Tag Archives: Eamonn McCann

July’s Twit of the Month – Eamonn McCann

In June, my inaugural Cassidyslangscam Twit of the Month was Jeffrey St. Clair, an ‘investigative reporter’ who was comprehensively hornswoggled by Cassidy’s puerile bullshit. In that post, I mentioned a clapped-out media ganch (ganch= a Hiberno-English expression for someone who talks too much) from Derry. For July’s Twit of the Month, I have chosen the aforementioned media ganch, Eamonn McCann of Derry.

This is part of an article McCann wrote on HotPress:

When I wrote here two years ago of Danny’s insistence that “jazz” derived from the Donegal-Irish “teas” (heat), the dominant reaction was derision.

But no-one has since been able to challenge Cassidy’s prodigious research, tracing the term back to post-Famine Donegal, then to “jass”, first used by an Irish-American sports writer of a “hot” pitch in baseball in 1913, and then in evolution to define a form of “Dixieland” music.

In the past year, the New York Times has carried a feature-page filled with testimonials to the solidity of Danny’s research. Academics and writers have accepted the validity of his thesis – that Irish is the source of much American slang.

This is complete crap and it certainly provides no evidence for the claims made. I mean, what research? There are dozens of theories about the origins of the word jazz, which first occurred in a musical context in 1912. Here’s a brief selection of them:

From the word jasmine, because jasmine oil was used in brothels and became associated with sex.

From Creole brothels where jezebels (prostitutes) worked.

From Creole patois jass “strenuous activity,” especially “sexual intercourse.”

From a black entertainer called Jas (James).

From a black entertainer called Chas (Charles).

From a Chicago musician called Jasbo (Jasper) Brown.

From jaser, a French word meaning conversation or intercourse, in various senses.

From the French word chasser, to hunt.

From a variant of jasm, a slang term dating back to 1860 that means ‘pep, energy’ and is related to jism for semen.

From various African languages, words like Mandingo jasi, ‘to become unlike oneself’.

From deas, the Irish for nice.

Cassidy’s claim that the word comes from teas is no more likely than any other claim on the list, and considerably less likely than most. (We also have to take into account that Cassidy believed the word teas was pronounced jass in Donegal – it isn’t, in any dialect of Irish. The difference between teas and deas is as phonemic as the difference between tip and dip or bad and pad in English.) Then Danny Cassidy ‘gusted into the musty world of etymology like a blast of ozone into smog’, as McCann puts it. In reality, of course, the forums of etymology were a bracing open space with continual discussion and debate, an ozone-rich place where nonsense was blown away by gales of common sense. Cassidy, the bearer of a rich urban smog of fanciful nonsense, didn’t last long when he tried to present his rubbish to etymologists. He withdrew himself from any forum he had joined but continued to believe he was right, in spite of all the criticism.

The New York Times article contained no ‘testimonials to the solidity of his research.’ This particular piece of brain-dead pseudo-journalism was simply an interview with Cassidy in a bar where he spouted some of his nonsense. Since the publication of his book, no specialist in the fields of linguistics or Irish studies has endorsed his work. None of his etymologies has been accepted by academia and not because of any anti-Irish bias. It is simply because his etymologies are all shite.

We should also point out that when Eamonn McCann calls Cassidy Danny, this is because he had known him for twelve years at the time he was writing the article. He got to know him when Cassidy was making one of his documentaries and McCann was a talking head on the film. That’s why McCann is taking everything Cassidy said as the truth – not because any of it is true, but because Cassidy was a crony of his. However, I probably wouldn’t have bestowed my Twit of the Month Award on McCann if it weren’t for the following piece, which is not only very stupid but also deeply dishonest.

The Oxford English Dictionary reckons that lunch “perhaps evolved from lump, on the analogy of the apparent relation between hump and hunch, bump and bunch.” Scholarly, eh? Danny’s truer story comes with a tour of 19th century Irish bar-rooms in New York and San Francisco: “Lunch is the plural Irish noun lóinte (pron. lónche) meaning ‘food, victuals, rations, ‘grub’ – from ‘Middle Irish lón, Old Irish lóon; (it is) cognate with Old Breton lon.” (Mac Bain’s Gaelic Etymological Dictionary; Dineen, 675; Ó Dónaill, 800.)

Sounds definitive to me.

Of course, if you look up what the OED really has to say about the vexed and tricky origins of lunch and luncheon, it is a lot longer and more complicated than the eighteen words given above. It’s a fact that lunch was used for a lump of bread or cheese over four hundred years ago in English. It is also a fact that there was a word nuncheon which meant a light meal in the afternoon, and that this is the probable origin of luncheon and that some people think the end was knocked off luncheon giving lunch, and that the modern use of lunch has nothing to do with the older word meaning a lump. If you’re really interested, there’s a link here which explains it all:

http://www.wordorigins.org/index.php/site/comments/lunch_luncheon/

As for Cassidy’s ‘Irish’, it is (as usual) a total distortion of the facts. While Cassidy copied most of the etymological details out of McBain’s Etymological Dictionary, he missed things out and put things in. No dictionary defines lón as ‘grub’, of course. Its meaning was originally ‘fat, lard’, I suppose because people needed to store fat for the winter both as food and lighting fuel. It then came to mean provisions (not exclusively food) and indeed lón cogaidh or armlón mean ammunition in modern Irish. Lón was sometimes used in the plural as lónta or lóinte, but the English etymologies for the English word lunch are far more convincing, even if they are somewhat confusing. Only an anti-intellectual dimwit with a huge chip on his shoulder would call Cassidy’s claims definitive and dismiss the scholarship of the OED.

And that, really, is where McCann has earned his Twit of the Month Award. The word definitive means that something is resolved with authority. Not only is Cassidy’s spiel distorted and devoid of any original research and any merit, the OED treatment of these words is comprehensive and scholarly. It’s also complex and difficult to follow, as the truth very often is. (As McCann found out on the Nolan Show, where he made Diane Abbott look polished.) The idea that Cassidy’s simplistic and twisted account of the facts is in any way comparable to the OED or to any other real scholarly account of etymology is just nonsense. Worse than that, Cassidy was a ‘professor’ who didn’t have any degrees and didn’t speak any Irish and the only reason McCann is supporting him here is because they were mates.

This is the holier-than-yous Eamonn McCann, who constantly excoriates the privileged and their cronyism. However, in this case, he shows that he is just as willing to forget the facts and support a pal because of cronyism, even if that pal betrayed all socialist principles by becoming a professor with only fake qualifications and betrayed the Irish language by pretending to be an Irish scholar without knowing any of the language. And that’s not even taking the allegations of Cassidy’s sexual harassment of his students into account. Still, perhaps, it was ’emotionally true’, even if it was really a pack of lies.

With all this in mind, I am delighted to bestow my July Twit of the Month Award on Eamonn McCann, pompous clapped-out media ganch and unashamed pal of Daniel Cassidy. It is richly deserved.

Advertisements

More on Medbh

In a post on Cassidy’s strange ideas about the Irish origins of jazz, I gave a link to a Wikipedia debate between John M. Baker and an unknown individual called Medbh. This is the link here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:Medbh. There seems little doubt that Medbh was a sock puppet for Cassidy himself. The crazy half-baked ranting is exactly like that used by Cassidy himself and a host of sock puppet identities used by him on various sites. At one point, Cassidy lets the mask slip completely, and Baker picks up on it:

Actually, I did not characterize CounterPunch Books as a vanity press, nor did I say anything about how many books it sells. I said only that it is not a peer-reviewed scholarly publisher. I do not have an opinion on whether or not it is a vanity press, nor how many books it sells. I don’t consider the number of books it sells at all relevant – many scholarly publishers sell few books, and many nonsensical books have become best-sellers. How do you know that Cassidy signed a standard author’s contract? I thought you said earlier that you are not Cassidy.

It is worth reading these debates, as they show clearly that Cassidy was dishonest, ignorant and full of crap. However, for those who can’t be bothered looking at the original source, here are some interesting notes.

When Baker said that Cassidy was an ‘academic administrator at NCoC’, Medbh/Cassidy responded by saying that This is utter nonsense. Cassidy is a tenured faculty member at New College of California, where he teaches media studies and Irish Studies. Prior to that he was on the graduate faculty of the Film Department at SF State. He is NOT an administrator at New College.’ What the sock puppet doesn’t say, of course, is that Cassidy had no right to be anything in a university but the janitor. He had no degrees, no qualifications. Nothing. This is the elephant in the room. How did Cassidy become ‘a tenured faculty member’ in a university without having a degree? Did he lie to get the job? How else did a man with no qualifications become a professor?

The sock puppet cites a number of people who have supported his work, with comments like this: Alex Cockburn is from Cork, Ireland, and studied the Irish language for the first six years of his schooling. He reads Irish and speaks it. He is a crank too, since he does not know who Grant Barret is. Of course, Cockburn was a good friend of Cassidy’s, so whether he was a crank or not or spoke Irish or not is of no importance.

Here is a list of the supporters mentioned and their known involvement with Cassidy:

Professor J. Joseph Lee of NYU and University College Cork – a friend of Cassidy’s.

Professor Robert Scally, associated with NYU Glucksman’s Ireland House – also a friend of Cassidy’s.

Professor Peter Linebaugh – friend of Cassidy, guested at his Irish Crossroads Festival in 2004.

Esther O’Hara (University of California, Berkeley) – former colleague and friend of Cassidy at New College of California

Pól Ó Muirí, journalist – no known connection.

Frank McNally, journalist – no known connection

Reyhan Harmanci, journalist – no known connection

Eamonn McCann, Journalist – friend of Cassidy’s, appeared in his 1995 documentary Uncensored Voices

Alexander Cockburn, journalist – friend of Cassidy’s

Peter Quinn, writer – described Cassidy as ‘my best friend’

Maureen Dezell, writer – friend of Cassidy’s

In other words, out of 11 people cited as supporting Cassidy, only three have no known connection to Cassidy. Cassidy himself, using an unconvincing sock puppet identity, gave a list of his own mates, without the slightest hint that he knew any of them, as support for the idea that he should be taken seriously as a scholar of language! What a total fraud!

However, the thing I found most astounding is the point raised by Baker about ‘peer-review’. Peer review is a specific process, where academic writing is assessed by academic peers in a formal way. Cassidy (Medbh) seems to have thought that peer-review was about getting reviews in newspapers! This is yet one more piece of evidence that Cassidy was a total moron who knew nothing about the world of scholarship and had no business teaching in a university.

Daniel Cassidy and the Irish Papers

We have recently discovered that ‘Professor’ Daniel Cassidy, self-proclaimed discoverer of hundreds of concealed Irish expressions in American slang, didn’t have a degree. In terms of the framework for qualifications we use in this country, Cassidy was a Level 3 (equivalent to Ardteistiméireacht in the 26 Counties, Scottish Highers, A-Levels here, in England or in Wales or USA High School Diploma). To be a professor, you would normally be expected to have a Level 8 (Doctorate), though you might just get there with a Level 7 (Master’s Degree) in special circumstances. In other words, the man was a total fraud.

However, like many fantasists and con-men, he also had a brass neck. After his crazy book was published in 2007, he went on tour to pitch his ludicrous ideas to Irish America and to the Irish themselves. A lot of articles appeared in the press in Ireland.

We have already discussed the shameful complicity of the Irish-language newspaper Lá in the Cassidy Scandal. As we have said before, one of Lá’s journalists got a trip (presumably free) to Cassidy’s Irish Crossroads Festival in California, so this junket probably explains why they felt obliged to support this nonsense (if rather unenthusiastically) rather than strapping on a pair and telling the truth about Cassidy’s complete lack of ability.

Another offender was the Irish News, which adopted a completely uncritical and laudatory tone in an article by Margaret Canning, who obviously knows as much about the Irish language as Cassidy himself.

However, the worst offender was the Irish Times, which used to be a sensible and intelligent paper. Pól Ó Muirí reviewed the book in glowing terms in the Irish language section, though it seems to me that his article is slightly tongue in cheek. Even if it is, the mockery is so subtle that it might as well not be there. Then Kate Holmquist reviewed it on 28 July 2007, again repeating all kinds of stupidities, such as jism coming from teas ioma, which Cassidy says means an abundance of heat and passion; figuratively semen. This is, of course, complete nonsense.

However, the prize for chief sucker of the Irish nation goes to Frank McNally in An Irishman’s Diary, a regular column in the Irish Times. McWally gave it a glowing review on August 2, 2007:  “It’s not every dictionary you can describe as a thrilling read. But when I picked up Daniel Cassidy’s How the Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads the other day, I soon found myself reluctant to put it down. Compared with the OED, certainly, this is a page-turner….” Yes, Frank. That’s because the OED has lots of FACTS. Cassidy’s book is full of fascinating CRAP.

But McWally couldn’t leave it alone. On Friday 13 March 2009 he was plugging Cassidy again, trying to present a ‘balanced’ argument. He talks about linguists looking for written sources while ‘lack of written sources … was central to Cassidy’s argument.’ He also rang Cassidy, apparently, but was unaware of the time difference so the conversation was unproductive. What he didn’t do was phone an academic, a linguist or an Irish speaker in the same time-zone and ask them why this book is mindless shite, which is what he should have done.

McNally was obviously impressed by Cassidy (or perhaps he finds it hard to think of new material). On Sat June 4, 2011, he wrote another article lending support to Cassidy’s specious nonsense. This is one of the worst articles I have ever read. It completely misses the point, drags in H.L. Mencken, the stringency of linguistic methodology and the garrulous nature of the Irish. However, we have to remember here that the book is stuffed full of nonsense. A person with access to Google (and you would hope a so-called journalist would have access to Google) would be able to look up the real derivations for Cassidy’s words and find that the material presented in the book doesn’t actually reflect what the dictionaries say. And of course, anyone looking at an Irish dictionary would realise pretty quickly that Cassidy’s Irish ‘sources’ are hooky as well. Why didn’t McNally do this? Why indeed!

Then on 9 May 2013, McNally discussed the origins of the term phoney, claiming that Cassidy was the first to make the connection between phoney, the obsolete slang term fawney and Irish fáinne. A quick look on Google (try it Frank, it’s really good!) will show that Eric Partridge had already published this claim  in 1990 and I would guess that he probably wasn’t the first to make that connection.

Finally, on 16 Oct 2013, there is another massive plug for Cassidy, again with no attempt to find out what genuine experts think – or more importantly, know. Five plugs for the Great Fraud and not one valid or intelligent criticism of any of Cassidy’s bogus claims – not even the one about Gunga O’Din, Dia idir sinn agus an drochrud!

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Ed Power, writing in the Belfast Telegraph and the Irish Independent in December 2007, did what a real journalist would do. He lifted the phone and got a couple of comments from Professor Terence Dolan, who dismissed Cassidy’s book as almost entirely wishful thinking.

What lessons can we learn from this? Well, don’t read Frank McNally’s column is fairly high on the list. In praising this book, Frank McNally, in addition to revealing that he’s a bit of a pillock and that the Irish Times isn’t what it was, has become one of the few people to support this ridiculous book without (apparently) having any kind of personal connection with Cassidy. It’s kind of understandable that Eamonn McCann would say how great the book is, because he knew Cassidy. As did Peter Quinn, and Joe Lee, and John Rickford, and Alexander Cockburn, to name but a few. What’s Frank’s excuse, apart from laziness and stupidity?

Another lesson is the fact that most people don’t know anything about linguistics. Mathematicians complain that people are happy to admit their innumeracy and that it doesn’t carry the same stigma as illiteracy. Personally, I don’t accept their argument. I think maths is fascinating and I wish I were better at it but it doesn’t bother me because I don’t use it in my everyday life. However, everyone uses language – all the time – and yet the facts of linguistics are a mystery to people who regard themselves as educated. Many people regard knowledge of a few irrational, normative rules of grammar like not splitting infinitives as linguistics, whereas in fact true linguists have a very different agenda.

However, the biggest and most important lesson is probably how enormous our inferiority complex as a nation is (and was, even before the Celtic Tiger was put to sleep). All it takes is for an arrogant, ignorant little gobshite like Cassidy to turn up with a Noo Yoik accent and a monomaniacal sense of entitlement, pretending to be a supporter of the Irish language and a genuine academic and a friend of Francis Ford Coppola, and people instantly lose all their common sense and start tugging the spiritual forelock which the Irish developed a couple of hundred years ago for the purpose of kowtowing to the local Anglo-Irish landlord.

Pathetic!

Hall of Shame

This is a list of some of the many people and organisations who should be heartily ashamed of themselves for lending their support to this idiotic piece of trash. All of them are guilty of helping to make this book a commercial success. I should point out that it is not an academic success – Cassidy is quite rightly regarded as a joke by academics in the field of Irish linguistics.

Tom Deignan, writer of the weekly Sidewalks column in the Irish Voice and author of Irish Americans, who recommended this garbage as one of his 20 books all Irish Americans should read. Why?

New York Public Libraries for giving him a platform to recommend this nonsense to an unsuspecting public. This book and the vast majority of its claims are fraudulent. A library should certainly stock it and provide it if people want it (along with books on homeopathy and Young Earth Creationism) but no self-respecting educational institution should be recommending it to anyone, at any time, in any way. I love books but when I am finished with my debunking, I will quite happily dump my copy with the rest of the rubbish.

The New York Tenement Museum, which continues to sell this book through its shop. You are a museum, for God’s sake! That means you have a responsibility not to support intellectual fraud and lies. People should be taught the facts about their past, not a load of old nonsense.

Éamonn McCann, who is a well-known journalist and political activist in Ireland. I would admire a lot of what he does and says which is why it is so disappointing to see him lending his support to rubbish like this. A search on the internet shows that he appeared on a documentary about censorship in Ireland made by Cassidy in 1995, five years before Cassidy began to make up his ridiculous theories about Irish, so presumably he was a friend of his. Which would perhaps excuse a lukewarm thumbs-up. But this is above and beyond! According to McCann, ‘Cassidy’s ideas have rapidly gained academic respectability since the publication of his book early this summer.’ ACADEMIC RESPECTABILITY????

Educational Cyber-Playground. This is a really bizarre website which contains a large amount of Cassidese nonsense. I have no idea what this website is for but in my opinion, to put the words education and Daniel Cassidy in proximity is absurd. This site contains many of the wilder and dafter claims which never made it to the book, like the one that the phrase Jump Jim Crow comes from the Irish tiomp díomá crua, which Cassidy thinks means ‘thump hard disappointment’. (Although it would have to be díomá chrua in correct Irish and tiomp isn’t a verb, so it would just mean ‘a thump, hard disappointment’!) What about Jim Cuff or Jim Crow, the African-American man the song is thought to be based on? Isn’t he entitled to his place in history? Not according to The Great Fraud and his supporters! Cassidy wants that footnote for himself and to hell with an obscure black man in the early 19th century!

The New York Times, an American rag which published this toothless and uncritical article on Cassidy by Corey Kilgannon: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/08/nyregion/08irish.html?_r=0.

There are plenty more. I will be back with a Hall of Shame Part 2. Bígí ag amharc ar an bhlag seo! (Watch this space!)