Tag Archives: Danny Cassidy

Cassidese Glossary – Yellow

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.

The phrase ‘to be yellow’ or ‘to be yellow-bellied’ (to be a coward) seems to enter English first in the 19th century in America. The origin of the phrase is unknown.

In his etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, Daniel Cassidy claimed an Irish origin for the expression. He said that it comes from the Irish éalú, which is the verbal noun of a verb meaning to escape, to abscond or to steal up on. This is ridiculously improbable. Irish has many good ways of talking about bravery or cowardice but you wouldn’t talk about someone being ‘an escape person’.

By a strange irony, the origin of the expression could conceivably be found in the Irish language but it has nothing to do with éalú. The fact is that in Irish, you can say of someone who is a coward that they have ‘yellow clay in them’ – tá cré bhuí ann. I have always assumed that this means that the pot or whatever you are making is weaker if an inferior kind of clay is found in it, so it breaks up when fired or subjected to any kind of pressure. There is a pretty good case for saying that this phrase explains the origin of the expression yellow for cowardice in English. If Cassidy had known any Irish, he would perhaps have been able to make a reasonable argument for this one.

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 – Whale

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. 

It seems that this use of whale as a verb meaning beat or whip first occurs in the late 18th century and it has been suggested (quite reasonably) that it comes from the word wale, to mark with wales (variant of weals) or stripes, which has been used since the 15th century.

Daniel Cassidy, in his etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that this word comes from bhuail, the past tense of buail, meaning hit. As I have said before, words and phrases are not just borrowed randomly between languages and the link between whale and bhuail is highly improbable.

 

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 – Twig

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. 

Cassidy claims that the African-American expression to dig (to understand or to like) as well as the earlier slang term twig comes from the Irish verb tuigeann, to understand.

This is possible but twig and its relationship to tuig was first discussed by Walter Skeat, who died in 1912. Both twig and dig and their possible origin from tuig were discussed in a paper by Eric P. Hamp, first published in 1981, called “On the Celtic origin of English slang dig/twig ‘understand’”. In other words, this claim has nothing whatever to do with Cassidy and predates his book by generations.

Cassidese Glossary – Twerp

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.

The word twerp, an insulting term for an insignificant person or fool, seems to make its appearance first in English about 1910. Nobody is quite sure of its origin. A popular derivation is that it derives from the name of T.W. Earp, an Oxford student who was very aesthetic and artistic and mocked by his sportier contemporaries for his urbanity. The Dictionary of American Slang suggests that it was first used in 1874 (which would discount the T.W. Earp explanation) but apparently there is no citation for this, so I would be reluctant to accept it without further information.

In his etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, the late Daniel Cassidy claimed that the expression twerp comes from the Irish word doirb, which he defines as ‘an insect, a worm, a dwarf, a small, insignificant person, a diminutive insignificant creature; a small fish, a small fry’.

Doirb, according to Ó Dónaill’s Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla (Irish-English Dictionary), means a water beetle. That is the only meaning given.

Dinneen, an earlier and less accurate dictionary, has a head-word doirbh, which means: an insect, causing swellings in cattle or soreness of the teats; a water-worm (Torr); a dwarf. It can also have the forms doirb, duirb, dairb or darbh.

In other words, doirb, which would be pronounced dorrib, or doirbh which would be pronounced dorriv, is basically a word for a water-beetle. Apparently it can also mean a dwarf but its use as an insult for an insignificant person is not recorded anywhere before Cassidy.