Tag Archives: crying wolof

Masher

This is another stupid and unfounded claim made by Cassidy in How The Irish Invented Slang. Masher is a slang term for a young man of fashion who frequented 19th century theatres because of his devotion to the leading ladies.

There is a discussion of its origins here in an excellent blog post from Anatoly Liberman: http://blog.oup.com/2011/01/masher/.

And here’s another from World Wide Words: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-mas1.html

Both of these sources are inclined to regard masher and mash as being extensions of the English word mash meaning to crush and both of them point to the similarity between the uses of mash and the uses of the word crush.

Cassidy’s claim was that it derives from the Irish maiseach, an obscure adjective meaning beautiful or elegant (according to Ó Dónaill’s dictionary, maisiúil is the usual adjective formed from maise. I wouldn’t use maisiúil or maiseach, though I use maise all the time). How an adjective meaning beautiful in Irish gave rise to a noun meaning lady’s man and a verb meaning to have a crush in English is not explained, but then Cassidy probably didn’t know what an adjective or a verb are, and he certainly had very little in the way of common sense or academic ability.

In short, this is yet another completely ridiculous claim, unsupported by any evidence at all.

Noogie

I was thinking the other day that I have been neglecting the drossary side of things recently. Although it is important to comment on the Cassidy scandal and the morons who support this obvious fraud, I started this blog with the primary intention of providing the facts where Cassidy provided lies.

One of the most obviously fraudulent of Cassidy’s claims is the one about noogie. Noogie is an American term, first recorded in the 1960s. It refers to a kind of playground punishment, where a child grabs another in a head-lock and then rubs their victim’s scalp with the knuckles.

Cassidy’s claim is that the basic phrase is not noogie but ‘a noogie’, which is why he put it under A rather than N. There is no logical reason for this, apart from the fact that Cassidy’s Irish candidate for the origin of noogy starts with an a. It’s the word aonóg.

Firstly, aonóg would be pronounced eynohg or oonohg. This doesn’t sound much like ‘a noogie’, never mind noogie on its own. Secondly, it is an incredibly obscure word. The usual Irish term for a nip or pinch is liomóg. Aonóg is not given in Ó Dónaill’s dictionary, though it is given in Dinneen, where it says it is ‘a nip, a pinch’, and that it is a local term from County Monaghan.

Let’s just compare this to Cassidy’s version. He doesn’t mention County Monaghan. He says that aonóg is ‘a nip, a pinch, a little whack, fig. affectionate, rough-house play.’  It’s important to look closely at the differences here, as they demonstrate clearly what a dishonest scumbag Cassidy was. Most of this definition (‘a little whack, fig. affectionate, rough-house play.’) was invented by Cassidy. What gave this liar the right to make up a new definition and pass it off as the truth? Is a little whack the same as a nip? Is a nip ‘affectionate, rough-house play?’ Admittedly, nipping someone might be part of rough-house play but they aren’t the same thing, in English or in Irish.

Back in the real world, far away from Daniel Cassidy’s compulsive lying, there are several theories about the origins of noogie. The strongest contender is that it is a corruption of knuckle, on the analogy of words like wedgie. Others link it to the Yiddish נודזשען ‎(nudzhen, “to badger”). Whatever the real origin, aonóg is not a good candidate in terms of phonetics or meaning and it would never have been a common word among Irish speakers, otherwise it would have left a far stronger trace in the dictionaries and glossaries.

The Weird World of Ancient Aliens

I have been watching Ancient Aliens on the History Channel recently, as research for this post. If you have never watched Ancient Aliens, it is hard to describe just how bad it is. It is essentially a bunch of cranks looking at statues of gods or stone circles from the ancient world and making bizarre assertions about their links to little green (or grey) men. Any god with big eyes is an alien, anything disc-shaped is a UFO, etc. etc. The whole thing is narrated by a man who sounds a little like E.L. Wisty. Here is a piss-take of a typical item, which is only slightly sillier than the real thing.

 

A typical rock, you might think. [Picture of rock.] A rock like any other rock on earth. A rock picked up and brought to the USA by a young back-packer at an ancient Inca site in Peru. [Picture of someone picking up rock.] Within weeks, the young tourist was convinced that the rock was speaking to her. Mental illness, or was she driven to madness by alien voices, as many ancient alien theorists believe? [Picture of young woman covering ears with anguished expression.] 

[Cut to respectable scientist explaining about current thinking on other dimensions.]

“The current belief is that there are more than just the dimensions we can see around us in the ordinary world. These extra dimensions are hidden,  folded up in the interstices of our everyday reality.”  

[Cut to ancient alien author with crazy hair and a Greek name.]

“So, these aliens who have the technology to travel vast distances across space, they understand the multi-dimensional nature of the universe. We all know the Tardis effect of science fiction, something is bigger on the inside than the outside, right? So how do we know that this rock is not a whole spaceship? It wouldn’t surprise me. It wouldn’t surprise me at all. There could be whole fleets of spaceships inside it.”

[Cut to badly-designed graphic of alien spaceship.]

 

Why am I having a go at Ancient Aliens on cassidyslangscam? Well, I’m sure many people have wondered why I have expended so much time and effort on someone as marginal and unimportant as Daniel Cassidy. Partly, of course, the reason for this is that Cassidy is treating the Irish language with contempt and I happen to love the Irish language. However, there is a more serious aspect to all this.

The world is awash with pseudoscience and pseudoscholarship. Cassidy’s nonsense is just one example of people believing in any old shite without following scientific methodology, without seeking evidence. People who believe rubbish like this are just as likely to believe in graphology or the MMR link to autism, or AIDS denial, or Hancock’s nonsense about ancient civilisations. They believe in these things for the same reasons – arrogance, hubris, a desire among badly-educated people to be ‘in on’ some arcane story which the ivory-tower scholars have supposedly missed.

However, there is a big difference between these other idiotic theories and Cassidy’s nonsense. They haven’t had positive articles in the New York Times and the Irish Times. The people who peddle AIDS denial and Hancock’s rubbish about ancient civilisations under the ice caps haven’t been given receptions at New York University. They aren’t treated with respect among genuine scholars and intellectuals and quoted in history books and on television programmes.

Cassidy was, in spite of the fact that his ‘research’ was every bit as ridiculous as the worst pseudo-scholarship out there. That’s why the Cassidy Scandal is part of something bigger. And that’s why this story needs to be told.

Doggone it, Danny!

Another of the crazy and ridiculous derivations in Daniel Cassidy’s book How The Irish Invented Slang is his speculation about the origins of the word doggone. It is worth giving Cassidy’s entry on this subject in full, as it shows clearly how fraudulent and incompetent Daniel Cassidy was.

Doggone, excl., adj., adv., an exclamation of irritation, disappointment, someone or something nasty, crude, gross; darned. Not recorded in English till the 19th century. Origin unknown.

Dogairne, n., a gross crude person or thing. Dógan, n., a sort of oath or exclamation, (Ó Dónaill, 1977, 427; Dwelly, Gaelic-English Dictionary, 1901, 347.)

Let’s just examine Cassidy’s claim carefully. First of all, Cassidy says that the origin of ‘doggone’ is unknown. Is it?

Of course not! As usual, Cassidy was lying.

The dictionaries are agreed that dog-gone or doggone is a 19th century Americanism and that it is a minced oath, a disguised blasphemy. The Oxford English Dictionary says it is ‘generally taken as a deformation of the profane God damn.’ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) says that ‘doggone’ is an ‘alteration of the Scots dagone,’ which is in turn an ‘alteration of goddamn.’ Merriam-Webster says that it is ‘a euphemism for God damn.’

Furthermore, God damn and doggone are used in exactly the same way. Sometimes they are an exclamation, God damn it! (Doggone it!) What have you done? and sometimes as an adjective, Just take the goddamn (doggone) money already!

It is an indication of how stupid and deluded Cassidy was that he seems to think giving two derivations strengthens his case. Of course, in reality, the fact that Cassidy provides two completely separate words in different languages just serves to show how easy it is to find a spurious Gaelic derivation.

Dogairne is a rare word derived from docair (more usually deacair in modern Irish), which means ‘hard, difficult’. Dogairne is a noun, and is defined as ‘A gross, crude, person or thing.’ Doggone, of course, is not used as a noun. You can’t say ‘My cousin is a total doggone.’

As for dògan, this is a Scottish Gaelic exclamation. The Scottish Gaelic dictionaries make it quite clear that this is a borrowing from doggone or from the Scots equivalent. Note also that Cassidy once again betrayed his total ignorance of the Gaelic languages, as he wrote it as dógan. Anyone who knew the slightest thing about Irish and Gaelic would know that Scottish Gaelic always uses grave accents (the ones that slope back) while Irish always uses acute accents (sloping forward).

 

Festive Fun – The Roast of Daniel Cassidy

At this festive time of year, it’s customary to roast a turkey, so I thought it would be seasonal to roast a certain turkey of a book written by the late, not-so-great ‘Professor’ Daniel Cassidy, with all the trimmings. So, here is a selection of some of the criticisms made of Daniel Cassidy since his ridiculous book was first published. Many of them have already featured on this blog but many of them are new here. Enjoy!

“Etymologies from Cassidy’s How the Irish Invented Slang are widely duplicated across the internet. However, many of Cassidy’s definitions have been shown to be wishful thinking or completely made up. Cassidy was not able to speak Irish himself and was unfamiliar with the grammatical rules. He apparently found words in Irish dictionaries that he thought had a similar pronunciation to English words or phrases with a vaguely connected meaning. He then claimed these English words to have an Irish origin even when the English word already had a well-established etymology.” – Wikipedia

“… it’s a white washing of white America’s real status in the U.S. My opinion of the essays of Daniel Cassidy’s that have appeared on Counterpunch is that they’re pseudo-scientific amateur attempts to prove that gaelic was behind things like African American slang, something that should rightly go to African Americans themselves and not to the Irish. If they were convincing essays I wouldn’t say that, but they appear to be on the level of the guy who’s trying to prove that Magyar, the language of the Hungarians, was the language of Atlantis.

Amazingly, some dude accused me of being racist towards Irish people for criticizing Cassidy.” – Lost Highway Times, John Madziarczyk.

“Suppose you hold some crank theory for which there is no evidence but which is likely to appeal to some specific audience.  Suppose, for instance, that you believe that Jesus and all of his apostles were gay, an idea that might appeal to some gay people (not me, but tastes and opinions differ).  You then write a book of stories detailing the hot hot man-man sexual exploits of these men, keying each story to a biblical passage.  You manage to get it published.  Does the New York Times then write an enthusiastic feature story about you and your work?  Do you win an American Book Award  — “the purpose of the awards is to acknowledge the excellence and multicultural diversity of American writing” — for non-fiction? It sounds unlikely, doesn’t it?  But Daniel Cassidy has managed something similar with his book How the Irish Invented Slang (CounterPunch/AK Press, 2007), which maintains that great chunks of English slang came from Irish (an idea that is likely to appeal to some English-speaking people of Irish descent), supplying for each slang expression a (putative) Irish expression that resembles it in pronunciation or spelling.  And now the NYT has (gullibly) celebrated Cassidy and his preposterous book, and the book has (alas) gotten a 2007 American Book Award for non-fiction.” – Arnold Zwicky, Language Log

“Breandan a chara, I organised an event where Daniel spoke a good few years back but was shocked to learn that he had made no effort whatsoever to learn the Irish language prior to writing this book. He had no grasp of pronunciation as Gaeilge at all. It could be an interesting PhD topic for someone to study but the book itself lacks real evidence. When I met him, he looked at my name tag and said “I’m not even going to try and pronounce that name” which I thought odd for an academic involved with Irish/English language research.” – Elaine Ní Bhraonáin, Comment on IrishCentral

“Evidently, there’s one born every minute. Cassidy’s book was a work of pure fiction. Essentially, what he did was go through an Irish dictionary (containing words that, as one reader below has posted, he neither understood nor could even be bothered to learn how to pronounce), and when he saw something that looked like an English slang word, he decided that it was the root of that word. Most of the entries in his book divide into two categories: (i) those for which there is no evidence whatsoever, and (ii) those for which there is evidence, and the evidence proves Cassidy wrong.

What’s more worrying is that Irish Central is reprinting this article in 2014, years after Cassidy’s work was comprehensively demolished. To have believed Cassidy in the early days after his book was published would just have been naive and sloppy, but to still believe him now, years after he was exposed as a fraud, is pathetic. It makes this website look like a joke. I don’t think it IS a joke, most of the time, but articles like this just make it seem like Irish Central is run by a bunch of amateurs.”  – Jim Clarke, comment on IrishCentral

“I have to say that the reception this book has been given shocks me. Why do respectable academics put their reputations on the line to defend something which is so sloppy and poorly-researched? Other people react as if ethnic pride entitles you to ignore the truth. The level of some of the comments I have read on different websites reminds me of the Columbus Day episode of the Sopranos. To those who will take umbrage at what I’m saying and regard me as a WASP/revisionist/communist/fascist/self-hating Gael/eejit, I just have one suggestion. Why don’t you look up buanchumadh on Google. Then look up some of the real Irish expressions used by Irish speakers to mean nonsense – seafóid, raiméis, amaidí. You will notice that there are many entries for buanchumadh but all of them – ALL OF THEM – are related to Daniel Cassidy. This is not the case with seafóid, raiméis and amaidí – they get lots of hits from lots of sources. This proves that those words are used by Irish speakers, while buanchumadh was invented by Cassidy.” – Seán, comment on Amazon.com

 

“Cassidy wrote this car-crash of a book without doing any research.  He based his conclusions on hunches and whenever he found an Irish word or phrase that suited his theory, he crow-barred it into shape until it fit.

This was very shoddy work by Cassidy, and even shoddier work by Brendan Keane for being naive enough to swallow this sort of buinneach.” – BockTheRobber, comment on IrishCentral.

 

“It’s fairly obvious Cassidy has farmed the fertile fields of his own imagination for this book. I am disinclined to believe he has any knowledge of Irish, other than he may have seen a road sign outside of Dingle on a foggy day in November. His etymology is laughably inaccurate, his leaps of logic (if they can be dignified as such) are appalling. Irish-Americans will probably love this book, as it allows a certain amount of ego-stroke, but anyone who has ever picked up an actual Irish language introduction book- or pamphlet, or answer sheet- will find the best use of this book is as a table-leg prop, or possibly an excellent source of kindling in emergencies.” – Kyle Lerfald, comment on Amazon.com

“While the conceit may be flattering to those of us with Irish ancestry, in reality this book provides very little factual linguistic information. The author is not a trained linguist, and seems to base his assertions on the mere fact that some words sound similar. For instance, using the level of rigor Cassidy uses, one might say that we say “hi” on meeting because we are wishing the other person the blessings of heaven (“from on high”). That’s the kind of reasoning in this book, and it is, at best, a good source of laughter at the author’s expense.” – C. Vermeers, comment on Amazon.com

“Tá mórchuid na sanas sin gan aon bhunús, agus an tromlach acu sin mícheart go cinnte! Seafóid gan amhras, ce go bhfuil roinnt bheag acu inchreidte. (Most of the etymologies are unfounded, and the majority of those are certainly wrong. Undoubtedly nonsense, though a small proportion of them are believable)”  Eoin, comment on Beo.ie

“While I don’t dispute the other reviewers’ claims that this is an entertaining read, unfortunately the information in it is simply amateurish and almost entirely incorrect. The problem is that the author is not using academic standards of comparative linguistics and has merely shopped around hoping to find Irish words that sound similar (or are spelled similarly) to English slang that he can just sloppily declare as the origin, without any sort of actual historical proof. In fact, most of the words he has chosen to feature already have been traced linguistically to well-proven origins that simply cannot be disputed… and in fact the author does not even try, he just ignores them.” – D.Norder, comment on Amazon.

“The weakness of his research and in his methodology is apparent to anyone with two eyes and a minute to crack open the book. That’s what makes this surprisingly positive profile in The New York Times so frustrating. A minimal amount of effort would have revealed to the writer than Cassidy’s arguments are without merit, at best the result of sloppiness, at worst a con job.” – Michael Patrick Brady on his blog.

“I really am reading this, it’s just kind of slow going… Hahahah, who am I kidding: I am never going to finish this book. I am having a hard time buying the premise.” –  Sara, comment on Goodreads.

“Cassidy launched this book at Oideas Gael in Gleann Cholm Cille this summer. He’s fun to listen to, talks nineteen to the dozen like only a native New Yorker can, and how can you not like someone who can tell a five minute anecdote that goes from a job at the New York Times to draft-dodging in Canada to writing a screenplay for Francis Ford Coppola without drawing breath, but when he explained his theory he was met with polite smiles. The book is great crack, but should be filed under fiction. Cassidy is clueless about Irish pronunciation, but that doesn’t stop him violently shoehorning every unusual word in American English into his theory, even those with established origins – mostly words that have their roots firmly planted in Afro-American culture, and some that he blatantly nicked from the Italians. Cassidy spent most of the time in the pub when I met him being corrected on his Irish pronunciation, and insisting after the sounds had changed beyond recognition that they could still be mapped on to his English candidates. It didn’t help matters that the locals noticed that when he did get something right, his pronunciation had a notable Munster bias. By the end of the night, we were making up words to give him for the second edition. Good crack, but don’t take it seriously.” Anonymous, quoted by Grant Barrett on wordorigins.org.

Owen on Lollygagging

Oh dear! Here we go again! I’ve had another message from Owen.

Your argument that the word “leath-luighe géag” couldn’t mean “lollygag” is flawed because you’re basing it on the present day meaning of the Irish Gaelic words and not the language as it was used by poor Irish immigrants in the 1800’s. It stands to reason that semantic shifts and phonology could have produced the English word in question.

Man dear, it’s obvious that you are intent on defending Cassidy’s idiotic book go bun an angair but perhaps you should find some other pointless and Quixotic enterprise – restoring King Zog to the throne of Albania or saving the dodo from extinction spring to mind.

So the language as used in the 19th century was totally different from the modern language, was it? Like many Irish speakers, many of the books I read in Irish were written in the early years of the Revival, works like Mac Gabhann’s Rotha Mór an tSaoil, which I mentioned in a post recently. I have no difficulty in understanding Mac Gabhann’s Irish at all, yet he was born in 1865. Most of the people around him when he was growing up lived through the Famine. Languages change, but they don’t change that radically in 150 years.

As for how that language differed from modern Irish, I have some idea about that. Cassidy didn’t, because Cassidy didn’t speak any Irish at all. I suspect the same is true of you. You are talking about things you know nothing about.

There is no evidence that anyone has ever used leath-luighe géag in Irish. As I’ve explained, it doesn’t make sense and incidentally, it is a phrase, not a word. Phrases are rarely borrowed between languages, especially phrases which don’t actually exist in the source language. And as for semantic shifts, I suppose that means changing the meaning of words any way you want. And phonology means changing the sounds any way you want. So essentially, you’re saying that I’m being unreasonable if I don’t accept your right to take a made-up phrase in ‘Irish’, change the pronunciation and meaning of the constituent words any way that suits you and claim this as the origin of an English word.

The fact is, there is no evidence for any of this. And it might seem to you that these things ‘stand to reason’, but to people who are genuinely reasonable they don’t make sense at all. Have a very merry Christmas with Cassidy, Santy and the Tooth Fairy. And as for me, I’ll continue to put my trust in genuine, verifiable facts.

The Linguist’s List

I recently stumbled upon an interesting source, at linguist.list.org. It is a list of the exchanges between the late Daniel Cassidy, phoney scholar, and members of the American Dialect Society in 2003 and 2004. There are a number of interesting things about this. One of the most amazing things is the level of politeness and deference shown by the members of the ADS towards a man who was obviously crazy, though I would have to say that his credentials look more impressive than they really were and they would have had no way of knowing that he didn’t know any Irish at all.

In his posts, Cassidy did exactly what he did in the book. He simply ignored anything which didn’t suit him, refused to give any evidence which related to the actual words (rather than the social context of the time, the number of Irish speakers in the community etc.) and kept up an endless stream of word-play which I suppose he must have thought was funny but just ends up being irritating and gives his comments a protective camouflage of jokiness.

However, the thing which really stands out in these exchanges is the number of words which are given completely different Irish derivations on this forum and in the book which was published three years later.

For example, in this list, he claims that he has solved the mystery of samollions (a slang term for lots of money, apparently). He says that it comes from suim oll i n’eineach. I imagine this is probably meant to be suim oll in éineacht, as he glosses it a huge amount (sum) all at once. In the book, this is given as suim oll amháin, which he claims means one big sum. (In reality, oll is a prefix in modern Irish so you would have to say ollsuim, not suim oll, so the claim is obvious rubbish anyway, whatever random element Cassidy chose to put at the end.)

Then there are the many expressions which are minced oaths in English and which begin with Holy (Holy Cow, Holy Mackerel). In this forum, Cassidy claimed that these are really the word oille (a nominal form of the adjective oll). I have never heard the word oille in use and I suspect that most Irish speakers would say the same, though it is certainly in the dictionary. Cassidy also claimed that this was pronounced something like holly, as he believed that Irish words that begin with a vowel are pronounced with a h-, which of course is completely untrue. This claim had been dropped in the book, so these oaths were half-English and half-Irish in that version. Cassidy claimed in the book that the Mackerel of Holy Mackerel is Mac Ríúil, Kingly Son. In this list, it is Mac Ríogh-fhuil, Son of King-blood, or as the Great Fraud put it, Great Royal-Blooded Son.

Then there’s growler, a pot used for getting a ‘carry-out’ of beer in the tenements of New York. In the book, this was given the unlikely Irish origin of gearr-ól úr (‘a fresh short-drink’). In this forum, it is given the even more unlikely derivation of gearradh ól leor, which Cassidy defines as ‘plenty of fast drink’. Apparently the gearradh (a word meaning cutting) is supposed to mean quick and Cassidy obviously didn’t know how the word leor is used in Irish.

There is another spate of comments on this list after the publication of Cassidy’s book. By that stage, none of the experts involved were in any doubt that Cassidy was a fraud and they said so clearly and repeatedly. One particular comment caught my eye, from a medievalist called Amy West:

“Having seen Cassidy’s signature block at the end of his archived posting on “big onion,” I’m wondering if there’s a much larger criticism of Cassidy’s work other than, as Grant said, the work being “unreliable and not to be trusted.” With his position as a professor of Irish Studies, should we be holding him to an even *higher* standard even though this is not an academic work? If so, would this be an instance of not academic fraud but *malpractice*? That is, we know what academics can and should do: look for tangible evidence, present points against, think and read critically, attempt to be objective and rational. He not only fails to do this, but engages in superficial thinking using superficial connections /resemblances, a lack of concrete evidence, with an agenda and not only a lack of recognition of counterarguments and other positions but derisive dismissal of them: things I expect more from my freshmen than a professional academic. And those are things I would not tolerate from my freshmen.”

Obviously she didn’t realise what we now know to be the case, that Cassidy was completely unqualified to be a professor of anything, but her comments are exactly right. Cassidy failed to follow even the most basic principles of genuine academic research. He was a fraud and it is bizarre that years later, I am still having to argue with deluded people who insist that Cassidy was some kind of linguistic guru.

 

 

A Halloween Challenge

I found an interesting piece on an online forum called Irish Gaelic Translator, relating to the death of Daniel Cassidy. It talks about his awful book and one commentator, someone calling themselves Redwolf, says:

“This book was being discussed at the Deireadh Seachtaine Gaeltachta, and one of the teachers from Ireland noted that for a long time the Oxford dictionary refused to acknowledge the Irish origin of many words that are KNOWN to be Irish (such as “slew” and “whiskey,” listing them instead as “origin unknown”).”

Interesting. It is amazing what kind of a stew people get into when they refuse to base their arguments on real evidence. I am quite sure that these claims are nonsense. I don’t know when slew first made it into the OED, but I would suggest this was pretty recent, because it would have been regarded as an Americanism even a couple of decades ago. The Gaelic origin of slew seems to me pretty cast-iron and I think it would be very strange if the OED denied this. As for whiskey/whisky, they may have argued about which version of Gaelic it comes from, Scottish Gaelic or Irish, but the idea that any dictionary ever put ‘origin unknown’ beside the word whisky seems to me to be a pure fiction.

So, here’s a Hallowe’en challenge for the Cassidy Cronies out there. This is a matter of evidence. It’s either true that the OED said that slew and whiskey are ‘origin unknown’ or it’s untrue. I’m saying that, on the basis of what I know, this is not likely to be true. It’s likely to be another childish, half-baked, worthless piece of crapology from the Cassidy lobby.

But I suppose I could be wrong. So, why don’t you go out and find a good library, check a few old editions of the OED and find a clear reference? Quote me chapter and verse about which edition of the OED we’re talking about and I’ll post this information here. However, I won’t be holding my breath! So far, these people have refused to provide any evidence at all.

Bainigí sult as Oíche Shamhna, cibé!

 

Two Plus Two Still Equals Four

In Orwell’s 1984, there is a famous piece where the interrogator, O’Brien, tries to get the central character, Winston Smith, to deny that two and two make four.

“How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.”

“Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”

The unitary nature of truth and the multiplicity of lies is a commonplace of world literature and it is built into the very fabric of language itself. We talk about duplicity for dishonesty in English, we say that people are two-faced, or in Irish that someone is Tadhg an Dá Thaobh (Tadhg of the Two Sides, Tim Turn-coat). The English poet Spenser, who has been mentioned several times here, who lived in County Cork, decided to give his true and virtuous fairy queen the name Una, while the deceitful opponent was called Duessa. And we could also mention Tolstoy’s comment: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

In other words, the ideal, the perfect, the correct is always unitary, while the possible incorrect versions are inexhaustible. In the case of 2 + 2 = 4 (assuming that this is in base ten), four is the only correct answer. The incorrect answers are as numerous as the integers available, and that is an infinite set.

Cassidy’s supporters are continually trying to get people like me to accept that two and two equals something other than four. When people like me point out that the Irish phrases given by Cassidy aren’t genuine Irish phrases, that nobody has ever said (or at least that nobody can be proven to have ever said) the phrase béal ónna in Irish, their answer tends to be that in the teeming ghettoes of North America, the rules of Irish usage fell away and people produced a new version of Irish. Maybe this happened and probably it didn’t. But if it did happen, the range of possible corrupt versions of Irish is almost as inexhaustible as the integers, so the idea that Cassidy’s fake versions will map accurately onto the versions that supposedly existed in Irish slums in America in the 19th century is absurd (even when we take into account that Cassidy made these phrases up to resemble English expressions phonetically). After all, Cassidy himself regularly changed his Irish expressions when he noticed one that he liked better (as in the case of dingbat, variously from duine bocht or duine bod according to the Great Fraud).

Why does baloney have to come from béal ónna just because these were the words Cassidy chose? What about béal omhna, tree-trunk mouth, because of the clumsy nonsense stuck in it? Or béal abhna (a variant of abhann), meaning river-mouth, because the person has a mouth as big as the mouth of the Liffey or the Lagan? Or béal uainín, a little lamb’s mouth, because of the innocence of the stupidities coming from it? Or béal Eoghnaí, from someone called Eoghan who was notoriously thick? Or béal eorna where eorna (barley) stands ‘figuratively’ for whiskey? Or béal eamhnaithe, doubled or twinned mouth, because the person is deceitful? Or hundreds of other possible but not probable explanations?

And then, of course, there’s the two plus two equals four explanation. That baloney is the name of a cheap type of sausage originating in Bologna in Italy and that it came to be used as a euphemism for balls, bollocks or bullshit in American English, just as people say ‘sugar’ as a mild oath instead of ‘shit’.

A Reply To Owen

I have had a comment relating to the word ‘cooze’ from a Cassidy supporter called Owen Kelly. This is an American slang term which makes its appearance first after the Second World War. There is no agreement about its origin, but Wikipedia states that words in Kurdish and Arabic with the meaning of vagina are similar in sound to cooze, and also that Danish has a slang term kusse with the same meaning. The Wikipedia entry suggests that the word might have been brought back by American GIs returning from North Africa after the war.

Cassidy’s claim is that the word comes from Irish cuas, which means a nook or recess and which Cassidy claims means vagina. As I have shown, there is no evidence that the word cuas ever had the meaning vagina in any dialect of Irish.

Owen’s opening comment is to ask why cuas couldn’t have been used by Irish speakers in America in this way, even if it isn’t found in Ireland with this sense. My answer is that, as Yiddish speakers say, yes, and if my grandmother had balls she’d be my grandfather.  OK, there is an infinitesimally small chance that cuas might have been used in this way, and might have lain dormant in some small community for a hundred years before becoming common after the Second World War. However, linguists and lexicographers don’t like explanations which involve two what-ifs and a maybe, and neither do I. After all, if you don’t think any evidence is needed, where do you stop? For example, the French word for thigh is cuisse. What if some obscure and unrecorded French dialect used this as a word for vagina, and what if this was brought to New Orleans, and maybe it became common in American English after the War as cooze …  In other words, methodology which can be used to prove anything ultimately proves nothing.

Owen goes on to say that he has read Cassidy’s book (well, I would hope so, if he’s commenting on it) and that most of it is convincing. This is not an argument. It is an opinion. He gives no information about his knowledge of Irish or lack of it, or why he believes himself to be qualified to make this judgement and most importantly, he makes no attempt to square this with the information provided on this blog or given by other critics of Cassidy.

I have probably covered about half of the claims made by Cassidy here. So, did I get it wrong? How? And if I didn’t, does Owen seriously think that I got my analysis right but everything else in Cassidy’s book which I haven’t (yet) covered is correct? As I have said to other people who have expressed the same opinions, if you want to defend Cassidy, then you’ll have to deal in specific information, not vague opinions.

Finally, Owen repeats the hoary old chestnut about the tendency of the Anglo world to discriminate against the Irish, as if that somehow confirms Cassidy’s argument. Even if you accept that this kind of discrimination occurs in academia, is there any evidence to suggest that it extends to preventing people knowing about word origins? I mean, do the origins of obscure words really matter so much to the powers that be? Is any nation really going to be so keen to assert their ownership of words like cooze and wanker?

The fact is, there is no evidence of dictionary makers in England or in America discriminating against Irish or Gaelic words. There are dozens of Irish words in the dictionaries which are accepted by the lexicographers, words like puss and shebeen. Why did these supposedly biased lexicographers accept these while rejecting the vast majority of Cassidy’s claims? The answer is very simple. There is evidence for puss and shebeen being Irish. There is simply no evidence for the majority of Cassidy’s claims. Cassidy didn’t know any Irish and his work was botched and completely without value.

In short, I’m fed up repeating myself for the benefit of people who can’t be bothered reading the posts here properly or presenting an intelligent argument. I mean, which part of phrases like ‘con-man’, ‘compulsive liar’ and ‘complete ignorance of the Irish language’ do these people not understand? I am not going to provide a platform for vain and intellectually lazy people to make absurd claims about the supposed merits of Cassidy’s work. In future, any such comments will simply be deleted UNLESS they deal with specific facts rather than vague generalisations.

After all, if the fools who believe in Cassidy’s absurd ideas want to express their ignorance in public, there are plenty of places where they can do that, or they can found their own blog where they can repeat the same old nonsense over and over again without having to touch base with reality at all. As for this blog, it is about telling the truth and shaming Daniel Cassidy and that’s how it’s going to stay.