Much has been made in some quarters of the fact that Cassidy’s ridiculous book How The Irish Invented Slang won an American Book Award.
There are several reasons why this fact is unremarkable and proves nothing about its worth.
Firstly, it is in the nature of the American Book Awards that they give equal status to all the shortlisted books. In other words, everyone is a winner, and hundreds of writers could legitimately be described as winners of the American Book Awards. Among the winners are a few big names, like Dave Eggers and Toni Morrison but the names also include mates of Cassidy’s like the ubiqitous Peter Quinn and Michael Patrick MacDonald.
The American Book Awards (not to be confused with the more prestigious National Book Awards) are awarded annually by the Before Columbus Foundation. A look on their website shows that several names on their board are friends of Cassidy’s, people like the poet David Meltzer. Now, I don’t know if this was cronyism in action, because I don’t know how the books are chosen or how big a role the board has in this.
David Meltzer may be guilty of nothing more than having bad taste in friends. But it does seem strange that this awful, crappy book was given an American Book Award, and that two friends of Cassidy’s are on the board of the organisation which hands these awards out.
Incidentally, I also found an article by Daniel Cassidy in a tribute to David Meltzer in the magazine Big Bridge (Issue 11). It is called the Song of the Spailpín, and it is as bad a piece of garbage as Cassidy ever wrote anywhere. You can find the whole sorry piece of shit here (http://www.bigbridge.org/issue11/dmpoetcassidy.htm), if you’re really interested. However, here are some observations.
Cassidy refers to the travelling Johnson family, and says that this comes from Teannas án. As usual, Cassidy thought that a slender t can be pronounced as a j in Irish, which it can’t. The word án is literary and hardly used in Irish, and this phrase as a whole would mean ‘noble tension’. Obviously, the reality is that this family were called Johnson because one of their ancestors was called John and that’s that. Cassidy’s explanation is just the jabbering of a lunatic.
Cassidy claims that two songs, Mike from Tipperary and The Monster Gila Route (sic – it’s really The Gila Monster Route) contain secret Irish messages. Cassidy gives the words in bold type and then gives a little glossary underneath.
Here are some of the many stupidities in this glossary.
Holler, ditch, gump, burg, and booze have all been dealt with in this blog before.
The word shirkin’ in the song is obviously shirking as in not doing any work. Cassidy claims that it is really seargadh (pronounced sharruga or sharrugoo), meaning to shrivel or dry up.
Dingbat, according to Cassidy’s useless book, comes from Irish duine bocht, a poor person. In this glossary, he decided it comes from duine bod, which he defines as ‘A lout, a thickset churl, fig. a migrant worker or hobo.’ In reality, the phrase duine bod doesn’t exist, and if it did it would mean something like ‘a person of penises’. It should also be apparent to even the most deluded supporter of Cassidy that if the origin of dingbat is ‘obviously’ duine bod in one version and ‘obviously’ duine bocht’ in another version, then in reality there is nothing obvious or real about the connection. Apparently, the original meaning of dingbat was thingumabob, so my bet would be that it is related to the German Dingsbums or Dingsda, both of which have the same meaning.
The word gila, as in gila monster, is from the Gila river basin. It does not come from gealbh [gyalloo or gyalluv] which Cassidy says means bad weather. Cassidy gives no evidence that this word even exists, it is not in any dictionary and what exactly is the connection between gila monsters and bad weather anyway?
The word frisk is the same as the word for pat down, and it dates back to the late eighteenth century in English. The relation between it and the earlier meanings of frisk (to gambol) is unclear. However, the word forúscadh is a pure Cassidy invention which does not occur in any dictionary, and even if it did exist, how is a word pronounced fohrooska or foh-rooskoo likely to become frisk?
Flop is obviously what a tired person does when they reach a bed. This is a very old word in English, probably a variant of flap. Foleaba is another made-up Cassidy word which doesn’t exist in any dictionary or text.
However, this is only mildly stupid and dishonest compared to his explanation of bindle, a term for a vagrant’s bundle, a word which is obviously derived either from bundle itself, from the related German term Bündel or from a related English dialect or Scots term. Cassidy derives this from a word for a ferule (bianna) and a misspelt word for a snare (dul – it should be dol). How you get from ferule of a snare to a stick with a bundle on it is hard to work out unless you are as insane as Cassidy was. Or as Cassidy himself said, only poets can dig this crossroads cant…. Yeah, right, Danny!
But the prize for idiocy in this article surely goes to his explanation for blanket stiffs, which according to him comes from bliadhna chuid staif which he defines as ‘annual groups of burly strong persons, fig.. migratory harvest workers’. This breaks just about every rule of Irish grammar you could mention and is simply meaningless nonsense.
If I were David Meltzer, I would be deeply insulted at having this ludicrous catalogue of garbage dedicated to me. Cassidy could have written a poem or a song in Meltzer’s honour but instead he chose to use the magazine to plug his insane book and con a few more mugs out of their hard-earned dollars.