.

It doesn’t come from beir as, which is a dictionary entry, not a phrase. Beir is an imperative (an order or instruction) and as means ‘out of’. So it means, if it means anything, ‘take out of’.

Cassidy provides no evidence for his meaning of crooked. Nobody has ever used cluiche beir as to mean anything in Irish, let alone a crooked game. Here are some genuine uses of beir as:

Beir as é, take it away.

Beir as tú! Go away! You don’t mean it!

Rug siad as an oíche mar sin, in that way they passed the night.

Ag breith as, making off.

Dá mbeadh breith as dá rogha agam, if I could pick and choose.

Cassidese Glossary – Boyo

Cassidy claims that the expression boyo can be explained in terms of the Irish language tendency to place an ó after a vocative expression, as in a mhic ó (oh my son) or a rún ó (oh my secret), though Cassidy failed to understand that this is associated with vocative uses. He gives the example boc ó (which he regards as the origin of bucko) and which is not a vocative expression.

In reality, boyo is common enough in Irish English but it is not “a bilingual appellation and expression of affection”. It’s an English word with an o stuck on the end of it, like thicko.

Incidentally, boyo is generally regarded as more typical of the English of Wales than of Ireland.

Cassidese Glossary – Bounce

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.

Daniel Cassidy, in his work of creative etymology How The Irish Invented Slang, claims that bounce, as in the job that a bouncer does, is given in the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘of uncertain origin’. This is very strange, as my copy of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary was published in 2008 and it says that bounce comes from the Middle English bunsen, meaning to beat or to thump.

Cassidy’s Irish candidate for the origin of bounce is not a recognisable phrase. It is a dictionary entry: https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/bain_as

If you look at this, you will see that it is found in phrases like bhain sé na cosa as amach, he made off, or caithfidh muid fad a bhaint as, we’ll have to make it last. But it is very hard to see when or how (or if) you would use the phrase bain as. And in any case, the idea that bain as is appropriate to describe the job of a bouncer is nonsense. Bouncers don’t extract. They keep people out, or they throw them out. Or, they throw people onto the street, where they bounce a couple of times before coming to a stop. Bouncer makes sense as a description or what doormen do. Bain as does not.

Cassidese Glossary – Boot

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.

Daniel Cassidy, in his work of false etymology, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that the word boot (as in ‘to boot’) comes from the Irish word babhta.

In fact, the etymology of the words boot and bout in English is quite complex.

Boot comes from the Old English bot ‘help, relief, advantage; atonement,’ while bout comes from a Middle English word bught meaning ‘a bend’. Neither of these words has any connection with boot meaning shoe (which is from French) and only a distant connection with booty meaning captured prize, which is from Germanic through French (and acquired its current meaning as in ‘bootilicious’ through Black American English). Freebooter is from Dutch.

At some stage over the last four hundred years, the English word bout was borrowed into Irish as babhta. There is no doubt that this is a borrowing into Irish and not the other way round. As we have said before, the only words with this pattern of sounds in Irish are borrowings, words like stabht (the drink, stout), clabhta (clout), dabht (doubt) or fabht (fault).  In Irish, the meanings of the two English words boot and bout are conflated in babhta, because we find expressions like de bhabhta, to boot, as well as babhta tinnis, a bout of illness.

Cassidese Glossary – Blowen

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.

Blowen is an old term in criminal jargon, defined as ‘a showy or flaunting prostitute, a thief’s paramour’. It was first recorded in the 16th century. There are various suggestions as to its origin, none of them very convincing. Hotten (1865) suggests that ‘blowen may mean one whose reputation has been blown upon, or damaged’. Charles Mackay, the man who tried to do something very similar to Cassidy with Scottish Gaelic, suggested that it comes from blaodh eun, which he says means birdsong, because of the siren-like effect of such women on men. Hmm.

Cassidy’s claim sounds reasonably plausible (certainly compared to Mackay’s, anyway). He claims that it comes from the Irish bláthán. According to Cassidy, this is defined as:

Bláthán (pron. bláhán), n., a small flower, little blossom; fig. a pretty girl, term of endearment for a young girl.

Cassidy cites Dinneen (misspelled as Dineen) and Dwelly for this definition. Ó Dónaill, the most authoritative modern dictionary of the Irish language (not cited by Cassidy), gives the word bláthán with only one definition, grilse, a term that means small fry, young fish. It doesn’t mention blossoms (though the word is almost certainly linked to the Irish bláth meaning flower or blossom) or young girls.

Dinneen gives the following definition: ‘a small flower, a bud; also a fry, as salmon fry; a kind of rock-fish’.  Again, nothing about endearment or terms for young girls.

Dwelly’s Dictionary is of no relevance here, because it’s a dictionary of Scottish Gaelic, not of Irish. However, since Cassidy cited it, we should reproduce what it says. The cognate of bláthán given in this dictionary does not support any meaning to do with girls or terms of endearment. It simply says: ‘blàithean -ein, sm dim. of blàth. Little blossom.’

In other words, bláthán can mean a bud or a blossom, or a small fish. Cassidy’s definition is imaginary. Of course, some people might be thinking that a term for a little blossom could easily be used figuratively, as Cassidy said. However, if this were the case, it would probably have been recorded.

There is also another good reason to regard this claim with suspicion. In Irish, there are three commonly-used diminutives. One is the general –ín found in words like cailín (colleen) or poitín (poteen). The other two were traditionally known as the sister diminutive (-óg) and the brother diminutive (-án). Generally speaking, animate words with –óg are female. A giobóg is an untidy or lazy woman, a sraoilleog is a slattern. Many of these are pejorative terms. Words with –án are either referring to men or unspecified. (Like cancrán, a grumpy person.) However, while is conceivable that bláithín would be used as a pet term for a girl (Bláithín is used as a girl’s name, after all), it is not at all likely that bláthán would be used that way in reference to girls or women because it’s basically a masculine diminutive, even if the dictionary meanings were appropriate – which they aren’t.

Cassidese Glossary – Blow (1)

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.

With the English word blow, we are really dealing with at least two words. One is the verb and noun referring to the buffeting of the wind. This is plainly of Germanic origin. It can be traced, not only to Middle English blowen but further back to Old English blāwan. It has cognates in other Germanic languages.

The other blow is the noun that means a strike or hit, which dates back at least to the 15th century in English. It is true (as Cassidy says) that the OED says that the origin of this word is unknown. However, the OED is conservative and cautious. Other sources are less cautious. Wiktionary, for example, states that it is also of Germanic origin and points out as evidence the similarity of Middle Dutch blouwen, meaning to hit or to beat up.

Daniel Cassidy, in his book How The Irish Invented Slang, claims that blow in the sense of ‘to hit’ comes from the Scottish Gaelic buille and Irish buail and bualadh. He claims that this was also claimed by Charles Mackay (an etymological crank of the 19th century who tried to do for Scottish Gaelic what Cassidy tried to do for Irish), though Mackay only mentions buille in relation to blow. As I have pointed out before, buille, buail and bualadh are spelled identically and have pretty much the same meanings in Irish and in Scottish Gaelic. Cassidy was clearly ignorant of this fact. (Mackay did mention bualadh in other contexts. For example, to Mackay, a thimble was a dìon bualadh, because it was a roof or protection, dìon, from the stroke, bualadh, of the needle. In reality, of course, thimble goes back to Old English þȳmel, a ‘thumb-stall’.)

In other words, Cassidy is simply wrong about this. There is no mystery about the origin of the ‘blow’ words in English and the words buille and bualadh are far too dissimilar to be good candidates. They also go back far too long, to a period when there was very little borrowing between English and the Gaelic languages.

It should also be pointed out that Cassidy’s claims in relation to Mackay’s book are badly researched. “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.”

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 would the Fenian activities of the 1880s have such a profound effect? 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, when, according to Cassidy, they should have been deeply hostile to the Gaelic languages and everything associated with them.