Tag Archives: etymology

Holy Mackerel

Of all the stupid things invented by Daniel Cassidy and presented to the world as truth in his idiotic work of fake etymology How The Irish Invented Slang, none is more ludicrous than his claims about the English exclamation ‘Holy Mackerel’, which dates back to 1803. 

Holy Mackerel, as we’ve said before, belongs to a class of exclamations called minced oaths, where a similar word is said in order to avoid a vulgar or blasphemous term. Thus, the French say Sacré Bleu (Holy Blue) to avoid saying Sacré Dieu (Holy God), and the Irish say Dar Fia (by the deer) instead of Dar Dia (by God). Holy Mackerel is probably a minced oath for ‘Holy Mary’. Mackerel is particularly appropriate because the mackerel is associated with Roman Catholics – people of the Catholic tradition tend to eat fish on a Friday instead of meat, and mackerel was a common choice.  Mackerelism was used as a pejorative slang term for Catholicism in the 19th century.

Cassidy claimed that this was wrong and that it derives from an Irish phrase mac ríúil – ‘kingly son’. In other words, it was supposedly something to do with Jesus. The problem is that while mac rí (son of a king) is a common phrase for a prince in Irish, mac ríúil is not. By definition, a prince is a mac rí. But princes are princely, not kingly and ríúil means kingly, not royal. That’s another word, ríoga.

As with the other minced oaths dealt with by this pompous dilettante (Holy Cow, Holy Gee), there is no evidence for mac ríúil (or the older spelling mac righiúil) existing in the Irish language as a term for a prince, or for Jesus.


As na rudaí amaideacha uile a chum Daniel Cassidy agus a chuir sé i láthair don tsaol ina leabhar bómánta bréagshanasaíochta How The Irish Invented Slang, is beag ceann acu atá chomh bómánta lena chuid tuairimí faoin uaillbhreas Béarla ‘Holy Mackerel’, atá le fáil chomh fada siar leis an bhliain 1803.

Mar a mhínigh mé roimhe seo, baineann Holy Mackerel le haicme uaillbhreas ar a dtugtar mionnaí mionaithe. Sa mhionn mhionaithe, baintear úsáid as focal atá cosúil leis an bhunfhocal le focal gáirsiúil nó blaisféimeach a sheachaint.  Mar sin de, deir na Francaigh Sacré Bleu (Gorm Naofa) le Sacré Dieu (Dia Naofa) a sheachaint, agus deir muidne  Dar Fia in áit Dar Dia. Is dócha gur mionn mionaithe é Holy Mackerel bunaithe ar ‘Holy Mary’. Tá maicréal (nó ronnach nó murlas más iad sin na focail atá agat air) thar a bheith fóirsteanach cionn is go raibh baint idir an t-iasc sin agus Caitlicigh – ar ndóigh, bíonn Caitlicigh ag ithe éisc ar an Aoine in áit feola, agus bhí maicréal saor agus flúirseach. Baineadh úsáid as Mackerelism mar théarma maslach ar an Chaitliceachas sa 19ú haois.

Deir Cassidy nach bhfuil an tsanasaíocht seo ceart agus go dtagann sé ó fhrása ‘Gaeilge’, mar atá mac ríúil, ainm ar Íosa. Ar ndóigh, ní raibh mac ríúil riamh ann sa Ghaeilge. Níl ann ach cumadóireacht.

Go díreach mar an gcéanna leis na mionnaí mionaithe eile a phléigh an t-amadán poimpéiseach seo (Holy Cow, Holy Gee), tá ciall leis na bunúis Bhéarla agus níl ciall ar bith leis an ‘Ghaeilge’ a chum Cassidy. 


When is a troll not a troll?

In 2013, I decided to start this blog as a response to Daniel Cassidy’s book How The Irish Invented Slang. My reasons for hating this book were numerous: I am a lover of the Irish language, and Cassidy’s idiotic book is stuffed full of fake Irish which has nothing to do with the genuine article; Cassidy was good at sliming and sucking up to well-connected people and he used these carefully-cultivated links to give an air of scholarship to a work that is no more scholarly than Erich von Daniken; Cassidy cultivated an image of radicalism, so that any attempt to tell the truth about Cassidy’s hoax has been attacked as an attempt to protect mysterious right-wing and Anglophile cliques in the world of linguistics. During my research on Cassidy, I also found out (from his sister) that he failed his degree at Cornell and that the only explanation for his ‘professorship’ at New College of California is straightforward and simple fraud.

Over the last five years of blogging, I have been criticised many times. On a number of occasions, I have been accused of being a troll. The last time I was accused of trolling was a couple of months ago, by Cassidy’s brother Michael.

So, I have been thinking recently about what a troll is and what a troll is not and I thought I would share these thoughts with my readers here. Firstly, let’s take a common definition of the term, such as the definition from Wikipedia:

In Internet slang, a troll is a person who starts quarrels or upsets people on the Internet to distract and sow discord by posting inflammatory and digressive, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the intent of provoking readers into displaying emotional responses and normalizing tangential discussion, whether for the troll’s amusement or a specific gain.

The first point that leaps out here is the bit about ‘in an online community’. CassidySlangScam is a blog established by me to tell the truth about Daniel Cassidy’s book, and also to provide information about genuine and not so genuine claims about Irish etymology made by people other than Cassidy. On those occasions where I have left messages on more public forums, I have never deliberately sought to cause offence. My primary aim here is to provide information, to counter the lies and the nonsense spread by Cassidy and his crony friends.

The problem seems to be that some people regard not agreeing with them as trolling. It isn’t. I am not primarily trying to upset people, though I really don’t care if I do upset people who deserve it. The fact is – and it is a fact – that Cassidy and his odious clique of hangers-on began this. They spread fake information, slandered genuine scholars, attacked anyone who disagreed with what was an obvious and demonstrable piece of dishonesty. There is a long list of ugly, misshapen and entirely bogus phrases in Cassidy’s book. In this blog, I have consistently challenged Cassidy’s defenders to provide genuine, objectively-verifiable evidence of any of his claims. None of them has ever done so. These people think they are special, better than the rest of us, just as Cassidy did. They think they have a right to have their ideas taken seriously, even when those ideas are pure invention and they are not prepared to defend them with proof.

They also like to pretend that Cassidy was an honest and well-intentioned man who just got it a bit wrong. This also flies in the face of all the evidence. This blog gives dozens of examples of this man’s dishonesty, pomposity, arrogance and bad faith. This man deserved no respect. He was not even deserving of my pity.

If anyone thinks I should be kinder about Cassidy (and presumably those who call me a troll are claiming that my attacks on Cassidy are unjustified), then they need to offer some proof that he wasn’t a liar. Nobody has ever provided any proof that Cassidy was anything other than a narcissist and a fake. Until they do, I’ll keep on telling the truth and saying that Cassidy and anyone who defends his hoax is a shameless liar.

After all, if they could disprove this blog and give evidence that Cassidy was right, wouldn’t that strengthen the case that I’m a troll? But if they think everyone should accept their beliefs without evidence, and that they have a right to come here and insult me and other critics of Cassidy without any attempt to argue rationally, isn’t that proof that they are the trolls?

Amadán Aibreáin – Phil Cousineau

Ní raibh mórán ama agam ar na mallaibh, agus sin an fáth a bhfuil mé rud beag mall le hAmadán na Míosa an mhí seo.

Is é Amadán na Míosa i mí Aibreáin na bliana seo ná Phil Cousineau, “scríbhneoir agus scannánóir a bhfuil duaiseanna buaite aige, múinteoir agus eagarthóir, léachtóir agus ceannaire taistil, scéalaí agus óstach teilifíse” atá bunaithe i gCeantar na Bá in San Francisco. Tá breis agus tríocha leabhar scríofa aige, leabhair a bhaineann le réimse ábhar – úfó-eolaíocht, sioncronacht, miotas an laoich, an dóigh le bheith cruthaitheach, an turas mar oilithreacht agus sanasaíocht.

Cén fáth nach maith liom Phil Cousineau? Bhal, bheinn in amhras air cionn is gur boc mór é i saol cultúrtha Cheantar na Bá ach ní leor an méid sin ann féin.

Ní maith liom an cacamas bréagspioradálta a chleachtann daoine mar Cousineau, go háirithe nuair a bhíonn sé ceangailte le leabhair, cláracha teilifíse agus cúrsaí. Mar shampla, cuireann buafhocail bheaga amaideacha mar seo samhnas orm: “the uncanny discovery that the seeker is the mystery which the seeker seeks to know”; “writing is easy; all you do is pick the scab crusted over your soul”; “if you don’t risk getting lost, you’ll never be found”; “Stories heal the wounds inflicted by the mercurous knife of stainless steel facts”. Uch!

Tá boladh an chacamais airsean agus ar a chuid saothar, dar liom féin. Le sampla amháin a thabhairt, tá alt measartha téagartha aige ar Wikipedia, a insíonn scéal a chuid buanna agus cuid de na péarlaí eagna a chum sé. Nuair a amharcaim ar an stair, áfach, is léir gur duine darbh ainm Wordpilgrim a scríobh cuid mhór den alt. Hmm … cérbh é Wordpilgrim? An amhlaidh gur Phil Cousineau féin a bhí ann, duine a bhfuil leabhair scríofa aige ar fhocail agus ar oilithreachtaí?

Agus sin ráite, níor leor na rudaí seo le hAmadán na Míosa a thuilleadh do Cousineau. An fáth a bhfuil fuath agam dó ná dhá leabhar uafásacha a chum sé ar an tsanasaíocht ‘don phobal’, leabhair a scríobh sé cionn is gur ‘focalbhách’ é, nó gráthóir focal, Wordcatcher (2010) agus The Painted Word (2012).

Díríonn na leabhair seo ar fhocail a bhfuil spéis ag an údar iontu. Is dócha go bhfuil cuid mhór den eolas seo ceart, ní nach ionadh, mar thóg Cousineau an t-ábhar seo ó fhoinsí mar fhoclóirí a bhfuil taighde mór maith déanta ag a n-údair. An rud a chuireann iontas ormsa ná líon na meancóg sna leabhair seo de chuid Cousineau. Dar le Cousineau, Sly and the Family Stone a chum Play That Funky Music Right Boy. I bhfírinne, an bhuíon Wild Cherry a chum é agus ar ndóigh, Play That Funky Music WHITE Boy an leagan ceart. In alt eile ar an fhocal adumbrate, labhraíonn sé ar chúrsa scannánaíochta ar fhoghlaim sé faoi thábhacht na scáileanna i saothar Hitchcock ann. Déanann sé tagairt d’alt le criticeoir darb ainm Letich (recte Leitch) a bhí ag scríobh faoi scannán Hitchcock Odd Man Out. Ach, ar ndóigh, Carol Reed a rinne Odd Man Out, ní Hitchcock. Tá na meancóga bómánta chomh flúirseach sin sa leabhar seo. Bernard Share a scríobh an leabhar Slanguage, ní Bernard Shaw. Níl baint ar bith idir an focal glaum san Albainis agus gléas le hainmhithe a choilleadh. Níl baint dá laghad idir an sloinne Muir agus muir Ghaeilge na hAlban. Agus ar ndóigh, ní David Cassidy an Partridge Family a scríobh How The Irish Invented Slang, ach Daniel Cassidy.

Tá a lán tagairtí do Cassidy agus dá leabhar amaideach sa dá leabhar seo le Cousineau, Wordcatcher agus The Painted Word, cé go léiríonn an mheancóg leis an ainm gur dócha nach raibh caidreamh an-dlúth idir an bheirt drochshaineolaí focal seo.

Tá Wordcatcher líonta lán le raiméis Chasaideach, agus tá falsacht agus saontacht an údair le feiceáil ar gach aon leathanach. Glacann sé frása Cassidy comhúdar (nach gciallaíonn ach “an duine a scríobh rud éigin le duine éigin) mar bhunús an fhocail cahoots (cé go mílitríonn sé é mar comh-udar). Deir sé go ndúirt Cassidy gurbh é an focal Gaeilge tuig ba bhunus leis an fhocal dig (understand) i mBéarla na nDaoine Gorma sna Stáit, ach ní luann sé gur phléigh Walter Skeat an nasc idir twig agus tuig breis agus céad bliain ó shin agus gur fhoilsigh Eric P. Hamp alt dar teideal “On the Celtic origin of English slang dig/twig (‘understand’)” in 1981. Glacann sé teoiric Cassidy faoi bhunús Gaeilge dude ón fhocal dúd i ndáiríre, cé go bhfuil scoláirí teanga ar aon intinn, beagnach, gur ó Yankee Doodle Dandy a tháinig sé.

Cé gur lú an cacamas Casaideach sa leabhar The Painted Word, tá an méid atá ann lán chomh holc. Is fiú a alt ar an fhocal ‘lulu’ ón leabhar sin a thabhairt ina iomláine anseo.


A remarkable person, thing or event. Tracked down by word detective Daniel Cassidy in Irish-American Slang, this two-syllable dandy derives from the Irish word liu luigh, “a howl, a scream, a vigorous scream of joy,” and more, “A lulu can be spectacular or awful, but it’s always a scream.” More surprisingly still, Cassidy’s sleuthing tracked down its earliest recorded mention, in the New Orleans Lantern, on November 10, 1886, where it was used to describe the shenanigans in a local baseball game: “Farrell’s two baser was a lu-lu.” The citation would have delighted the late, great Ernie Hartwell, Hall of Fame broadcaster and baseball historian, who was married to a Lulu of a wife for over sixty years.”

Cá dtosóinn? Bhal, cé gur cuma liom má bhíonn daoine ag insint bréag faoi Daniel Cassidy (ba chóir do dhaoine an comhar a dhíol leis an bhalacs bheag) ach ní Irish-American Slang an teideal a bhí ar leabhar Cassidy. Ach ní hé sin a dheireadh. De réir cosúlachta, is ón fhocal Gaeilge liu luigh a tháinig lulu an Bhéarla. Ach is frása é liu luigh, ní focal. (Shílfeá go dtuigfeadh gráthóir focal mar Cousineau an difear!) Is frása gan chiall é, ar ndóigh, ach aisteach go leor, ní hé sin an frása amaideach gan chiall a chum Cassidy le bunús lulu a mhíniú. An frása a chum Cassidy, bhí sé lán chomh bómánta – gur tháinig lulu ón ‘Ghaeilge’ liú lúith. Ciallaíonn liú scread, ar ndóigh, agus ciallaíonn lúth aclaíocht nó neart. Na céadta bliain ó shin, bhí an chiall lúcháir nó áthas leis fosta ach níl anois. Baineann “vigorous yell of joy” Cassidy úsáid as an dá chiall, ach deir Cassidy fosta go gciallaíonn sé go meafarach “a complete scream, a howler.” Ar ndóigh, chum Cassidy an frása ‘liú lúith”. Cumadóireacht lom atá ann, nach bhfuil rian de sa Ghaeilge, agus ní gá dom a rá nach mbíonn ciall mheafarach ag frásaí nach bhfuil ann. Agus sin ráite, tá níos lú céille ag leagan Cousineau (liu luigh) fiú ná mar atá ag leagan Cassidy. Ní chiallaíonn liu rud ar bith gan síneadh fada agus is é luigh aimsir chaite nó modh ordaitheach an bhriathair luí.

Tá trí rud ar a laghad déanta ag Cousineau anseo nár chóir dó a dhéanamh. Ar an chéad dul síos, níl sé ag tabhairt luach a gcuid airgid dá léitheoirí féin, daoine a bhí ag iarraidh fíricí in áit raiméis gan chiall. Ar an dara dul síos, tá sé ag cuidiú le cumadóireacht amaideach agus bréagGhaeilge Daniel Cassidy a scaipeadh. Ar an tríú dul síos, tá sé ag cuidiú le daoine ligean orthu gur fíorscoláire a bhí in Daniel Cassidy, bréagadóir neamhshrianta a ndearnadh ‘ollamh’ de in ainneoin nach raibh oiread agus céim B.A. ollscoile aige.

Is mar gheall ar na fáthanna seo a bhfuil bród orm Duais Amadán na Míosa Aibreán 2018 a bhronnadh ar Phil Cousineau ó San Francisco.




I hope all my readers had a fun and relaxing Christmas. I have been taking it easy, so I am only just now getting round to my first post of the New Year.

Some time ago, I recommended a Twitter feed called theirishfor. It is about strange and interesting words in the Irish language. I like it for a variety of reasons. Firstly, most native Irish speakers are resistant to new words, or book words. They would rather use the word fridge than cuisneoir or invent a phrase like prios fuar or cófra fuar. It’s great to see people trying to find suitable words to fill the gaps in their knowledge. And it’s even better to see them having fun with the language rather than being i ndáiríre faoin Ghaeilge.

I was interested to see that the man behind this Twitter feed (Darach Ó Séaghdha) has brought out a book called Motherfoclóir. I was given a copy at Christmas and decided to read it and review it here. I would recommend it, for the same reasons I would recommend the Twitter feed. It’s amusing, it’s informative and it’s well worth reading. Just to give one example, the word stadhan (I would pronounce it sty-un) apparently means a gathering of seagulls over a shoal of fish. It’s a great word. You could use it of journalists over a scandal (= feeding frenzy), or ignorant Irish-American phoneys gathering around Cassidy’s book. And now, thanks to Twitter and this book, most young Irish-speakers would understand what I’m saying if I used it. That’s got to be a good thing. It’s an antidote to defeatism and the creeping loss of the richness of the language among its speakers.

However, there’s a but and it’s quite a big but. I wish I could be 100% positive about this book, but it is a mixture of a very good idea and some very enjoyable writing, marred by some really sloppy research and editing. For example, on the front cover, there is a funny observation that the Irish word for extremist sounds a lot like the Irish phrase for ‘the Prime Minister’. The problem is that the Irish word for extremist should be spelled antoisceach, not antioisceach, because it comes from toisc, meaning circumstance. And on the same cover is the observation that a simple fada (acute accent) can make a lot of difference: fáil means hiccup, while fail means ‘of destiny’ or ‘of Ireland’, as in Fianna Fáil. Except, these two words should be reversed – it’s fail that means hiccup, not fáil (talk about an epic fail!) And that’s only THE COVER!!!

There is actually a reference to Daniel Cassidy and a brief discussion of etymology. It epitomises why this book is both good to a point and immensely frustrating. The central comment on Cassidy is exactly right: This text has since been discredited; so much so, in fact, that any claim to an Irish origin for an English word now seems to be suspect. He also points out that well-known apocryphal stories like the word kangaroo meaning I don’t know or I don’t understand in an Aboriginal language also draw exasperated sighs from linguists.

However, he then goes on to do exactly what Daniel Cassidy and every other crap etymologist from the beginning of time has done – spouting rubbish without checking whether any of it is true first. He says that the word gansey, meaning a jumper (or undershirt in the Caribbean) comes from Irish or Scottish Gaelic geansaí. But the word gansey almost certainly comes from Guernsey or Guernsey frock (just as jersey comes from the isle of Jersey) and geansaí is a relatively recent borrowing of gansey into Irish. I looked in the Corpas na Gaeilge, a huge seven million word database of Irish and there I found just one reference to the word geansaí, in a poem probably written in the early nineteenth or late eighteenth century. However, I was surprised to find that it isn’t a reference to the geansaí or gansey you wear, but to Guernsey itself: A bhfuil as seo go Geansaí /De fhíon, de bheoir is de bhrandaí (Of all that there is from here to Guernsey/Of wine, of beer and of brandy).

Then he makes a number of correct assumptions about how genuine etymologies can be established: if it’s a genuine phrase in the source language, if it is mentioned as being from the source language in documents from the time and if there is no other more probable source for the word, then it’s likely to be a genuine connection. He claims (or he seems to be claiming – it’s not very clear) that mucker for a friend comes from the Irish mo chara because it meets the criteria he’s mentioned. In reality, it only meets the criterion that mo chara exists in Irish. There is a much better explanation (that muckers are people you muck around with), I’m sure there are no contemporary documents claiming that mucker comes from Irish, mucker isn’t exclusively or mainly an Irish expression and mo chara, (which roughly rhymes with Sahara) doesn’t sound anything like mucker and therefore couldn’t have become mucker in English.

And finally, at the end of this section he talks about the word bróg and the expression brogue for an Irish accent. He says that Merriam-Webster suggests that it comes from barróg, meaning a tight hold but then says that no-one ‘has come up with a chain of evidence such as Barrett suggested.’ This is nonsense. The chain of evidence is pretty clear. If you look up barróg on foclóir.ie, you find the following definitions:

barróg1, f. (gs. -óige, npl. ~a, gpl. ~).1. Hug. ~ a bhreith ar dhuine, to hug s.o. 2. Wrestling grip. D’fháisc siad ~ ar a chéile, they got to grips with each other. 3. Brogue, impediment of speech.

In other words, barróg (meaning something like ‘a little tip’) is a perfectly fine Irish expression for someone who has a bachlóg ar a theanga (a bud on his tongue, lisp) or whose speech is impeded by the crampa Gaelach (the Gaelic cramp). It has no connection with the Gaelic word for shoe, bróg. It would take a very fastidious linguist to deny the strength of the evidence linking barróg to brogue. All Ó Séaghdha had to do was look it up in an Irish dictionary to realise that! This is strange, because before he begins his piece on etymology, he says that he can predict that if he claims a word is of Irish origin, he will be told he’s got it wrong. Knowing that to be the case, you’d think he might have looked in an Irish dictionary instead of just Merriam-Webster … (Actually, if he had said that shebeen, or galore, or phoney or whiskey are Irish, nobody would argue, because they are. It’s only when the claims are false that people like me will shoot them down.)

Having said that, Ó Séaghdha wouldn’t be the only person to think that etymology requires no skill or research and can be dashed off on the back of an envelope without effort or donkey-work. (Una Mullally produced a dreadful pile of bullshit for the Irish Times last year.) I hope that the book does well but I sincerely hope that in future editions of Motherfoclóir, the typos and errors and the crap etymology will disappear. There is so much about the Twitter feed and the book that is admirable and I would love to be completely positive about it.

Gandy Dancer

Gandy dancer is a term from the old days of the expansion of the railroads in America. A gandy dancer was a labourer who hooked an iron bar under the tracks, then ‘danced’ on the bar to lever the track up so that others could shovel stones and gravel underneath it.

There is no certainty about where the term came from, but there are many stories and claims. The iron pole used was called a gandy, but whether this came from the expression gandy dancer or gave rise to it is not known. Some claim that a gandy dancer was originally a fairground term for a dealer in cheap shlock. Some claim it was used by George Borrow, who died in 1881. Others say that there was a Gandy Manufacturing Company in Chicago, but there is no evidence of this. A gandy is also Newfoundland slang for a pancake and an English term for a goose.

This uncertainty was like shite to a bluebottle for Daniel Cassidy. Unfortunately, there was no appropriate term available in Irish, but he managed to find something which was close enough to fool a few suckers. His candidate was cinnte, which he claimed meant ‘constant’. In other words, the gandy dancers were ‘constantly’ dancing on the iron rod to lift the rails.

Why isn’t this a good candidate? Well, firstly, there’s the pronunciation. Imagine that somewhere there is a town in England called Kinchester. Knock off the –ster at the end, and you have a reasonable approximation for cinnte. Kin-cha, gandy. Kin-cha, gandy. Not even slightly similar, are they? And in case you don’t believe me, look at focloir.ie (http://www.focloir.ie/ga/dictionary/ei/certain), which gives sound files for the word cinnte in the three main dialects of Irish.

As for the meaning, Cassidy does his usual trick of distorting the truth and rewriting definitions. Cinnte is defined by Ó Dónaill as certain, sure; definite; mean, stingy; constant. You can find the full entry here: http://www.teanglann.ie/ga/fgb/cinnte  Even though constant is given as one meaning in the dictionary, (apparently fearthainn chinnte can be used to mean constant rain, though I’ve never heard it) I don’t think any Irish speaker would give it this meaning independent of any other clues. Cinnte means sure, certain, and it’s a very common word. If someone said damhsa cinnte to me, it would make me think of it as certain dancing, or definite dancing, or determined dancing, (whatever they might mean!) not constant or continual dancing. And even if it did mean constant, isn’t this a bit strange, in English or in Irish? After all, if someone is called a dancer, isn’t this because they perform their ‘dance’ on the iron rod most of the time? So why would it be so important to specify that they do it a lot?

Of course, Cassidy again displays his ignorance of the language by mixing modern spellings from Ó Dónaill with old spellings from Dinneen, and he copies the phrase fearthainn chinnte wrongly as fearthainn cinnte, showing once again that he knew nothing about the language.

In short, wherever gandy dancer comes from, we can be quite sure it doesn’t come from the Irish adjective cinnte. This claim was first made relatively recently by a narcissistic idiot in California and it is high time it was consigned to the dustbin of crap etymologies along with the rest of Cassidy’s ridiculous theories.


According to Daniel Cassidy, in his lying piece of trash, How The Irish Invented Slang, the word beak, an old English slang term for a constable or a judge or a schoolmaster, comes from the Irish beachtaí or beachtaire.

According to Cassidy’s book:

Beak, n., a judge, a magistrate.

Beachtaí, beachtaire, n., a critic; a correcting, captious judgmental person; fig. a judge. Beacht, al. beachd (Gaelic), n., judgment, opinion.

What’s wrong with Cassidy’s argument? Well, the main thing is the pronunciation. Most people reading Cassidy’s book would probably assume that beachtaí is pronounced as beek-tay or beek-tee. Cassidy probably thought the same, because his knowledge of Irish was practically nil. In fact, beachtaí is pronounced bach-tee, with the ch more or less an h sound or the ch of Scottish loch or the j of Baja California. It sounds nothing like beak. As for the meaning, a beachtaí (or its variant beachtaire) is a quibbler, a hair-splitter. It does not mean a judge. As we’ve pointed out before, where the letters fig. are used in Cassidy’s book, they stand for figment of Cassidy’s imagination, not for figuratively as they do in most books. O’Dónaill’s dictionary defines it as “Critical, captious, person.”

It is true that beachd can be a noun meaning judgement in Scottish Gaelic but Scottish Gaelic is a different language entirely. This meaning isn’t found in Irish.

So where does beak come from? The simple answer is, we don’t know. You can find a few suggested origins here: http://www.businessballs.com/clichesorigins.htm


This is one of the many cases in Cassidy’s book where he ignores the correct and straightforward explanation in favour of a creaky and unconvincing origin of his own invention. As he says in the book:

But if a button is … ringing (roinn, pron. ring, to deal) in a crooked deck, every Punter is a loser. (Page 52)

In other words, Cassidy is claiming that ringing, a slang word for substitution, is from the Irish word roinn, the basic meaning of which is divide. Why a word meaning divide or deal would acquire the meaning of substitute is not explained, but then Cassidy didn’t put this one in the glossary, so presumably he was well aware that it was bullshit.

In reality, the term ringing dates back to the early nineteenth century as an expression for substitution, probably from the bell-ringing phrase ‘to ring the changes’. Then in the late nineteenth century, we get the expression a dead ringer, meaning a horse which resembles another horse and is substituted for it to banjax the gambling odds.

Cassidy’s claim is simply nonsense, like nearly everything in How The Irish Invented Slang. Incidentally, there is an even sillier explanation doing the rounds for dead ringer, that it refers to people putting telephones into graves in case they were buried alive. This just goes to show that people are absolute suckers for fake etymology.