Tag Archives: fake Irish etymologies

Cassidese Glossary – Hip, Hep

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.

There is no agreement about the origins of the word hip (in the sense of cool, trendy, not as in the thing at the top of your leg). You can find a discussion of the word here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hip_(slang)

The late Daniel Cassidy, in his work of fake etymologies, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that hip and its earlier form hep derive from the Irish word aibí (or abaí). Cassidy defines this word as:

Aibí (pron. h-abí; contraction h-ab’), adj., mature, quick, clever, quick-witted; fig. wise.

As usual, this is arrant nonsense. The word is defined by Ó Dónaill as ‘ripe, mature; quick, clever; crisp’. Its primary meaning is ripe. Dinneen defined it as ‘ripe, mature, quick-witted’. It does not mean wise, it is not pronounced with a h-, and while it is conceivable that a short vowel at the end of a word would be lost in speech, there is no reason to suppose that this would ever happen to a long vowel like the -í at the end of this word. The word is pronounced abbey or appee or abwee, depending on dialect (this is why it is sometimes spelled abaí). Why would appee or abwee become hip or hep? Wherever the word hip came from, it didn’t come from Irish and as it’s associated with African-American culture, it seems more likely that its roots, whatever they are, lie there.

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Cassidese Glossary – Growler

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.

A growler was a bucket of beer in the slums of New York. People were sent out to fill the bucket with beer and they carried it home covered with a tin lid. Because the fizzy beer gave off gas, the lid rattled continually and this was the growling.

Daniel Cassidy ignored this reasonable explanation. According to him, growler represents gearr-ól úr, meaning ‘a fresh, short drink’. This is incredibly contrived and totally improbable, especially as the real, English etymology is well-known.

Sneeze

I have noticed that many of the early posts on this blog get relatively little traffic, so I have decided to start republishing some of them.

 

Here’s another example of my issues with Cassidy’s theories. According to Cassidy, the English word sneeze derives from Irish:

Sní as (pron. snee’as, flowing, dripping, leaking, coursing out of) is not to be sneezed at. It is the Irish origin of the English sneeze.

There are several points to be noted here. First of all, the phrase sní as doesn’t exist in Irish as a way of referring to sneezing. Nor could it exist, as far as I can see. The word sní refers to slow movement of liquids, such as a running, a dripping or a flowing, or to the slow movement of snails or slugs. Here is the entry from Mícheál Ó Siochfhradha’s Irish-English, English-Irish Dictionary published in 1973 by the Talbot Press in Dublin:

Sní, f. flowing slowly (as water); crawling (as snail)

As sneezing is one of the fastest and most dynamic actions the human body is capable of, it hardly seems likely that sní would be used to describe it! It would be far more likely to be used (if at all) as a way of describing a nose running because of a cold.

Then again, there is an Irish word for sneeze. It’s in all the dictionaries. Sraoth is the word. So if you want to say “I sneezed”, you would say lig me sraoth. If you want to say ‘I was sneezing’, you say bhí mé ag sraothartach (or in my Ulster dialect, bhí mé ag srofartaigh).

And last but by no means least, we have to look at borrowings between languages. Generally speaking, languages borrow words that they don’t have a word for themselves. Thus banshee, or kosher, or imam have been borrowed into English because English doesn’t have words for those concepts. But people have always sneezed, so why wouldn’t English have had a word for sneezing before the Irish gave them an expression?

Of course, the English did have an expression for sneezing. It’s the word sneezing. English is a Germanic language, which is why Irish fear is ‘man’ in English and ‘Mann’ in German, or Irish lámh is ‘hand’ in English and ‘Hand’ in German, because the core vocabulary of the Germanic languages is related. If we look at words for sneeze in the Germanic languages, sneeze is ‘niesen’ (pronounced ‘neezen’) in German and ‘niezen’ (neesa) in Dutch. Apparently all of these words originally had an f in front of them which in English was somehow replaced with an s, probably on the analogy of words like sniff, snort, snivel. As it happens, the version with f- is not found in any Old English text but this doesn’t mean it never existed.

By the time of Chaucer, the word already existed in English as snesen. The words sneeze, niesen and niezen are obviously the same word (and phonetically far closer than many of Cassidy’s fake associations like block and bealach or sách úr and sucker) and none of them has any direct connection with Irish.