Tag Archives: heckler

Cassidese Glossary – Heckle, Heckler

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.


To the long-dead flax workers of Scotland.

You were known as hecklers, a Scots and dialect English version of hackler. You worked long, exhausting hours, dragging bundles of flax or hemp through heckling combs to separate the fibres so that they could be spun into thread and then into cloth.

You were one of the most radical and vociferous elements in the labour movement of Britain. You were famed for your literacy, your burning desire for self-improvement, your advocacy for the rights of the poor. It is said that while you worked in cities like Dundee, one of your number used to read out the stories of the day from a newspaper and shouts and comments would come from all corners of the room.

Your trade is long gone now but the memory of your radicalism lives on in the word heckler, a name now used to denote someone who shouts out and interrupts a speaker. 

Unfortunately, there are people now who want to make your contribution to the history of the English language as dead as your trade. They are people who have read a foolish book and believed all of it (I can imagine you turning in your graves – Think on that, folks that accept the printed word as true without questioning or thinking or investigating! For shame!)

That book is Daniel Cassidy’s How The Irish Invented Slang. Cassidy, who claimed to be ‘a labor activist’, cared nothing for the facts and chose to ignore your contribution to the history of the labour movement. He invented a foolish phrase in Irish (éamh call) which he claimed meant ‘to shout out complaints’ and he tried to pass this off as the origin of the word heckler. No matter that no Irish speaker has ever used éamh call. No matter that it makes little sense. No matter that Irish has many real ways of saying heckle or interrupt, like trasnáil a dhéanamh, trasnú, trioscadh, cur isteach ar chainteoir, briseadh isteach ar chainteoir. No matter that your own proud name is well-established as the origin of the word heckler.

A parcel of rogues and fools wants to believe in lies and nonsense rather than accept the facts. Which is why I am here, on a piece of technology you could not have imagined back in your day, shouting out my objections on your behalf – like a true heckler.