Tag Archives: Dreckfink

Cassidese Glossary – Fink

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 American slang term fink, meaning a contemptible person or an informer, dates back to the year 1894. Daniel Cassidy, in his work of false etymologies, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that the word fink is from the Irish fionnachtain or fionnachtaí. This is absurd.

Fionnachtain, according to Ó Dónaill, means:

fionnachtain, f. (gs. & pl. -ana).1. (Act of) finding; find, discovery. 2. Invention.

The word fionnachtaí, according to the same source, means:

fionnachtaí, m. (gs. ~, pl. -aithe). Finder, discoverer. (Var:fionnachtóir m)

In other words, these are neutral words for finding or discovering. The neutrality of these words is also confirmed by Dinneen. Cassidy invented pejorative meanings like snoop and snitch for fionnachtain/fionnachtaí, meanings that these words have never had. There is another problem with this word being the origin of fink, namely that it has three syllables, while fink only has one!

Then there is the problem that there is a much better and more convincing explanation.

Cassidy dismissed this explanation, as he did on many occasions with many words, by giving a loaded definition calculated to make the claim look ridiculous:

“Some Anglo-American dictionaries suggest fink and finking might be derived from the German fink, meaning a finch …”

This is completely dishonest. The primary meaning of Fink is finch but Fink was also used in German student societies to mean a non-member of the group. In German there are also abusive compound words like Dreckfink (Dreck “filth”), Mistfink (Mist “manure”), Schmierfink (Schmiere “grease”), referring to a dirty or untidy person. It is also found in German criminal argot (Rotwelsch) with the meaning “contemptible person” and “penis”.

This clearly shows the dishonest nature of Cassidy’s work. He carefully and callously manipulated the facts in relation to both the Irish word and the English word in order to make his putative link plausible. Without that manipulation, there is no link.

Fink

Another ridiculous claim from Cassidy is that fink, which originally meant a company or government spy in labour organisations, is from the Irish fionnachtain. This is absurd. Fionnachtain means to find, discover or invent. There are specific terms for a spy such as néaladóir, spiaire agus brathadóir. Why wouldn’t Irish speakers have used one of them?

There is another problem with this word being the origin of fink, namely that it has three syllables, while fink only has one! And finnakhtun doesn’t really sound like fink, does it?

Then there is the problem that the real explanation is well-known. Fink almost certainly comes from the German word Fink, meaning a finch. Cassidy dismissed this explanation, as he did on many occasions with many words, but he didn’t tell his readers the full story and let them make up their own minds. The fact is that Fink was used in German student societies to mean a non-member of the group. In German there are also abusive compound words like Dreckfink, a shitbird. There were plenty of German-speaking people in NY in the 19th century and the word is one of those words that just sound appropriate. You would know that fink is not a good thing to be, even if you had never heard it before.

In short, this is another instance where Cassidy’s claim is just pure childish fantasy.