Tag Archives: Counterpunch

Giggle

Ceann de na rudaí is amaidí i leabhar amaideach Cassidy ná an cacamas faoi bhunús Gaelach an fhocail giggle. Deir Cassidy go dtagann giggle ón ‘Ghaeilge’ gíog gheal. Níl a leithéid ann sa Ghaeilge, ar ndóigh, ach oiread le ‘brightsqueaking’ sa Bhéarla.

Ní hamháin sin, ach mar atá léirithe againn roimhe seo, san áit a bhfuil gaol ag focal i mBéarla sa Ghearmáinis, ciallaíonn sin gur focal seanbhunaithe atá ann sa Bhéarla (sleep, schlafen; bed, Bett; drink, trinken; foot, Fuß etc.) Tá focal sa Ghearmáinis, gickeln, a chiallaíonn an rud céanna le giggle agus atá an-chosúil leis ó thaobh fuaime de. Giggle, gickeln. Nach bhfuil an míniú sin míle uair níos fearr ná raiméis bhréagach Cassidy faoi ghíoga geala?

 

One of the stupidest things in Cassidy’s stupid book is the nonsense about the Irish origin of the word giggle. Cassidy says that giggle comes from the ‘Irish’ gíog gheal. This doesn’t exist in Irish, of course, any more than ‘brightsqueaking’ does in English.

That’s not all. As we have shown before here, where a word in English has a cognate in German, this means that it is a long-established word in English (sleep, schlafen; bed, Bett; drink, trinken; foot, Fuß etc.) There is a word in German, gickeln, which means the same thing as giggle and which is very similar to it in sound. Giggle, gickeln. Isn’t that a far better explanation than Cassidy’s fake rubbish about bright squeaks?

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Chicken

I have noticed that many of the early posts on this blog get relatively little traffic, so I have decided to start republishing some of them.

I have already said that Cassidy ignores perfectly good English explanations for words in favour of improbable or impossible made-up Irish derivations. This is a perfect example. Chicken means scared and a chicken is a coward. I think this comes from the English word chicken which is a nervous type of bird. In English, phrases like hen-hearted go back to the 14th century at least. As early as the 15th century, the churles chekyne was used as an expression for a coward. It is obvious, realistic, and it ticks all the boxes.

Cassidy and his supporters will have none of it. Chicken doesn’t come from chicken, apparently. It comes from teith ar cheann, which means – says Cassidy – to run away first. Does it? No, of course not. This is How The Irish Invented Slang we’re talking about here, not a serious work of scholarship! Teith ar cheann is unattested. If you look it up on Google, you will find a handful of references to Daniel Cassidy. In terms of Irish grammar, it doesn’t make sense, as it really means ‘flee at the head of’ rather than flee first. At the head of what? I hear you ask. Exactly. On its own, this phrase means nothing.

There are lots of expressions for a weakling or coward in Irish and any of them could have been used in slang, so it seems strange that people would use a grammatically meaningless and unfamiliar phrase in preference to these words. Of course, in reality, they didn’t. Chicken is English. A chicken is a chicken is a chicken. And Cassidy was a birdbrain.

 

Thug mé faoi deara nach bhfaigheann cuid de na postálacha is luaithe sa bhlag seo mórán cuairteanna agus mar sin de, ba mhaith liom iad a athfhoilsiú anseo.

Mar atá ráite agam go minic roimhe seo, bíonn Cassidy ag maíomh go dtig focail ó fhrásaí Gaeilge a chum sé féin, frásaí nach bhfuil ciall ar bith leo, cé go bhfuil an fhíorshanasaíocht Bhéarla soiléir sothuigthe i gcuid mhór cásanna. Seo sampla foirfe den amaidí sin. Ciallaíonn chicken go bhfuil duine scanraithe agus is ionann chicken agus cladhaire. Tagann sin ón fhocal Béarla chicken, dar liomsa, mar is éan cineál neirbhíseach í an chearc nó an sicín céanna. Sa Bhéarla, tá frásaí mar hen-hearted le fáil ón 14ú haois ar aghaidh. Chomh luath leis an 15ú haois, bhí an frása the churles chekyne in úsáid le tagairt do chladhaire nó meatachán. Tá an míniú sin soiléir, simplí agus tá sé ag teacht leis na fíricí.

Ach is cuma le lucht leanúna Cassidy faoi na fíricí. Ní hionann chicken (cladhaire) agus chicken (cearc), dar leosan. Is ón fhrása ‘Gaeilge’ ‘teith ar cheann’ a tháinig sé, de réir cosúlachta, frása a chiallaíonn, dar le Cassidy, ‘to run away first.’ Ní Gaeilge sin, ar ndóigh. Níl ann ach raiméis agus amaidí.

Tá a lán dóigheanna le bogachán nó meatachán nó cladhaire a rá i nGaeilge. Nach iontach an rud é gur roghnaigh na Gaeil i Meiriceá úsáid a bhaint as raiméis neamhghramadúil ar nós teith ar cheann in áit ceann de na focail sin? Ach, ar ndóigh, níor tháinig chicken ó ‘teith ar cheann’. Níl ciall ar bith leis sin. Is Béarla é an focal chicken, sa dá chiall, agus ní raibh sa Chasaideach ach bréagadóir gan náire.

January’s Twit of the Month – Peter Linebaugh

For a couple of months now, I have been meaning to tackle the subject of Peter Linebaugh, a very indifferent Marxist historian who was a friend and crony of Daniel Cassidy and who unwisely lent his support to Cassidy’s ridiculous book and theories. As Linebaugh says in a review of Cassidy’s puerile trash on Counterpunch:

This now will change thanks to Daniel Cassidy’s amazing dictionary. The efflorescence of Irish-American cultural studies which has taught us (referring to a couple of other books) how the Irish saved civilization or how the Irish became white, has now explained How the Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads (2007). Cassidy’s entries are often little essays of social history expressed in caustic wit and erudition, similar to the work of those other people’s lexicographers of the San Francisco Bay, Iain Boal and Ambrose Bierce.

Elsewhere in the same article, he uses a large number of Cassidy’s idiotic fake Irish terms:

If it was an English speaker who said there’s no free lunch, surely it was an Irish one who gave us lunch. On the one hand the Irish distrusts extravagance or b.s. and is quick to spot a phoney or name a wanker or a twerp or a nincumpoop, a hick or a jerk. On the other hand it is capable of all the malarkey and baloney you’ll ever need. It supplies ‘fighting words,’ the pigeon, the sap, the punk, the mug, and the puss, and follow them with a wallop, a slug. And it’ll keep you in stitches, going helter-skelter, in a generalized hilarity of the giggle from the proletarian quarters.

These words have been comprehensively dealt with here, so nobody (including Peter Linebaugh) has any excuse for claiming that lunch, wanker, twerp, hick, helter-skelter, giggle, jerk or baloney have anything to do with Irish. (As we’ve seen before, phoney is almost certainly of Irish origin but predates Cassidy by years.)

Elsewhere (and in 2016, years after Cassidy was totally discredited) he writes: Danny Cassidy supplied … a lexicography from below showing how the Irish language, while severely diminished in Ireland, survived in America as slang!

But the rot goes deeper than this. The problem seems to be the shallow, Google-search style of history that Peter Linebaugh practices and it’s this lack of depth which makes him give credence to Cassidy’s derivations without checking their validity.

The work of Linebaugh’s that I have read (which is, in fairness, two books – it was enough for me) seems to cherry-pick and flit from place to place and era to era in pursuit of support for vague ideological arguments. I am not an expert on history, but it seems that the debate here (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2001/09/20/the-many-headed-hydra-an-exchange/) between Linebaugh (and his co-author Rediker) and David Brion Davis shows the incompetence of their research – “The Many-Headed Hydra is riddled with … blatant errors from the start to the finish.”

John Madziarczyk also claims that Linebaugh is essentially drawing on other, more obscure sources (http://www.losthighwaytimes.com/2007/06/peter-linebaughpopularizer-of-ideas-not.html) like the book Pirate Utopias by Peter Lamborn Wilson and that his work is deeply derivative. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of these observations (and to be frank, I can’t be bothered doing the necessary research in an area so far outside my comfort zone), though I consider the criticisms entirely credible.

Linebaugh and Rediker also come in for criticism here for taking a newspaper account from 1738 of a Native American uprising against settlers in Nantucket as genuine: (http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/166955)

And at the end of the day, I’m of the left and socially very liberal. I am not bothered or offended by Linebaugh’s or Cassidy’s purported leftism. I am bothered by a tendency to make claims unsupported by evidence. This kind of fakery is repugnant, whether it’s coming from some Trump-loving redneck or from a gaggle of Californian liberals and their socialist intellectual friends. The truth is the truth. It has no left or right, no ethnicity or gender or sexual orientation or nationality. If something doesn’t correspond at all to the known and established facts, it isn’t true and nobody, regardless of their beliefs, should waste their time on it.

It is for this reason that I am happy to bestow my January 2018 CassidySlangScam Twit of the Month Award on Peter Linebaugh, lousy historian and crony of Daniel Cassidy.

Twit of the Month – Jeff St. Clair

I have just come across the ridiculous tweet above and as a result, I have decided to bestow the dubious honour of inaugural Cassidyslangscam Twit of the Month Award on its author, Jeff St. Clair. St. Clair is an ‘investigative journalist’ who, along with Alexander Cockburn, was responsible for publishing Cassidy’s puerile and ignorant book on the supposed Irish etymology of American slang through CounterPunch and AK Press. Indeed, this numpty actually did the index for the book, so he can hardly claim that he didn’t read it carefully!

Anyway, to demonstrate why Jeff St. Clair is a fool and why CounterPunch were a bunch of morons to publish this book, I’ll just go through all the evidence of naivety and cronyism and blind ignorance in the ridiculous obituary which his friend Cockburn (now dead himself) wrote for Cassidy. Cockburn says:

I look at the book here on my desk and think, Thank God he got that out of his head and on to the printed page and the world will have that part of him always.

Yeah, thank God for that, eh?

Cockburn then talks about what a city boy Cassidy was, a true son of Brooklyn. However, according to Cassidy’s sister, the Cassidys were raised in Long Island in the forties and fifties. As she says ‘It was all country!’ His sister also pointed out that Cassidy’s eyes were brown, not blue, as Cockburn misremembered: His bright blue eyes would shine as we’d argue sometimes.

Plainly Cockburn thought a lot of Cassidy, largely because he didn’t really know him at all and fell for the lies and the hype like a true sucker.

He was thin-skinned about all the right things: the assumption of privilege, the pretensions of the toffs, the bottomless wellsprings of English and Yankee arrogance that looks down its nose and misses everything that matters. Danny had the vivid, humorous, compassionate, furious realism of someone who knew well what life looks like from the other side of the tracks, terrain intimately familiar to the millions of the Irish diaspora.

Yeah, it’s a terrible thing, the assumption of privilege. I mean, WHY should someone get a job as a professor just because they actually got their degree rather than flunking out in a narcotic haze? Cassidy deserved that job because he could bullshit better than any man alive, degree or no degree! (And he did receive a wonderful education from the same school as President Trump in his underprivileged youth, of course!)

Then there’s a load of pompous crap in the obituary about Cassidy’s book on slang and how his ‘street smarts’ (from Long Island?) enabled him to see things other people couldn’t about the Irish etymology of American slang.

The first taste of Cassidy’s nonsense that the late Cockburn (and St. Clair) swallowed uncritically was that baloney comes from béal ónna, meaning ‘Silly, inane loquacity.’ While Cassidy was an expert on silly, inane loquacity, he knew nothing about Irish. As we’ve said many times, béal ónna was a complete fabrication, just like most of the ‘Irish’ in the book.

Cockburn quotes a lot of other shite from Cassidy, such as stool pigeon coming from an imaginary phrase steall béideán and stoolie (obviously a derivative of stool pigeon) coming from another imaginary phrase, steall éithigh. Note all the fake definitions here that don’t come from any dictionary, and the ubiquitous fig. which betokened a figment of this liar’s imagination.

“Steall béideán, pron. stoll beejaan [sic], to spout gossip, lies, slander, aspersions, scandal; a spouting snitch; a spouter of scandal, calumny, lies. Stoolie: Steall éithigh, pron. stall eehih [sic], spouting lies, fig. a snitch; stooler: steallaire, a tattler.”

But apparently, because Mike Quill, a native Irish speaker, used the phrase stool pigeon a good hundred years after it was first used in English, that ‘proves’ it comes from Irish …

And squeal apparently doesn’t come from the English squeal, as in ‘he squealed like a pig to the feds’. No, it comes from the Irish verb scaoil meaning (quoting from WingLéacht) loose, loosen, release, discharge, undo, untie, unfasten, slack, slacken, let out, spread, unfurl, release, open, let go, discharge, disband, disperse, break loose, dissolve, resolve, remove, relieve, make known, reveal, give away, distribute, discharge, fire, shoot. A perfect match!

Later, in his exchange of emails with Cockburn, Cassidy refers to a clapped-out Derry politician and media ganch who was a friend of his, saying that “he appreciated that Jazz as teas, pronounced, jass, is Ulster dialect, as opposed to the teas (chass, heat) of Connaught.”  Aye, so in Ulster dialect, we apparently pronounce teas as jass. How do we pronounce deas, then? (In case you doubt this, you can find sound files for both deas and teas in the Connaught, Munster and Ulster dialects of Irish at focloir.ie: http://www.focloir.ie/ga/dictionary/ei/heat) What total garbage! More obvious evidence that this man was an ignorant bollocks who knew nothing much about anything, but still managed to convince a couple of ‘investigative reporters’ (as well as the aforementioned media ganch) that he wasn’t a talentless arse. Go figure …

As Cockburn said: He had me on the line now and it was time for him to set the hook.  Ain’t that the truth!

So, Cockburn and his equally dimwitted buddy St. Clair ended up publishing this inane garbage because “some hooded revisionist anonymous irish academic put the eighty-six (éiteachas aíochta, a refusal or denial of hospitality, to be barred or expelled) on it.”

That’s eiteachas, not éiteachas, by the way, and in any case, again, there’s no evidence of anyone using the imaginary (and clunky) phrase eiteachas aíochta. What they did with Cassidy’s manuscript at the University of Limerick was dhiúltaigh siad í a fhoilsiú (they refused to publish it), shéan siad í (they refused it),  chaith siad amach í (they threw it out), chuir siad ar ais í (they sent it back).  Something like that. Something real, something genuine Irish-speaking people say in real Irish. Not a fake piece of cultural appropriation, not an arrogant racist concoction from a seasoned con-man.

In short, what Cassidy did to this pair of highly skilled ‘investigative reporters’, Cockburn and St. Clair, was essentially to truss and pluck them, turn them over and stuff them both like a pair of shite-gobbling, pin-headed prize Christmas turkeys. CounterPunch has been showcasing and hosting and promoting this dishonest, moronic crapfest for a decade, in spite of its claims to tell the facts. And as I’ve said before (and my little essay on the dross in Cockburn’s obituary above proves it), Cassidy really wasn’t such a great liar. He was too stupid, too lazy, too self-obsessed and too unaware of his own limitations to be a truly accomplished liar.

In conclusion, you would need to be a total and utter love-muscle to take crap like this seriously for more than five minutes, never mind a decade, and that’s why Jeff St. Clair is such a worthy recipient of my inaugural Twit of the Month Award.

American Book Awards

Much has been made in some quarters of the fact that Cassidy’s ridiculous book How The Irish Invented Slang won an American Book Award.

There are several reasons why this fact is unremarkable and proves nothing about its worth.

Firstly, it is in the nature of the American Book Awards that they give equal status to all the shortlisted books. In other words, everyone is a winner, and hundreds of writers could legitimately be described as winners of the American Book Awards. Among the winners are a few big names, like Dave Eggers and Toni Morrison but the names also include mates of Cassidy’s like the ubiqitous Peter Quinn and Michael Patrick MacDonald.

The American Book Awards (not to be confused with the more prestigious National Book Awards) are awarded annually by the Before Columbus Foundation. A look on their website shows that several names on their board are friends of Cassidy’s, people like the poet David Meltzer. Now, I don’t know if this was cronyism in action, because I don’t know how the books are chosen or how big a role the board has in this.

David Meltzer may be guilty of nothing more than having bad taste in friends. But it does seem strange that this awful, crappy book was given an American Book Award, and that two friends of Cassidy’s are on the board of the organisation which hands these awards out.

Incidentally, I also found an article by Daniel Cassidy in a tribute to David Meltzer in the magazine Big Bridge (Issue 11). It is called the Song of the Spailpín, and it is as bad a piece of garbage as Cassidy ever wrote anywhere.  You can find the whole sorry piece of shit here (http://www.bigbridge.org/issue11/dmpoetcassidy.htm), if you’re really interested. However, here are some observations.

Cassidy refers to the travelling Johnson family, and says that this comes from Teannas án. As usual, Cassidy thought that a slender t can be pronounced as a j in Irish, which it can’t. The word án is literary and hardly used in Irish, and this phrase as a whole would mean ‘noble tension’. Obviously, the reality is that this family were called Johnson because one of their ancestors was called John and that’s that. Cassidy’s explanation is just the jabbering of a lunatic.

Cassidy claims that two songs, Mike from Tipperary and The Monster Gila Route (sic – it’s really The Gila Monster Route) contain secret Irish messages. Cassidy gives the words in bold type and then gives a little glossary underneath.

Here are some of the many stupidities in this glossary.

Holler, ditch, gump, burg, and booze have all been dealt with in this blog before.

The word shirkin’ in the song is obviously shirking as in not doing any work. Cassidy claims that it is really seargadh (pronounced sharruga or sharrugoo), meaning to shrivel or dry up.

Dingbat, according to Cassidy’s useless book, comes from Irish duine bocht, a poor person. In this glossary, he decided it comes from duine bod, which he defines as ‘A lout, a thickset churl, fig. a migrant worker or hobo.’ In reality, the phrase duine bod doesn’t exist, and if it did it would mean something like ‘a person of penises’. It should also be apparent to even the most deluded supporter of Cassidy that if the origin of dingbat is ‘obviously’ duine bod in one version and ‘obviously’ duine bocht’ in another version, then in reality there is nothing obvious or real about the connection.  Apparently, the original meaning of dingbat was thingumabob, so my bet would be that it is related to the German Dingsbums or Dingsda, both of which have the same meaning.

The word gila, as in gila monster, is from the Gila river basin. It does not come from gealbh [gyalloo or gyalluv] which Cassidy says means bad weather. Cassidy gives no evidence that this word even exists, it is not in any dictionary and what exactly is the connection between gila monsters and bad weather anyway?

The word frisk is the same as the word for pat down, and it dates back to the late eighteenth century in English. The relation between it and the earlier meanings of frisk (to gambol) is unclear. However, the word forúscadh is a pure Cassidy invention which does not occur in any dictionary, and even if it did exist, how is a word pronounced fohrooska or foh-rooskoo likely to become frisk?

Flop is obviously what a tired person does when they reach a bed. This is a very old word in English, probably a variant of flap. Foleaba is another made-up Cassidy word which doesn’t exist in any dictionary or text.

However, this is only mildly stupid and dishonest compared to his explanation of bindle, a term for a vagrant’s bundle, a word which is obviously derived either from bundle itself, from the related German term Bündel or from a related English dialect or Scots term. Cassidy derives this from a word for a ferule (bianna) and a misspelt word for a snare (dul – it should be dol). How you get from ferule of a snare to a stick with a bundle on it is hard to work out unless you are as insane as Cassidy was. Or as Cassidy himself said, only poets can dig this crossroads cant…. Yeah, right, Danny!

But the prize for idiocy in this article surely goes to his explanation for blanket stiffs, which according to him comes from bliadhna chuid staif  which he defines as ‘annual groups of burly strong persons, fig.. migratory harvest workers’. This breaks just about every rule of Irish grammar you could mention and is simply meaningless nonsense.

If I were David Meltzer, I would be deeply insulted at having this ludicrous catalogue of garbage dedicated to me. Cassidy could have written a poem or a song in Meltzer’s honour but instead he chose to use the magazine to plug his insane book and con a few more mugs out of their hard-earned dollars.

Slacker

I’ve had a request from someone asking (politely and civilly) for confirmation that the word slacker is like the rest of the words in this blog and that it doesn’t come from Irish.

I’m more than happy to oblige. Cassidy claimed that slacker comes from the Irish sleabhcadh, which means to go limp or to wilt, or the Scottish Gaelic slabhcar, meaning a slouching person. It is really quite difficult to understand why Cassidy even included the words slack and slacker in the book (except of course that the notion of quality control was completely alien to Cassidy and he preferred to pad out the book with any old rubbish rather than end up with the uninteresting pamphlet which he would have had if he had applied any kind of standards to the material he included.) The words sleabhcadh and slabhcar don’t sound much like slack. They are pronounced to rhyme with cow (or sometimes as low, depending on dialect), as shlowkoo or slowkar. The Irish word slacadh does sound exactly like slack, but alert readers of this blog will remember that this means to hit and was Cassidy’s candidate for English slugger. Go figure …

There is absolutely no doubt about the Germanic origins of the word slack. Perhaps this would be a good time to explain what Germanic means, as certain people like Brendan Patrick Keane are clearly too lazy to look up the relevant sections on Wikipedia. The decision of linguists to class English as Germanic is not random or mysterious. If you look at the basic words found in European languages, you will find that some languages tend to be closer than others.

English

German

Dutch

Irish

French

man

Mann

man

fear

homme

sea

See

zee

muir

mer

house

Haus

huis

teach

maison

land

Land

land

tír

terre

cold

kalt

koud

fuar

froid

hair

Haar

haar

gruaig

cheveux

thin

dünn

slank

tanaí

maigre

The vast majority of the basic vocabulary of English is clearly related closely to other Germanic languages like German, Dutch, Danish and Swedish, though there are also many loanwords in English from Latin, Greek and French. Remember that to Gaelic and Irish speakers, English people are Sasanaigh (Saxons) and this shows that they were perceived as the descendants of settlers who came to Britain after the decline of Roman power from what is now Germany or Denmark. Irish shows some similarities of basic vocabulary with French, but not enough for them to be regarded as part of the same family. A comparison with French and Spanish would certainly show that these languages are closely related, and a comparison with Irish and Welsh would also confirm that these Celtic languages are close (though not as close or as similar as the Germanic languages).

A comparison of all these languages together will also show that all of them are distantly related. They all belong to the Indo-European group. This can be seen in things like the numbers, which are similar in all branches of this group. Anyone looking at this data objectively would reach the same conclusions. It’s just common sense.

The word slack is part of this basic Germanic vocabulary of English. It goes back to Old English (the ancient version of the language used before the Norman Conquest) and is very well attested. The OED says that it is from “Old English slæc ‘inclined to be lazy, unhurried’, of Germanic origin.” Slæc was pronounced the same as modern English slack. In Middle English, it was written slac. For example, here is our old friend, the Michigan University Middle English Dictionary:

Slac (a) Of persons: indolent, lazy, lax; negligent, remiss; slow (to do sth.) …

Slacker seems to be a development from these meanings of slack in the late 18th century.

Sleabhcadh and slabhcar are almost certainly borrowings from Old Norse (the language of the Vikings). McBain’s Gaelic Dictionary links slabhcar to Norse slókr, which apparently meant ‘a slouching fellow.’

In other words, even leaving aside the probability that sleabhcadh and slabhcar are probably of Germanic (Norse) origin, if slack has always existed in English with the sense of loose or lazy, what’s the point of looking at other languages for the origin of slacker? Only an idiot would bother. Only an idiot ever did – that idiot being Daniel Cassidy, Professor of Pseudo-Irish Hornswoggling and General and Applied Flakiness at the New College of California.

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!