Tag Archives: Irish etymology

Cassidese Glossary – Slew

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.

This is a word that entered American English from Irish in the early 19th century. It derives from the Irish slua (pre-reform spelling sluagh), meaning a crowd. This derivation has never been controversial and is given in all the dictionaries, including the Dictionary of American Slang, which is quoted as a source by Cassidy in his book. It is worth pointing out that the existence of words like this in the mainstream dictionaries invalidates one of Cassidy’s main arguments, that orthodox scholars tended to deny the Irish or Gaelic origins of words out of prejudice. Words like this show that the scholars have always been quite prepared to admit the Irish or Gaelic origin of words where the evidence exists.

Cassidese Glossary – The Letters L and M

Last week, I completed the section for the letter L and M from Cassidy’s ludicrous book, How The Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads. There were 38 words in Cassidy’s glossary for these two letters. Added to the 277 words covered in the entries for the letters from A to K, this is a total of 315 headwords.

In the words for L and M, there were a handful of genuine Irish words and phrases. For example, the word meitheal does exist in Irish, and it was used by the union activist Mike Quill in the USA. However, it is an Irish word. There is no evidence that it ever crossed the language barrier and became an English word, used by non-Irish speakers as part of their language. And machree, macushla and mavourneen (mo chroí, mo chuisle and mo mhuirnín) are all part of the stage-Irish vocabulary of sentimental songs and plays, but again, none of them ever really became English.

There are also a couple of words like mucker and longshoreman, which have been claimed by other people before Cassidy to be of Irish origin, though these claims are also improbable.

As for the rest, they are complete nonsense. There is no chance at all of them being correct. Most of the candidate phrases, absurdities like liú lúith or leathluí géag, were invented by Cassidy, and even when words are genuinely to be found in Irish dictionaries, the entries given in those dictionaries are not given accurately, but rewritten by Cassidy to make them closer to whatever term he was trying to promote. We can see this rewriting clearly in words like the noun mug, which Cassidy claims comes from muc meaning a scowling, piggish face. Except that muc doesn’t mean a scowling, piggish face. This meaning was invented by Cassidy.

As I have said before, it is hard to know exactly how much of the garbage in Cassidy’s book should be attributed to outright dishonesty, how much to stupidity and how much to mental illness. It seems to me that the truth has to be somewhere between these three extremes. He managed to fool a lot of people, so presumably he wasn’t completely or obviously nuts. He was clearly very stupid and ignorant, though he must have been smart enough to fool people of limited ability. And he was certainly a liar, not only because of the claims made in the book, but because having failed his BA degree in the 1960s, he turned up thirty years later working as a professor in a small private university in California. There is no evidence that he ever acquired any qualifications in the intervening thirty years and he never mentions any subsequent studying in interviews. He also seems to have lied about many other aspects of his past, such as the claim that he was in the newsroom of the New York Times when Kennedy was shot.

If Cassidy had simply been mad, it would perhaps have been wrong of me to criticise him so strongly, but it would also have been unnecessary. If he had been obviously crazy, nobody would have believed him, least of all the high-profile Irish and Irish-American twits who have disgraced themselves by publicly supporting him and his work.

Anyway, over the next few weeks, I will turn my attention to the letters N, O and P, and we’ll see if Cassidy actually managed to find any genuine examples of words from Irish in the English language. Don’t hold your breath!

Cassidese Glossary – Keen

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 work of fake etymologies, states that the English verb ‘to keen’ comes from the Irish word caoineadh, which means to cry, to mourn or to lament. This is entirely correct. However, the Irish origin of keen is given in all the English dictionaries and long predates Cassidy. You can find more information here: https://www.etymonline.com/word/keen

In fact, Cassidy claimed that there are hundreds of words of Irish origin in American slang which bigoted etymologists had refused to recognise. Examples like this show that where words genuinely derive from Irish, etymologists are more than willing to admit the fact.

Cassidese Glossary – Cold Turkey

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 term ‘cold turkey’ makes its appearance quite late on, in the early 50s. There are various theories about its origin. The most convincing is quite simply that it is descriptive of the cold clammy flesh and goosebumps associated with withdrawal.

Cassidy, of course, had a different view. According to him, this is the Irish word coillteoireacht, which he claims means ‘cutting off, expurgation, castration’. Back in the real world, coillteoireacht is an abstract noun from coillteoir, which has two separate meanings and two separate etymologies. One is from the noun coill, meaning a wood. In this case, coillteoir means a woodcutter or forester. The other is from the verb coill, meaning to geld or to spoil. So coillteoir means someone who castrates or despoils. In other words, coillteoireacht can mean ‘the actions or behaviour of one who is engaged in forestry work’ or ‘the actions or behaviour of one who castrates or despoils.’ Neither of these is any way a good match in terms of meaning or of pronunciation.

There are Irish terms for the bad effects of coming off the drug you’re addicted to, notably alcohol. For example, haras (from English horrors) or rámhaille (raving). There is no reason to suppose that anyone would use a word like coillteoireacht to describe the effect of coming off a drug.

Cassidese Glossary – Cap, Capper

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.

A capper, in American slang, is a person who caps, who acts as an aggressive shill. In other words, a plant in a rigged gambling game or auction who ups the betting stakes or who drives up the price of the lot. Cassidy claims that these words come from the verb ciapadh, meaning ‘to harass, annoy, torment, goad’, and the noun ciapaire, meaning ‘a goader, a teaser, a vexer’.

In reality, a capper is someone who caps the last person’s bid or bet, raising the price or the stakes. The word makes perfect sense in English and the pronunciation is exactly right, unlike the Irish ciapadh, which sounds more like the English keep.

Minding your As and Bs

Over the last few weeks, I have been working on a Cassidese Glossary, taking the words in the dictionary section of Cassidy’s book one by one, with less of the invective I have heaped on Cassidy and his cronies in the past.

I have now completed the As and Bs and I will continue to work on this over the next year or two until I have finished the alphabet. However, there are already lessons to be learned from the words and phrases beginning with A and B, so I will return to a little of the invective for one post and analyse what we know from these two sections.

Firstly, the A and B sections of Cassidy’s dictionary contain 75 entries. A handful of these are genuine Irish but before any of Cassidy’s supporters gets too excited, there was never any doubt that these words and phrases were Irish. There are eight of these: acushla, agrah, alanna, An Gorta Mór (which is purely Irish and was never borrowed into English), aroon, Arrah na Pogue (a play title), astore, avourneen. There are also words that have been claimed for Irish in the past, such as ballyhoo and bard and buddy, though it is highly unlikely that these really do come from Irish. 

There is a small number of phrases and words that are genuine Irish but there is no evidence that they are the origin of the terms claimed by Cassidy. In many cases, Cassidy altered the meaning and provided faked definitions for these words. For example, ainfheoil doesn’t mean a sexually transmitted disease. Aonóg doesn’t mean rough-house play. Ball doesn’t mean a dance or party in Irish. Beachtaí does not ‘figuratively’ mean a judge. Báinín does not mean ‘any type of overcoat’.

A great many of the words mentioned have such ancient roots in English that there is no chance they could ever derive from the Irish roots that Cassidy claims for them. For example, bicker, blow and booze have well-attested histories that leave no room for a supposed Irish origin.

Another major category is the set of made-up phrases or compound words, phrases that do not (and in most cases could not) exist in the Irish language. For example, báille vicus, béal ónna, baothán nathánach, b’aifirt, béas núíosach, béalú h-ard, búbaí háit, bogadh luath, buan-díchiall, boc aniar, bocaí rua, bodaire an aicme áin, beart t-aon, buanchumadh, beathuis. These often violate basic rules of grammar and sound ridiculously clunky and contrived to anyone who has actually learned some Irish – something that Cassidy couldn’t be bothered to do.

In short, Cassidy’s work is simply fraudulent, incompetent nonsense. Out of 75 entries under A and B, the only slightly possible claim is that boc mór is the origin of big bug. However, even with this claim, there are problems. For one thing, big bug makes perfect sense in English. Also, big bug is not found in Ireland and you would expect the phrase big buck to be found at least as commonly as big bug if boc mór were the origin. In other words, it is a possible influence but no more than that.

If the pattern found with the As and Bs is repeated with the rest of the letters, it is unlikely that there will even be one new credible word of Irish origin out of the hundreds given by Cassidy in his book. In other words, if there is anything of value in Cassidy’s book (if), it will pale into insignificance in comparison with the fakery and nonsense that this worthless lying creep and his dim-witted cronies have spread among the Irish-American community.

 

Cassidese Glossary – Boss

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 facts in relation to the English word boss are quite clear. Boss was borrowed into the English language in America in the 1640s from Dutch baas, a master. (People who know anything about the history of South Africa under the Apartheid system will perhaps remember the Afrikaans term Baaskap, meaning domination, which was used by some of the Afrikaner ideologues who supported that evil system.) Some sources think that it became common in the more egalitarian society of the colonies as a way of avoiding the word master. It then spread to Europe and was borrowed into Irish as bas by the 20th century. Please note that bas is not the main or usual word for a boss, which is saoiste, or cipín (in Donegal) or geafar (a borrowing of English gaffer). There is no evidence of the word bas for a boss in the Irish language before the twentieth century. (It is not found in Dinneen’s dictionary.)

Cassidy misleads in his item on the word boss by pretending that the Irish term is of great antiquity and that it is the source of the English word boss rather than the other way round:

Boss as a slang term for best or good became popular in the 1960s. But boss (bas, best) was old when the King and the Duke drifted down the Mississippi River with Huck Finn and Jim in the 1840s …”

Cassidese Glossary – Blowhard

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 word blowhard first appears in English in the 1790s as a term for a sailor. This may have been from an association with bad weather or perhaps from the blowing of whales. In the mid-19th century, this then acquired the meaning of ‘boastful person’.

Cassidy claims that blowhard comes from the ‘Irish’ phrase béalú h-ard:

Béalú h-ard (pron. bæl-ú hard), loud speaking; loud mouthing; fig. a loud mouth. Bealú [sic], n., act of speaking about, talking, gossiping. Ard, adj., loud. A blowhard (béalú h-ard, loud talking) is a loud mouth personified.

This is the same béalú (béalughadh) that was used by Cassidy to explain blow, in the sense of spilling the beans. As we saw there, this is an incredibly rare word, a verbal form derived from béal meaning mouth. In that case, Cassidy claimed it meant ‘to snitch’. Here, it conveniently means ‘to mouth off’, so this would mean ‘high mouthing off’.

The phrase béalú h-ard demonstrates very clearly that not only did Cassidy have no knowledge of the Irish language, he had no access to anyone with a reasonable knowledge of the Irish language who would have kept him right. There is no reason for the h- before the adjective ard (which means high and can also mean loud). Béalú is a verbal noun and an adjective beginning with a vowel would not require a h- before it. (And if it did, there would be no hyphen – it would be hard, not h-ard.)

In other words, not only is béalú h-ard a non-existent and imaginary phrase, it breaks basic rules of Irish grammar.

Cassidese Glossary – Blow (2)

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.

Cassidy is happy to accept that all of the meanings of the word blow in English, such as beating, rushing, departing, treating, are all from Irish bualadh, with one exception. According to him, when blow means to snitch, it is from a different word, béalu:

Blow (2)  n., to snitch, to inform on someone, to “squeal.”

Béalú (pron. bæl-ú), vn., (act of) speaking about; gossiping; fig. snitching.

This is very strange indeed. Béalú is an incredibly rare word. It is not given at all in Ó Dónaill’s Dictionary. It is given in the earlier Dinneen’s dictionary of 1927 (though not the first edition of 1904 which is available online from CELT at Cork University) but there it is written béalughadh, in the old pre-reform spelling with its many redundant letters. It means to talk about someone or to gossip about them. There is no evidence that it has ever been used of ‘snitching’.

It seems far more likely that ‘blow’ is another slang use of the English word ‘to blow’. It may specifically be from the early 19th century British slang expression, ‘to blow the gaff’, which means ‘to tell people something which was supposed to be kept secret,’ or perhaps from ‘blowing the whistle’.

Cassidese Glossary – Blow (1)

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.

With the English word blow, we are really dealing with at least two words. One is the verb and noun referring to the buffeting of the wind. This is plainly of Germanic origin. It can be traced, not only to Middle English blowen but further back to Old English blāwan. It has cognates in other Germanic languages.

The other blow is the noun that means a strike or hit, which dates back at least to the 15th century in English. It is true (as Cassidy says) that the OED says that the origin of this word is unknown. However, the OED is conservative and cautious. Other sources are less cautious. Wiktionary, for example, states that it is also of Germanic origin and points out as evidence the similarity of Middle Dutch blouwen, meaning to hit or to beat up.

Daniel Cassidy, in his book How The Irish Invented Slang, claims that blow in the sense of ‘to hit’ comes from the Scottish Gaelic buille and Irish buail and bualadh. He claims that this was also claimed by Charles Mackay (an etymological crank of the 19th century who tried to do for Scottish Gaelic what Cassidy tried to do for Irish), though Mackay only mentions buille in relation to blow. As I have pointed out before, buille, buail and bualadh are spelled identically and have pretty much the same meanings in Irish and in Scottish Gaelic. Cassidy was clearly ignorant of this fact. (Mackay did mention bualadh in other contexts. For example, to Mackay, a thimble was a dìon bualadh, because it was a roof or protection, dìon, from the stroke, bualadh, of the needle. In reality, of course, thimble goes back to Old English þȳmel, a ‘thumb-stall’.)

In other words, Cassidy is simply wrong about this. There is no mystery about the origin of the ‘blow’ words in English and the words buille and bualadh are far too dissimilar to be good candidates. They also go back far too long, to a period when there was very little borrowing between English and the Gaelic languages.

It should also be pointed out that Cassidy’s claims in relation to Mackay’s book are badly researched. “Mackay’s etymological dictionary was dedicated to the Duke of Edinburgh, who had sponsored and financed it. But a few blows from the Irish Fenian Movement in the 1880s and Mackay’s thesis of a substantial Irish and Gaelic influence on English was unthinkable – like Irish Home Rule.”

To the best of my knowledge, the Duke of Edinburgh did not fund the book and the Dictionary of National Biography states that Mackay lost £300 as a result of the book’s publication. As for the Fenians, while there was a campaign of violence in the 1880s, the most important atrocity in Britain was the Clerkenwell Bombing in 1867 which killed 12 people and injured over 50. If this didn’t cause the Establishment to turn against Gaelic, why would the Fenian activities of the 1880s have such a profound effect? Cassidy is simply trying to explain away the fact that the very top of the British Establishment was prepared to back a work which claims Gaelic etymologies for words in English in 1879, when, according to Cassidy, they should have been deeply hostile to the Gaelic languages and everything associated with them.