Tag Archives: gombeen

Cassidese Glossary – Gams, Gam

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.

This is an American slang term for legs. According to Daniel Cassidy, gams comes from the Irish word gamba, meaning a lump or a leg.

There is some doubt about the immediate origin of gams, but there is no doubt that it comes from a Romance (i.e. a Latin root) word which means leg. There are many related words. The word camba in Catalan, jambe in French (gamba in Old French), gamba in Spanish (which means the bottom part of an animal’s leg as well as a prawn). At some point, probably in the Middle Ages, the French word was borrowed into Irish as gamba, meaning a lump or a leg.

As I have said before, when an Irish noun ends in an –a, it is usually a sure sign that it is a borrowing from another language (siopa, pota, cóta, cárta, nóta.)  In other words, the slang word gam comes from French or Italian, and the Irish word gamba comes from the same root. But there is no evidence that Irish had anything directly to do with the English slang word gam.

Incidentally, the word gaimbín means a little piece or (financial) interest in Irish, and a gombeen-man in Irish English means a loan-shark. My wife’s family use gombeen in English to mean an idiot as well, probably because it sounds right, like goof or geek or dork. I had always assumed that gaimbín was simply a diminutive form of gamba but apparently the situation is more complex than that: