Tag Archives: How The Irish Invented Slang

Blindboy and the Atlanteans

I have to confess, I’m not a huge fan of Blindboy Boatclub. It’s not that I have any problem with his politics or social beliefs and I think ‘Horse Outside’ was a great song. However, readers of this blog might remember the incident a few years back when The Rubberbandits issued a list of words brought by Irish immigrants to America, which was composed entirely of lying Cassidese nonsense. When challenged to retract the garbage they had just injected into cyberspace, they countered that there was no need because people would have seen the objections online, which shows a certain arrogance on their part and a worrying naivety about how things work on the internet. (Since then, they’ve actually deleted it.)  

Anyway, I am still thinking about doing a piece on Bob Quinn’s Atlantean, so I have been doing a little background reading. I was looking for any real evidence of a musical connection between Ireland and North Africa, so when I noticed that Blindboy has done a podcast on this subject, I decided to listen to it.

It wasn’t great. For someone who claims to be fascinated by history and to work hard doing his research, there is precious little evidence of that in the podcast itself. He starts off with one of the central pieces of ‘evidence’ used by Quinn in his book, a 19th century article which questions whether Irish is spoken in North Africa. Obviously, the correct answer to this is ‘No, let’s talk about something else’.

The author of this Victorian article talks about how sometime in the 1790s a group of Tunisian sailors came ashore in Antrim and conversed with locals who could only speak Irish.  While Blindboy eventually comes to the conclusion that he doesn’t believe that this happened and that it is lumping the Irish together with other colonised peoples (which is probably right – he does have some bullshit sensors), there are other things you could say about it. How many Tunisian ships found their way to Antrim during the Napoleonic Wars? And how many other examples can you find of fake claims of mutual intelligibility? Lots, because it’s a kind of urban myth. For example, there’s the story about the Bronte/O’Prunty family being raided by Welsh soldiers in the 1790s and being able to speak to them. (Which couldn’t have happened, because Welsh and Irish are too different.) Or the story about Francis Xavier being able to understand Japanese using his Basque. (Also batshit crazy because they’re two unrelated languages.)

Anyway, he spends way too much time blathering about these baseless anecdotes (which is what they are) and doesn’t look up what linguistic and historical fact tells us about the Tamazight or Berber people. They didn’t speak Irish, or any form of Celtic. There are no mysterious Celtic-like words recorded in their language which would indicate that anybody there once spoke a form of Irish or Celtic.

He brings in the Lebor Gabála or Book of Invasions, which he describes as a book written in the 400s. Later he calls it a book written in 400. Not according to Wikipedia, which says it’s a book written in the 11th century. Apart from the odd bit of ogham, there were no writers and no writings in Ireland in 400 AD. But apparently, Blindboy just FUCKING LOVES history. Hmmm.

And so it continues. He harps on about the well-known fact of a Barbary monkey skull being found at Navan fort, dating to between 390 BC and 20 BC. (He says skeleton but it was only a skull, so we don’t know if there was ever a live monkey in Iron Age Ireland.) Personally, I don’t find this so remarkable. Items like gems and silk were traded vast distances in ancient times. Why not pets?

He mentions Bob Quinn’s theories and says that in DNA terms, Quinn is wrong, because the DNA evidence now tells us that the Irish came from Iberia. This podcast was made in June, 2021. In 2018, the world of European prehistory was rocked by a paper in Nature which completely reversed the paradigm that had existed beforehand about an Iberian origin for the Irish. The theory that Northern Europe was repopulated from the south after the Ice Age turned out to be totally wrong. In reality, genetic evidence shows there was a near-total genetic replacement of the Irish population (around 90%, and a major replacement in the rest of Europe) by a population originating on the Steppes. This change roughly corresponds (at least in Ireland) with the Bell Beaker Culture. It also seems to correspond with the arrival of the Indo-European languages in Europe. This is probably the biggest story in our knowledge of European prehistory EVER. Why, three years after it broke, is the history-loving Blindboy completely unaware of it? Probably because he wastes too much of his time on FUCKIN’ FASCINATIN’ shite like Atlantean and How The Irish Invented Slang instead of the real stories that are revolutionising our knowledge of the past.

Finally, more than halfway through, he gets to the issue of similarities between Irish music and Berber music. And it wasn’t worth waiting for, I can tell you. He plays a sample of a Berber singer and then another sample of a sean-nós singer. They sound a little alike to me but there would be no problem recognising which is which. As he later admits, the Berber singer sounds a little like the Muslim call to prayer. He talks about melisma, which is the technique of singing one syllable using a number of ornamental notes. To me, this seems to be a fairly natural thing to do when singing. I don’t think it necessarily implies any great cultural contact. And if it does, many people have said that sean-nós is based on Christian liturgical music, which undoubtedly originated in the Middle East (as did Christianity, of course) and there is every chance that Muslim music and Christian liturgical music come from a shared root, which means that there is no mystery about any similarity.

Anyway, there’s more old bullshit. Some Berbers have a clan name that sounds like Magill. Wow! That proves they’re Irish!!! And there’s a mound called Msoura in Morocco which looks a bit like Newgrange and other ‘Celtic sites’. Newgrange? Celtic? What exactly is Celtic about Newgrange? Msoura is believed to be about 2000 years old, unlike Newgrange which is far older, dating back to before (as far as we know) there were any Indo-European speakers, including Celtic speakers, in Ireland.

Then he talks about Quinn’s terrible book and series, Atlantean, and how hard done by Quinn was. Apparently, Blindboy has historian friends who roll their eyes when Quinn is mentioned but the Blindboy thinks the way Quinn was treated was really unfair and that a lot of this response is down to racism. I’ve heard this argument before, not surprisingly, from Quinn himself. For example, here’s a piece from Wikipedia: He also asserts that a close-minded, elitist attitude among academics prevents a more sympathetic appraisal of his work. More controversially, he maintains that critics of his work are guilty of an unconscious racism, or in his own words, of being afraid of the idea that Irish people might have ‘a touch of the tar’ about them.

Which is utter garbage. The defence ‘if you disagree with me, you must be a racist’ is infantile, and cowardly, and intellectually lazy, and just so typical of pseudo-scholars. Cassidy did the same thing. Anyone who disagreed with Cassidy was immediately branded an Anglophile and a hater of the Irish.

Blindboy then says that although Quinn’s ideas might be 80% bullshit, there is the other 20% which contains bizarre coincidences that need to be looked at properly. Again, all pseudo-scholars and bullshit-merchants tend to come out with the same arguments, including this one. Personally, I am not seeing anything worth having in Quinn’s work, let alone 20%, but even if it does exist, would you be as kind about a mainstream history book that is four-fifths garbage? If an author has a fascinating theory, shouldn’t THE AUTHOR just make a bit of effort to present the facts they’re sure of rather than presenting something mixed with loads of total nonsense?

And finally, Blindboy says that we should examine it because if it proves it’s bullshit, then that is helpful. Yes, I would agree that establishing that something is bullshit is useful. But my argument would be that if something is badly done, why should sceptics be the ones to establish its crappiness?  If there’s any truth to the theory, someone will eventually do the research properly and establish that fact. Proper books will be written, by real scholars. So the responsibility is on Daniel Cassidy, or Graham Hancock, or Gavin Menzies or Bob Quinn to fact-check their own work and present something that isn’t full of crap. It’s not up to us to sift through the crap in hopes of finding something of value and it’s deeply unwise to waste your time looking for diamonds in a dungheap or encourage others to do so.

In other words, Blindboy, I would start listening to your eye-rolling historian friends (especially if it’s Liam Hogan) rather than going for nonsense because it’s SO FUCKIN’ FASCINATIN’. Develop those bullshit sensors! Learn to recognise pseudoscience and pseudohistory and common or garden bullshit and learn to think rationally and encourage other people to do the same.

Just look at what happened to Russell Brand, who turned into a conspiracy-loving, red-pill popping, rabbithole-exploring whackjob. I’m sure there’s a lot of money in that kind of thing, Blindboy, but is it really what you want to spend your life doing?

More on Kibosh and Caidhp Bháis

As we approach the tenth anniversary of my first post on Cassidyslangscam, it is natural to reflect on what I have achieved here.

The main target has always been, and continues to be, the ludicrous book How The Irish Invented Slang by the late Daniel Cassidy. Cassidy was a liar, a fraud and a narcissist, and his worthless book is full of ridiculous claims and invented Irish. However, I have also looked at other examples of fake etymology over the last decade.

One of the claims I have debunked is the myth that the phrase ‘to put the kibosh on’ comes from Irish. While I have dealt with it before in other posts, I feel that it would be timely to give another full account of the known facts about the word kibosh.

It is a fascinating story for anyone with an interest in etymology. It shows how easy it is to mistake a destination for a derivation in etymology and how bad native speakers of any language are at detecting interlopers and fake stories in relation to the words of their language.

Anyway, let’s start at the beginning. Until recently, that beginning would have been in the year 1836, in the works of Charles Dickens. The existence of searchable newspaper archives has pushed that date back by a couple of years, to a comment by a chimney-sweep in London in 1834:

“It vos the Vigs vot passed this Bill, and what the Duke of Vellington put the kibosh on ’em for, and sarve ’em right.”

The substitution of v for w looks foreign, but was apparently common in 19th century London English. This is the first known instance of the word in use.

Various claims and stories have been made in relation to the origin of the word kibosh. Some think it is derived from kurbash, a heavy whip used by the Ottoman Turks.

There are other claims that it comes from a Yiddish word derived from Hebrew כָּבַשׁ‎ (kavásh, “to conquer, subjugate”) but no such word exists in Yiddish. Experts on Yiddish and Hebrew are also sceptical of claims that it is a Yiddish term meaning ‘eighteen pence’.

Others regard it as a version of Middle English cabochen, to behead. The Middle English word is said to have been adopted in Cockney slang but this seems unlikely.

David L. Gold (an excellent scholar who has been generous with his advice, expertise and support on this blog) traces it to the clogmakers’ term kibosh ‘iron bar about a foot long that, when hot, is used to soften and smooth leather’. Putting the kibosh on a clog might perhaps mean ‘finish the work’.

In other words, there are many possible theories but no agreement yet on the origin of this tricky word. Of course, as we know, when the origins of an English word are mysterious, someone will inevitably invent an Irish angle. The Irish theory is almost certainly nonsense and unusually, we have firm and definite evidence to prove this, as I will show below.

Anyway, let’s construct a brief timeline about the Irish theories of the origins of kibosh. As we have said, the word first makes its appearance in London in the year 1834.

At some stage in 1909, 75 years later, a book was published called Mac Mic Iascaire Bhuidhe Luimnigh (The Son of the Son of the Yellow-Haired Fisherman of Limerick). The author was Mícheál Mac Ruairí and the editor was a scholar called Seosamh Laoide or Joseph Lloyd. The story uses the expression ‘ar thobar a bhathaise’ (on his fontanelle or on the crown of his head – modern standard Irish spells it baithis) and apparently Lloyd in his vocabulary notes offers the suggestion that English kibosh could derive from caidhp bathais (sic – see note below) which could be a lost Leinster Irish expression meaning ‘coif or cape of the crown’.

Later in that same year, there was an interesting exchange in the pages of the Freeman’s Journal, an Irish paper. In an article called An American Professor on England published on November 29th 1909, an anonymous staff author of the Freeman’s Journal wrote:

Many expressions familiar in American-English are clearly translations or adaptations from the Gaelic: not a little slang was good idiomatic Gaelic, and such an extraordinary word as kybosh – “to put the kybosh on a man or a scheme” – takes a very curious interest when, as Mr J.H. Lloyd tells in one of his invaluable vocabularies to Irish poems or stories – it is traced to the extinct phrase “the cap of death” – i.e. the black cap of the hanging judge.

J.H. Lloyd, or Seosamh Laoide, then replied to this on the 2nd of December 1909 in the Freeman’s Journal, complaining that his views had been misrepresented:

Dear Sir – In your issue of 29th November, one of your leader writers, towards the end of the article “An American Professor on England”, quotes me in connection with the word “kybosh”, to put the kybosh on a man or a scheme. So far, he is correct. When, however, he adds the explanation “the cap of death,” apparently attributing this to me, he is very much astray. 

In the vocabulary to Mac Mic Iasgaire Bhuidhe Luimnigh, published by the Gaelic League, I set down that caidhp bathais, to my surmise an expression of the lost Leinster dialect of Irish, was the probable etymon of “kybosh”.

He goes on to say that kibosh could not come from caidhp báis because the o of kibosh is a short vowel.

In other words, Lloyd publishes his notes on Mac Mic Iascaire Bhuidhe Luimnigh and suggests that kibosh is from caidhp bathais, coif or cap of the crown, a phrase which sounds a bit like caidhp bháis (cap of death) but is not the same. (Lloyd’s claim is also very unlikely and there is no evidence that this coif of the crown ever existed. As he himself says, ‘I have failed to find the word in use in an Irish dress’.)

Then someone reads this carelessly or misremembers it or misreports it and suddenly kibosh is from ‘caidhp bháis’, the cap of death. And what is a cap of death? Oh, yes, it must be that black cap that judges put on to condemn someone! So, this fantasy version ends up in the pages of the Freeman’s Journal and is attributed to Lloyd.

A few days later, Lloyd writes to the Freeman’s Journal and objects. No, that wasn’t what he said. He was misquoted, so the Irish death cap story isn’t true.

In etymology, the evidence doesn’t get much better than this. We can trace the Irish ‘cap of death’ to 1909 and to a mistake. And we have a supposed author who says that he didn’t say what he was supposed to have said at all!

However, when you’ve got an interesting and colourful etymology, it’s bound to spread. Even if there’s a retraction or denial (and as we’ve seen here, not everyone has the decency to issue retractions when they screw up), not everyone sees the retraction or chooses to heed it. So, the story that kibosh comes from an Irish ‘cap of death’ continues to spread.

By March 1924, we can prove that caidhp bháis was being used in the Irish language, when the phrase Cuireadh an caidhp bháis air mar sgéal was used in a publication called An Sguab. (Hard to translate but it literally means ‘The kybosh was put on it as a story’ but in idiomatic English, you would say ‘That put the kybosh on the matter’. Cohen, Little and Goranson’s version ‘The kybosh was put on your story’ is a mistranslation.)

And since then, it has continued to take root in Irish and there’s really no reason to reject it. It sounds good and it does the job. But there’s absolutely no chance that kibosh comes from caidhp bháis. Caidhp bháis is an Irish re-imagining of kibosh, not the other way round. We should remember that native speakers have no innate sense of the history of words. They can’t tell an interloper or new invention from an ancient and intrinsic part of the language, as we’ve seen with words like craic and spraoi.

In subsequent decades, several alternative explanations for the meaning of the fictional phrase caidhp bháis were invented. A man called Rice in Leitrim wrote in a letter in the Irish Press of 25th April 1934 that it means ‘that portion of the cowl which is pulled down over the face of the dead immediately before interment’.  And on the tenth of February 1943 a letter from John Grogan of Dublin appeared in the Irish Independent, stating that the caip bais [sic] refers to the pitch cap used by the British in the late 18th century as a torture/punishment. This is usually called the caipín pice in Irish. And recently, claims have been made that a caidhp bháis is a candle-snuffer in Irish. (The real word is smóladán.)

By 1977 (in Ó Dónaill’s dictionary), it had also been adopted in the written language as the Irish equivalent to deathcap in terms of fungi.

So, wherever kibosh comes from, I think we can safely say that it doesn’t come from Irish. While caidhp bháis is a part of our language now, and has been since the 1920s, it came into Irish in imitation of English kibosh, and not the other way round.

More on Shanty

I have already discussed the origin of the word shanty and its claimed origin from Irish on this blog. As I said before, the standard explanation among scholars is that shanty comes from chantier, which is a Canadian-French word meaning a lumberjack’s headquarters or a timber-yard or dock, originally deriving from the Latin cantherius, meaning a rafter or frame. This derivation makes sense and is certainly more credible than the Irish claim. I notice that there was a brief exchange a couple of years ago about this subject on Twitter, when a tweeter called HibernoEnglish posted the following:

Shanty – a word known around the world from its association with the Shanty Town – a settlement of poor people – comes from the Irish seantigh – Old house. Shanty itself in Hiberno meaning a ramshackle dwelling.

Another tweeter, Coiste na bhfocal, took issue with this claim:

100% cinnte nach ón nGaeilge a thagann sé [100% sure that it doesn‘t come from Irish]

This is a false etymology. Níl bunús leis. [There is no basis to it]

They also cited this blog in support of the idea that shanty is not from Irish. HibernoEnglish rapidly replied, pointing out that Terence Dolan had supported the idea that shanty came from Irish:

Céad faoin gcéad? Disputed maybe, not 100%. This is the entry in T Dolan’s Dictionary of Hiberno-English. Probably the foremost expert on the dialect, could be wrong but unlikely to fall for the sources cited in the blog post above.

It is quite true that Dolan supported this claim, but Dolan, though he was a good linguist and scholar, was not infallible. Here is what he had to say on the subject:

Shanty / ʃænti/ n., a makeshift cabin; a ramshackle house; a shabby liquor-house <Ir seantigh, old house. ‘He’s up there living inan old shanty at the butt of the mountain, waiting for them to build him a council house (TF, Cavan).

Coiste na bhfocal nua answered the other tweet as follows:

He definitely wouldn’t have fallen for that source but I am sure that origin is incorrect. Dolan’s book is generally excellent but that is a bad miss.

Why did Dolan get it so wrong in this case? First of all, we need to look at what Dolan’s book is aiming to do. It is about the English language as spoken in Ireland. He seems to be saying that because it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that seanteach or seantigh could have crossed into Hiberno-English from Irish, that should be included in the book. I agree with Coiste na bhfocal nua that this is a very unlikely claim. If we could find a reference to “a shanty with ancient whitewashed stone walls and a thatched roof”, that would strengthen the case considerably. But we don’t.

I have already dealt with the fact that in an Irish book dealing with gold mining, Mac Gabhann’s Rotha Mór an tSaoil, the words used for their dwellings are teach, cábán and bothán, not seanteach. I have noted that the meaning of shanty in Hiberno-English is not describing an ancient house but ramshackle, makeshift temporary structures, just like in other dialects of English.

However, this is not the only evidence in support of the idea that shanty has nothing to do with the Irish seanteach. There is plenty of other evidence in 19th century newspapers.

What about this early reference set in Canada from the 22nd of September 1833, in a London publication called Bell’s New Weekly Messenger?

About sunset, dripping wet, we arrived near the spot we were in quest of, – a shanty, which an Indian, who had committed murder, had raised for himself. It may be proper to mention here, that a shanty is a temporary shed formed of the branches of trees.

Or what about this, from the Cork Constitution of 23rd of December, 1834:

MURDERS IN AMERICA (From the Baltimore American)

It becomes our unpleasant duty to relate the particulars of a most diabolical outrage which has been committed on the line of the Washington railroad, about 18 miles from this city, involving the murders of three of the deputy superintendents of construction. It appears that on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Gorman, one of the contractors, was assailed in his own shanty by eight or ten men, supposed to be some of those at work on the road.

Or this, from the Mayo Constitution of the 12th of June, 1834?

The Irish laborer, mechanic and farmer, with small capital, must most decidedly better their condition by emigration to the Canadas – but gentlemen accustomed to the comforts of life at home must be losers by the exchange, for they must wield the axe as well as another – they must put up with a salt pork dinner, unless they live near some town or village, for the first few years – they must be content with a log house or shanty, which are easily raised here …

In other words, all of the early references to shanties make it quite plain, not only that the shanty is a makeshift, temporary dwelling, they also make it quite plain that the shanty is a makeshift, temporary dwelling in the wilds of America or Canada! There is absolutely no evidence that the English word shanty has any connection with the Irish language.

More on IrishCentral

I noticed recently that the dim-witted article on Cassidy’s book on IrishCentral is still there. As I’ve said before, IrishCentral is dreck and should be avoided by anyone who wants trustworthy information. Anyway, I then decided to have a quick look at the comments section below it.

As usual, this comments section typifies the shallowness and pretentiousness of the online world. Not that there aren’t sensible comments on it. There are, but they tend to be drowned out and shouted down by morons.

There are two specific types of fool represented here, one called Noel Ryan and the other Catherine Desmond. I have little to say about Noel Ryan, because he is so obviously full of shit and makes no attempt to actually discuss the issues involved. It is also clear that if he actually read Cassidy’s book, he didn’t read it with any great care, as he claims that jazz comes from deas. Cassidy, of course, claimed that it came from teas. 

Catherine Desmond is more problematic. In many ways, people like her are more damaging because on the surface, they look like people who have the same agenda as us, to satisfy curiosity and discover the truth. However, this is not borne out by a close analysis of what she actually has to say. She starts by saying (to Paddy Ó Ruadhán, one of the critics of Cassidy in the section:

Paddy, based on your comments, I take it that you can speak in Irish. Because of that, I might not translate some Gaelic words as I respond to your comments.

So, she speaks some Irish. You would expect her comments to be sensible. Are they? Unfortunately not.

You might not agree with Cassidy, but there’s no denying that many Irish words have been shook down into the ordinary English vernacular, and are used daily by speakers of English, including the English themselves.

There are several assumptions being made here. Is it true that a number of words from Irish have been shook/shaken down into ordinary English? A few, certainly but the fact that some words in English do come from Irish has little bearing on Cassidy’s nonsense. The existence of words like esker and shebeen is well-established, their Irish derivation beyond doubt. The words in Cassidy’s book (apart from some that are already in dictionaries) are not like this. They aren’t from Irish.

Catherine Desmond gives three examples of English words of Irish origin.

Here are a few examples:

Let’s take ‘A whole slew of people.’ I’m sure that we all know what that means, but do we all know that the word ‘slew’ comes from the Irish word ‘slua’ which means ‘crowd’, multitude, etc.

While in England, I’ve often heard someone say: ‘I’d like a slug of that.’ the ‘slug’ is derived from the Irish word ‘slog’. So, if you were to translate into Irish ‘Give me a slug of water’, you would say ‘ tabhair dom slog uisce’.

Similarly, ‘It’s smashing’ comes from the Irish ‘Is maith sin.’

Slew is from Irish slua. That fact is in all the dictionaries (though not so much in British dictionaries because it is a recent arrival from America). The mainstream accepts that it’s from Irish. As for slug coming from Irish, this is controversial, as I’ve written on this blog, because there is an attested phrase, ‘to fire a slug’, which uses the same metaphor as ‘a shot of whiskey’. It’s possible that it comes from Irish but we can’t be sure. As for smashing, if you Google smashing and Irish derivation you will find a lot of people casting doubt on this piece of folk-etymology, not just me. It is not the cast-iron certainty that Catherine Desmond is misrepresenting it to be.

I could go on and on listing English words that have their origin in the Irish language, just as I could go on and on about English words with Latin roots.

Could you? Certainly not the way you could with words of Latin derivation. There are countless thousands of words of Latin origin in English. You could easily go on day after day recounting them. This is not the case with words of Irish origin. I think you would get to 200 easily, mostly with fairly obscure terms like tanist and erenagh and fiorin, but I don’t think you would get to 300 before having to bring in fake ones like smashing and longshoreman to make up the numbers.

Irish/Gaelic is a pre-historic language, and no one is sure where it originated.

There is a lot wrong with the handful of words above. Irish/Gaelic is not a language. Irish is a language, and Gaelic is another language. (Or a generic term for three languages, Irish, Manx and Scottish Gaelic.) Neither Irish nor Gaelic are prehistoric languages. They are modern languages. If you register to learn Gaelic on Duolingo, you will get the modern language which is spoken in parts of Scotland and if you choose to learn Irish, you will get the modern language of the Irish Gaeltacht. Talking about the ‘age’ of languages is in many ways meaningless. In a way, all languages are as old as each other, with the exception of High Valerian or Klingon or Esperanto, so really all you are doing is quibbling about how long it has had its current name or how long it has occupied its current territory. 

I’ve read various theories, but at the end of the day, these theories are unproven. As the Celts moved across what is now Asia and Europe, they incorporated into Gaelic some words from other languages. Today, some researchers say that because there are words from this or that country to be found in the Celtic language, then the Celtic language, most likely, originated in these countries and have then asserted that Gaelic is a member of the Indo-European group of languages. I don’t know whether it is or not.

And this bit really cuts right to the heart of why I regard people like this as more of a pain in the arse than people like Noel Ryan. This is so totally wrong and so wilfully ignorant. If you look at any reputable source for information about the Celtic languages, you will find something along the lines of: “Celtic languages descended from a common ancestral language called Proto-Celtic, which is a member of the Indo-European language family.” You will find this in dictionaries and encyclopaedia entries and archaeology books and books on language. However, Catherine Desmond doesn’t accept this as fact, because according to her, those silly scholars have found some loanwords in the Celtic languages so they have got the idea they are Indo-European! Of course, scholars of language don’t just base their conclusions on vocabulary. They look at grammar and phonology and identify loanwords and try to date the loans by looking at regular sound changes in the language borrowed into and the language which loaned the word. The vocabulary of the Celtic languages is largely Indo-European, with a certain amount untraceable to any known Indo-European root. You could say the same about, for example, Greek or the Germanic languages, which contain much bigger vocabularies of non-Indo-European origin, but are still termed Indo-European languages by linguists in spite of this. Everybody who knows about the subject is quite sure of the Indo-European nature of the Celtic languages. And while there are lively and interesting debates about the area where Celtic developed, they are all well in Europe, not in Asia. Mostly, the debate is between Central Europe and the Iberian Peninsula (Celtic from the West).

Why does this irritate me so much? It irritates me because, while the experts don’t always get everything right, the fact is that they get it pretty much right most of the time. And real science is at least full of lively debate between people who know the basic facts. Speculative ideas (and there is nothing wrong with speculation as long as it’s within the bounds of reason and matches the evidence) will either be accepted or rejected by the processes of academic investigation. People who insist that Covid is harmless until ‘activated’ by facemasks, or people who believe that the Olmecs were Sub-Saharan Africans, or people who believe that Barry Fell found ogham inscriptions in North America or people who believe in Graham Hancock’s theories about a prehistoric civilisation which was so completely destroyed by a cataclysm that no trace remain are all playing the same game, ignoring the experts and the facts while promoting ludicrous fantasies which have no basis in reality.

Coming up on CassidySlangScam

I have had very little time to contribute to Cassidyslangscam recently but I am not completely finished with the blog. There are a number of loose ends that I have not tied up yet and I intend to get them all done some time this year. Hopefully!

What kind of material will be included? Well, I would like to start (soon) with a brief article about an interesting Irish idiom (mún dreoilín san fharraige) and its links to similar idioms in other languages. Watch this space for that one!

I also plan to publish a review of the fascinating research of Barbara Freitag into the Sheila-na-gig, statues which are found on churches and castles in Ireland (and in other countries) of naked female figures displaying their genitalia. Are they pagan fertility symbols or Christian warnings against licentiousness? Where does the expression Sheila-na-gig come from and what are its origins in the Irish language? I hope to be able to provide some information on these questions and others here.

I would like to write a proper debunking of the abysmal ‘research’ of the Australian academic Dymphna Lonergan, originator of the notion that didgeridoo is derived from an Irish phrase, whose work is almost as amateurish and phoney as Cassidy’s.

And I would dearly love to have a go at a man called Bob Quinn and his ridiculous theories about the north African origins of the Irish. That has been on the cards for a long time but I would like to research it properly and do the subject justice (even if Quinn couldn’t be bothered doing that!)

In other words, I do plan to post here when I have the time to do so. I will also answer questions or comments when they warrant an answer. That is, when the comment or question is coherent and actually raises a sensible issue. Believe me, many of the comments I have had here are completely incoherent and absolutely not worth answering!

A Note on the Word Geis

I had a message recently from David L Gold, a true language scholar and a long-term online friend of this blog. It was David who suggested providing a glossary devoid of invective against Cassidy and his enablers. David’s message is worth quoting in its entirety:

Who says that the compilers of the OED try to play down the influence of Irish on English? Here’s one of the entries from the edition of 1933, recently revised:

geis, n.

Pronunciation: /ɡɛʃ/ /ɡeɪʃ/ /ɡiːʃ/
Forms: Also gaysh, geas. Pl. geasa, geise.
Etymology: Irish.

In Irish folklore: a solemn injunction, prohibition, or taboo; a moral obligation.

1880 S. Ferguson Poems 63 This journey at this season was ill-timed, As made in violation of the gaysh.

1899 D. Hyde Lit. Hist. Irel. 344 He thought he saw Gradh son of Lir upon the plain, and it was a geis (tabu) to him to see that.

1899 D. Hyde Lit. Hist. Irel. 373 Every man who entered the Fenian ranks had four geasa (gassa, i.e., tabus) laid upon him.

1928 Observer 22 Jan. 5/4 Apparently a man could be either:—(1) Born under a ‘geis’ prohibiting certain actions on his part, or (2) Laid under ‘geis’ either at birth or any time during his life, either by divine or human agency.

1965 New Statesman 23 July 129/2 In a sense which most Irish people will know, this put Fallon under a geas, a moral compulsion, to say his bit.

David is entirely correct about this. The word geis is an interesting one, as it is a survival of ancient ideas about supernatural injunctions or taboos placed on people. The most famous example is probably Cú Chulainn, who was weakened sufficiently by being tricked into eating dog-meat that his enemies were able to destroy him. The word for a superstition in my dialect of Irish is geasróg, which comes from geis. (The more common word in southern Irish is pisreog, which is also common in Irish English as pishrogue.)

As David points out, there are many words like this in the mainstream dictionaries. There is no conspiracy to hide Irish influences on the English language, no sinister cabal of Anglophile academics trying to play down the role of the Irish in the linguistic history of America. It’s all pure nonsense!

A Welcome Message

I had a message from Mr. Richard Wolfe the other day:

“I recently bumped into Mr. Cassidy on C-SPAN while watching the 27th (2007) Annual Book Award sponsored by the Before Columbus Foundation. Cassidy was among many being honored for their contribution to multicultural literature. He began with a quote from H. L. Mencken: “Puzzling the Irish have given the English language indeed very few new words…” He spoke very briefly but entertainingly about his proof of Mencken’s mistake, and moved on. And I went shopping. I was about to click BUY on Cassidy’s book when I decided to Google “reviews” instead.
“Buyer beware,” they say.”

I am very glad that reviews of Cassidy’s work like this blog were able to prevent you from wasting your money on this rubbish. That is what this blog exists to do. It’s a pity there aren’t more sensible people around like you who check before they click.

A Reply to Jah

I have had a brief message from someone using the username Jah in relation to my piece on Irish and Jamaican Slang:

Hi, I am doing research for my dissertation and came across this article. While somewhat insightful, it comes across as very harsh and angry- almost disgusted at the idea that there could be Irish influences on Jamaica (whose second largest ethnic group is Irish). Either way I would love to have a chat regarding your thoughts on the connection between the two- not merely linguistically and some of your research sources. Thanks!

While I am very busy, I will give you a few minutes of my valuable time to explain my position and correct a couple of wrong assumptions in your message. Firstly, if there is any disgust in my piece (and there probably is), it was directed at the late Daniel Cassidy and his flagrant lying. However, I think we can reasonably assume that Daniel Cassidy knew as much about Jamaica as he did about Ireland, so any argument on these matters should simply ignore Cassidy and look at other sources.

Secondly, you are wrong to think that I find the idea of links between Irish culture and Jamaican culture annoying or unlikely or unacceptable.. We know that there was a lot of emigration from Ireland to that part of the world, as you say, and in theory, I have nothing against the idea that there might be an influence. What I’m saying is that there is simply no evidence in terms of vocabulary, grammatical structures or indeed, anything else!

One thing that really does disgust me (because I hate people like Cassidy and his supporters) is lazy and irrational thinking. As I said in my piece, I have looked for evidence of Irish influence on Jamaican English and I didn’t find any. Many words have been suggested, like ganzi, or banikleva (various spellings). Take those two examples. Geansaí is the Irish for a jumper but this is because it’s a recent borrowing of a dialect version of Guernsey and this is also the origin of the Jamaican term. Banikleva does come from bainne clábair but this was English of Irish origin rather than Irish – it was found all over the English-speaking world (as bonnyclabber) in the eighteenth century with the meaning of curdled milk. Which is why, when people say, ‘there are loads of examples’, it doesn’t impress me, because it there are, I want to know what they are and whether they really are examples of Irish influence.

As I said, even in Montserrat, which has a very strong Irish influence, there is relatively little trace of the Irish language in Montserrat versions of English. The article I gave a link to quotes the word mensha as meaning a young female goat, which is clearly the Irish word minseach, meaning a nanny-goat. This in itself is a fascinating survival and it hints at the linguistic riches that a researcher might have found in Montserrat a hundred years ago. However, the researchers weren’t there and neither is the evidence. Not for Montserrat, not for Jamaica, not for Barbados or anywhere in the Caribbean.

So, my question to you is, what are you going to write in your dissertation? How can you write about a phenomenon that simply doesn’t exist?

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 bhogadar) 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.