Tag Archives: false linguistics

Daniel Cassidy – A Study in Dishonesty

People have frequently visited this site and deposited hostile comments, usually without bothering to read the evidence first. Occasionally, I have answered these criticisms, which is usually a mistake. The debates can get very heated, on both sides, and the critics are usually totally unwilling to take the evidence on board or deal with it in a rational way.

One of the main criticisms tends to be that Cassidy was honest and that my depiction of him as a con-man and a fraud is misplaced. According to these people, Cassidy’s book of fantasy etymologies was basically well-intentioned, an interesting attempt but Cassidy ‘overreached’ a little so the core of truth has to be sifted out of less believable material. This is utter nonsense.

As I have shown on this blog, there is no core of truth in Cassidy’s work. Cassidy certainly tapped into a number of common folk-etymologies linking English words to the Irish language and he probably obtained these through an Irish-language learners’ forum he used. This gave him words like twig and dig, say uncle, longshoreman, phoney, pet. All of these have been dealt with in great detail and have nothing to do with Cassidy. (Some of them like twig from tuig and phoney from fainne are certainly possible, while others like longshoreman are very unlikely.) He then set to work looking for further words and phrases derived from Irish. In doing this, he tried to claim links between words like case as in case the joint and Irish casadh, gump and Irish colm and a host of other ludicrously improbable etymologies. He deliberately ignored any alternative derivations or anything that did not confirm his ridiculous hunches.  For example, he claimed that swoon comes from Irish suan, meaning sleep. Sounds convincing, except that swoon has an impeccable genealogy in English going back to Anglo-Saxon, so the similarity with suan is pure coincidence.

However, if he had stuck to single words like this, his book would still have been a pamphlet, so he made up lots of ridiculous phrases like béal ónna, uath dubh, uath-anchor, gus óil, éamh call, árd-iachtach-tach, sách úr etc. etc. Hardly any of the phrases in Cassidy’s book are genuine Irish. The vast majority are the most imbecilic concoctions. As David L. Gold has pointed out, Cassidy’s contribution to the study of etymology was less than zero, because not only did he fail to produce any genuinely valid or potentially interesting derivations, he muddied the water by producing hundreds of entirely fake ‘Irish’ phrases which are still doing the rounds on the Internet.

If that weren’t enough, there are also huge questions to be answered about Cassidy’s academic record.  When I started this blog in 2013, I still thought Cassidy had a university degree. This in itself would raise questions because you would normally expect a university lecturer to have at least a Master’s and often a doctorate. However, Cassidy’s sister Susan (no fan of her brother) told me that he had flunked his Cornell degree in 1965. This was confirmed by the Cornell registrar, Cassie Dembosky. In other words, there is not a shred of evidence that Cassidy had any qualifications at all, so it is hard to see how he managed to work for twelve years as a university lecturer. The only explanation, as far as I can see, is that he lied about his qualifications.

There are other strong indications of Cassidy’s dishonesty. He left reviews of his book on line using sockpuppet identities, which is not only highly unethical, the way it was done was incredibly incompetent. You would be in no doubt reading these fake reviews that Cassidy was the author.

Other details of his biography also raise questions. He was apparently working in the newsroom of the New York Times when JFK was shot. Except in reality, he didn’t work there until two years after Kennedy died.

Everything about this man is dodgy, suspect, hooky. His American and Irish cronies, lackeys and enablers can deny the truth as much as they want. It remains the truth. What is important to me is to get the message across that Cassidy knew nothing about Irish and that most of his claims are based on made-up expressions which clearly demonstrate Cassidy’s profound lack of respect for the Irish language and the people who speak it.

Minding your As and Bs

Over the last few weeks, I have been working on a Cassidese Glossary, taking the words in the dictionary section of Cassidy’s book one by one, with less of the invective I have heaped on Cassidy and his cronies in the past.

I have now completed the As and Bs and I will continue to work on this over the next year or two until I have finished the alphabet. However, there are already lessons to be learned from the words and phrases beginning with A and B, so I will return to a little of the invective for one post and analyse what we know from these two sections.

Firstly, the A and B sections of Cassidy’s dictionary contain 75 entries. A handful of these are genuine Irish but before any of Cassidy’s supporters gets too excited, there was never any doubt that these words and phrases were Irish. There are eight of these: acushla, agrah, alanna, An Gorta Mór (which is purely Irish and was never borrowed into English), aroon, Arrah na Pogue (a play title), astore, avourneen. There are also words that have been claimed for Irish in the past, such as ballyhoo and bard and buddy, though it is highly unlikely that these really do come from Irish. 

There is a small number of phrases and words that are genuine Irish but there is no evidence that they are the origin of the terms claimed by Cassidy. In many cases, Cassidy altered the meaning and provided faked definitions for these words. For example, ainfheoil doesn’t mean a sexually transmitted disease. Aonóg doesn’t mean rough-house play. Ball doesn’t mean a dance or party in Irish. Beachtaí does not ‘figuratively’ mean a judge. Báinín does not mean ‘any type of overcoat’.

A great many of the words mentioned have such ancient roots in English that there is no chance they could ever derive from the Irish roots that Cassidy claims for them. For example, bicker, blow and booze have well-attested histories that leave no room for a supposed Irish origin.

Another major category is the set of made-up phrases or compound words, phrases that do not (and in most cases could not) exist in the Irish language. For example, báille vicus, béal ónna, baothán nathánach, b’aifirt, béas núíosach, béalú h-ard, búbaí háit, bogadh luath, buan-díchiall, boc aniar, bocaí rua, bodaire an aicme áin, beart t-aon, buanchumadh, beathuis. These often violate basic rules of grammar and sound ridiculously clunky and contrived to anyone who has actually learned some Irish – something that Cassidy couldn’t be bothered to do.

In short, Cassidy’s work is simply fraudulent, incompetent nonsense. Out of 75 entries under A and B, the only slightly possible claim is that boc mór is the origin of big bug. However, even with this claim, there are problems. For one thing, big bug makes perfect sense in English. Also, big bug is not found in Ireland and you would expect the phrase big buck to be found at least as commonly as big bug if boc mór were the origin. In other words, it is a possible influence but no more than that.

If the pattern found with the As and Bs is repeated with the rest of the letters, it is unlikely that there will even be one new credible word of Irish origin out of the hundreds given by Cassidy in his book. In other words, if there is anything of value in Cassidy’s book (if), it will pale into insignificance in comparison with the fakery and nonsense that this worthless lying creep and his dim-witted cronies have spread among the Irish-American community.