Tag Archives: insane folk etymology

Gunga Din

This book has been given many favourable reviews on Amazon, on Google.books and on other forums online. Some of the favourable reviewers have referred to the fact that Cassidy ‘overreaches’, which means that a certain proportion of his work is untrustworthy, or wrong, or just plain crazy. This apparently doesn’t worry them and they don’t regard it as a sign that the whole project is toxic and not to be taken seriously.

Personally, I find this strange. OK, you have to give people some leeway. I don’t expect everything in a book to be right. Even in very academic books you come across facts which you know to be untrue – dates incorrect, misspellings, interpretations of facts which are controversial or wrong. To err is human and you expect a certain number of mistakes in any work. But the margin of error has to be realistic. Would you buy a cookery book or a history book where fifty percent of the recipes or dates were incorrect?

In Cassidy’s book, the level of error is considerably higher. There is almost nothing of any value in How The Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads. To understand how bad this book is, you really need some knowledge of the Irish language but even with an ounce of common sense and a knowledge of English, it should be obvious that many of Cassidy’s claims are crazy.

Take this one. Gunga Din, according to Cassidy, is Irish. To the rest of us, it represents an Indian name used in a famous poem by the arch-imperialist Kipling, but to Cassidy, Kipling was merely using a nickname given by Irish soldiers to an Indian water-carrier. That nickname, according to Cassidy, means “Skinny-arse, quickly!”

There is actually an obscure word gúngaire, which comes from gúnga meaning haunches or hunkers and which means something like skinny-arse. But dian means intense or hard. It doesn’t mean quick. You wouldn’t say “Go dian!” to someone if you want them to do something quickly. As usual, it is just a piece of Cassidese, a confection constructed by a fantasist because of random phonetic similarities.

And what evidence is there that Kipling was influenced by Irish? What evidence is there that it existed before Kipling made it up?

The idea that Gunga Din is Irish, rather than Kipling’s version of Hindi or Bengali, is so mad that I am gobsmacked that anyone would be daft enough to believe it.