Tag Archives: Dan Cassidy

John on Goodreads

Having finished the glossary, I am looking forward to taking a well-deserved rest for a while. However, before I do that, I will publish a couple of articles I wrote in draft and never got around to editing.

Just recently I came across another clown who has posted in support of Daniel Cassidy’s tosh on Goodreads. Some people think that the best way to deal with this kind of guff is simply to leave these people to their own devices and ignore them. They may have a point, but personally I quite like calling a moron a moron, so here goes!

The reviewer, who goes by the name of John, starts off with a very revealing comment:

Great book and Cassidy obviously angered some of the snooty academics he criticized in the book.

Here we see the motivation of much of this nonsense on line. The snooty academics are trying to silence the little man who is telling an unpopular truth. They’re all in it together. They don’t like any narrative that threatens their cosy little consensus. John presumably thinks that the smart people are looking down on people like him and Cassidy, because he’s a poorly educated person with a chip on his shoulder. In reality, of course, the people who are most angered by this book aren’t academics. I’m not an academic and neither are most of Cassidy’s critics. I am also not particularly ‘snooty’. I do look down on people who are intellectually lazy and arrogant but I’m not a snob in any social sense and I see no evidence that the majority of Cassidy’s critics are privileged in any way.

The big criticism of the book is that modern native Irish speakers don’t approve of his interpretations of the language into American (New York) English of Irish terms.

This is an odd and clumsy way of phrasing it. It’s obvious from the remainder of the post that this isn’t what John means. It’s not a case of his interpreting Irish terms into American English. This is the reverse of what Cassidy did. He took American English terms (many of which had very clear derivations) and simply invented phrases in ‘Irish’ that make no sense to any Irish speaker. However, then John says that it was OK for him to do this.

The problem with this of course is that the people who spoke this form of Irish came to New York in the aftermath of the Famine. Last count there were three modern dialects of Irish and though speakers of different dialects can understand each other, their use of local slang is precisely the thing which makes them all….different dialects.

Again, clumsy, badly-argued, lacking in any rigour. There is an attempt by John to pretend that he knows about Irish (the stuff about the three main dialects is true but only proves he has access to Wikipedia!) There is a certain overlap between slang and dialect but they are fundamentally different things. Look up their definitions in online dictionaries if you don’t believe me.

Please note that this person is not an expert on Irish. It is obvious to me that John isn’t Irish, doesn’t know any Irish himself and doesn’t know how different or similar or mutually comprehensible Irish dialects are from his personal experience. If he knew any Irish, he wouldn’t buy into any of Cassidy’s moronic nonsense.

So it’s very possible that words that had currency in early to mid 19th century Ireland, among peasants of the West, slowly fell into misuse after they had left Ireland but continued to be used in America. Pre-Famine Ireland was markedly different from Post-Famine Ireland especially in the accelerated decline of the language and the conscious turning away from all things Gaelic.

In other words, John thinks it’s irrelevant that almost every phrase used by Cassidy in How The Irish Invented Slang is unrecognisable in any dialect of Irish. You won’t find any of Cassidy’s ludicrous ‘Irish’ phrases used anywhere by any Irish speaker but that doesn’t matter, apparently, because they might have existed, even if there’s no proof. Anyone with a brain will realise that the chances of ALL the expressions mentioned by Cassidy disappearing from the Irish language in Ireland immediately and without leaving a trace but surviving in America are so tiny that it’s not even worth considering and even if they did, the burden of proof is on those who believe they existed, not on sceptics like me. They’re quite at liberty to believe in these fantasies but scholars don’t have to believe in things which are unsupported by evidence. That’s how it works.

After all many words and phrases from 19th century American English are either no longer used today or have evolved into different usage. Few people today speak like Abraham Lincoln, Wyatt Earp or Teddy Roosevelt.

Yes, languages change and Cassidy’s critics, myself included, know this and know a lot more about the history of Irish and the way it has changed since the 19th century than Cassidy, or Peter Quinn, or John. But the earliest of the three people mentioned, Abraham Lincoln, wrote the Gettysburg Address and the Gettysburg Address is known to many millions of Americans, who can understand it perfectly. The style is a little antiquated but it isn’t full of gobbledegook that no modern English speaker can understand. So why should Irish be so different, as this person is claiming?

It’s unrealistic to think that the loss of 1 million speakers of Irish didn’t somehow affect the language either at home or abroad. But leave it to the Irish to condemn anything they haven’t thought of themselves, let alone something written by a Yank.

Again, this is a straw man argument. Nobody said the Famine didn’t have an effect on the language and its use but we Irish are not being unreasonable by mocking the nonsense produced by Cassidy. He didn’t know any Irish, didn’t care enough to learn it, didn’t have a rational mind capable of separating puerile nonsense from fact. He is roundly condemned by linguists of all nationalities, including Irish people, because he was a pompous, dim-witted fake with no qualifications and no talent, not because he was a ‘Yank’.

Interestingly a modern historian has theorized that New York born gangster/cowboy Billy The Kid was a native Irish speaker who would have learned Irish growing up probably in the Five Points ghetto – recent evidence which supports Cassidys theory but which is conveniently ignored by his critics.

The information about Billy the Kid is true, or at least there are good grounds for thinking that it could be true. According to a cowboy who worked with Billy the Kid, Billy used to translate for a child, Mary Coghlan, who only spoke Irish.

Unfortunately, John does not enlighten us as to how he thinks this information supports Cassidy’s theory. It plainly does nothing to strengthen it or weaken it, let alone confirm or refute it. No critic of Cassidy has ever said or implied that there were no Irish speakers in the USA in the 19th or early 20th centuries. I had Irish-speaking relatives living within a short journey of Cassidy’s home in New York a hundred years ago. William Carty could easily have been one of the many Irish speakers in the USA but this provides no ammunition for Cassidy’s supporters. Whatever Irish William Carty and the many other speakers of the language in 19th century America had, it certainly didn’t consist of the bizarre phoney phrases made up by one crazy fake academic in California in the 2000s. This is a little like saying that the presence of Spanish speakers in an area confirms your opinion that the English expression to be out of pocket comes from the Spanish phrase estar fuera de bolsillo, and when people who speak Spanish tell you that isn’t a real Spanish expression, laughing smugly and saying that it may not exist in Spanish now but you can’t prove it didn’t exist in some long-dead and unrecorded version of the language. Which is really pretty infantile as an argument.

So if the phrases given as Irish in Cassidy’s book aren’t a lost American version of the language, what are they? Interestingly, John’s Goodreads page gives us an interesting example. John is a member of a Goodreads group called Clann na Chiarraí, which is dedicated to books about Kerry or written by people with Kerry connections. The phrase Clann na Chiarraí is trying to say ‘Children of Kerry’. In fact, the Irish name for Kerry never takes the definite article. The genitive of Kerry is Chiarraí, so children of Kerry would really be Clann Chiarraí. And in any case, any Irish speaker will tell you that séimhiú (lenition) never happens after the article na, which is used with plural nouns or feminine nouns in the genitive. This demonstrates something interesting. The fact is that any Irish speaker, whether two hundred years ago or last week, whether literate or illiterate, from the remotest parts of Kerry or a windswept hillside in Donegal or a posh suburb of Dublin or Cork would call the Kerry team foireann Chiarraí, not foireann na Chiarraí or even foireann na Ciarraí.

In other words, the version Clann na Chiarraí doesn’t represent some fascinating linguistic evolution in the USA among communities of Irish speakers cut off from the motherland. It represents an attempt by someone who doesn’t speak Irish to compose a term in that language, an attempt that failed because of a lack of knowledge of the real language and the way it is used. Which is also the reason why Cassidy’s ‘Irish’ phrases are almost entirely nonsense and can be discounted as the source of anything but a bit of unearned and undeserved cash for Daniel Cassidy and aggravation and unnecessary work for people like me who genuinely value the Irish language and dislike seeing it treated with such casual contempt.

Cassidese Glossary – Yell

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 etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that the word yell comes from éamh oll, which Cassidy defines as ‘a great cry, a loud shout, a loud call.’ This is ridiculous for several reasons.

Firstly, éamh oll is not a real Irish phrase. The word oll is only used as a prefix in modern Irish and éamh is a fairly obscure word, much more obscure than words like scairt, gairm, scread, glaoch and liú.

Cassidy, with his customary lack of rigour, misquotes the English dictionaries too. Here is what Cassidy says:

“The OED derives yell from Middle Low German gellen, gillen, weak, Old English galan, to sing.”

This is what the Oxford English Dictionary really says about the origins of yell:

“Forms: OE gellan, giellan, gillan, gyllan, ME ȝeolle, ME ȝelle, ME ȝel, ȝele, yhelle, …

Etymology: Old English (Anglian) gellan , (West Saxon) giellan , gyllan , gillan strong verb, past tense geal , plural gullon = Middle Low German gellen , gillen weak, Middle Dutch gellen strong (Dutch gillen ), Old High German gellan strong (Middle High German, German weak gellen ), Old Norse gjalla , past tense gall (Swedish gälla , Norwegian giella ); < gell- , extended form of gel- : gal- , whence Old English galan to sing, gale v.1, -gale in nihtegale , night- + -gale (in nightingale n.1), Old Norse -gal in hanagal cockcrow, Old Saxon, (Middle) Dutch, Old High German galm outcry.”

It is quite clear from all this that yell had exactly the same meaning and a fairly similar form in Middle and Old English. The OED does not say that the word comes from Middle Low German because Middle Low German came after Old English chronologically and the word was already in use in English in the Old English period. And the reference to strong and weak is nothing to do with the meaning of the word, it refers to it being a strong or weak verb (i.e. one which forms the past tense by a vowel change or by adding –ed respectively: write/wrote is strong, work/worked is weak.)

In other words, Cassidy’s claim here is nonsense. The origin of yell is well-known and of impeccable Germanic origin, éamh oll does not exist and his claim of an Irish derivation is laughable.

Cassidese Glossary – Yacking

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.

Most dictionaries regard yack and yacking as versions of the phrase yackety-yack. In other words, they are an onomatopoeic rendering of the noise a set of teeth make when they are chattering.

In Daniel Cassidy’s etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, Cassidy suggests that it comes from the Irish éagcaoin (properly éagaoin), which is pronounced aygeen and means ‘mourning’ or ‘lamenting’. This is really not similar at all, either in sound or meaning and of course, there is no evidence of yacking having an Irish origin.

Cassidese Glossary – Whiskey

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.

Whisky or whiskey is acknowledged by all lexicographers and scholars of language to be a borrowing and shortening of the Irish or Scottish Gaelic term uisce beatha (uisge beatha), which is a calque based on the Latin aqua vitae (not aqua vita, as Cassidy writes in his book).

Cassidy does not deny this, but he seems to imply that the sound-change found in the transition from uisce to whisky justifies his claim that the words were mangled and transformed completely when they were borrowed from Irish into English:

The archaic English spelling and pronunciation whiskybae, and its contraction whiskey, demonstrate how dramatically Irish shape-shifted into English. The slender Irish s, pronounced sh, in uisce (pron. ishkee, water) became the sibilant “s” of “whiskeybae” and “whiskey”.

This is a claim that Cassidy makes throughout the book. Logically, this is nonsense. When Irish words were adopted by English, the process generally left them completely intelligible. Shebeen and síbín, soogan and súgán, coyne and cáin: the form is very similar.

However, there is an interesting point here, which Cassidy raises and does nothing with: why does the slender s (sh) of the Irish become a broad or velarized s in the English in this case? (Both s and sh are sibilants, of course.) The first point that needs to be mentioned is that uisce beatha was borrowed into English as early as the 16th century in forms like uskebeaghe (1581). (The usquebae mentioned by Cassidy isn’t found in English until the 18th century.) In other words, we can’t be absolutely sure of the exact pronunciation of uisge when the borrowing occurred. Secondly, there may be something in the pattern of letters -isce- that makes the s something between a velarized and a palatal consonant; something in the place of articulation. There are other examples of this: the surname Ó Fuaruisce becomes Whoriskey in English, and the word crúiscín (jug) is always written as cruiskeen in English (as in Cruiskeen Lawn).

Cassidese Glossary – Welt

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.

This is another improbable claim made by the late Daniel Cassidy in his etymological hoax How The Irish Invented Slang. In American slang, the term welt is used as a verb, in phrases like ‘to welt someone’ (to hit them hard). This is probably an extension of the noun welt which means the mark left on the skin by a blow.

According to Cassidy, this comes from Irish bhuailte. Cassidy furnishes us with an example of bhuailte in use, which will show any competent Irish speaker that Cassidy knew nothing about the grammar of the Irish language. Cassidy claims that ‘That man is beaten’ would be expressed in Irish as Tá an fear sin bhuailte. In reality, this would not be bhuailte but buailte. There is no reason to lenite the word buailte and without the lenition, it is pronounced boolcha, which would not give rise to welt. Cassidy’s claim is nonsense.

Cassidese Glossary – Wanker

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 etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that uath-anchor is a real Irish phrase and is defined as ‘self-abuse; masturbation; fig. a masturbator’. This, according to Cassidy, is the origin of the slang word wanker. In fact, there are many genuine expressions for masturbation in Irish, such as féintruailliú, féinsuaitheadh, lámhchairdeas or lámhchartadh.

The word uath-anchor does not exist at all. It and its supposed meanings were invented by Daniel Cassidy. If it did exist, it would mean something akin to ‘spontaneous ill-treatment’. In reality, wanker is probably derived from English dialect expressions meaning something like ‘to hit’, but there is no certainty about its etymology (except that it doesn’t come from the non-existent uath-anchor!)

Cassidese Glossary – Wallop

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. 

In his etymological hoax How The Irish Invented Slang, the late Daniel Cassidy claimed that the word wallop, meaning to beat or strike, is derived from the Irish phrase bhuail leadhb.

The first thing that needs to be pointed out about this claim is that bhuail leadhb is not a proper Irish phrase. Bhuail is the past tense of buail meaning to beat. Leadhb, amongst other things, can refer to a blow or a stroke, but in this sense it is usually used with the word for give – thug sé leadhb dó, he gave him a blow, not bhuail sé leadhb (air?). (This is much the same as English – you don’t beat someone a blow, you beat someone or you give someone a blow.) And bhuail leadhb would never be heard together, because it needs a subject, (bhuail sé leadhb, bhuail Pádraig leadhb) and nobody would borrow a phrase unless they heard it being used, which they wouldn’t with bhuail leadhb. I should also point out that Cassidy claimed bhuail as the origin of wale as well. So the same word becomes wale in one case and wall in another, which is hardly likely.

Furthermore, wallop is an ancient word in English, though it originally meant to gallop. It apparently only acquired the new meaning of to beat or strike in the early 19th century, but this is probably a development of its earlier meaning, or perhaps just a re-use of a word which sounded right for a blow. Wherever it genuinely comes from, the fact is that it does not come from bhuail leadhb.

Cassidese Glossary – Tiger

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.

According to Wikipedia, in the US, the card game known as Faro was also called ‘bucking the tiger’ or ‘twisting the tiger’s tail’, a reference to a picture of a Bengal tiger which appeared on the backs of playing cards.

Cassidy rejected this (by not actually mentioning it) and claimed that the word tiger in this case derives from the Irish adjective diaga (pron. jee-agga or dee-agga), which means divine. According to Cassidy: ‘The Tiger (diaga, divine, holy, diagaireacht, a divinity) was the god of the odds.’

Dia is a divinity in Irish. The variant diagaireacht could just, at a pinch, be used for divinity, the subject of study (not A divinity), though the usual word for that is diagacht. None of these words has any close or meaningful relation to card-playing or Faro.

Cassidese Glossary – Taunt

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 etymological fantasy, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that hundreds of English words were really derived from Irish. For example, he claimed that the word taunt is derived from the Irish tathant, which means to urge or incite or entreat.

There are several problems with this. While taunt sounds a bit like tathant (tahunt), the word taunt is already found in the English of England at the beginning of the 16th century. This is too early for it to have come from Irish, as there was no significant Irish immigration to England that far back. Furthermore, most scholars regard it as from French, probably from tenter (to tempt or to provoke). The meaning is also quite different. Tathant is a word with positive connotations. It means to urge, to encourage, to entreat, not to rile someone or provoke them.

Cassidese Glossary – Tantrum

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.

In his work of etymological fiction, How The Irish Invented Slang, the late Daniel Cassidy claimed that the word tantrum in English derives from the Irish word teintrighim (tintrím as it would be in modern spelling), which would be pronounced chen-chreem. This is a real word from Dinneen’s dictionary. Dinneen defines it as ‘I flash forth, lighten, brighten, glisten’.

I need hardly point out that while this word exists (it’s in a dictionary) it is hard to think of any circumstance where it would actually be used, as storms rarely speak, even in stories. As usual, Cassidy does not simply copy the meanings given by Irish scholars, so his definition of the word is: ‘I flash-forth; fig. I have a tantrum or fiery fit’.

Back in reality, the origin of tantrum is almost certainly traceable to the name of a devil in English folklore, Tantrum-Bobus. This was used as a nickname for a boisterous child and eventually, it came to have the meaning of a fit of anger. For example, in the 1810s, in his diary, Henry Monro gives a list of his brother Tom’s rows with family members, including “a tantrum bobus with my mother”. Monro was a Londoner.