Tag Archives: Dead Rabbits

Cassidese Glossary – Dead Rabbits

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 amateur etymologist Daniel Cassidy claimed that the Dead Rabbits gang, shown in the film Gangs of New York as carrying a dead rabbit on a spike as a totem, really had no connection with rabbits at all and that this name is in truth a phonetic rendering of the Irish ráibéad, meaning a ‘hulking person, a broad-shouldered, muscular man’. To him, dead is an English intensifier.

There is no doubt that the Dead Rabbits did carry a dead rabbit into battle with them, or at least that this claim was made a long time ago. As far as I’m concerned, that is pretty much that, because once you accept that their name is connected to dead rabbits, any claim that the name is Irish becomes pointless and unlikely to be correct.

The word ráibéad is an incredibly obscure word, which is not mentioned in Dinneen’s dictionary, though it is mentioned in Ó Dónaill’s, where it is defined as ‘a big, hulking person or thing’ – not a ‘hulking person, a broad-shouldered, muscular man’. Ó Dónaill got it from an article in a journal which was an account of words from one parish in the west of Ireland. In other words, it seems to have been equivalent to the English term ‘whopper’ in the Irish of Indreabhán a couple of generations ago.

In short, Cassidy’s claim is nonsense.

Winona and the Gophers

Having discovered (invented) the ‘origin’ of the Dead Rabbits, Cassidy then did the same for some of the other NY gangs. I have already posted on his absurd and impossible derivation for the Plug Uglies. Cassidy also decided that the Shirt Tails came from siortálaí, which is a variant form of a word siortaitheoir meaning rummager or ransacker. The received wisdom is that this gang wore their shirt tails outside their trousers so that they could be recognised. This was also the case with factions in Ireland, where the gangs adopted items of clothing like an old waistcoat or a necktie. These sartorial touches became the equivalent of the blue and red colours of Crips and Bloods, so the English shirt-tail explanation makes a lot of sense.

Cassidy went even further by saying that the Gopher Gang derived their name, not from the fact that they hung around in cellars but because they were a confederacy or comhbhá (pr. koh-wah or koh-vah). Ó Dónaill defines this word as fellow-feeling, sympathy, close friendship, close alliance. Which, to me, seems more California than Hell’s Kitchen – a bit too New Age and touchy-feely.

I can just imagine one of their meetings. 

“Now, I call dis meetin’ to order. I’d just like to say, las’ time we was makin’ some real progress. Tony, you was tryin’ to woik out why you keeps faintin’ when you’re under pressure. Legs, you shared wid us how undermined and disenfranchised you feel as a poisson when da cops is mean to you, and Bugsy, you was outlinin’ da copin’ strategies you employ to counter da feelins o’ rejection you gets when people try to not pay da full whack o’ protection money …” 

Then Cassidy completely loses it. OK, his ideas were crazy before now … but this one is really howling at the moon with a tinfoil helmet! According to him, when the Gopher Gang founded their Winona Club in Hell’s Kitchen, this was nothing to do with the town of Winona, Minnesota or the Native American princess it was named after. No, according to Cassidy, this was a club for the Uathadh Nua, which Cassidy claims means ‘the new few’. Note that uathadh has the letters Lit. after it in the dictionary, which means that this is an old-fashioned literary term, not in current use. And we are not talking Dickens or Twain old-fashioned here. We are talking ‘Gadzooks, sire, by my codpiece, I vow the knave lieth!’ old-fashioned. In other words, not current now, or in the 19th century. And just in case anyone is in any doubt that Cassidy was a lying imbecile, I should just point out that uathadh nua is pronounced oo-ah-hoo noo-a. The first bit is like Oahu but with a vowel change to Uahu. Does this sound much like Winona to you? What about the w? What about the vowels? What about the other n?  

Cassidy also claimed that the Why-O Gang derived their name from the same word and without a shred of irony, he quotes an early 17th century text, Foras Feasa Ar Éirinn, as an example of the word in use!

In short, Cassidy’s claims about the gangs of New York are as ridiculous, contrived and fanciful as the rest of his mad theories.

Dead Rabbits

Among Cassidy’s many crazy and unsupported theories was one which has really caught the public’s imagination, the claim that the Dead Rabbits gang, shown in the film Gangs of New York as carrying a dead rabbit on a spike as a totem, really had no connection with rabbits at all and that this name is in truth a phonetic rendering of the Irish ráibéad, meaning a big, hulking person or thing.

First off, there is no doubt that the Dead Rabbits did carry a dead rabbit into battle with them, or at least that this claim was made a long time ago. As far as I’m concerned, that is pretty much that, because once you accept that their name is connected to dead rabbits, any claim that the name is Irish becomes pointless and unlikely to be correct.

Add to that the fact that ráibéad is an incredibly obscure word, which is not mentioned in Dinneen’s dictionary, though it is mentioned in Ó Dónaill’s. I have certainly never heard it in use. Because of this I don’t know how someone would use it, but I would assume from the definition that it is one of those words like pánaí (a word I do use) which just means something large. If it is like pánaí, then it is neither particularly flattering nor offensive. It’s just a fairly neutral comment about the size of something or someone.

In other words, it doesn’t sound to me like a suitable basis for a gang-name and certainly, Cassidy had no evidence of any connection with Irish beyond his misplaced faith in his own crazy revelations.

Speaking of which, if you are still in any doubt that Cassidy was a nut, check out this link, where he tries to persuade a group of people that the Ku Klux Klan derives its name from a Gaelic term meaning Cloaked Champions of the Clan. This one didn’t make it to the book, of course.

http://www.daltai.com/discus/messages/13510/13807.html?1116485172

Plug Uglies

Another ridiculous claim of Cassidy’s which has been spread far and wide by an uncritical readership on the internet is the idea that the Plug Uglies, a 19th century criminal gang, derive their name from Baill Óglaigh,  which he claims means “a member of the Volunteers.” He says that this refers to the Fenian Brotherhood.

There are several problems with this. Firstly there are a number of explanations for the phrase in English. Check out these explanations here: http://www.worldwidewords.org/nl/ynmb.htm

Secondly, as usual, Cassidy’s version is rubbish. His knowledge of Irish (I use the term ‘knowledge’ advisedly) lets him down. Baill would require the partitive dative preposition de, so it would be Baill de na hÓglaigh (members of the Volunteers), not baill Óglaigh (a Volunteer’s members!!). Thus, ‘one of the men’ is duine de na fir,  not duine na bhfear, which if it means anything, means ‘the person belonging to the men, the men’s personal slave.’  

And then again, Cassidy failed to understand the way language works. He was obviously not a very intelligent man and thought you could simply lift words from the dictionary and do what you like with them, regardless of their history or usage. Óglach doesn’t really mean a volunteer. What it means is a young warrior or a soldier. It is an old word in the language but it was used for the first time as a translation for the Irish Volunteers in the years just before the First World War, when the Irish Republican Army was translated as Óglaigh na hÉireann. To the best of my knowledge, it was never used as a word for the Irish Republican Brotherhood or Fenian Brotherhood several generations before that, so the idea that it is a reference to this is absurd.

Also, you have to take into account that none of these phrases really sound a lot like Plug Uglies anyway (bwill ohglee, bwill de na hohglee). 

 

Chance of Cassidy being correct – 0%!