Tag Archives: false Irish etymologies

Cassidese Glossary – Sunday Punch

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.

Apparently, the phrase ‘a Sunday punch’ means a killer punch, a knockout, either in boxing terms or metaphorically in other areas like politics. It is not difficult to explain this expression. Most boxing matches probably occurred on Saturday night, so a Sunday punch is surely one that puts you out of action until the following day. Another common expression, ‘to knock someone into the middle of next week’, uses the same metaphor.

Daniel Cassidy, in his etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, immediately took his Irish dictionary in hand and found what he thought was a suitable word, sonnda.

‘Sonnda, al. sonnta, adj., powerful, strong, courageous, bold (punch). (Ó Dónaill, 1134; Dineen, 1088.)’

As usual in Cassidy’s ‘research’, this is not a real quotation. Sonnda derives from the word sonn, which means a stake or post, so sonnda is a very old-fashioned, literary word for powerful, steadfast, and would be used of a castle or a fortification, not a blow. To confuse matters, Dinneen gives it as an alternative spelling of sonnta, which means forceful, pushy or cheeky. In other words, Cassidy is mixing the entries for two distinct terms. Moreover, none of the meanings attached to the words sonnda or sonnta would lead you to believe that they would ever be applied to blows or punches. There are lots of adjectives which would be used in this way with the word for blow (buille) – buille trom, buille treascrach, buille cumhachtach, buille láidir, buille tolgach.

Cassidese Glossary – Stool Pigeon

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.

A stool pigeon was originally a decoy, a pigeon attached to a stool or some other wooden structure used to lure other pigeons. There is some doubt about the real meaning of the stool element. Some people regard it as a corruption of a word stall which originally meant a decoy.

Its earliest occurrence is in this context, in a work of 1812 called History of Animals: Designed for the Instruction and Amusement of Persons of Both Sexes by Noah Webster:

In this manner, the decoy or stool pigeon is made to flutter, and a flock of pigeons may be called in their flight from a great distance.

It was not long before it acquired the meaning of spy or informer.

Daniel Cassidy, in his etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, decided that it really came from Irish, so he got a dictionary and set about trying to make up a ‘well-known phrase’ as a derivation. His first attempt, as published in the Linguistlist on July 24 2003, was stuail beidean [sic], ‘a storer of lies and calumny’, along with stoolie coming from stuailai [sic], a ‘storer of slander’. The word béideán is a dialect variant of béadán, which means gossip or slander. Cassidy used the alternative version because it sounds more like pigeon. Béadán is pronounced ‘bay-dahn’. Stuáil is a gaelicisation of the English verb to stow. Its main meaning is to pad, to pack or to stow.

By the time the book was published, he had invented another ‘Irish’ phrase, using the verb steall, which means spout. It can have the meaning tattle, but there is no evidence that anyone, anywhere, has ever used phrases like steall béideán in Irish to mean anything, let alone a police informer.

Cassidese Glossary – Root

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.

Daniel Cassidy, in his etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that ‘to root for someone’, a 19th century American slang term now found in English all over the world, derives from the Irish word radadh, or perhaps the Scottish Gaelic rabhd. These are two different words in two different languages, so it is hard to see what Cassidy is really saying here.

I don’t intend to go into too much detail about rabhd. I imagine it is probably a loanword from a Scots term related to rout, which we will discuss below. As for radadh, this has an obsolete literary meaning of bestow, or it means to fling things, to kick (especially of animals) or to frolic or gambol, an extension of the kick meaning. I have heard the expression ag radadh maslaí (hurling abuse) but I can’t see any of these meanings giving rise to a use like ‘we’re rooting for our team’.

And then again, there is a pretty good candidate in English (or Scots). Cassidy chose to ignore this candidate and pretend that it doesn’t exist. Cassidy says that “all Anglo-American dictionaries derive the loud Irish-American root of the ballpark from the English root of a pig rooting in the muck with its nose.”

This is untrue. Collins’ Dictionary says that it is a variant of Scottish rout, to make a loud noise, from Old Norse rauta (I don’t know for a fact, but I imagine this is the origin of radhd in Gaelic.) And Merriam-Webster also derives root from Scottish rout. Nothing to do with pigs there.

Cassidese Glossary – Kike

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.

The term kike is an offensive ethnic slur used by the ignorant and anti-Semitic in reference to Jewish people. There are numerous theories about its origins but no agreement. The main theories seem to be that it is from the Yiddish for circle, because Jewish people who were illiterate in the Roman alphabet often signed with a circle where Christians made their mark with a cross, or that it comes from the common Jewish name Isaac.

The late Daniel Cassidy, in his work of false etymologies How The Irish Invented Slang, assumed that he had solved this riddle with his revelation that almost all American slang derives from the Irish language. According to Cassidy:

Ciabhóg (pron. k’i’óg), a person adorned with a forelock or sidelock; al. a forelock, a sidelock. Ciabhóg (pron. k’i’og a forelock, a sidelock curl) is the Irish word for the long sidelocks of the Orthodox Jews called peyos, as well as a person that wears forelocks or sidelocks.”

Cassidy, who spoke no Irish at all, made use of dictionaries to do his ‘research’. This claim is based on the entry for ciabhóg in Dinneen’s dictionary (the expanded 1927 edition):

ciabhóg, -óige, -óga, f., a small lock of hair; a fore-lock, a sidelock; a person adorned with a fore-lock or side-lock.

Of course, this is a diminutive of ciabh, meaning a lock of hair. In spite of the fact that it says sidelock, this simply refers to a lock on the side of person’s head. There is no specific word in Irish for the sidelocks worn by Orthodox Jews. It is entirely possible that native Irish speakers created a term for these sidelocks in the slums of the USA when they encountered Jews who wore sidelocks but I have no idea what that term was and neither did Cassidy. The word ciabhóg, like almost all Irish words referring to people and ending in -óg, is applied to women and girls, not to men or boys. (The only exceptions I can think of are gasóg and scológ.) The only instance of ciabhóg being used of a person in the Corpas (a corpus of Irish-language texts) is a political poem by an anonymous poet of the sonnet-like type known as trí rainn agus amhrán, where Ireland is addressed as a faithless (female) lover – mo léan, is bréagach an chiabhóg thú (alas, you are a false, curly-haired girl!)

However, the main reason why ciabhóg and kike could not be connected is pronunciation. Ciabhóg is pronounced keea-wogue or keea-vogue. It sounds absolutely nothing like the English kike. The only similarity is the first letter.