Tag Archives: etymological hoax

Cassidese Glossary – Swank

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 swank means dashing smartness or swagger. It is an English dialect word, related to swing. The root of it is the notion of swaggering, and from this it has picked up other notions of self-importance or poshness. It is a cognate of the German word schwanken, meaning to sway, to oscillate, to vary.

Daniel Cassidy, in his etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, chose to ignore the available information on the origins of the word and claimed instead that it derives from the Irish word somhaoineach. This is obviously nonsense, even on the basis of pronunciation. The word somhaoineach has three syllables, while swank has only one. Like many English words, swank has a clipped, Germanic sound to it while somhaoineach is much softer. It is pronounced soh-ween-yah. It would not become swank in English.

It is a very, very rare word, derived from the word maoin meaning wealth or property and the particle so– which means easy, along with the adjectival ending –each. Ó Dónaill defines it as ‘profitable, valuable’, which is barely related to the various meanings of swank and swanky.

In short, there is no evidence for Cassidy’s claim and there is plenty of evidence in favour of the English derivation.

Cassidese Glossary – Mugsy

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 a nickname for a gangster in America, something like Bugsy. Daniel Cassidy claims that it comes from the Irish muc saobh, which he claims would mean something like a twisted scowling face. As we said in the item on mug, muc does not mean a scowling face. Saobh does mean twisted and perverse. However, in Irish, muc is a feminine noun so it would have to be muc shaobh (mook heev) which sounds nothing like mugsy. Of course, Cassidy was completely ignorant of the Irish language and knew nothing about the way Irish words are put together in a genuine phrase or sentence.

While some of Cassidy’s supporters seem to think that grammar is a luxury enjoyed by the privileged and overeducated, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of what grammar is. Native speakers of Irish would always say muc shaobh, just as native speakers of Spanish would always say una mujer guapa and not un mujer guapo. It’s the way the language works at the most basic level and any speaker breaking these basic rules would come across as an idiot.