Tag Archives: fake etymology

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.

Twit of the Month – Jeff St. Clair

I have just come across the ridiculous tweet above and as a result, I have decided to bestow the dubious honour of inaugural Cassidyslangscam Twit of the Month Award on its author, Jeff St. Clair. St. Clair is an ‘investigative journalist’ who, along with Alexander Cockburn, was responsible for publishing Cassidy’s puerile and ignorant book on the supposed Irish etymology of American slang through CounterPunch and AK Press. Indeed, this numpty actually did the index for the book, so he can hardly claim that he didn’t read it carefully!

Anyway, to demonstrate why Jeff St. Clair is a fool and why CounterPunch were a bunch of morons to publish this book, I’ll just go through all the evidence of naivety and cronyism and blind ignorance in the ridiculous obituary which his friend Cockburn (now dead himself) wrote for Cassidy. Cockburn says:

I look at the book here on my desk and think, Thank God he got that out of his head and on to the printed page and the world will have that part of him always.

Yeah, thank God for that, eh?

Cockburn then talks about what a city boy Cassidy was, a true son of Brooklyn. However, according to Cassidy’s sister, the Cassidys were raised in Long Island in the forties and fifties. As she says ‘It was all country!’ His sister also pointed out that Cassidy’s eyes were brown, not blue, as Cockburn misremembered: His bright blue eyes would shine as we’d argue sometimes.

Plainly Cockburn thought a lot of Cassidy, largely because he didn’t really know him at all and fell for the lies and the hype like a true sucker.

He was thin-skinned about all the right things: the assumption of privilege, the pretensions of the toffs, the bottomless wellsprings of English and Yankee arrogance that looks down its nose and misses everything that matters. Danny had the vivid, humorous, compassionate, furious realism of someone who knew well what life looks like from the other side of the tracks, terrain intimately familiar to the millions of the Irish diaspora.

Yeah, it’s a terrible thing, the assumption of privilege. I mean, WHY should someone get a job as a professor just because they actually got their degree rather than flunking out in a narcotic haze? Cassidy deserved that job because he could bullshit better than any man alive, degree or no degree! (And he did receive a wonderful education from the same school as President Trump in his underprivileged youth, of course!)

Then there’s a load of pompous crap in the obituary about Cassidy’s book on slang and how his ‘street smarts’ (from Long Island?) enabled him to see things other people couldn’t about the Irish etymology of American slang.

The first taste of Cassidy’s nonsense that the late Cockburn (and St. Clair) swallowed uncritically was that baloney comes from béal ónna, meaning ‘Silly, inane loquacity.’ While Cassidy was an expert on silly, inane loquacity, he knew nothing about Irish. As we’ve said many times, béal ónna was a complete fabrication, just like most of the ‘Irish’ in the book.

Cockburn quotes a lot of other shite from Cassidy, such as stool pigeon coming from an imaginary phrase steall béideán and stoolie (obviously a derivative of stool pigeon) coming from another imaginary phrase, steall éithigh. Note all the fake definitions here that don’t come from any dictionary, and the ubiquitous fig. which betokened a figment of this liar’s imagination.

“Steall béideán, pron. stoll beejaan [sic], to spout gossip, lies, slander, aspersions, scandal; a spouting snitch; a spouter of scandal, calumny, lies. Stoolie: Steall éithigh, pron. stall eehih [sic], spouting lies, fig. a snitch; stooler: steallaire, a tattler.”

But apparently, because Mike Quill, a native Irish speaker, used the phrase stool pigeon a good hundred years after it was first used in English, that ‘proves’ it comes from Irish …

And squeal apparently doesn’t come from the English squeal, as in ‘he squealed like a pig to the feds’. No, it comes from the Irish verb scaoil meaning (quoting from WingLéacht) loose, loosen, release, discharge, undo, untie, unfasten, slack, slacken, let out, spread, unfurl, release, open, let go, discharge, disband, disperse, break loose, dissolve, resolve, remove, relieve, make known, reveal, give away, distribute, discharge, fire, shoot. A perfect match!

Later, in his exchange of emails with Cockburn, Cassidy refers to a clapped-out Derry politician and media ganch who was a friend of his, saying that “he appreciated that Jazz as teas, pronounced, jass, is Ulster dialect, as opposed to the teas (chass, heat) of Connaught.”  Aye, so in Ulster dialect, we apparently pronounce teas as jass. How do we pronounce deas, then? (In case you doubt this, you can find sound files for both deas and teas in the Connaught, Munster and Ulster dialects of Irish at focloir.ie: http://www.focloir.ie/ga/dictionary/ei/heat) What total garbage! More obvious evidence that this man was an ignorant bollocks who knew nothing much about anything, but still managed to convince a couple of ‘investigative reporters’ (as well as the aforementioned media ganch) that he wasn’t a talentless arse. Go figure …

As Cockburn said: He had me on the line now and it was time for him to set the hook.  Ain’t that the truth!

So, Cockburn and his equally dimwitted buddy St. Clair ended up publishing this inane garbage because “some hooded revisionist anonymous irish academic put the eighty-six (éiteachas aíochta, a refusal or denial of hospitality, to be barred or expelled) on it.”

That’s eiteachas, not éiteachas, by the way, and in any case, again, there’s no evidence of anyone using the imaginary (and clunky) phrase eiteachas aíochta. What they did with Cassidy’s manuscript at the University of Limerick was dhiúltaigh siad í a fhoilsiú (they refused to publish it), shéan siad í (they refused it),  chaith siad amach í (they threw it out), chuir siad ar ais í (they sent it back).  Something like that. Something real, something genuine Irish-speaking people say in real Irish. Not a fake piece of cultural appropriation, not an arrogant racist concoction from a seasoned con-man.

In short, what Cassidy did to this pair of highly skilled ‘investigative reporters’, Cockburn and St. Clair, was essentially to truss and pluck them, turn them over and stuff them both like a pair of shite-gobbling, pin-headed prize Christmas turkeys. CounterPunch has been showcasing and hosting and promoting this dishonest, moronic crapfest for a decade, in spite of its claims to tell the facts. And as I’ve said before (and my little essay on the dross in Cockburn’s obituary above proves it), Cassidy really wasn’t such a great liar. He was too stupid, too lazy, too self-obsessed and too unaware of his own limitations to be a truly accomplished liar.

In conclusion, you would need to be a total and utter love-muscle to take crap like this seriously for more than five minutes, never mind a decade, and that’s why Jeff St. Clair is such a worthy recipient of my inaugural Twit of the Month Award.

All About Baloney

I have already dealt with Cassidy’s claims about the Irish origins of the word baloney elsewhere on this blog. However, I don’t think I’ve ever told the whole story of Cassidy’s lies in relation to this word.

Put simply, Cassidy claimed that the American English term baloney, the name of an Italian sausage from Bologna, used as a disguised version of blarney or balls or something similar, really comes from the ‘Irish’ phrase béal ónna:

Béal ónna (pron. bæl óna), silly loquacity, foolish talk; blather; blarney; stupid gossip.

As I said before, the phrase béal ónna doesn’t exist. What’s more, Cassidy was actually told this before the book was published. However, before I deal with that, let’s just look at the ‘Irish phrase’ béál ónna. Béal is a well-known Irish word. It means a mouth. Ónna is an old, literary word meaning naïve, simple, innocent. It isn’t found at all in the main modern Irish dictionary, Ó Dónaill. It is found in the earlier Dinneen’s dictionary, which tends to mix up words from different registers and eras.

There is actually a word that is quite similar to ónna in English, the word callow. Callow is no longer a current word in the language. You get it in phrases like ‘a callow youth’ but many English speakers wouldn’t know it or use it. As for people using the phrase ‘callow mouth’ to mean nonsense, there is just as much evidence of this as there is for Cassidy’s béal ónna. In fact, people don’t say ‘stupid mouth’ or ‘dumb mouth’ or ‘idiot mouth’ for nonsense either. And in Irish, they don’t combine béal with more common words for stupid to make béal amaideach, or béal bómánta, or béal dúr.

On 25 April 2006, an unregistered guest on the Daltaí Boards posted the following on a discussion on language survival and gender:

Your wingnut assertion about women killing the Irish language is a bunch of béal ónna agus dríb. You sound like a leathcheann foirfe.

This was Cassidy. Béal ónna was his version of baloney, and dríb was his candidate for the English tripe. The smartass tone and the wordplay is so distinctive and so typical of Cassidy. When another person said that they didn’t understand ‘a bunch of béal ónna’, Dennis King posted this comment:

Bain triail as Google. [Try Google] It’s one of the cockeyed concoctions of Dan Cassidy (or is that Jerry de Rossa?). Ní Gaeilge é ar chor ar bith. [It’s not Irish at all.]

Then Cassidy (using a different IPA and identity) posted three comments in succession on 26 April:

A Chara,

Re: béal ónna, simple, silly, foolish talk.

Is it incorrect to use ónna with béal?

ónna, indec. adj., simple, silly. (Dineen, p. 821.)

I should have written leathdhuine: a half-witted person, or a half-smart fool.

But I thought béal ónna was grammatically correct, though I defer to the experts on this site and stand corrected if it is improper.

Of course, a leathdhuine only uses leathcheann (one side of the head.

Why is the adjective ónna incorrect with the noun béal? I am very new to Irish.


Ed “a Lorgaire (Seeker) from New Jersey”

‘Ed’ then posted two citations which prove that ónna existed in 17th century Irish. Nobody bothered replying to any of these comments. Of course, ónna does exist and that is beyond question. Béal ónna doesn’t and that is also beyond question. And there is nothing ungrammatical about béal ónna. Béal is a noun, and ónna is an adjective. Almost all adjectives come after the noun in Irish. Cassidy was missing the point. Callow mouth isn’t ungrammatical in English either but that doesn’t mean it exists. My guess would be that because nobody bothered to reply to his posts, Cassidy thought he had won the argument.

That’s how ignorant and stupid the man was.




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.