Tag Archives: false Irish etymology

Cassidese Glossary – Lollygag

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 book How The Irish Invented Slang with a short, simple and business-like explanation of why Cassidy’s version is wrong. 

Lollygag, meaning idling or necking, first makes its appearance in the USA in the 1860s. Most experts regard it as coming from the English word loll, as in ‘lolling about’. This seems reasonable, as lolling is very similar to the core meaning of lollygagging. Daniel Cassidy, in his book of false etymologies, How The Irish Invented Slang, disagreed. He claims that the word ‘lollygag’, comes from the Irish leath-luighe géag, which he claims means ‘a reclining, leaning, lolling youth.’ Anyone who speaks any Irish at all will immediately realise that this is not true.

Admittedly leath-luighe (leathluí in modern spelling) does mean reclining or lying on your side (as does loll in English, of course), but the primary meaning of géag is limb, or arm, or arm of the sea, or a branch of a family. One obscure and poetic meaning is ‘a youth’ or ‘young person’, but this is not the meaning that an Irish speaker would usually take from the word in the absence of other contextual clues. And the version given by Cassidy makes no sense at all in terms of Irish grammar. Leath-luí is not an adjective, and anyway adjectives need to come after the noun in Irish. So leath-luí géag could never mean ‘reclining youth,’ even if you ignore the unsuitability of the word géag for a young person in ordinary conversation.

You would also have to account for why Irish immigrants didn’t use one of the many words which are similar in meaning to lollygag, words like learaireacht, scraisteacht, leadaíocht.

Like almost all of the phrases given by Cassidy in his book, this is not real Irish.

Cassidese Glossary – Hot Diggity Dog

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.

In his work of fake scholarship, How The Irish Invented Slang, the late Daniel Cassidy got it wrong in so many ways. However, none of Cassidy’s claims are more wrong or more absurd than his claims about three related American slang expressions, Hot Dog!, Hot Diggity! and Hot Diggity Dog! While the term hot dog for a sausage in a bun apparently dates back to the 19th century (and apparently derives from the idea that dog meat actually ended up in the sausages!) and these expressions as exclamations of delight or surprise date back to the 1920s, there is some doubt about their origins. I assumed that hot dog was the original version and that it was a minced oath for Holy God, but I suppose that expression would be more common here in Ireland than in the States. Other sources think that young people accustomed to the deliciousness of the hot dog used it as a generic expression for a good thing.

Daniel Cassidy really surpassed himself with his explanation for Hot Diggity Dog. He took an element (from Dinneen’s Dictionary) which is so old-fashioned that it would have been obsolete a thousand years ago, the element –tach, which comes from a verb for to swear. This is an element in ancient and well-established words in Irish, like éitheach meaning ‘lie’ but there were probably still Viking settlements in Ireland when it was last used productively to form such words in the language. He also used another old, literary term for lamentation or groaning, iacht. Thus according to Cassidy, hot diggity dog is árd-iachtach-tach, which he says means ‘a loud oath; a loud declaration; crying out loud!’

Thus anyone trusting Cassidy and believing what he said would think this is a recognised and recognisable exclamation in the Irish language, rather than a ridiculous mash-up of obsolete words and affixes from ancient and medieval Irish thrown together randomly with a fake English definition attached.

Árd-iachtach-tach? Really? This is like taking a word from Chaucer, a word from Anglo-Saxon and a misspelt modern word and combining them without any regard for grammar or usage. It is pure nonsense.

Cassidese Glossary – Holler

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.

Another claim in Daniel Cassidy’s absurd book How The Irish Invented Slang is the one about the word ‘holler’. This is an American term found in places like the Appalachians. The dictionary experts regard it as a variant of a word ‘hollow’ (meaning to shout) which is attested in English from the 16th century. In the dialect of areas like the Appalachians, the word hollow as in small dale or depression is also pronounced holler.

Daniel Cassidy will have none of it. According to Cassidy, this word comes from the Irish ollbhúir. This word is very uncommon, though it does actually exist in Irish, unlike most of Cassidy’s ‘Irish’ originals. It is found in Dinneen’s dictionary but not in the main modern dictionary by Niall Ó Dónaill. It is pronounced oll-woor or olloor. Cassidy thought that all Irish words beginning with a vowel have a h sound before them but this is not true.

If anyone thinks that it’s too much of a coincidence that an obscure Irish word (slightly) resembles holler, then I should point out that it’s also a remarkable coincidence that Spanish has haullar (to howl), French has hurler (to shout), German has heulen (to howl), Dutch has huilen (to howl) and that all of these words are far more common in their respective languages than ollbhúir is in Irish.

Cassidese Glossary – To Clean His Clock

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.

To clean someone’s clock means to clobber them or defeat them totally. This much is true. There is no agreement on the origin of this expression. Cassidy quotes an article in the Guardian by Simon Hoggart, who says ‘It means to completely disassemble an opponent, like someone laying out the clock’s component parts.’ This seems like a pretty good explanation. Other claims can be found here: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-cle1.htm

Cassidy claims that this phrase comes from Irish:

“Cling a clog, to ring his bell; to hit someone in his head. Cling, v., to ring. A, poss. pron., his her. Clog, n., bell.”

As usual, this is nonsense. The phrase cling a clog wouldn’t mean ‘to ring his bell’. His bell would be a chlog. The phrase a clog means her bell. Also, ‘to ring his bell’ would be a chlog a chlingeadh, not cling a chlog, which is an order or imperative. As for ringing someone’s bell being a way of saying to hit someone in the head in Irish, there is no evidence for this in any Irish dictionary or text, and Cassidy merely states it as fact without offering any evidence.

Cassidese Glossary – Clack

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.

Cassidy claims that the English word clack comes from the Irish clagadh, meaning clatter or rattle. This is not the case, as English clack comes from Middle English clacken, clakken, claken, from Old English *clacian (“to slap, clap, clack”), so there is no room for borrowing from Irish. Irish words like clagadh and clagarnach are thought to derive from clog, the Irish for a bell, but it is not impossible that some Old Norse cognate of clack played a part as well.