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 late Daniel Cassidy, in his etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that sucker (in the sense of stooge or naïve person) comes from the Irish sách úr meaning ‘a fresh, well-fed fellow’ or ‘fat cat’ ready to be fleeced.
As usual with Cassidy’s claims, the phrase sách úr is not found together (as noun and adjective) in any Irish text, so we will just have to examine the two constituent words to see if they could be used in this way.
Firstly, úr does mean fresh or new. Sách is primarily an adjective meaning sated, full, well-fed. Its main use in some dialects (though not in mine: we use measartha) is as an adverb, as the equivalent of words like ‘fairly’ or ‘pretty’ in English.
Bhí sé sách maith. (It was fairly good, good enough)
But in Cassidy’s phrase, the word sách is obviously a noun. In the Irish dictionaries (such as Ó Dónaill) there is a noun sách meaning a well-fed person and the word is familiar to almost all Irish speakers from the proverb Ní thuigeann sách seang, má thuigeann ní in am. (The well-fed do not understand the slender, if they do it’s too late.) But just because something is used as a noun in a proverb doesn’t mean you can use it as a noun in any circumstances. Proverbs have their own rules, in Irish and in English. For example, in English you can say “Only the good die young.” But you can’t say “*That man is a real good” or “*That family are really nice – they’re all goods!”
If you have any Irish, check out some uses of sách in this excellent website, Pota Focal –
There are lots and lots of references on Pota Focal where the word is being used as an adverb and at least one where it is a noun, but in that case it occurs with seang and is a clear reference to the proverb.
So, I am confident that sách would not be used as Cassidy says. Of course, we have to remember that Cassidy didn’t know any Irish at all. In Irish, there are plenty of expressions which could be used to mean gull or sucker: boigéisí; gabhdán; glasóg; mothaolaí, and Irish speakers would have used an expression like these rather than sách úr.