Tag Archives: fake etymology


Cassidy points out the amazing similarity between the word slats in English, which can be used as a slang term for the ribs, and an identical word in Irish:

Slat, pl. slats, n. a rib or ribs, especially those of a person.

Slat, pl., slata,n. a rib, ribs (of the body), (Dinneen, 1052).

This is a typically stripped-down, sculpted presentation of the facts. The reason why Cassidy doesn’t quote from the major modern Irish dictionary, Ó Dónaill, is that it doesn’t give the meaning ribs for the word slat. You can find the following entry at the excellent focloir.ie:

slat1, f. (gs. -aite, npl. ~a, gpl. ~). 1. Rod. (a) Slender stick; cane, switch. ~ sailí, choill, sally-, hazel-, rod. An t~ a thabhairt do dhuine, to take the rod to s.o. Bhain sé ~ a sciúr é féin, he cut a rod for his own back. ~ bhuachailleachta, tiomána, rod used to herd, to drive, cattle. ~ iascaigh, iascaireachta, fishing-rod. ~ ribe, rod with snare attached. ~ chlaímh, sword-stick. ~ mhaoile, strickle (for levelling). (b) Wand. ~ draíochta, magic wand. ~ ríoga, sceptre. Bheith faoi shlat ag duine, to be ruled by s.o., to be under s.o.’s thumb. ~ mhaoraíochta, big stick, control, coercion. (c) Slender bar. ~ chopair, iarainn, copper, iron, rod. ~ croiche, transverse bar of pot-rack. ~ chuirtín, curtain-rod. ~ ghunna, ramrod. ~ loine, piston-rod. ~ phota, pot-hook. ~ teallaigh, fire-iron. ~ tumtha, dip-stick. El: ~ charbóin, since, carbon, zinc, rod. S.a. crios 3. (d) ~ tomhais, measuring-rod; yardstick, criterion. ~ a chur ar rud, to measure sth.; to run the rule over sth. Dá gcuirfeá ~ ar Éirinn (ní bhfaighfeá a leithéid), if you were to search the whole of Ireland (you wouldn’t find the like of it). ~ dá thomhas féin a thabhairt do dhuine, to pay s.o. in his own coin. (e) Rail. ~ staighre, stair-rail. ~ droichid, rail guarding side of bridge. (f) Nau: ~ bhéil, ~ bhoird, gunwale. Tá sí síos go ~ an bhéil, it (boat) is down to the gunwale, heavily loaded. (g) Nau: ~ seoil, sail-yard. ~ bhrataí, jack-staff. (h) ~ droma, backbone. Síneadh ar shlat a dhroma, ar shlat chúl a chinn, é, he was stretched on the broad of his back. (i) Arb: ~a dubha, mountain willow. S.a. domhnach 1. (j) Algae: ~a mara, sea-rods. S.a. ceann1 1(l). (k) Bot: ~a gorma, bitter-sweet, woody nightshade. ~a dearga, spotted knot-grass. (l) Sapling, slip, scion. ~ de bhuachaill, de chailín, slip of a boy, of a girl. (m) Astr: ~ an Rí, an Bhodaigh, an Cheannaí, belt of Orion. (n) Physiol: ~ (fhearga), penis. 2. Meas: Yard. ~ ar fad, a yard long. Rud a thomhas ina shlata, to measure sth. in yards. ~ éadaigh, yard of cloth. S.a. cóta 2. 3. (pl.) Outskirts. Ar shlata na cathrach, on the outskirts of the city. (Var: pl. ~acha)

Dinneen’s Irish dictionary does give the meaning ribs for slat, but buried among these many other meanings. It is also worth remembering that the usual word for rib in Irish is easna.

As for the English word slat, Dictionary.com says:

a long thin, narrow strip of wood, metal, etc., used as a support for a bed, as one of the horizontal laths of a Venetian blind, etc.

The same source tells us that it is sometimes used as a slang term for the ribs and that its origin is from French: 1350-1400; Middle English sclat, slatt a slate < Middle French esclat splinter, fragment …

The French language Wiktionary tells us that the ultimate root of this word is a Frankish (i.e. Germanic) word which is etymologically linked to the English word slit.

A look on eDIL shows that slat is a very ancient term for a rod or stick in Irish. It has cognates in other Celtic languages and derives, according to McBain’s Gaelic Dictionary (which contains etymological notes) from the Proto-Celtic *slattā, which means a stalk or staff.

In other words, there is absolutely no room for doubt that these two words, in spite of the fact that they sound the same and are similar in meaning (both mean a kind of rod or stick), have no etymological connection. People who are ignorant of languages will assume that the fact that they are similar in both meaning and form means they must be related. However, we have already discussed such random similarities in the context of the Irish daor, which means expensive, and the English dear, with the same meaning. These two words also have totally different etymologies and are unrelated. The fact is, when comparing thousands and thousands of words from one language with the thousands and thousands of words in another, it would be surprising if we didn’t find matches of this kind. What makes them more than random coincidence is when we find lots of them following a regular pattern, which is not the case here.


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.

Gosh Darn It, Danny

Another really stupid claim made in Daniel Cassidy’s book is that the expression ‘darn it’ comes from Irish.

Why is this stupid? Well, for one thing, there is no doubt about where darn it really comes from. It is first recorded (in America) in 1781. Early references include specific claims that darn is a euphemistic substitution for damn. The existence of expressions like ‘gosh darn it to heck!’ and ‘darnation’ leave us with little room for doubt that this is another minced oath, like Baloney! or Gee Whizz! or Holy Cow!

Cassidy ignores the logical explanation and claims that it comes from dothairne air. This word does exist but it is quite obscure. Ó Dónaill’s dictionary has this:

dothairne, f. (gs. ~). Affliction. Díth is ~ ort! Bad scran to you!

Dinneen has this:

dothairne g., id., f., evil, mischief; misfortune; do dhíth is do dhothairne ort, misery and misfortune attend thee.

Unusually, Cassidy’s definition is not too far from Dinneen’s and Ó Dónaill’s. In this case, Cassidy has resisted the temptation to add any ‘figurative’ meanings from his own imagination.

The problem is this. If we put “dothairne air” into Google, we get no hits at all. If we put “damnú air” into Google, we get (well, today I got) 1360 hits. So, dothairne is not as common in Irish as Cassidy would like us to believe and of course, Cassidy didn’t speak Irish and knew nothing about the language.

Incidentally, there is a variant of this which gets a handful of hits on Google, the fake word ‘daithairne’. This comes from a singularly dim-witted article by Brendan Patrick Keane on IrishCentral, where Keane was apparently too lazy to copy the word out from Cassidy’s book properly, and too stupid and ignorant of the Irish language to realise that daithairne violates a basic rule of Irish orthography, caol le caol is leathan le leathan. (It would take too long to explain this properly, but basically, consonants have two values depending on whether they are next to an i,e or an a,o,u. For example, in mise, pronounced misha, the s is slender because it has an i and an e next to it. In measa, pronounced massa, the s has an a before it and after it, so it’s broad. The –aithai- string is strange in Irish because it’s slender on one side and broad on the other.) Still, at least this is on IrishCentral where it will hardly be noticed. A little more rubbish there will be like mún dreoilín san fharraige (a wren pissing in the sea.)

Incidentally, dang it (which Cassidy’s razor-sharp intellect somehow missed) might just have an Irish connection. In Irish, damnú air (damn it) is sometimes disguised as daingniú air (strengthening on it). It is not impossible that this gave rise to dang it, as there is no word dang in English.

It’s Official: The Etruscans Were Irish!

[I would like to make it quite clear that THIS IS NOT A REAL THEORY. I AM TAKING THE PISS. Unfortunately, it is the nature of the Internet that people flit around reading little bits of things and then tweeting about them and republishing them in other ways, so it is no surprise that there is a thing called Poe’s Law, which states that unless the material is clearly labelled as ironic, somebody will always take your parodies and satires at face value. On this blog, I have already had people take seriously claims that the phrase Vichy Water is from Irish and that the Irish language has a word for the sound horses make when you pull their feathers out. Seriously! So, just to be clear, I’m being sarcastic – Etruscan is NOT an early form of Irish.]

The Irish Milesian Academy For Intellectual Arts (IrishMAFIA), founded five years ago to further the work of the late Daniel Cassidy, have come up with their biggest and boldest claim yet. According to Brendan Patrick Gurne, Head of Creative Etymology with IrishMAFIA:

“We were looking at Google and found a website about Etruscan, an ancient language of Italy, and its links to extra-terrestrials, the Illuminati and home-made anti-gravity machines. We then found a vocabulary of Etruscan and were amazed to find clear parallels between Irish and Etruscan. We are convinced that Etruscan is in fact an early form of Irish and that through the Etruscans, Irish was responsible for the Roman Empire and the whole history of Western Civilization.

Let’s look at some examples. For example, clan is Etruscan for son. This is just like clann in Irish, which means children. The Etruscan for jar is pruchum, which is like the Irish próca. Shuthi, meaning a vault or grave is very like the Irish or sidhe, meaning a fairy mound or grave mound. The Etruscan word for a state, tuθi (tuthi) is almost exactly the same as Irish tuath, meaning a petty kingdom. Cel, the word for earth, ground or soil, is very similar to cill, which means churchyard. The Etruscan for bull, thevru, is very like Irish tarbh. The Etruscan for I is mi, which is just like Irish . The Etruscan for a free person is zeri, which is just like the Irish word saor. And what about mech, meaning lady or queen? Surely this is the same word as Macha, the ancient goddess of war who gave her name to Armagh? There can be no doubt about it. The Etruscans were Irish.”

Reaction to the revelation from academic linguists has been universally skeptical and hostile, but it has been enthusiastically repeated by the Irish Times, the Irish News, IrishCentral , the Irish Echo, RTÉ, Michael Patrick MacDonald, Joseph Lee and Peter Linebaugh.

[WARNING: THIS IS SATIRE! The Etruscans were NOT Irish. The vast majority of Etruscan vocabulary bears no relation to any Celtic language. Próca isn’t originally an Irish word. Clann is an early Irish borrowing of Latin planta. Cill also comes from Latin and is related to English cell. The taurus/tarvos word for bull is found in many Indo-European languages and is probably Afro-Asiatic in origin. The others are just coincidental similarities, helped along by selective use of definitions. It just goes to show how easy it is to make random and completely worthless connections when you are dealing with a fairly large set of data.]

More On Slum and Scam

In his ludicrous book, How The Irish Invented Slang, Daniel Cassidy claimed that the English words slum and scam come from the ‘Irish phrases’ ‘s lom (é) and ‘s cam (é) where the ‘s is short for the copula is. I have taken issue with these claims before but I have never gone through the evidence against these claims fully, so that is what I intend to do in this post.

Firstly, the phrases is cam (é) and is lom (é) are strange, to say the least. I’m not saying you would never find them in an Irish conversation, but there is something oddly truncated about them. I’ll try to explain what I mean. Suppose you have signed up for some show on Irish-language television (TG4) where would-be designers do up a room in your house. Someone paints your living room in forty shades of green. There you are, looking at your green room. Do you say, Is glas é or Is glas? Absolutely not. You might say Tá sé iontach glas, nach bhfuil? (It’s very green, isn’t it?) But you are not likely to say Is glas é. Short phrases with the copula like this are only likely to be used to echo another, more informative comment, like the English It sure is or So they say. They are phrases that belong in a particular context and don’t have much meaning outside of that context.

The same applies to is cam é and is lom é. They are odd and really don’t mean a lot. Furthermore, even if these phrases meant anything, why would they be used as nouns? Could you really see someone in English saying He pulled an it is crooked on me? Because I can’t.

In the case of slum, there is another major reason for doubting Cassidy’s claim. The word lom does mean bleak, but its basic meaning is bare or empty. Think of the favelas of Brazil, the slums of Mumbai, the East End in the days of Jack the Ripper. Do they really make you think of emptiness and bareness? To me, slums are teeming, heaving, full of activity, people, animals. A desert is lom. A slum is anything but lom.

Then again, Cassidy talked about “cutting through two hundred years of academic baloney” in this book. In fact, what Cassidy did was cut out and discard anything at all which didn’t fit in with the particular idiotic claim he was making at the time. Because of this, he simply says that scam and slum are claimed to be origin unknown. In fact, while there is no certainty about their origins, there is no shortage of contenders.

In the case of slum, the word first makes its appearance in English in England in the early years of the nineteenth century. At that time, it meant a cheap lodging, so it is probably a shortened form of slumber. In modern Irish, the two words for slum are plódcheantar (a throng-area) or sluma, a borrowing from English. What would an Irish speaker in the 19th century have called a slum? It’s hard to say, but they might have called it ceantar bocht (a poor area), coinicéar (a rabbit warren), na brocaisí (the hovels, the smelly places), or cathair ghríobháin (a griffin-city, a labyrinth). Not is lom é!

As for scam, this word first occurs in America in the 1960s. There are many possible explanations. It could be from scamp, meaning a swindler. Or from scheme. Or from a group of related words in French, Spanish and Portuguese meaning to disappear or to swindle. The most likely of these is escamotear in Spanish. Me han escamoteado mil dolares means “they stole a thousand dollars from me. “ Cassidy’s suggestion is so unlikely that it really isn’t worth bothering with, just like the rest of the insulting nonsense in this book.

The English For Comhar

I recently criticised the claim made by Daniel Cassidy and perpetuated by some of his apprentices in idiocy that the word comhar is of central importance in Irish culture and language and that it is ‘a long-standing ideal of cooperative society’.

By a strange coincidence, someone asked me the other day to find out where bee comes from, as in a sewing or spelling bee. It turns out that bee is thought to be a corruption of been or bean, an English dialect word meaning a favour or a gathering of people to help out a neighbour. It suddenly struck me – BEAN OR BEEN IS THE ENGLISH FOR COMHAR!

In other words, it must be a central concept of Anglophone culture, a long-standing ideal of a cooperative society! I’m so excited at having made this major anthropological discovery just by clicking a mouse a couple of times.

I am beginning to see the appeal of Cassidy’s methods. It’s so much easier to make major discoveries when you don’t have to do any work or present any evidence! Brilliant! Remember, you heard it here first …


(Just in case anyone has stopped by here without understanding the context of the blog, let me make it quite clear that I am being sarcastic here!)