Tag Archives: How The Irish Invented Slang

A Reply To Damien Kirwan

I received a message a few weeks ago from someone called Damien Kirwan and I have decided to answer it briefly, just as a way of showing what kind of comments deserve an answer and what kind of comments do not. Here is what Kirwan says:

I read the book when it came out. I don’t see why you are so angry with Dan Cassidy. His explanation for the origin of the words such as dig, slum, jazz, phoney and the phrase to “say uncle” have merit and gives dignity to a modern European language that has almost vanished. God be good to Dr Cassidy RIP, ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

This, of course, is the kind of comment that really doesn’t deserve an answer and I am fully aware that in publishing this and replying to it, I am doing the poor moron who wrote it no favours. However, the fact is that I have put a lot of work into this blog because I felt that the Irish language needed some protection from lying con-men like the late Daniel Cassidy and it bothers me that some arrogant bómán like Damien Kirwan wants to set me straight about Cassidy without bothering to read any of the blog. The fact is, if he had bothered to look through the material dealt with here, he would know that the possible (but not very likely) origin of dig was first discussed in a paper by Eric Hamp in 1981, that phoney deriving from fáinne has been in the public domain for decades before Cassidy came along and was discussed by Eric Partridge and that the ‘say uncle’ theory was first proposed in an article in American Speech vol 51, 1976. In other words, none of these theories was invented by Cassidy. He merely claimed them without giving proper credit.

He would also have learned that there is no evidence for Cassidy’s claims about slum and jazz. The idea that Cassidy’s wholesale invention of hundreds of nonsensical phrases in fake Irish contribute to the status or dignity of Irish is also ludicrous and quite offensive. And to top it all, this arrogant moron refers to Daniel Cassidy, dim Dan from San Fran, who flunked his degree from Cornell and never acquired any qualifications at all, as Dr Cassidy!

I would like to point out here to people like Damien (and a certain member of the O’Keeffe family who should learn the difference between codail and chodail) that I am not under any obligation to provide a forum for people to express their stupidity and arrogance and I certainly do not have to dignify their semi-literate nonsense with a reply. I have better things to do with my time. If people really want to comment on these matters, they can always start their own blog.


A recent exchange with one of Cassidy’s supporters on the comments section of this blog (which I have since removed) had one useful outcome, as I realised that my treatment of Cassidy’s claims about the origins of the word boogaloo were not detailed enough.

The origins of boogie are mysterious enough. The known facts are that boogie was originally recorded in 1917 as a term for a rent party. Among poor black people, when they were unable to make the rent, they had a party (with alcohol during Prohibition) as well as music to raise the money to keep them from eviction. According to the excellent Etymonline, a song title “That Syncopated Boogie-boo” first appears in 1912. The style of music known as boogie or boogie-woogie dates back to 1928. The term boogaloo is quite late, being recorded first in the 1960s.

Cassidy ignores these subtleties and claims that the word boogie is from the Irish bogadh. He doesn’t mention boogie-woogie (because he can’t twist it into an ‘Irish’ form) but emphasises the late word boogaloo.

Bogadh is an Irish verbal noun. Its main meaning in modern Irish is ‘to move’. Because of this, Cassidy doesn’t mention the rent party origin, emphasising instead the meanings of dancing and movement. The word bogadh is a bad match in terms of sound. Bogadh is pronounced boggoo in the north and bogga in southern Irish.

As we have said, boogaloo is a very late development of the word boogie. Cassidy claims that it comes from an ‘Irish’ phrase bogadh luath. The word luath has the primary meaning of early, but can also mean fast. Because of this ambiguity, it is unlikely that it would be used in phrases like this rather than a word that unambiguously means fast, like gasta, tapa or mear.

To convince ignorant and gullible people that bogadh luath is an Irish phrase, Cassidy gives several examples of sentences using it. He claims that Níl bogadh luath ann means ‘he is unable to move fast’, while according to him, bogadh luath as áit means ‘to move fast out of a place; to boogaloo out of a joint’. Where did these examples of bogadh luath in use come from?

The answer, of course, is that they are crude fakes manufactured by Cassidy. He copied two phrases from Ó Dónaill’s dictionary, Níl bogadh ann and bogadh as áit, and then randomly stuck the word luath into them and pretended that they would make sense.

In fact, Níl bogadh ann is an all-or-nothing kind of a phrase. The best comparison would be expressions like the English ‘There wasn’t a peep out of him’. Just because you can say that doesn’t mean you can say ‘There wasn’t a big peep out of him’ if he spoke a little bit.

As for bogadh luath as áit, if you said ‘they moved quickly out of the house’, you would have to say bhog siad (or bhogaidis) as an áit GO luath. You need the adverbial particle go. People don’t bogadh luath or dul gasta or teacht réidh in Irish. Of course, Cassidy was completely ignorant of the Irish language and wouldn’t have had a clue what was right and what was wrong, either in terms of Irish grammar or personal morality.

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.

Hurley’s Stick

I noticed recently that I have been defamed by one of Cassidy’s lickspittle ‘friends’ in California, Maureen Hurley. This is in relation to a comment made on this blog by someone called Robo and my reply to Robo:

“The bata scóir or tally stick was usually a piece of wood which Irish-speaking children were forced to wear around their necks. Anybody who heard the child speaking Irish was expected to mark the stick with a notch. At the end of the day the marks were counted and the child was punished for each offence. Watch your language : an bata scóir, the insidious silencer.”

From https://cassidyslangscam.wordpress.com/tag/bata-scoir/

PS The person (unnamed) responsible for the blog where I got this info, at cassidyslangscam, who continues to slander my friend Danny Cassidy, after his death, is a vindictive scourge. He maligns Robo’s comment, yet my Bantry grandmother, FFS, told me the same story. So it certainly was true in the middle to late 19th c., in the West of Ireland. STET!

While I’m not really bothered (being attacked by someone as stupid as Maureen Hurley is like being savaged by a dead sheep), it is a little irritating when somebody lies so casually about you.  As readers of this blog will know, I have not slandered Cassidy, nor even libelled him. (You would think someone claiming to be a poet would know the difference!) The fact is, of course, that expressing your disdain for someone only becomes any kind of defamation if the bad things you are saying are untrue. Because my criticisms of Cassidy are entirely justified, all I am guilty of is not agreeing with Maureen Hurley and I can certainly live with that!

However, before discussing Hurley’s failings in greater detail, let’s just get one thing straight. Anyone reading her comment above would assume that I am arguing that the bata scóir didn’t exist. If you go to my blog and read it you will find the following line: The bata scóir in the National Schools is certainly a fact.

Could I have expressed it any more clearly or unambiguously? The bata scóir was a fact. It existed and I have never denied the fact. Presumably, Hurley failed to actually read my blog post before commenting on it. Either that, or, if she is a total liar like the rest of Cassidy’s friends, she is providing a ‘straw man’ argument, where you set up a nice easy fake target, ascribe it to your opponent, and knock that down instead of actually engaging with your opponent’s real arguments.

As I said in a previous post on Hurley, she actually realises that at least some of Cassidy’s work was nonsense, saying that he played it a little too fast and loose with linguistics, that he didn’t speak Irish and didn’t know the grammatical rules of Irish. Fair play to her for recognising that much. Unfortunately, she does not take it to its conclusion and makes a lot of half-baked and moronic excuses for Cassidy. Here is Hurley sneering at real academics who criticised her friend:

Some pedagogues groused that Danny was an amateur etymologist, and ever-so-eloquently stated that his linguistic claims were “a big heaping load of hooey”; that maybe the award should have been given for fiction instead. I’m sure that was the response Danny was expecting from that crowd. He was a great one to challenge the halls of academe.

In other words, she is giving us the typical unintelligent guff that we have come to expect from the Cassidy apologists. The academics hated Cassidy because they’re a stuck-up crowd of snobs sitting in their ivory towers, not because it was incompetent rubbish. According to Hurley, Cassidy was sometimes wrong but got it right a lot of the time.

As you will discover if you read my blog rather than Hurley’s ramblings, Cassidy was almost never right about anything. It isn’t that there is a solid core of genuine research in Cassidy’s book and that the academic linguists are just carping about a few marginal cases. The truth is that Cassidy’s book is a monumental waste of time, a collection of childish lies and distortions. There are no words of genuine Irish origin in his book apart from the ones that were already acknowledged as such in the dictionaries. Everything original to Cassidy is infantile garbage. And while an Anglo dilettante like Maureen Hurley wouldn’t really care about the Irish language, those of us who speak Irish and use it on a daily basis find Cassidy’s work deeply insulting.

Hurley tries to demonstrate that there is value in Cassidy’s work but because she can’t be bothered reading what anybody else writes, she makes a total mess of it. She quotes what she thinks is a comment given by Daniel Cassidy. In fact, it’s from Terence Dolan, one of Cassidy’s critics, and it’s clearly denying Cassidy’s core thesis:

In an interview, Danny said: “The English language does not often absorb other languages, especially the Celtic languages. Irish has the longest association with English of any language on the planet, yet in England all we’ve got are a handful of words such as whiskey.”

I mean, obviously, if there are only a handful of Celtic words such as whiskey in English, then Cassidy must have been wrong!

After that, things get really surreal.

For example, Danny said the word buckaroo came from the Irish bocaí rua, “wild playboys” or “bloody bucks.” But bó is cow, buachaill is a cowherder (or cowboy, if you will), and ruadh, is, well, red (or red-haired)—so the meaning is close enough. Even if he came at it all wrong.

I have no idea what she is talking about here. This is a total non-sequitur. Bocaí rua means a red-haired playboy – if if means anything. (Bocaí is a singular word meaning playboy, not the plural of boc, which would be boic.) And another word, buachaill means boy and etymologically is linked to the Irish word for cow. But are the two facts connected? No. And where does buckaroo really come from? It comes from vaquero, the Spanish for cowboy. How is the meaning ‘close enough’? Close enough to what, FFS?

Anyway, unbelievably, it gets worse:

When Danny began to point out words “of uncertain origin” is often code for Irish, it struck a chord with me. I knew there were many more Irish words buried within the English language, despite what the Oxford English Dictionary claimed—aside from the usual suspects: smithereens, hoolighan (a surname), and shanty. 
There’s also shebeen, shebang, shindig, Sheila, slew, slogan, lollapalooza, colleen, clan, keen, kabosh, banshee, brogue, brogan, bar, ben, glamour, gombeen, leprechaun, whiskey, etc., to name a few.

This is also nonsense. Shanty, of course, is from French, not Irish, whether it refers to a cabin or a song. Shebeen is from Irish and all dictionaries say so. They are also quite happy to admit that slew, colleen, keen, banshee, brogue, gombeen, leprechaun, gob and whiskey are Irish. (Hurley also treats us to some rubbish about how the e of whiskey is related to Irish uisce – the convention of the spelling of whiskey and whisky by country is a recent convention in English and has nothing whatever to do with different varieties of Gaelic.) Kabosh probably isn’t Irish, lollapalooza certainly isn’t and it isn’t mentioned in Cassidy’s book, and neither is glamour, which certainly isn’t Irish. Shindig doesn’t come from Cassidy’s seinnt-theach, because it doesn’t exist. (It doesn’t come from Loretto Todd’s sínteach either, which does exist but has no appropriate meanings.) Bar doesn’t come from Irish and I’m not aware of anyone ever claiming it did. She says that boycott is an Irish word. Obviously, it isn’t because it’s an English surname, though it did originate in Ireland and like most languages, we have a version of the verb derived from it in Irish (baghcatáil, to boycott).

She also repeats the claim that the OED and Webster’s were rabidly anti-Irish and therefore lied about the Irish origins of words but without any evidence or any reason for claiming this other than her own bigotry and misplaced loyalty to Cassidy. She complains about these dictionaries saying that words were Scottish Gaelic rather than Irish and uses the idiotic argument that somehow Scottish Gaelic IS Irish.

Where did the British think Scots Gaelic came from? Donegal Irish in another lexicon.

Hurley is showing here once again that for a so-called poet, she has a very poor grasp of the English language.  What does ‘in another lexicon’ mean? The fact is, of course, that the Irish and Scottish versions of Gaelic are mutually incomprehensible, though similar. Does ‘in another lexicon’ mean that they are similar but have different words? And if so, could you say that Dutch is English in another lexicon? Or that Portuguese is Spanish in another lexicon? Similar but totally different? What the fuck are you wittering about, Hurley?

And of course, some words come from Scottish Gaelic while others come from Irish. Smithereens and shebeen are from Irish. Pibroch and claymore are from Scottish Gaelic. Bog and whisk(e)y could be from either, or indeed both.

Hurley also claims that glom isn’t in the dictionary. In reality, glom is recognised as deriving from Scots glaum, on record since the 18th century, which in turn came from Scottish Gaelic glàm.

Anyway, I already hated Cassidy’s guts when I first started this blog seven years ago, because of the lying nonsense he had made up about the Irish language. However, writing works of crap research is not illegal. Using false qualifications to get a job you are not entitled to is illegal, as well as being immoral and deeply hypocritical in someone who spent much of his time blathering about social justice. This is the big pile of elephant dung in the room that people like Hurley refuse to talk about.

Cassidy’s sister tipped me off that her brother had no qualifications about five years ago. I contacted the Registrar of Cornell University, Cassie Dembosky, who confirmed that Cassidy was removed from Cornell after four years of study without a degree. And this was later confirmed by one of Cassidy’s supporters, his brother Michael, who says that he used to needle his brother about not having a degree.

In theory, of course, it is quite possible to become a professor without having a degree. If you are a poet of international standing, or a brilliant novelist, or a film director with a dozen highly-regarded movies under your belt, that will be regarded as equivalent to or better than a doctorate. However, Cassidy did not have any such staggering achievements. In fact, he didn’t have any achievements, staggering or not. He was a nobody with no degrees and the only reasonable explanation for his having the status of a university professor without even a BA is that he lied about his qualifications to get that job.

Hurley and people like Hurley might consider that there is nothing wrong with doing that. However, there are rules in relation to fair employment, protocols that protect us from the worst kinds of discrimination. Rules that make it hard for someone to give a job to an Orangeman with no qualifications rather than to a Catholic with an MA on the grounds that the Catholic’s face wouldn’t fit. Rules that guarantee that a gay woman of West African heritage will not be passed over in a recruitment process in favour of a straight, chalk-white Christian dude like the late Daniel Cassidy because he’s a friend of the Dean. I think that Daniel Cassidy essentially ignored these rules and was allowed to do so and I think I am entirely justified in saying that he was a worthless, hypocritical prick for doing that.

Finally, before I finish, I just want to make an observation about the silly little internet picture of a bata scóir which Hurley posted along with her criticism of this blog. As I have said, I know that the bata scóir existed. However, I don’t believe that 19th century schoolteachers had that much time to whittle elaborate notches on pieces of wood, so it seemed to me unlikely that this was a genuine Irish bata scóir. I therefore acted on my hunch and put the words tally stick into Google image and within a few seconds, I found out where the picture came from. It’s of a tally stick that was used to guarantee a debt. It dates from the 16th century and was discovered in 2011 in an excavation in Wittenberg, Germany, so it is not an Irish bata scóir and has nothing to do with the English or Irish languages.

You can find out more here: https://archive.archaeology.org/1111/artifact/wittenberg_germany_tally_stick.html

There are also other pictures of bataí scóir on line which are tally sticks from Baffin Island in Canada. To the best of my knowledge, there are no genuine bataí scóir from the Irish National Schools in existence and we don’t really know what they would have looked like. If I get time, I will post on the whole question of the bata scóir and the available evidence about it, as it is an interesting subject.

John on Goodreads

Having finished the glossary, I am looking forward to taking a well-deserved rest for a while. However, before I do that, I will publish a couple of articles I wrote in draft and never got around to editing.

Just recently I came across another clown who has posted in support of Daniel Cassidy’s tosh on Goodreads. Some people think that the best way to deal with this kind of guff is simply to leave these people to their own devices and ignore them. They may have a point, but personally I quite like calling a moron a moron, so here goes!

The reviewer, who goes by the name of John, starts off with a very revealing comment:

Great book and Cassidy obviously angered some of the snooty academics he criticized in the book.

Here we see the motivation of much of this nonsense on line. The snooty academics are trying to silence the little man who is telling an unpopular truth. They’re all in it together. They don’t like any narrative that threatens their cosy little consensus. John presumably thinks that the smart people are looking down on people like him and Cassidy, because he’s a poorly educated person with a chip on his shoulder. In reality, of course, the people who are most angered by this book aren’t academics. I’m not an academic and neither are most of Cassidy’s critics. I am also not particularly ‘snooty’. I do look down on people who are intellectually lazy and arrogant but I’m not a snob in any social sense and I see no evidence that the majority of Cassidy’s critics are privileged in any way.

The big criticism of the book is that modern native Irish speakers don’t approve of his interpretations of the language into American (New York) English of Irish terms.

This is an odd and clumsy way of phrasing it. It’s obvious from the remainder of the post that this isn’t what John means. It’s not a case of his interpreting Irish terms into American English. This is the reverse of what Cassidy did. He took American English terms (many of which had very clear derivations) and simply invented phrases in ‘Irish’ that make no sense to any Irish speaker. However, then John says that it was OK for him to do this.

The problem with this of course is that the people who spoke this form of Irish came to New York in the aftermath of the Famine. Last count there were three modern dialects of Irish and though speakers of different dialects can understand each other, their use of local slang is precisely the thing which makes them all….different dialects.

Again, clumsy, badly-argued, lacking in any rigour. There is an attempt by John to pretend that he knows about Irish (the stuff about the three main dialects is true but only proves he has access to Wikipedia!) There is a certain overlap between slang and dialect but they are fundamentally different things. Look up their definitions in online dictionaries if you don’t believe me.

Please note that this person is not an expert on Irish. It is obvious to me that John isn’t Irish, doesn’t know any Irish himself and doesn’t know how different or similar or mutually comprehensible Irish dialects are from his personal experience. If he knew any Irish, he wouldn’t buy into any of Cassidy’s moronic nonsense.

So it’s very possible that words that had currency in early to mid 19th century Ireland, among peasants of the West, slowly fell into misuse after they had left Ireland but continued to be used in America. Pre-Famine Ireland was markedly different from Post-Famine Ireland especially in the accelerated decline of the language and the conscious turning away from all things Gaelic.

In other words, John thinks it’s irrelevant that almost every phrase used by Cassidy in How The Irish Invented Slang is unrecognisable in any dialect of Irish. You won’t find any of Cassidy’s ludicrous ‘Irish’ phrases used anywhere by any Irish speaker but that doesn’t matter, apparently, because they might have existed, even if there’s no proof. Anyone with a brain will realise that the chances of ALL the expressions mentioned by Cassidy disappearing from the Irish language in Ireland immediately and without leaving a trace but surviving in America are so tiny that it’s not even worth considering and even if they did, the burden of proof is on those who believe they existed, not on sceptics like me. They’re quite at liberty to believe in these fantasies but scholars don’t have to believe in things which are unsupported by evidence. That’s how it works.

After all many words and phrases from 19th century American English are either no longer used today or have evolved into different usage. Few people today speak like Abraham Lincoln, Wyatt Earp or Teddy Roosevelt.

Yes, languages change and Cassidy’s critics, myself included, know this and know a lot more about the history of Irish and the way it has changed since the 19th century than Cassidy, or Peter Quinn, or John. But the earliest of the three people mentioned, Abraham Lincoln, wrote the Gettysburg Address and the Gettysburg Address is known to many millions of Americans, who can understand it perfectly. The style is a little antiquated but it isn’t full of gobbledegook that no modern English speaker can understand. So why should Irish be so different, as this person is claiming?

It’s unrealistic to think that the loss of 1 million speakers of Irish didn’t somehow affect the language either at home or abroad. But leave it to the Irish to condemn anything they haven’t thought of themselves, let alone something written by a Yank.

Again, this is a straw man argument. Nobody said the Famine didn’t have an effect on the language and its use but we Irish are not being unreasonable by mocking the nonsense produced by Cassidy. He didn’t know any Irish, didn’t care enough to learn it, didn’t have a rational mind capable of separating puerile nonsense from fact. He is roundly condemned by linguists of all nationalities, including Irish people, because he was a pompous, dim-witted fake with no qualifications and no talent, not because he was a ‘Yank’.

Interestingly a modern historian has theorized that New York born gangster/cowboy Billy The Kid was a native Irish speaker who would have learned Irish growing up probably in the Five Points ghetto – recent evidence which supports Cassidys theory but which is conveniently ignored by his critics.

The information about Billy the Kid is true, or at least there are good grounds for thinking that it could be true. According to a cowboy who worked with Billy the Kid, Billy used to translate for a child, Mary Coghlan, who only spoke Irish.

Unfortunately, John does not enlighten us as to how he thinks this information supports Cassidy’s theory. It plainly does nothing to strengthen it or weaken it, let alone confirm or refute it. No critic of Cassidy has ever said or implied that there were no Irish speakers in the USA in the 19th or early 20th centuries. I had Irish-speaking relatives living within a short journey of Cassidy’s home in New York a hundred years ago. William Carty could easily have been one of the many Irish speakers in the USA but this provides no ammunition for Cassidy’s supporters. Whatever Irish William Carty and the many other speakers of the language in 19th century America had, it certainly didn’t consist of the bizarre phoney phrases made up by one crazy fake academic in California in the 2000s. This is a little like saying that the presence of Spanish speakers in an area confirms your opinion that the English expression to be out of pocket comes from the Spanish phrase estar fuera de bolsillo, and when people who speak Spanish tell you that isn’t a real Spanish expression, laughing smugly and saying that it may not exist in Spanish now but you can’t prove it didn’t exist in some long-dead and unrecorded version of the language. Which is really pretty infantile as an argument.

So if the phrases given as Irish in Cassidy’s book aren’t a lost American version of the language, what are they? Interestingly, John’s Goodreads page gives us an interesting example. John is a member of a Goodreads group called Clann na Chiarraí, which is dedicated to books about Kerry or written by people with Kerry connections. The phrase Clann na Chiarraí is trying to say ‘Children of Kerry’. In fact, the Irish name for Kerry never takes the definite article. The genitive of Kerry is Chiarraí, so children of Kerry would really be Clann Chiarraí. And in any case, any Irish speaker will tell you that séimhiú (lenition) never happens after the article na, which is used with plural nouns or feminine nouns in the genitive. This demonstrates something interesting. The fact is that any Irish speaker, whether two hundred years ago or last week, whether literate or illiterate, from the remotest parts of Kerry or a windswept hillside in Donegal or a posh suburb of Dublin or Cork would call the Kerry team foireann Chiarraí, not foireann na Chiarraí or even foireann na Ciarraí.

In other words, the version Clann na Chiarraí doesn’t represent some fascinating linguistic evolution in the USA among communities of Irish speakers cut off from the motherland. It represents an attempt by someone who doesn’t speak Irish to compose a term in that language, an attempt that failed because of a lack of knowledge of the real language and the way it is used. Which is also the reason why Cassidy’s ‘Irish’ phrases are almost entirely nonsense and can be discounted as the source of anything but a bit of unearned and undeserved cash for Daniel Cassidy and aggravation and unnecessary work for people like me who genuinely value the Irish language and dislike seeing it treated with such casual contempt.

The Glossary Is Finished

With the entry on Yellow, I have finally completed the Cassidese Glossary. This means that every single word in the glossary which constitutes the bulk of Cassidy’s book has been covered. The T, U, W and Y section contained only 21 entries. Added to the previous total of 465, we now have 486 entries in the Glossary.

The principal claim made by Daniel Cassidy was that Anglophile scholars who hate Irish had decided to exclude Gaelic derivations from the dictionaries out of sheer bigotry. There were, according to Cassidy, hundreds if not thousands of words and phrases of Irish origin in English that these so-called scholars had missed because of their intolerance and bias.

In assessing Cassidy’s claims, we need to establish clear criteria. Firstly, the claims made need to be correct. In other words, the Irish candidate words or phrases need to be close to the English in terms of sound and meaning, and that similarity has to be because they were borrowed from Irish into English, not because they were borrowed from English into Irish or from some third language into both. Secondly, they have to be derivations that appear FIRST in Cassidy’s work.

In some cases, Cassidy claimed that individual Irish words resemble English words in sound and meaning. In most cases, these English words sound little like Cassidy’s Irish candidates, as in the case of swank deriving from somhaoineach or swell deriving from sóúil. In both of these cases, and in many others, the real origins are well-known and have nothing to do with Irish. Cassidy also fails to explain how words could have been transmitted from generation to generation orally in such a mangled form and indeed, this is not what we find in genuine cases. Banshee sounds like bean sí, clabber sounds like clábar, shebeen sounds like sibín.

Of course, there are a small number of genuine Irish or Scottish Gaelic terms in Cassidy’s book, literary phrases like avoorneen and machree, slang terms like puss in sourpuss or slew as in a slew of claims. In total, there are about thirty Irish words, two Scottish Gaelic ones, and two from the Irish traveller language known as Gammon or Shelta in the glossary. All of these words are included in mainstream dictionaries and their Gaelic etymologies are accepted by those dictionaries.

However, as you can see from the posts on the Cassidese Glossary, most of Cassidy’s claims are not individual words in Irish that sound anything like individual words in English. Many of them, and probably the majority, are made-up phrases. For example, according to Cassidy, a top banana is a baothán nathánach (an aphoristic simpleton, no less!) Gibberish is from geab ar ais, gab back. Baloney, says Cassidy, is from béal ónna meaning simple mouth or nonsense. A sucker is from the phrase sách úr, supposedly meaning a fresh well-fed person and thus a sucker. Wanker supposedly comes from uath-anchor, meaning spontaneous abuse. The book is peppered with invented, fantasy nonsense like this, for which there is absolutely no evidence at all.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Cassidy produced a work of such colossal dishonesty, as dishonesty was his default position. This was a man who flunked his degree at Cornell in 1965, yet thirty years later he suddenly cropped up teaching in a university in California claiming to be a graduate of Cornell and Columbia. Just think about that for a minute. There are already plenty of people better qualified than Daniel Cassidy working as baristas and shop assistants and clerks, both here in Europe and in the USA. In the wake of the current Covid-19 crisis, there will be many more. Cassidy claimed to be a socialist and a radical but he put his own interests ahead of his principles time and time again. This worthless piece of trash belonged in a prison, not a college, and though it may be too late to make him pay for his criminal behaviour, we can certainly name and shame the people and institutions who continue to lie in his defence.

Some people will continue to use the ‘real criminals’ argument, saying that there are more important targets than Cassidy and that we should attack them instead. However, as I have said in the past, this is not a two-way choice. Other people can go after the White Slavery Meme, or Creationism, or Ancient Aliens – and good luck to them! I have gone after Cassidy because I have a particular love for the Irish language and a general interest in linguistics.

However, I also have a strong conviction that stupidity should be challenged and attacked wherever we find it. If someone chooses to ignore the facts and believe that a sinister cabal of etymologists is trying to deny that hundreds of Irish expressions made their way into English out of pure Anglophile racism, that person is an idiot. If someone claims that Daniel Cassidy was a genuine etymologist and teacher, they are either a liar or a fool or a bit of both.

Our local Chinese takeaway (on restricted opening because of C19) was recently forced to close because of the abusive calls from morons who believe that the Chinese deliberately released Covid-19 to further their own economic interests. A phone mast near here was attacked by some dim-witted fruitloop who believed that Covid-19 isn’t a virus but a product of waves emanating from the 5G network. People who haven’t learned how to think rationally or distinguish between nonsense and facts are a menace. They need to be challenged at every turn by sensible and reasonable people, whether the subject is the Gaelic etymology of wanker or the prophetic powers of Dean Koontz.

Cassidese Glossary – Yellow

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.

The phrase ‘to be yellow’ or ‘to be yellow-bellied’ (to be a coward) seems to enter English first in the 19th century in America. The origin of the phrase is unknown.

In his etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, Daniel Cassidy claimed an Irish origin for the expression. He said that it comes from the Irish éalú, which is the verbal noun of a verb meaning to escape, to abscond or to steal up on. This is ridiculously improbable. Irish has many good ways of talking about bravery or cowardice but you wouldn’t talk about someone being ‘an escape person’.

By a strange irony, the origin of the expression could conceivably be found in the Irish language but it has nothing to do with éalú. The fact is that in Irish, you can say of someone who is a coward that they have ‘yellow clay in them’ – tá cré bhuí ann. I have always assumed that this means that the pot or whatever you are making is weaker if an inferior kind of clay is found in it, so it breaks up when fired or subjected to any kind of pressure. There is a pretty good case for saying that this phrase explains the origin of the expression yellow for cowardice in English. If Cassidy had known any Irish, he would perhaps have been able to make a reasonable argument for this one.

Cassidese Glossary – Yell

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.

Daniel Cassidy, in his etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that the word yell comes from éamh oll, which Cassidy defines as ‘a great cry, a loud shout, a loud call.’ This is ridiculous for several reasons.

Firstly, éamh oll is not a real Irish phrase. The word oll is only used as a prefix in modern Irish and éamh is a fairly obscure word, much more obscure than words like scairt, gairm, scread, glaoch and liú.

Cassidy, with his customary lack of rigour, misquotes the English dictionaries too. Here is what Cassidy says:

“The OED derives yell from Middle Low German gellen, gillen, weak, Old English galan, to sing.”

This is what the Oxford English Dictionary really says about the origins of yell:

“Forms: OE gellan, giellan, gillan, gyllan, ME ȝeolle, ME ȝelle, ME ȝel, ȝele, yhelle, …

Etymology: Old English (Anglian) gellan , (West Saxon) giellan , gyllan , gillan strong verb, past tense geal , plural gullon = Middle Low German gellen , gillen weak, Middle Dutch gellen strong (Dutch gillen ), Old High German gellan strong (Middle High German, German weak gellen ), Old Norse gjalla , past tense gall (Swedish gälla , Norwegian giella ); < gell- , extended form of gel- : gal- , whence Old English galan to sing, gale v.1, -gale in nihtegale , night- + -gale (in nightingale n.1), Old Norse -gal in hanagal cockcrow, Old Saxon, (Middle) Dutch, Old High German galm outcry.”

It is quite clear from all this that yell had exactly the same meaning and a fairly similar form in Middle and Old English. The OED does not say that the word comes from Middle Low German because Middle Low German came after Old English chronologically and the word was already in use in English in the Old English period. And the reference to strong and weak is nothing to do with the meaning of the word, it refers to it being a strong or weak verb (i.e. one which forms the past tense by a vowel change or by adding –ed respectively: write/wrote is strong, work/worked is weak.)

In other words, Cassidy’s claim here is nonsense. The origin of yell is well-known and of impeccable Germanic origin, éamh oll does not exist and his claim of an Irish derivation is laughable.

Cassidese Glossary – Yacking

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.

Most dictionaries regard yack and yacking as versions of the phrase yackety-yack. In other words, they are an onomatopoeic rendering of the noise a set of teeth make when they are chattering.

In Daniel Cassidy’s etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, Cassidy suggests that it comes from the Irish éagcaoin (properly éagaoin), which is pronounced aygeen and means ‘mourning’ or ‘lamenting’. This is really not similar at all, either in sound or meaning and of course, there is no evidence of yacking having an Irish origin.

Cassidese Glossary – Whiskey

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.

Whisky or whiskey is acknowledged by all lexicographers and scholars of language to be a borrowing and shortening of the Irish or Scottish Gaelic term uisce beatha (uisge beatha), which is a calque based on the Latin aqua vitae (not aqua vita, as Cassidy writes in his book).

Cassidy does not deny this, but he seems to imply that the sound-change found in the transition from uisce to whisky justifies his claim that the words were mangled and transformed completely when they were borrowed from Irish into English:

The archaic English spelling and pronunciation whiskybae, and its contraction whiskey, demonstrate how dramatically Irish shape-shifted into English. The slender Irish s, pronounced sh, in uisce (pron. ishkee, water) became the sibilant “s” of “whiskeybae” and “whiskey”.

This is a claim that Cassidy makes throughout the book. Logically, this is nonsense. When Irish words were adopted by English, the process generally left them completely intelligible. Shebeen and síbín, soogan and súgán, coyne and cáin: the form is very similar.

However, there is an interesting point here, which Cassidy raises and does nothing with: why does the slender s (sh) of the Irish become a broad or velarized s in the English in this case? (Both s and sh are sibilants, of course.) The first point that needs to be mentioned is that uisce beatha was borrowed into English as early as the 16th century in forms like uskebeaghe (1581). (The usquebae mentioned by Cassidy isn’t found in English until the 18th century.) In other words, we can’t be absolutely sure of the exact pronunciation of uisge when the borrowing occurred. Secondly, there may be something in the pattern of letters -isce- that makes the s something between a velarized and a palatal consonant; something in the place of articulation. There are other examples of this: the surname Ó Fuaruisce becomes Whoriskey in English, and the word crúiscín (jug) is always written as cruiskeen in English (as in Cruiskeen Lawn).