Tag Archives: false etymology


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.

I have already said that Cassidy ignores perfectly good English explanations for words in favour of improbable or impossible made-up Irish derivations. This is a perfect example. Chicken means scared and a chicken is a coward. I think this comes from the English word chicken which is a nervous type of bird. In English, phrases like hen-hearted go back to the 14th century at least. As early as the 15th century, the churles chekyne was used as an expression for a coward. It is obvious, realistic, and it ticks all the boxes.

Cassidy and his supporters will have none of it. Chicken doesn’t come from chicken, apparently. It comes from teith ar cheann, which means – says Cassidy – to run away first. Does it? No, of course not. This is How The Irish Invented Slang we’re talking about here, not a serious work of scholarship! Teith ar cheann is unattested. If you look it up on Google, you will find a handful of references to Daniel Cassidy. In terms of Irish grammar, it doesn’t make sense, as it really means ‘flee at the head of’ rather than flee first. At the head of what? I hear you ask. Exactly. On its own, this phrase means nothing.

There are lots of expressions for a weakling or coward in Irish and any of them could have been used in slang, so it seems strange that people would use a grammatically meaningless and unfamiliar phrase in preference to these words. Of course, in reality, they didn’t. Chicken is English. A chicken is a chicken is a chicken. And Cassidy was a birdbrain.


Thug mé faoi deara nach bhfaigheann cuid de na postálacha is luaithe sa bhlag seo mórán cuairteanna agus mar sin de, ba mhaith liom iad a athfhoilsiú anseo.

Mar atá ráite agam go minic roimhe seo, bíonn Cassidy ag maíomh go dtig focail ó fhrásaí Gaeilge a chum sé féin, frásaí nach bhfuil ciall ar bith leo, cé go bhfuil an fhíorshanasaíocht Bhéarla soiléir sothuigthe i gcuid mhór cásanna. Seo sampla foirfe den amaidí sin. Ciallaíonn chicken go bhfuil duine scanraithe agus is ionann chicken agus cladhaire. Tagann sin ón fhocal Béarla chicken, dar liomsa, mar is éan cineál neirbhíseach í an chearc nó an sicín céanna. Sa Bhéarla, tá frásaí mar hen-hearted le fáil ón 14ú haois ar aghaidh. Chomh luath leis an 15ú haois, bhí an frása the churles chekyne in úsáid le tagairt do chladhaire nó meatachán. Tá an míniú sin soiléir, simplí agus tá sé ag teacht leis na fíricí.

Ach is cuma le lucht leanúna Cassidy faoi na fíricí. Ní hionann chicken (cladhaire) agus chicken (cearc), dar leosan. Is ón fhrása ‘Gaeilge’ ‘teith ar cheann’ a tháinig sé, de réir cosúlachta, frása a chiallaíonn, dar le Cassidy, ‘to run away first.’ Ní Gaeilge sin, ar ndóigh. Níl ann ach raiméis agus amaidí.

Tá a lán dóigheanna le bogachán nó meatachán nó cladhaire a rá i nGaeilge. Nach iontach an rud é gur roghnaigh na Gaeil i Meiriceá úsáid a bhaint as raiméis neamhghramadúil ar nós teith ar cheann in áit ceann de na focail sin? Ach, ar ndóigh, níor tháinig chicken ó ‘teith ar cheann’. Níl ciall ar bith leis sin. Is Béarla é an focal chicken, sa dá chiall, agus ní raibh sa Chasaideach ach bréagadóir gan náire.


Put It Up On The Web, Limerick Traitors!

Hats off to Murchadh Mór. Not only has he written an excellent article on The Rubber Bandits’ foolish post about Cassidy’s fake etymology on Nós, and a post giving a number of genuine words which derive from Irish, he has also posted a pic of a document which gives the real origins of the words given by the Rubber Bandits in their list.

Unfortunately, the Rubber Bandits themselves seem unwilling to post the truth on this subject. When Murchadh Mór asked them to circulate the true list, this was their reply:

Stuff about Cassidy being dubious was shared under the original thread. We commented on it, too. It would have been seen.

It’s disappointing to see them refusing to do the right thing here. You see, what they’re failing to acknowledge here is that this isn’t a level playing field. In the world in general, and to an even greater extent on social media, nonsense has longer legs than sense, and lies are faster and better runners than the truth. The figures for shares and likes show that. The original (wrong) post got far more than Murchadh Mór’s corrections.

Why? Well, for a number of reasons. Because lies sparkle and shine, because they can be as glittery and bright and attractive as the human imagination can make them. All truths can be are what they are. Because lies are presented as simple certainties, while the truth is often messy and complex. Because the truth doesn’t have an agenda, while lies are often blended with xenophobia and hatred, which tastes like honey to many people. Because people’s memories are fickle and they selectively filter out anything that doesn’t make a good narrative, which is why the thousands of times homeopathy fails are ignored but the one time where it coincides with a sudden improvement is proof that homeopathy works (mar dhea). (And perhaps it also explains why the definition of the English word dude is given as the definition of the Irish word dúid in the original list of nonsense given by the Rubber Bandits. Or perhaps someone was just lying … !

Because of these facts, it makes me wonder what the real story is about the RB’s post on Cassidy. Who wrote it? Did the RBs themselves write it, or was the (mis)information supplied to them by somebody else? A friend, a relative, a fan? Someone they don’t want to offend by getting off the fence and telling it like it is?

William Blake wrote that ‘the road to Hell is paved with good intentions’. So just remember this. Cassidy wasn’t a nice man who got it a bit wrong. He was a malicious fraud and people who support him are choosing lies over truth. It’s that simple. And as I’ve said above, lies already have an inbuilt advantage over the truth, so for fuck’s sake, lads, let’s stop giving liars and their falsehoods a head start.


Three Kinds of Lies

There are three principal kinds of lies among the ‘etymologies’ in Cassidy’s ridiculous book How The Irish Invented Slang.


As we have said before, there are many entries in Cassidy’s book which are plagiarised. Dozens of expressions were already in the public domain before they appeared in Cassidy’s book (though most of these are also fanciful and unlikely to be correct.)  In most cases, the Great Fraud didn’t acknowledge where he got them. Examples: longshoreman from loingseoir, ballyhoo from bailiú, snazzy from snas, smashing from is maith sin, slug from slog, etc.

Single words

In many cases, Cassidy found individual words in English and English slang. He then hit the Irish dictionaries and tried to find words which were a vague match for his English words. So, suppose Cassidy had decided that the term to drink a toast to someone doesn’t have anything to do with toasted bread. So he hits the dictionary and finds the word tost, meaning silence. Well, you propose a toast and of course, everyone is silent while they’re drinking. So it’s from the Irish tost meaning silence.

However, Cassidy often changed his story. (Slum was originally from saol lom, according to Cassidy but in the book it’s from ‘s lom é.) So, suppose he was looking through a dictionary and happened to notice the word tóstal, meaning assembly, muster, array or pageant. And suppose Cassidy decided that this, not tost, is a better origin of toast. So, he writes a ‘dictionary definition’:

tóstal – assembly, muster, pageant; a public display (of respect etc.)

and then adds a few dictionary references, so that a casual observer might assume that this was taken verbatim from a dictionary. Of course, the really impressive bit, about the public display of respect, would be a complete fiction invented in California by a man who didn’t speak any Irish. (In reality, I made this example up using Cassidy’s ‘methodology.’)


Of course, if Cassidy had been restricted to plagiarism and words which accidentally have a phonetic similarity and some similarity of meaning, his book would have been little more than a pamphlet. Most of his ‘etymologies’ were phrases.

Here’s how it works. Cassidy finds the word bamboozle and decides it must be Irish. So, he hits the Irish dictionaries and looks for something that corresponds to it. Of course, there’s no suitable Irish word. So, this pretentious dimwit – who doesn’t speak any Irish at all – cobbles together a ‘well-known phrase’ in Irish. First, he finds the word bamba, which means tiresomeness or frustration. So far, so good. But what about the oozle? So, he looks in the dictionary and finds uasal, which means noble, but also has a subsidiary meaning of ‘fairy’. Great! In ‘Irish’, bamba uasal is a phrase meaning frustrated by the fairies, thwarted by supernatural forces.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that. It doesn’t exist. I just made it up ten minutes ago as an example of how Cassidy’s mind didn’t work. There are hundreds of similar expressions in Cassidy’s book: uath dubh; gus óil; gruaim béil; gearr-ól úr etc. etc.

I note with great sadness that people are still spreading this nonsense. For example, a couple of weeks ago, someone called Glopweiller (or Daniel Patrick Galvi) put a reference to Cassidy’s dumbass theory about the origins of dude on Twitter. There is a lot of talk at the moment about the post-truth world we live in. The fact is, it’s only post-truth if we decide to let that happen, by ignoring the facts and not checking them. I suggest we make that an additional New Year’s resolution – to check every fact, however trivial, before passing it on and contributing to the morass of ignorance out there.

Captain Grammar Pants

In the posts on this site, I have been unkind about a fair number of people. I have lambasted Cassidy himself, along with the numerous cronies who have boosted his reputation and misled people into thinking he was a credible scholar. Along the way, I have also had a go at others, for example, people who claim that the British banned the Irish language. (I object to people claiming this for two reasons: 1. it isn’t true 2. it gives the impression that Irish was some hidden argot whispered in secret, which distorts the truth that the language was still hugely significant in Ireland quite late on in history and therefore provides ammunition for the enemies of the Irish language, north and south, who claim that it barely made it out of the Middle Ages before becoming marginalised and irrelevant.)

Because of these unkind words, some people might regard me as a bit of a bully. I don’t see it that way. As I have explained before, the Internet is a place which makes it possible for people to express all kinds of opinions, true, false, benign or repugnant. We shouldn’t suppress opinions but people should be prepared to be held to account for the rubbish they spout. If you don’t want to be criticised, don’t put your stupidities in a public place where people like me can find them!

Now, I’m about to be unkind again. Recently, I came across a blog by a person calling herself Captain Grammar Pants. The name of the blog and the picture of its author wearing a captain’s hat would be enough to put me off on their own.

You see, I have a love/hate relationship with grammar and usage sites. Some of them are excellent guides to usage. (Jeremy Butterfield’s blog, for example.) Others confirm my prejudice that many grammar pedants are simply anally retentive bores who use shibboleths of marginal relevance as a stick to beat people who are already socially disadvantaged. Captain GP is somewhere between the two camps – way too irrationally pernickety for my tastes but not one of the morons who insist that a prestigious institution is one which practices illusion and deception or that you can only evacuate buildings and not people from buildings (Don’t ask – just take it from me that cranks like this exist!)

Apparently, her real name is Sean Williams and she teaches ethnomusicology at Evergreen State. The reason why she merits a mention here is that in 2006-7, she was teaching a number of Cassidy’s stupid claims at that university and in 2010, she published a book on Irish traditional music which also reiterates a number of Cassidy’s completely ludicrous derivations. And in September 2014, on CGP, she published the following:

Here are some words we English speakers received from the Irish language: ballyhoo, baloney, blather, buddy, clamour, coney, crony, cuddle, dig, dude, fluke, galore, gimmick, glom, hobo, kibosh, longshoreman, malarkey, moolah, muck, phoney, scam, shanty, slogan, slugger, smack, smear, smithereens, snazzy, snoot, so long, swank, wallop, whiskey, and yacking. And that’s just SOME of them! I also particularly like the fact that with galore, we have not just the word, but also the accompanying syntax. It’s never “galore chocolate”; it’s “chocolate galore.” I LIKE the idea of chocolate galore.

Now, I have already made it abundantly clear that I have little sympathy for people who promote this flim-flam. These are false etymologies derived from Cassidy’s work (with one or two thrown in from Todd’s Green English). Only a handful of the words above (galore, phoney, slogan, smithereens, whiskey and possibly dig and snazzy) are genuinely of Irish origin. I have no idea why any intelligent person would republish this dross years after it was revealed to be a fraud. I note that Williams was born in California but it’s a big state and it doesn’t necessarily mean that she is one of the Cronies. The strangest thing about it is that she co-wrote a book on sean-nós singing recently with Dr Lillis Ó Laoire, who has excellent Irish. Why she didn’t ask him his opinion is a mystery. I don’t want to put words in Ó Laoire’s mouth, but I would be shocked if he endorsed rubbish like Cassidy’s book.

I mentioned before that I do look at English grammar and usage sites quite often and I am not above using a little shibboleth or test of my own to determine whether I agree with the author or not, the test of whether alright is a word in its own right distinct from ‘all right’. I have always written alright in some circumstances. It seems to me perfectly logical that, on the analogy of already/all ready and altogether/all together, it is perfectly reasonable to make a distinction between Those answers were alright and Those answers were all right. As Jeremy Butterfield says in the Oxford A-Z of English Usage (it might seem a bizarre coincidence that one of the first corroborating comments I found on Google came from Jeremy, who has commented here but if you think about it, this particular corner of cyberspace is probably quite small):

There is no logical reason for insisting that alright is incorrect and should always be written as all right, when other single-word forms such as altogether have long been accepted.

What does Sean Williams say? According to her, alright is all wrong. But then according to her, crony comes from comh-róghna (sic) and baloney from béal ónna and longshoreman from loingseoir etc. so her opinions on language are clearly a mixture of ludicrous pseudo-Irish etymology and irrational prescriptivism, two things which I really despise.

However, it is doubly important for me to criticise Sean Williams for one very simple reason. Most of the people who support Daniel Cassidy’s claims on line are so preternaturally stupid that they couldn’t find their own arses with a hot iron. Williams has a doctorate, some knowledge of Irish (though not enough to know that go leor can precede nouns as well as coming after them in Irish!) and a lot of credibility. Naming and shaming some of the dunderheads who support Cassidy hardly seems worth it. In the case of an academic and language blogger who blithely regurgitates all the nonsense Cassidy invented, it seems more than justified. (In fairness, she has since recanted and now no longer accepts Cassidy’s lies. I thought of removing or altering the articles which criticise her but she was remiss in not checking the facts in the first, even though she has had the uncommon decency to make a public retraction.)


One of the most stupid claims in Cassidy’s book (and there are SO MANY OF THEM) is the one about whale. Apparently, to whale on someone means to beat or hit them. Nobody knows for sure where this word comes from. My first thought was that it might be from the power and violence of a whale, which could easily smash a boat with one flick of its tail, but apparently that’s not it.  It seems that this use of whale as a verb meaning beat or whip first occurs in the late 18th century and it has been suggested (quite reasonably) that it comes from the word wale, to mark with wales (variant of weals) or stripes, which has been used since the 15th century.

Cassidy, of course, disagrees and comes up with his own childish guess. According to him, it comes from bhuail, the past tense of buail, meaning to hit. As I have said before, words and phrases are not just borrowed any old how between languages. Cassidy thought it was OK to take any form which suited his purpose, plural, grammatically inflected, past tense, a hotchpotch of bad grammar or even just bits of phrases. Whichever form sounded most like his target was the one that ‘must’ have passed from pidgin Irish to slang English.

So, in the case above, if we allow the different mutations, we have buail (booil), bhuail (wooil or vooil depending ón dialect), mbuail (mooil). And of course, as we’ve seen in Cassidy’s overuse of aingí, vowels counted for nothing in his methodology. So the word buail could give ríse to whale, wheel, meal, mole, moll, mall, ball, bowl, bowel, vowel, veal, vole, and a couple of hundred other English words. When you’re casting your net as widely as this, it’s not difficult to find impressive-looking connections.  But they are only impressive if you don’t look too closely. In fact, you could say the same thing about Cassidy and all his works. They are only impressive if you don’t look too closely.


Rhino is an old slang term for money. It often occurs in the phrase ‘the ready rhino’, which means hard cash. There is no agreement about its origins. Some people have pointed to the fact that rhino horn was a very expensive commodity in ancient pharmacies while others link it to expressions like ‘paying through the nose’ (rhino is Greek for nose).

The liar Daniel Cassidy, in his ridiculous contribution to the sum of human ignorance, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that it derives from the Irish word rianú. He claims that this means engraving and that therefore this refers to the engraved patterns on coins. Leaving aside the pronunciation, which is not that close, and the fact that this word is a verbal noun and much more likely to describe an action or a process than an object, rianú is defined as ‘marking, tracing, delineation’ by Ó Dónaill and strangely enough, Dinneen doesn’t give the meaning of engraving either! Even if it did mean engraving, there would be a major problem with this claim. Cassidy seems to think that craftsmen individually engraved the designs on each coin! Of course, since Roman times, coins have been made by placing a disk of soft metal between two dies and striking them to stamp the image from the die onto the metal, not by engraving.

The origins of the term rhino for money are unknown, but the possible connection between the word rianú and coins is so weak and so contrived that it really isn’t worth considering.