Tag Archives: Irish language

Nincompoop

This is another really stupid Cassidy suggestion. He claims that the word nincompoop comes from the Irish naioidhean ar chuma búb, which he says is pronounced neeyan [er] um boob and (again, according to him) means “a baby in the shape of a blubbering boob.”

Let’s examine this claim carefully. Firstly, does the ‘Irish’ phrase sound like nincompoop? Not much. Is there any evidence of anyone ever using this expression before Cassidy? No, of course there isn’t. Is it likely that anyone would use it? Think about it. Insults need to be clever or punchy. They need to be effective as ways of putting someone in their place, which is why you very rarely find people saying things like “He is a man who seems to have the appearance of a dolt.” If you want to insult someone, you simply call them a dolt. Because of this, the chances of Cassidy’s claim being correct are vanishingly slight.

Although we don’t have any solid evidence about the real origin of nincompoop, there is nothing to suggest that it comes from Irish. It is first found in English in the 1670s. Some dictionaries conjecture that it probably comes from the phrase non compos mentis (a legal formula meaning not of sound mind). Others dispute this. But Cassidy’s ridiculous suggestion is just another confirmation that he was far from compos mentis himself.

 

Seo tuairim bhómánta eile de chuid Cassidy. Maíonn sé go dtagann an focal Béarla nincompoop ón ‘Ghaeilge’ naioidhean ar chuma búb. Dar leisean, ciallaíonn an bolgam gránna seo “a baby in the shape of a blubbering boob.”

Tá an teoiric seo gan bhunús, ar ndóigh. Níl an frása ‘Gaeilge’ seo cosúil le nincompoop an Bhéarla ar chor ar bith. Agus ní gá dom a rá nach bhfuil fianaise ar bith ann gur bhain duine ar bith úsáid as ‘naíon ar chuma búib’ riamh. Ní dócha go mbainfeadh duine ar bith úsáid as, ach oiread. Caithfidh maslaí bheith cliste, gonta. Ní mór dóibh bheith éifeachtach mar dhóigh le duine a chur ina áit. Sin an fáth nach ndeirtear ‘Is duine é a bhfuil cosúlacht an bhómáin air.’ Más maith leat duine a mhaslú, déarfaidh tú gur bómán é, gan fiacail a chur ann. Agus sin an fáth nach bhfuil ciall ar bith leis an raiméis bhréag-Ghaelach a chum Cassidy faoin fhocal seo.

Cé nach bhfuil aon fhianaise chruinn againn maidir le bunús fíor an fhocail nincompoop, níl fianaise ar bith ann gur Gaeilge é, ná go bhfuil baint ar bith ag an fhocal le hÉirinn. Fuarthas é sa Bhéarla den chéad uair sna 1670í. Tá barúil ag cuid de na foclóirí gur leagan as a riocht é den fhrása dlí Laidine non compos mentis (a chiallaíonn nach bhfuil duine ina chiall cheart). Tá daoine eile ar a mhalairt de thuairim. Ach is ábhar gáire é míniú Cassidy, agus cruthaíonn sé nach raibh Cassidy féin ina chiall cheart.

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The Numbers Game

I began CassidySlangScam in March 2013. In that first year, I got a paltry 3,292 views. The numbers have been going up consistently every year since. And I have to say, 2018 has already been a great year for the blog. I have already had more hits in the two months of this year than in that entire first year!

February has proven to be a very good month too, with more hits than any other month since the blog began (nearly 3000 so far, with a day still to go!)

Thanks to everyone who has helped to make the stats so good over the last year and has helped to spread the truth about Cassidy and his bullshit.

Thosaigh mé ar CassidySlangScam i Mí an Mhárta, 2013. Sa chéad bhliain sin, ní bhfuair mé ach 3.292 amas. Tá na huimhreacha ag dul i méad gach bliain ó shin. Agus caithfidh mé a rá, cuireadh tús maith le 2018 cheana féin. Bhí níos mó amas (cuairt) agam sa chéad dá mhí den bhliain seo ná mar a bhí agam sa chéad bhliain sin ar fad!

Agus chruthaigh an Feabhra go hiontach maith fosta. Bhí níos mó amas agam i bhFeabhra na bliana seo ná mar a bhí agam mí ar bith eile ó thosaigh an blag (beagnach 3000 go dtí seo – agus tá lá amháin le dul againn go fóill!)

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil anseo le gach duine a chuidigh leis na staitisticí maithe seo a bhaint amach le bliain anuas agus a chuidigh leis an fhírinne a scaipeadh faoi Daniel Cassidy agus a chuid bréag.

Away and Boil Your Head

One of the interesting and revealing comments about the Irish language on social media recently was an Irishman complaining about the waste of time involved in learning Irish: I help my daughter with her Irish homework, that she knows is pointless in life at age 9 & it’s so frustrating knowing her time could be spent better learning things she’ll need in the future. I wasted time on Irish and finished school unable to boil an egg.. I need hardly say that this man was slagged off mercilessly for his comment (especially the non-sequitur about egg-boiling), but it got me thinking about this kind of person and this kind of attitude.

Firstly, didn’t everyone learn things in school that they have never used? I certainly did. Quadratic equations? Physics? I am also quite sure I have never used any of the content or information I acquired in history lessons for any practical purpose, though my life would be greatly impoverished without a knowledge of history.

However, learning subjects at school is not only about acquiring facts and information, is it? For most of us, we take our school subjects far enough to acquire a piece of paper, and then we move on and do something else. We have the piece of paper which proves that we have the ability to acquire the piece of paper. And that entitles us to go for a higher level and a more specialised piece of paper. There are subjects I did at school which I have never taken any further but I have the qualification. It wasn’t a waste of my time. It was a part of my education, pure and simple.

And when I look back at the subjects I studied at school, there were some I liked and some I didn’t, but I don’t remember ever saying at age 9 (or even age 12 or 14) that certain subjects shouldn’t be taught because they’re useless. Which makes me wonder whether a child of nine actually made a judgement like that on her own. Or was it the parent who left school an idiot who made sure she knew exactly what to think?

Then again, there are other skills involved in learning subjects. There is learning how to study, how to manage time, how to take notes, how to find sources of information and evaluate them and exploit them properly. There is the ability to memorise things. And above all, there is developing confidence. Similar skills are involved in learning a language – any language. There are transferable skills involved in learning anything.

Ignorant people like the man who couldn’t boil an egg will assume that learning a language like Irish won’t help you to learn another language. However, there is a lot of evidence that learning a second language to a high level will make learning a third or a fourth language easier. The greatest barrier to learning a language is the assumptions you acquire from your first language. If you can break those assumptions, that is half the battle. The fact is, the man who can’t boil an egg doesn’t know what languages his daughter might need in her life. Azeri, Russian, Indonesian? You can’t predict that, but you can teach her a language which is quite unlike English and which will make it easier to learn Language 3 or Language 4. However, he’d rather screw up her education because of his own childish prejudices.

The fact is, languages all over the world use a limited range of sounds, structures and strategies to describe the world. Arabic and Hebrew use structures like liom, agat, astu in Irish. A huge number of languages use the sound of Spanish j or Irish ch, which many English speakers can’t pronounce at all. Polynesian languages use the concept of location for possession, so the thing possessed is ‘at’ you, just as it is in Irish or Welsh. I could give hundreds of other examples. Learning any language will help you to learn other languages in a multitude of practical, specific ways.

So there are lots of reasons for learning Irish properly. Even if you do think that Irish itself is a waste of time as a language, there are still good reasons to encourage your children to learn it properly. However, if you teach children that Irish is a waste of time, it will be, both for them and for other children who are forced to share a classroom with kids who have already been encouraged to give up on the subject.

And that’s not even taking into account all the positive cultural reasons for learning Irish. There are currently nearly 4 million people learning Irish through Duolingo – far more than are learning Hebrew, or Turkish, or Norwegian. Why do so many people want to learn Irish? The fact is that it puts you in touch with your own past. Most place names or personal names in Ireland are Irish. There is a whole literature which is very different from that found in English. And so much Irish music is linked to the language.

Also, without going too far down the road of politics, Irish has been brought to the brink of extinction by a campaign of linguistic genocide. Basically, the mentality of those who tried to destroy it is akin to racism. These attitudes are also similar to the notion that ‘wasteful’ rainforests full of colourful but useless species should be replaced with ordered plantations full of banana or rubber trees. If we allow bigots and racists to win on Irish, how long before languages like Dutch or Danish or Czech are endangered because people think their smallness means they are not viable anymore?

Motherfoclóir

I hope all my readers had a fun and relaxing Christmas. I have been taking it easy, so I am only just now getting round to my first post of the New Year.

Some time ago, I recommended a Twitter feed called theirishfor. It is about strange and interesting words in the Irish language. I like it for a variety of reasons. Firstly, most native Irish speakers are resistant to new words, or book words. They would rather use the word fridge than cuisneoir or invent a phrase like prios fuar or cófra fuar. It’s great to see people trying to find suitable words to fill the gaps in their knowledge. And it’s even better to see them having fun with the language rather than being i ndáiríre faoin Ghaeilge.

I was interested to see that the man behind this Twitter feed (Darach Ó Séaghdha) has brought out a book called Motherfoclóir. I was given a copy at Christmas and decided to read it and review it here. I would recommend it, for the same reasons I would recommend the Twitter feed. It’s amusing, it’s informative and it’s well worth reading. Just to give one example, the word stadhan (I would pronounce it sty-un) apparently means a gathering of seagulls over a shoal of fish. It’s a great word. You could use it of journalists over a scandal (= feeding frenzy), or ignorant Irish-American phoneys gathering around Cassidy’s book. And now, thanks to Twitter and this book, most young Irish-speakers would understand what I’m saying if I used it. That’s got to be a good thing. It’s an antidote to defeatism and the creeping loss of the richness of the language among its speakers.

However, there’s a but and it’s quite a big but. I wish I could be 100% positive about this book, but it is a mixture of a very good idea and some very enjoyable writing, marred by some really sloppy research and editing. For example, on the front cover, there is a funny observation that the Irish word for extremist sounds a lot like the Irish phrase for ‘the Prime Minister’. The problem is that the Irish word for extremist should be spelled antoisceach, not antioisceach, because it comes from toisc, meaning circumstance. And on the same cover is the observation that a simple fada (acute accent) can make a lot of difference: fáil means hiccup, while fail means ‘of destiny’ or ‘of Ireland’, as in Fianna Fáil. Except, these two words should be reversed – it’s fail that means hiccup, not fáil (talk about an epic fail!) And that’s only THE COVER!!!

There is actually a reference to Daniel Cassidy and a brief discussion of etymology. It epitomises why this book is both good to a point and immensely frustrating. The central comment on Cassidy is exactly right: This text has since been discredited; so much so, in fact, that any claim to an Irish origin for an English word now seems to be suspect. He also points out that well-known apocryphal stories like the word kangaroo meaning I don’t know or I don’t understand in an Aboriginal language also draw exasperated sighs from linguists.

However, he then goes on to do exactly what Daniel Cassidy and every other crap etymologist from the beginning of time has done – spouting rubbish without checking whether any of it is true first. He says that the word gansey, meaning a jumper (or undershirt in the Caribbean) comes from Irish or Scottish Gaelic geansaí. But the word gansey almost certainly comes from Guernsey or Guernsey frock (just as jersey comes from the isle of Jersey) and geansaí is a relatively recent borrowing of gansey into Irish. I looked in the Corpas na Gaeilge, a huge seven million word database of Irish and there I found just one reference to the word geansaí, in a poem probably written in the early nineteenth or late eighteenth century. However, I was surprised to find that it isn’t a reference to the geansaí or gansey you wear, but to Guernsey itself: A bhfuil as seo go Geansaí /De fhíon, de bheoir is de bhrandaí (Of all that there is from here to Guernsey/Of wine, of beer and of brandy).

Then he makes a number of correct assumptions about how genuine etymologies can be established: if it’s a genuine phrase in the source language, if it is mentioned as being from the source language in documents from the time and if there is no other more probable source for the word, then it’s likely to be a genuine connection. He claims (or he seems to be claiming – it’s not very clear) that mucker for a friend comes from the Irish mo chara because it meets the criteria he’s mentioned. In reality, it only meets the criterion that mo chara exists in Irish. There is a much better explanation (that muckers are people you muck around with), I’m sure there are no contemporary documents claiming that mucker comes from Irish, mucker isn’t exclusively or mainly an Irish expression and mo chara, (which roughly rhymes with Sahara) doesn’t sound anything like mucker and therefore couldn’t have become mucker in English.

And finally, at the end of this section he talks about the word bróg and the expression brogue for an Irish accent. He says that Merriam-Webster suggests that it comes from barróg, meaning a tight hold but then says that no-one ‘has come up with a chain of evidence such as Barrett suggested.’ This is nonsense. The chain of evidence is pretty clear. If you look up barróg on foclóir.ie, you find the following definitions:

barróg1, f. (gs. -óige, npl. ~a, gpl. ~).1. Hug. ~ a bhreith ar dhuine, to hug s.o. 2. Wrestling grip. D’fháisc siad ~ ar a chéile, they got to grips with each other. 3. Brogue, impediment of speech.

In other words, barróg (meaning something like ‘a little tip’) is a perfectly fine Irish expression for someone who has a bachlóg ar a theanga (a bud on his tongue, lisp) or whose speech is impeded by the crampa Gaelach (the Gaelic cramp). It has no connection with the Gaelic word for shoe, bróg. It would take a very fastidious linguist to deny the strength of the evidence linking barróg to brogue. All Ó Séaghdha had to do was look it up in an Irish dictionary to realise that! This is strange, because before he begins his piece on etymology, he says that he can predict that if he claims a word is of Irish origin, he will be told he’s got it wrong. Knowing that to be the case, you’d think he might have looked in an Irish dictionary instead of just Merriam-Webster … (Actually, if he had said that shebeen, or galore, or phoney or whiskey are Irish, nobody would argue, because they are. It’s only when the claims are false that people like me will shoot them down.)

Having said that, Ó Séaghdha wouldn’t be the only person to think that etymology requires no skill or research and can be dashed off on the back of an envelope without effort or donkey-work. (Una Mullally produced a dreadful pile of bullshit for the Irish Times last year.) I hope that the book does well but I sincerely hope that in future editions of Motherfoclóir, the typos and errors and the crap etymology will disappear. There is so much about the Twitter feed and the book that is admirable and I would love to be completely positive about it.

Crony

I have noticed that many of the early posts on this blog get relatively little traffic, so I have decided to start republishing some of them.

Another oft-quoted claim of Cassidy’s, which has absolutely no basis in fact, is the notion that crony can be traced back to an Irish phrase comh-roghna. Cassidy says that this word means “fellow chosen-ones, mutual-sweethearts, fellow favourites, close friends, mutual pals”.

This is typical of Cassidy’s fantasies. While comh– exists and rogha/roghanna (roghna is the older version of the plural, roghanna the modern spelling) exists there is no evidence in the Irish language of either roghanna or comhroghanna being used to mean friends or pals. Comhrogha and comhroghanna are not even in Ó Dónaill’s dictionary, though the word comhrogha has been used with the abstract senses of rival, alternative or choice. Rogha itself means a choice. There are plenty of words and phrases for the concept of friends or mates – cairde, compánaigh, comrádaithe. Comhroghanna and roghanna are not among them. The word comhroghanna does not occur in the dictionaries with these meanings and they are not used in speech in this sense.

While the other words for companion or comrade, comrádaí, compánach and cara occur many times in Corpas na Gaeilge (a database of Irish), comhrogha only occurs five times and always in the sense of choice or alternative, never to refer to friends. In any case, comhroghanna (koh-ray-anna) doesn’t sound much like croney and it is plural – loanwords tend to be borrowed in their most basic, singular form.

It is also widely believed to be Cambridge university slang, derived from Greek chronios, meaning old. It first occurs in English contexts, not Irish.

October’s Twit of the Month – Hugh Curran

For this month’s Twit of the Month, I have decided to return to Hugh Curran of Maine. Readers of this blog will remember that in the winter of 2016 and the spring of this year, I took issue with many of this man’s comments on IrishCentral. These comments (now deleted along with most of the accumulated comments on IrishCentral) were complete nonsense. They supported Daniel Cassidy and his preposterous theories, arrogantly ‘corrected’ people who knew more than he did, and criticised genuine etymologists for not giving enough credence to these absurd claims. In these comments, he implied that he was a fluent native Irish speaker. A quick look on line was sufficient to show that he is not fluent in Irish and he himself has admitted this since.

Hugh Curran claimed that Cassidy’s book “is sometimes maligned because a few of the several hundred words are of questionable Gaelic origin, yet the vast majority are correct and the book makes for fascinating reading.” In another post, he claimed that about 40-50% of Cassidy’s derivations were correct. Not only do these two judgements conflict with each other, they are also both nonsense.

I lambasted him on this blog for this behaviour but I also set him a challenge. If he can find ten derivations which are correct out of the hundreds in Cassidy’s book, I will remove my comments about him. Just ten out of hundreds. The only condition was that they had to be original to Cassidy and not plagiarised by Cassidy from other people. I also said that if he couldn’t find them and issued a formal apology for supporting this dreck and misleading people, I would also remove the comments critical of him and substitute it with the apology.

Since then, we have heard nothing from Curran. He hasn’t been able or willing (actually, let’s get real – he hasn’t been able) to find evidence for the outlandish claims he was making. And he is obviously way too up himself to apologise.

Some people might think I am wrong to single out someone like this. He is plainly interested in Irish and Irish culture, even if he doesn’t know much about them. He is an ecologist (though I wouldn’t be alone in regarding the ‘deep ecology’ that he teaches as a load of New Age woo), a political liberal, a supporter of gun control, and he has worked with the homeless. All of these things are very laudable. But does that give him the right to go onto public forums, misrepresent himself as an expert on the Irish language and essentially make up a number of ludicrous claims about the merits of Cassidy’s work? No, it doesn’t! Sensible people have a duty to challenge nonsense like that.

The recent debate about the Irish Slavery meme and the heroic work of Liam Hogan in defence of the truth has shown how much fake information is out there. Most of this fake information is spread by people who believe it’s true, even though it’s clear that the overwhelming majority of them have no idea how to separate bullshit from fact and massively over-estimate their own intelligence and level of education.

One thing is sure. People who spread fake information are a menace. Whatever they think their motives are, their shallowness and arrogance are helping to make the world a worse place.

That’s why my October CassidySlangScam Twit of the Month is Hugh Curran, fake Gaeilgeoir and pompous spreader of fake information.

Why The Rubber Bandits Were Conned

I have decided to write a brief post here just to explain to casual visitors why the Rubber Bandits were conned when they decided to publish a list of some of Daniel Cassidy’s fake derivations of American Slang from Irish on August 11th. Anyone who wants to know more can look at the older posts on this blog, where the material below is explained in greater detail.

Daniel Cassidy was born into a lower-middle class Irish-American family in NY in 1943. His father ran a bar and he was raised in the green pastures of Long Island (though he carefully cultivated the image of streetwise ghetto man-of-the-people). He was a bright child and went to NY Military Academy (alma mater of Donald Trump) on a music scholarship. From there, he went to Cornell University. While at Cornell, he wrote some poetry which was published but he then got into drugs and flunked out without a degree.

He worked for a little while in the NY Times, went to California, then ended up in rehab for two years. He learned to play guitar in rehab, cut an album (unsuccessful) and became a musician. For years, he disappears from the radar. Then he wrote some scripts. He claimed that he sold one of these scripts to Francis Ford Coppola but in different interviews, he mentions two different scripts as the one he sold. In the mid-90s, he produced a couple of pro-Sinn Féin video documentaries about the Six Counties, which aren’t even mentioned on IMDB.

He became a Professor of Irish Studies (!) in 1995 at a small radical college in SF called New College of California. How he became a professor when he didn’t have any qualifications is a mystery, but it seems clear that Cassidy himself claimed to have degrees he didn’t. According to one allegation from a person who contacted me, he was a serial sleaze who continually hit on female students. He used his position to cultivate ‘friendships’ with high-profile Irish-Americans and Irish people who could be useful to him. In 2007, he published a book called How The Irish Invented Slang, a nonsensical piece of crap which claims that lots of American slang comes from Irish. However, because Cassidy didn’t speak any Irish, he just made up lots of bizarre phrases which have never existed in Irish. Honky-tonk, apparently, comes from aingíocht tarraingteach, which means something like attractive peevishness. Baloney is from béal ónna, which Cassidy claimed meant nonsense (literally ‘naïve mouth’). Geezer comes from gaosmhar, which Cassidy claimed means wise person. It doesn’t. And in many cases, Cassidy simply ignored the fact that the words already had perfectly clear derivations. A longshoreman is a ‘man along the shore’, not an old-fashioned Irish word for a sailor. There are hundreds of these fake, made-up derivations. Almost none of these claims has any substance, and the handful that do were plagiarised by Cassidy from other people.

The book was criticised immediately and strongly by real scholars but Cassidy and/or his wife used sock puppet identities to attack anyone who told the truth about the book. Meanwhile, Cassidy’s friends and cronies were ever-present, boosting his reputation, providing good reviews, generally lying their arses off in support of the book. And because the book pretended to be a radical departure, a man-bites-dog story about how Anglophile scholars had systematically excluded the story of Irish’s influence on English, lots of people who think with their arses instead of their brains were quite prepared to make this arrant raiméis a viral phenomenon.

Cassidy fell sick shortly after the book was published and died of cancer in 2008. Unfortunately, the book and the ridiculous theories are still with us.

In short, if you ever look around and wonder why the world is such a shite place and why we have the leaders we have, look no further than the Cassidy Scandal. The same stupidity, pomposity, arrogance, narcissism, cronyism and manipulation that have allowed Cassidy’s nonsense to thrive are what fuels people like the Tea Party and Donald Trump and the supporters of the Irish Slavery Meme. Nobody should support this garbage, least of all people who believe in decent, liberal, democratic values.

And that’s why Murchadh Mór is right. The Rubber Bandits left their sense outside with the horse when they chose to support this shite.