Tag Archives: English words of Irish origin


The word ‘puncher’ meant a cowboy. The word punch means to strike or to prod or to poke. It derives from French and has been in common use in English for six hundred years.

Daniel Cassidy, in his atrocious book How The Irish Invented Slang, doesn’t mention these facts in his discussion of the word. He chooses instead to trace the word to the Irish paintéar, which he says means ‘a tying cord or rope, a noose, a lasso, a snare for catching animals …’ He cites Dinneen’s Irish dictionary as a source. Strangely, this isn’t what Dinneen’s dictionary says. Dinneen’s entry for paintéar begins thus: ‘a painter or panter, a snare, noose, gin or trap, a binding cable …’

In other words, this is an Irish word, certainly, but it was borrowed from the English word painter, which is a nautical term for a rope used to tie up a boat. This is also of French origin (i.e. the English borrowed it from French) but unrelated to the French term which is really the origin of punch.

In other words, you obviously don’t get to be that incompetent by accident. Cassidy deliberately missed out the important information relating to the real origins of puncher and the English origins of paintéar in order to make a fake case for an Irish origin. What a con-man!



Is focal eile ar bhuachaill bo é ‘puncher’. Ciallaíonn an focal punch bualadh nó broideadh nó sá. Tagann sé ón Fhraincis agus tá sé in úsáid go coitianta sa Bhéarla le sé chéad bliana anuas.

Ina leabhar amaideach How The Irish Invented Slang, ní luann Daniel Cassidy na fíricí seo ar chor ar bith.  Ina áit sin, maíonn sé gur tháinig puncher ón Ghaeilge paintéar. Deir sé go gciallaíonn paintéar ‘a tying cord or rope, a noose, a lasso, a snare for catching animals …’ Luann sé foclóir an Duinnínigh mar fhoinse. Ach ní hé sin an sainmhíniú a bhí ag an Duinníneach. Tosaíonn cur síos Uí Dhuinnín ar an fhocal paintéar mar seo: ‘a painter or panter, a snare, noose, gin or trap, a binding cable …’

Lena rá ar dhóigh eile, is focal Gaeilge é paintéar, cinnte, ach iasacht atá ann ón fhocal Béarla painter, focal bádóireachta a chiallaíonn rópa a úsáidtear le bád a cheangal. Tháinig an focal seo ón Fhraincis fosta (fuair lucht an Bhéarla ón Fhraincis é) ach níl baint ar bith aige leis an téarma Fraincise a thug an focal punch don Bhéarla.

Lena rá ar dhóigh eile, ní de thaisme a tharlaíonn bréaga mar seo. Is d’aon turas a theip ar Cassidy an fhaisnéis thábhachtach a bhaineann le fíorstair an fhocail puncher agus bunús Béarla paintéar a lua ionas go dtiocfadh leis cás bréige a dhéanamh gur Gaeilge a bhí ann. A leithéid de chaimiléir gan náire!


Cassidy’s Plagiarism

In 2008, Daniel Cassidy published a dreadful book called How The Irish Invented Slang. His claim in this book was that he inherited a pocket Irish dictionary in 2001 from a friend and decided to learn a word a day, and in the process he realised that hundreds of English words came from Irish. Cassidy – who according to some people was passionate about the Irish language and Irish culture – was 57 years old before he decided to start learning a little Irish. He had been an Irish Studies professor for five years at that time (though he had no qualifications at all and presumably lied his way into that job.)

Many of the supporters of Cassidy and his absurd ‘research’ have admitted that a lot of Cassidy’s claims were wrong but said that he should be praised for the things he did get right. Those of us who realise how wrong Cassidy was and how arrogant he was in his wrongness don’t accept this. There is hardly anything worth having in Cassidy’s book and hardly any of the material which is even remotely possible can genuinely be attributed to Cassidy.

For example, in October 2003, a user called Paul posed a question on an Irish language learners’ site called the Daltaí Boards. He wanted to know about Irish words in English for a project. The users of the site provided him with lots of possible candidates. For example:  galore from go leor; smashing from is maith sin; slug from slogadh; smithereens from smidiríní; shebeen from síbín; glen from gleann; Tory from Tóraí; bog from bogach; bard from bard; slogan from sluaghairm; banshee from bean sí;  whiskey from uisce beatha; brogue from bróg (shoe) and barróg (lisp); gulp from ag alpadh; shanty from seanteach; slew from slua; longshoreman from loingseoir; moniker from Shelta munik; kibosh from caidhp bháis; dig from an dtuigeann tú?

As I have stated before, some of these are correct or are likely to be correct, though some are definitely wrong and in several  cases there is doubt about whether they come from Irish or Scottish Gaelic. The origins of bard are complex and it is as likely to come from Welsh as from Irish. Gulp dates to medieval times and has a cognate in Dutch gulpen, which meant (amongst other things) to guzzle, and in any case, the idea that people would borrow the ag along with the basic word alpadh is absurd. There is no evidence that caidhp bháis actually exists as a phrase. It is only in the dictionaries as the name of a fungus.

But it really doesn’t matter whether these words and phrases are right or wrong. The point is, Cassidy used many of these words in his book without crediting the source. He plagiarised them from this forum, which he joined in January 2005, long after this thread was published in October 2003. He posted on this forum for a while, was mocked and criticised by some of the other members and eventually stopped posting under his own name, just occasionally posting barbed comments under fake names but without disguising his highly idiosyncratic and childish turns of phrase.

The only real talent Cassidy possessed was a talent for glomming and grabbing things which didn’t belong to him. He was a thief, a fraud, a charlatan and a liar.

Irish Words in English – A List

The fantasist Daniel Cassidy, in his absurd book How The Irish Invented Slang, pretended that there had been a conspiracy against Irish words among English-language dictionary-makers. He did this to cover up the incompetence of his ‘research’. At the same time, he invented hundreds of ridiculous fake Irish expressions like pá lae sámh and sách úr and claimed that these were the origin of common English expressions. However, while packing his book full of imaginary rubbish, he was far too lazy to research the subject properly, so he missed dozens of Irish words which are in the mainstream dictionaries. Here is a list of Irish words in English. I have spent a couple of months compiling it. It is probably not exhaustive and if anyone can think of any I’ve missed, please let me know!


banshee = bean sí, fairy woman. A spirit which appears before a death in an Irish household.

barmbrack An Irish fruit loaf. From bairín breac, speckled loaf.

bodhrán.  A winnowing drum used as a musical instrument.

bog  (from bogach meaning “marsh/peatland”) a wetland (according to OED).

bonnaught  A type of billeting or a billeted soldier. From Irish buannacht, billeting or billeting tax.

boreen (from bóithrín meaning “small road”) a narrow rural road in Ireland.

brat – a cloak or overall – now only in regional dialects (from Old Irish bratt meaning “cloak, cloth”)

brehon  A judge of ancient Irish law. From Irish breitheamh.

brogue  (from bróg meaning “shoe”) a type of shoe (OED).

brogue  A strong regional accent, especially an Irish or one. Not as the OED says, a reference to the footwear of speakers of the brogue, but from barróg, an Irish word for a lisp or accent.

callow A river meadow, a landing-place, from Irish caladh.

camogie  From Irish camóg, small hooked object, a camogue. The women’s equivalent of hurling.

carrageen moss. From Irish carraigín, ‘little rock’.

carrow  An ancient Irish gambler, from cearrbhach.

caubeen  An Irish beret, adopted as part of the uniform of Irish regiments of the British Army. From cáibín.

clabber, also bonny-clabber (from clábar and bainne clábair) curdled milk.

clarsach  An ancient Irish and Scottish harp, from Irish cláirseach.

clock  O.Ir. clocc meaning “bell”. Probably entered Germanic via the hand-bells used by early Irish missionaries.

coccagee Cac na gé, goose shit. The name of a type of cider apple found in Ireland, so called for its green colour.

colcannon A kind of ‘bubble and squeak’. Probably from cál ceannfhionn, white headed cabbage.

colleen (from cailín meaning “a girl”).

conk Slang term for a big nose. The term Old Conky was a nickname for the Duke of Wellington. Dinneen gives coinncín as ‘a prominent nose’ and this seems to be related to terms like geanc, meaning a snub nose.

coshering Nothing to do with Jewish dietary law. Coshering (from Irish cóisir, feast) was when a lord went round staying with his subjects and expecting to be entertained. Because of this cóisireacht can mean ‘sponging’ in Modern Irish, though cóisir usually just means a party.

coyne. A kind of billeting, from Irish coinmheadh.

cross  The ultimate source of this word is Latin crux. The English word comes from Old Irish cros via Old Norse kross.

cudeigh  A night’s lodging, from Irish cuid na hoíche.

curragh  An Irish boat made from skins or tarred canvas stretched over a wooden frame. Irish currach.

drum, drumlin, from Irish droim, droimlín. A ridge or small hill of glacial origin, such as in the landscape of Down.

drisheen is a type of black pudding associated with Cork. From drisín.

dudeen  A clay pipe, from Irish dúidín.

dulse  From Irish duileasc, originally meaning water leaf. A type of edible seaweed.

erenagh A hereditary holder of church lands. Irish aircheannach.

esker  From eiscir, an elongated ridge of post-glacial gravel, usually along a river valley (OED).

Fenian From Fianna meaning “semi-independent warrior band”, a member of a 19th-century Irish nationalist group (OED).

fiacre  a small four-wheeled carriage for hire, a hackney-coach, associated with St Fiacre area of Paris.  Named for Saint Fiachra.

fiorin  A type of long grass, derived from Irish feorthainn.

Gallowglass  (from gallóglach) a Scottish Gaelic mercenary soldier in Ireland between mid 13th and late 16th centuries.

galore (from go leor meaning “plenty”) a lot.

gillaroo  A type of fish. From Irish giolla rua, red lad.

glib  An obsolete term for a kind of haircut associated with warriors (because it protected the forehead) banned by the English. Irish glib, fringe.

gob  (literally beak) mouth. From Irish gob. (OED)

grouse  In slang sense of grumble, perhaps from gramhas, meaning grin, grimace, ugly face. (Not from Cassidy’s cráite!)

griskin  (from griscín) a lean cut of meat from the loin of a pig, a chop.

hooligan (from the Irish family name Ó hUallacháin, anglicised as Hooligan or Hoolihan).

keening  From caoinim (meaning “I wail”) to lament, to wail mournfully (OED.

kern  An outlaw or a common soldier. From ceithearn or ceithearnach, still the word in Irish for a pawn in chess.

Leprechaun a fairy or spirit (from leipreachán)

Limerick (from Luimneach). The limerick form was particularly associated in the 18th century with a group of Irish language poets called Filí na Máighe.

lough  (from loch) a lake, or arm of the sea.

madder  Also mether. A traditional square-sided wooden drinking vessel, Irish meadar.

merrow  An Irish mermaid. Irish murúch.

moiley  An ancient breed of Irish hornless cattle, from maol, bald or hornless.

ogham Ancient Irish alphabet. The Irish is also ogham (pronounced oh-um).

orrery A mechanical model of solar system, named for the Earl of Orrery. This is an old Irish tribal name, Orbhraighe.

pampootiepampúta A kind of shoe with good grip worn by men in the Aran Islands.

phoney (probably from the English fawney meaning “gilt brass ring used by swindlers”, which is from Irish fáinne meaning “ring”) fake.

pinkeen  From pincín, a minnow or an insignificant person. This in turn comes from English pink + Irish diminutive –ín.

pollan A fish found in Irish loughs, Irish pollán.

pookawn A fishing boat, from Irish púcán.

poteen (from poitín) hooch, bootleg alcoholic drink.

puck  (in hockey)  Almost certainly from Irish poc, according to the OED.

puss  As in sourpuss, comes from Irish pus, a pouting mouth.

rapparee An Irish highwayman, from ropaire (a stabber)

rath  A strong circular earthen wall forming an enclosure and serving as a fort and residence for a tribal chief. From Irish rath.

shamrock (from seamróg) a shamrock, diminutive of seamair, clover, used as a symbol for Ireland.

Shan Van Vocht (from seanbhean bhocht meaning “poor old woman”) a literary name for Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries.

shebeen (from síbín meaning “illicit whiskey, poteen”, apparently a diminutive of síob, which means drift, blow, ride) unlicensed house selling alcohol (OED).

shillelagh (from sail éille meaning “a beam with a strap”) a wooden club or cudgel made from a stout knotty stick with a large knob on the end.

shoneen  A West Brit, an Irishman who apes English customs. From Irish Seoinín, a little John (in a Gaelic version of the English form, Seon, not the Irish Seán).

Sidhe Modern Sí, the fairies, fairyland.

slauntiagh An obsolete word for sureties or guarantees, which comes from Irish sláinteacha with the same meaning.

sleveen, sleiveen (from slíbhín) an untrustworthy or cunning person. Used in Ireland and Newfoundland (OED).

slew (from slua meaning “a large number”) a great amount (OED).

slob (from slab) mud (OED).

slogan  (from sluaghairm meaning “a battle-cry used by Gaelic clans”). I think this is more likely to be of Scottish origin.

smithereens small fragments, atoms. In phrases such as ‘to explode into smithereens’. This is the Irish word smidiríní. This is obviously Irish because of the –ín ending but the basic word seems to be Germanic, something to do with the work of a smith.

spalpeen  A migratory labourer in Ireland. From spailpín.

spunk  Tinder, from Latin spongia via Irish or Gaelic sponc. It later acquired the meaning of ‘semen’.

tanist  The deputy and successor of a chieftain or religious leader. A term used in anthropology. From Irish tánaiste, secondary person.

tilly (from tuilleadh meaning “a supplement”) used in Newfoundland to refer to an additional luck-penny. It is used by Joyce in the first chapter of Ulysses.

tory Originally an Irish outlaw, probably from the word tóraí meaning “pursuer”.

trousers  From Irish triús.

turlough  A seasonal lake in limestone area (OED). Irish turloch ‘dry lake.’

uilleann pipes. Irish belows-blown bagpipes. Uilleann is Irish for ‘elbow’.

usker From Irish uscar, a jewel sewn into an item of clothing.

whiskey From uisce beatha meaning “water of life”.