Tag Archives: fake derivations

My Arse, Cassidy!

As I have repeated over and over again in this blog, Daniel Cassidy’s claims about Irish are almost entirely rubbish. His methodology consisted of finding phrases in English, deciding that they came from Irish, and then hunting through Irish (and/or Scottish Gaelic) dictionaries to find Irish equivalents. However, as there was hardly ever a satisfactory equivalent in the dictionaries, Cassidy put words together in ridiculous and unrealistic ways. According to his supporters, this doesn’t matter, because the Irish in 19th century slums supposedly forgot all their grammar and apparently stuck words together in random and incomprehensible ways.

Here’s a clear example of what Cassidy did. Suppose I am Cassidy and I decide that the phrase ‘My arse’ as an expression of scepticism at someone else’s words doesn’t come from the English words ‘my’ and ‘arse’. So I go to an Irish dictionary. I don’t actually speak any Irish, of course, and I’m not really sure about the pronunciation, but what the Hell! I’m Daniel Cassidy! I’m a genius! So, I find the word maith which means good or well, and which is pronounced mah or moy. So far, so good! Then I look for something which might go with it. Ah, there’s a word arsa, which means ‘said’.

So, if I put maith and arsa together, I get the ironic ‘Irish’ phrase maith arsa, which means ‘well said!’

Of course, this isn’t a real phrase, and it only makes sense if you pluck definitions for the component words randomly out of dictionaries. In Irish, the word arsa is limited in its use. It only ever occurs sandwiched between reported speech and the name of the person speaking. Almost all of the phrases in Cassidy’s book are like this, childish fakes based on misunderstood out-of-context dictionary entries which bear no relation at all to the genuine Irish language, a language of which Cassidy was totally ignorant.


I came across an interesting little nugget of Cassidese nonsense on what purports to be an educational website (http://www.edu-cyberpg.com/Linguistics/Whoopie-Ti-Yi-Yo-Git-Along.html) the other day. In the article, Cassidy was thinking aloud (I use the term thinking advisedly) about the origins of a cowboy song about little dogies. This is a cowboy term which apparently originally meant an orphan calf and now is applied to cattle of all kinds. Here is one line from the song with Cassidy’s ‘translation’ into Irish.

Whoopie Ti Yi Yo, git along, little doggies
Uimhir dí-áireamh, céadlongadh ládáil do-thóigthe

Countless number breakfast, hard-to-feed cargo

When I had stopped laughing and picked myself up off the floor, I decided to write this post. Cassidy’s Irish ‘translation’ is pure nonsense and makes much less sense even than the English version. I mean, whoopie is pronounced … well, whoopee, as in Makin’ Whoopee or Whoopi Goldberg and uimhir is pronounced ivvir, a bit like liver with the l taken off the front. Uimhir, whoopie. Uimhir, whoopie. No, sorry. It sounds a bit more similar than fish and bicycle but not a lot.

Then there’s the fact that uimhir wouldn’t be used in this sense anyway because in English, you can use number to mean a few, some, as in There were a number of people there. You can’t say bhí uimhir daoine ann in Irish. It is meaningless. In circumstances like this, you use another word, líon. As Ó Dónaill’s Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla says under the heading líon – “An líon daoine atá san áit, the number of people in the place; the population of the place”. Dí-áireamh is strange but just on the improbable side of impossible: dí-áirimh is given by Ó Dónaill as a variant of the much more common do-áirithe. I strongly suspect that git along is the English get along and is telling the dogies to move quickly. Just a hunch. It certainly seems unlikely that it is a reference to breakfast, however badly the dogies need fattening. Ládáil is a loan-word, related to English lading (as in Bill of Lading) and refers to putting a cargo on a ship. So … they’re taking the cows … on a ship? After breakfast? Let’s hope the water isn’t too choppy. I will discuss the word dogie below.  Oh, and then there is the problem that it would really be ládáil dho-thóigthe (ládáil dhothógtha in modern spelling) according to the rules of Irish grammar, which is pronounced as something like go-hoe-ga rather than do-hoe-ga.   

As so often happened, Cassidy had fallen out of love with this crazy, back-of-an-envelope brainwave by the time the book was published but he still gave do-thóigthe (Dinneen’s spelling: the modern spelling is dothógtha) as the origin of doggie (instead of the traditional explanation that it is a contraction of English dough-guts). Cassidy lied shamelessly in his treatment of this word. He gave a longish definition, half of which was real and taken from Dinneen’s dictionary, but the second half was his own invention.

Here is Cassidy’s definition, as given on page 35 of How Cassidy Invented Crap:


Do-thóigthe, (pron. dohóg’ǝ], hard to rear, hard to fatten (as a calf); a sickly hard-to-feed calf; fig. an orphan calf or child, without a mother to nurse them. (Dineen, 1927;)

The first half (the real bit) says that dothóigthe is an adjective meaning that an animal is hard to fatten or rear (Do-thóigthe, hard to rear, hard to fatten (as a calf) etc.).  The second (fake) bit (a sickly hard-to-feed calf; fig. an orphan calf or child, without a mother to nurse them) implies that dothóigthe can be used as a noun meaning an orphan calf, which it can’t. The whole quotation is ascribed to Dinneen, so the poor reader would have no way of knowing that the convincing half of it in terms of Cassidy’s argument is completely fake.

Cassidy did this on many occasions. He often put the letters fig. into a definition when he was inserting his own fictional take on the meaning. This usually stands for ‘figuratively’ in contexts like this but in Cassidy’s work, it really stands for ‘figment’ (of Cassidy’s imagination).




This is another absurdity and another example of Cassidy’s selective treatment of his sources. Cassidy says that dock, meaning to take a chunk out of someone’s wages as a punishment, comes from the Irish tobhach, which means a levy. Tobhach is pronounced toe-akh or toe-ah, so it doesn’t sound a lot like dock anyway, but it would not be an entirely unreasonable suggestion if there were no better candidate.

And this is Cassidy’s claim, that there is no other candidate, that dock suddenly appears in English out of the blue in the 19th century. But this is a distortion of the truth. Cassidy cherry-picked the information in the English dictionaries and only used what made his case look stronger (while insulting the hard-working lexicographers whose work he parasitized). Dock in the sense of taking a chunk out of your pay only goes back to the 1820s but this is merely a natural extension of the meaning of a word which has been used since the Middle Ages in English to describe the action of cutting an animal’s tail off. All dictionaries recognise that dock (cut off a tail) and dock (clip someone’s wages) are the same word. And if this word has been used in rural communities in England in the tail-cutting sense since at least the fourteenth century, it doesn’t come from Irish. QED.

This is a perfect example of how Cassidy distorted the facts in an attempt to make a case for derivations which are nonsense.