Tag Archives: Irish Gaelic

Cassidese Glossary – Conducer

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.

It is worth quoting Daniel Cassidy’s claim in full here, as it demonstrates an astonishing level of dishonesty:

“Conducer (carny slang, n., the carnival boss who controls the gimmick or gaff on the crooked gambling wheels and games of chance. A conducer awards cheesy (cheap) come-on prizes or “slum” to keep the marks betting.

Ceann-duaiseoir, ceann-duasóir (pron. k’an-duǝshór, pron. k’an-duǝsór), n., manager of prize winners. Ceann-, prefix, manager, head-, chief-, leader-. Duasóir, duaiseoir, n., a prize winner, winner of a prize or gift. (Ó Dónaill, 455, 456)”

While I have not been able to find much information about the English slang expression conducer (except that it seems to have been used as an alternative slang term for a railway conductor), it seems to be derived from the English word conducive, perhaps with a pun on the idea of a con as a con-trick. In other words, someone who makes advantageous (and crooked) changes to the wheels and games. Wherever it comes from, it doesn’t come from Cassidy’s made-up phrase ceann-duaiseoir. Duaiseoir is a word that was formed out of the word duais meaning prize some time in the mid to late 20th century. It is not ancient and it is very much a ‘book’ word. Not only that, but the idea that ceannduaiseoir would mean a manager of prizewinners is ridiculous. A ceannmhaoirseoir could be used of a head ranger, but that means a ranger who is in charge of all the other rangers. In other words, ceannduaiseoir could, at a pinch, mean ‘head-prizewinner’ but it wouldn’t mean someone who is not a prizewinner who manages the prizewinners. Because Cassidy’s candidate phrase is so utterly ludicrous, it could not be the origin of conducer.

Cassidese Glossary – The Clinic Kid

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 late Daniel Cassidy’s claim about The Clinic Kid in his book, How The Irish Invented Slang, shows the flaws in his work more clearly than most. The Clinic Kid was the nickname of a con-man mentioned in David Maurer’s book The Big Con, first published in 1940. Cassidy quotes from Maurer’s book and there is no evidence that Cassidy had any other source of information about him. Cassidy (on page 214) quotes Maurer as saying:

“The Clinic Kid has made a fortune swindling wealthy patients who visited a famous mid-western clinic.”

So according to Maurer, the Clinic Kid was a con-man who worked in clinics. However, Cassidy does not accept that his fondness for clinics explained his title of The Clinic Kid. According to Cassidy, in this case clinic comes from the Irish claonach, which means perverse or deceitful. Claonach is far closer in sound to the English cleaner. There is no evidence that the Clinic Kid spoke Irish or lived in an Irish-speaking environment. In other words, Cassidy’s claim is pure nonsense.

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.

Cassidese Glossary – Bounce

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 creative etymology How The Irish Invented Slang, claims that bounce, as in the job that a bouncer does, is given in the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘of uncertain origin’. This is very strange, as my copy of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary was published in 2008 and it says that bounce comes from the Middle English bunsen, meaning to beat or to thump.

Cassidy’s Irish candidate for the origin of bounce is not a recognisable phrase. It is a dictionary entry: https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/bain_as

If you look at this, you will see that it is found in phrases like bhain sé na cosa as amach, he made off, or caithfidh muid fad a bhaint as, we’ll have to make it last. But it is very hard to see when or how (or if) you would use the phrase bain as. And in any case, the idea that bain as is appropriate to describe the job of a bouncer is nonsense. Bouncers don’t extract. They keep people out, or they throw them out. Or, they throw people onto the street, where they bounce a couple of times before coming to a stop. Bouncer makes sense as a description or what doormen do. Bain as does not.

Cassidese Glossary – Boiler Room

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.

 

In slang, a boiler room is the nerve centre or HQ of a racket like illegal gambling. It is perfectly understandable as a metaphor. Like water in a central heating system, all the money comes in and goes out of this central point, which is a hotbed of activity.

According to Cassidy, it comes from bailitheoir, meaning collector. This is very improbable. There is no evidence of an Irish connection to this term and the English explanation makes perfect sense. Interestingly, bailiú is the same word that gave us ballyhoo, according to Cassidy. So in one case, the Irish verb bailigh becomes boil and in another it becomes bally. Why would this happen?

Another problem is that I have not been able to locate any reference to the criminal type of boiler room before the mid-1970s, which seems a little late for a large Irish influence on American slang.

Finally, Cassidy cites a phrase fiach bailitheoir, which he says means debt-collector. Anyone with any Irish will realise that this is nonsense. The collector comes first and the thing collected comes after it in the genitive case in Irish. In other words, it’s a bailitheoir fiach. Once again, this demonstrates Cassidy’s total ignorance of the Irish language.

Cassidese Glossary – Big Onion

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 Big Onion is a term of recent coinage based on the name for New York, The Big Apple. The Big Onion is used of the ethnic history of the Lower East Side, because that history is like peeling back the layers of an onion. There is a Big Onion walking tour (mentioned by Cassidy) that deals with this ethnic history.

In other words, the term ‘The Big Onion’ is recent and entirely self-explanatory in English.

Cassidy claims that this comes from ‘the big Anonn’, which he claims means ‘far side, other side’. In fact, anonn is a word used only with movement. You can say you went anonn over a river, but when you are on the other side, you are thall, not anonn.

A reply to Joe Daly

I have had a comment from someone called Joe Daly about my post on Did The English Ban Irish:

you dont take in to account the fact that kids where beat in school for specking Irish. while they might not have passed a law banning it their attitude towards the Irish did the same thing . even goin so far as to ban Catholic children from goin to school. Under the penal codes imposed by the British, the Irish Catholics were not allowed to have schools. and so started the rise of Hedge schools.

I am well aware of the history of education in Ireland. I know about the bata scóir and the scoileanna scairte. I have said repeatedly that the English were no friends to the Irish language. In the early 17th century, almost nobody spoke English in Ireland. People like myself who speak Irish on a daily basis are now a tiny minority, and that is a direct result of policies designed to elevate the status of English at the expense of Irish. As I said in the article: The fact is, of course, that the English administration in Ireland was no friend to the Irish language. Irish was progressively squeezed out of any realm of life which would have given it power or influence. I am not defending the English here.

What I am saying here (and I can’t think of any way to make it clearer) is that the Irish language was not illegal in Ireland. It wasn’t encouraged or promoted or helped to survive in any way, but it was not made illegal, probably because the inhabitants of Langerland didn’t care a damn what shepherds and woodmen and fishermen spoke amongst themselves, as long as they paid rent and taxes and tithes to a foreign ascendancy.

With regard to Irish history, the English are as guilty as hell. Why does anyone need to invent extra crimes to make them look worse?

Pure Evil (English version of Íonaí Meanie)

The Irish language is obviously in trouble. There are people who believe it to be a dead language, though that is obviously untrue. I am able to write this article and I am sure that a lot of people will read it and understand it in the future. If Irish were dead, this wouldn’t be the case, of course. But Irish is in a weakened state, undoubtedly, especially among the young people in the Gaeltachts.

The English were certainly responsible for its decline. They were the ones who made it a language of paupers and pee-ons. They were the ones who forced their culture and their language on our ancestors and left the Irish language up shite creek without a paddle.

Having said that, people often blame the Irish themselves and especially the íonaithe or the purists as they are known in English. The purists are the ones who are killing the language, according to many people. They put off people who are learning the language. They discourage people. They were the ones who created a split between the native Irish of the Gaeltachts and the unnatural Irish of the books! The purists are a disgrace! If it weren’t for them, the language would be safe and sound (yeah, right!)

But this is the question which is bothering me. Who are these purists? You would think that is a simple question, so simple that it is barely worth asking, and that there would be a simple answer too. However, things are rarely as they seem.

Even if we are talking about the official language of written Irish, there are significant differences between the Christian Brothers, the different versions of the Official Standard and the practices that educated writers use in their writings, both native speakers and people in the cities.

Or there are native speakers (I mentioned people like this recently) who will not accept any new-fangled words at all. If a person says that they have to buy bogearraí to put onto the tiomántán crua in their ríomhaire, they will think there is something false and un-Irish about that way of talking. That person should buy software, they would think, to put on the hard drive of the computer. It doesn’t matter to those people that the language can’t survive if it is not able to tackle ordinary modern subjects. And this kind of defeatism didn’t exist in the olden days, when native speakers like Amhlaoibh Ó Súilleabháin were quite happy to make words up rather than accepting words from English. Who are the purists in this case? The native speakers who want to protect their version of the language (which is full of English), or those people who are trying to keep the language free of English?

And what about those people who believe that one dialect is better than any Standard, or the other dialects? There are people like this, people who believe that anything which is not Munster Gaoluinn is not Irish, or that nothing is as good as Ulster Irish. Who are the purists in that case? Them, or the lovers of the Standard?

And there are people who believe that the rot set in long before there was any mention of the Official Standard. For example, John Grenham, a man whose opinions I have little respect for and who doesn’t even have a couple of words (because he wrote those couple of words “an cúpla focal” as the cúpla focail in the same article), claimed (wrongly, of course) that the people of The Gaelic League thought that the language of the people was corrupt and they decided to purify it. And because of that, urban Irish-language experts who had been raised with English were teaching groups of students who also only had English. The result – that English-language idioms, grammar and syntax seeped into the “revived” tongue.

Then, he gives us an example of this impure Irish : My own favourite example is the Irish-language sign in my local park urging dog-owners whose pets foul the grass to “Glan suas é”, “Clean it up”, an utterly idiomatic English phrasal verb translated word by word. Imagine a sign in French that says “Nettoyez-le en haut.” But this comparison is not valid at all, because French has an entirely different history. There are plenty of long-established phrasal verbs in Irish which have suas in them, which is not the case with en haut in French, of course. (If you don’t believe me, this is a line referring to Luther from the year 1615 – he opposed [chuir sé suas do – he put up to] the head of the Church through envy and lust and the phrase glanadh suas/clearing up was common enough with Amhlaoibh Ó Súilleabháin in the 1820s in reference to the weather.) So, it is clear that Grenham’s opinions about the Irish language and its corrupters are nothing but horse feathers and nonsense.

What is my position on these matters, then? Well, I am not a purist. I believe in the Standard. It is a very useful thing. With the Standard, Irish speakers can share books, material on line and other things freely throughout the island and overseas. But it is not necessary to give up the dialects at all. The Standard is only a tool and as is the case with English, it is not a matter of Irish but of Irishes. There are different kinds of Irish which are suitable for different purposes. A conversation in a pub in Kerry and an article on science in a state publication are not the same and it would not be right to use the same kind of Irish in both cases.

Having said that, I respect people who care about the Irish language and who work tirelessly to master it. At the end of the day, we Irish speakers cannot do much to defend the language. The only thing which all of us can do is to learn the language properly and acquire fluency and richness and a wide knowledge. If there are ten thousand people speaking Irish throughout the country every day, the enemies of the language can say that it is not worth saving. It wouldn’t be as easy for them to claim that if there were three hundred thousand, or five hundred thousand, or seven hundred thousand people speaking it every day. If everyone who is favourable to the language learned the language and used it, it would stop the rot immediately.

There are strong similarities between falling in love with a language and falling in love with a person. If you love a language, you will try to learn everything about that language. Not only that, but you will accept that language for what it is. You won’t try to change it or recreate it in your own image, as the various purists mentioned above do – and as those dilettantes do, who are too lazy to put in the effort needed to acquire the basics of the language.

More On Boliver

A while back, I published a post on Cassidy’s claims about the nickname Boliver. According to Cassidy, his Irish grandfather was nicknamed Boliver because it represented the Irish words bailbhe [boliva] or balbhán [balawaan], which come from balbh meaning ‘dumb’ or ‘unable to speak’. This was because, according to Cassidy, his grandfather was notoriously quiet.

As I pointed out at the time, this is very unlikely. Firstly, there are kinder words for silent or laconic, like grusach, ciúin, beagfhoclach, béaldruidte. Then balbhán (a dumb person, a person unable to speak) doesn’t sound a lot like Boliver and bailbhe is an abstract noun meaning dumbness. Irish nicknames are simply not formed out of abstract nouns. Mostly they are formed from adjectives and it’s quite unlikely that a noun like bailbhe would be used as a nickname.

There is also a question about what else Boliver might mean. After all, Simón Bolívar was the revolutionary saviour of Latin America and throughout the twentieth century, his image was on advertising posters and cigar boxes all over the States. There is also the vaudeville character Patsy Bolivar, a kind of stooge in a comedy act in Boston in the 1870s or 80s. This is believed to be the origin of Patsy as in “I’m just a patsy.” Patsy is a common Irish version of Patrick.

However, the plot thickens (slightly). I recently came across a word in Ó Dónaill’s Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla, the word baileabhair. It is defined thus:

baileabhair, s. (In phrases) ~ a dhéanamh de dhuine, to make a fool of s.o. Tá mé i mo bhaileabhair acu, they are exasperating me. Ná déan ~ díot féin, don’t speak, act, in a silly manner.

Could this be the origin of Bolivar in the name Patsy Bolivar, and thus the ultimate origin of the nickname Bolivar? Was Cassidy right about the Irish origin but wrong about the word it derives from?

It seems unlikely for one very clear reason. In most parts of Ireland, a broad –bh- is pronounced as a w. Only in Munster is a bh routinely pronounced as a v, even when broad. The word baileabhair is found in the early nineteenth century in a story set in Tyrone by the native Irish speaker William Carleton, in the form bauliore. It is also found in similar forms in Mayo, Connemara and Wexford. There is no evidence of it in Munster and no evidence of it being pronounced as boliver instead of balour.

In other words, while baileabhair looks like a good lead, it turns out to be improbable. (And interestingly, Cassidy missed it, in spite of it being on the same page of Dinneen’s dictionary as bailbhe!) It is much more likely that it is from Simon Bolivar, whose portrait was on cigar boxes and cigar stores all over America from the beginning of the twentieth century.

However, this also demonstrates the fact that in many cases (like ‘so long’) there are lots of different possible explanations. It’s not enough to make a claim of Irish origin. You have to discount – or at least examine – the other possible explanations too. Of course, Cassidy distorted the evidence by refusing to look at any explanations but his own.

 

Did The English Ban Irish?

In my last blog post, I commented on a terrible St Paddy’s Day article by Mark Bergin called May The Road Rise To Meet You. This article, in addition to supporting Cassidy’s nonsense, is full of mistakes. It should be obvious what you are in for as soon as you read this: The Celtic thought process is not like that of the left-brain-dominant world. Irish thought resembles the Celtic knot, twisting and turning with a glorious lilt. And nowhere is that lilt more obvious than in the language. Personally, I despise this kind of patronising mysticism. The Irish are every bit as capable of rational, linear, cause-and-effect thinking as any other people on earth. The idea that the Irish are somehow childlike and mystical and different from the rest of the human race is a discourse derived from British Imperialism, however much of a positive and pro-Irish spin you try to put on it.

However, there is one important mistake in Bergin’s article which I would like to correct, because although (to the best of my knowledge) Cassidy never claimed this, it has been repeated by several of Cassidy’s supporters, the claim that the English banned the Irish language under the Penal Laws. Here’s what Bergin has to say:

But starting in the 17th century, our language was made illegal, banned. Speaking Irish could get you jail time and a good beating.

Bergin is not alone in making this claim. For example, on Amazon, we find this moron holding forth in support of Cassidy’s mindless drivel:

They were also severely penalized for speaking Irish (it was legally banned in Ireland by the British). Not conditions conducive for generating literary traces that professional linguists can track from the comfort of their stuffed chairs.

I am always interested in the way that false ideas are spread and turned into certainties. The fact is, of course, that the English administration in Ireland was no friend to the Irish language. Irish was progressively squeezed out of any realm of life which would have given it power or influence. I am not defending the English here. But the Penal Laws were about disadvantaging Roman Catholics (and to a lesser extent, non-Anglican Protestants), not about attacking Irish speakers or Irish culture. The fact is that there was never any law against speaking Irish. This is a complete myth.

The Church of Ireland (the Anglican church of the British Ascendancy in Ireland) continued to produce material like the Bible (1686) and The Book of Common Prayer in Irish-language editions throughout the Penal Era. In the early 19th century, The War Office even published demobilisation instructions in Irish for Irish-speaking soldiers who didn’t speak English!

So, if this is a complete myth, where does it come from? It seems to me that there are two possible reasons (apart from the sloppiness and incompetence of lazy internet users and crap journalists, that is!) One is that the Irish language was banned inside the English enclave around Dublin called the Pale by the Statutes of Kilkenny in 1367. This was probably not enforced and being long before the Reformation it had nothing whatever to do with the Penal Laws. The other is that in the 18th century, the Irish language was banned in the legal system (possibly misinterpreted by idiots as ‘legally banned’). This meant that whatever the language of a community, the English language was the working language of the courts. However, witnesses continued to give evidence in Irish if they didn’t speak English, and lawyers or clergymen interpreted for them. There was no blanket ban on speaking Irish in courts and there is a stack of well-documented evidence to prove it.

The Famine was a crime against humanity. What the English actually did in Ireland was bad enough. We don’t need to make up false and ridiculous claims that people were randomly beaten up and thrown into jail for speaking the only language they were able to speak.