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.
Heckling was part of the process of making linen out of flax. The fibres were flicked over a kind of comb over and over again to separate them, split them and remove impurities. The people who carried out this task were called hecklers.
In places like Dundee, the hecklers were often very radical. It is said that as they worked, one of their number used to read out articles from the newspapers and the others would shout out comments. This gave rise to the association between the trade of heckler and the shouting out of comments at a public meeting.
The late Daniel Cassidy, in his work of false etymologies How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that the word heckle comes from an ‘Irish’ phrase éamh call, which he says means ‘Screaming out complaints; ranting, scolding’. The phrase éamh call does not exist in the Irish language. The two words Cassidy stuck together to make it do exist, but the phrase does not.
Éamh is defined as cry, scream, entreaty or complaint. Call (a loan from English) is defined as call, need, claim or right. It is hard to see how combining the two words would give the sense required. Complaint of rights? Scream of needs? Hmm.
The Irish language has many real ways of saying heckle or interrupt, like trasnáil a dhéanamh, trasnú, trioscadh, cur isteach ar chainteoir, briseadh isteach ar chainteoir.
Finally, even if we accepted that éamh call made sense, Cassidy’s éamh callaire for a heckler wouldn’t make any sense, for the same reason that an Irish speaker is not a Gaeilge cainteoir or a housewife is not a teach bean. It would have to be callaire éamh. As with cainteoir Gaeilge or bean tí, the other word appears in the genitive after the head word. This is a measure of how bad Cassidy’s Irish was.