Tag Archives: irish origin of baloney

All About Baloney

I have already dealt with Cassidy’s claims about the Irish origins of the word baloney elsewhere on this blog. However, I don’t think I’ve ever told the whole story of Cassidy’s lies in relation to this word.

Put simply, Cassidy claimed that the American English term baloney, the name of an Italian sausage from Bologna, used as a disguised version of blarney or balls or something similar, really comes from the ‘Irish’ phrase béal ónna:

Béal ónna (pron. bæl óna), silly loquacity, foolish talk; blather; blarney; stupid gossip.

As I said before, the phrase béal ónna doesn’t exist. What’s more, Cassidy was actually told this before the book was published. However, before I deal with that, let’s just look at the ‘Irish phrase’ béál ónna. Béal is a well-known Irish word. It means a mouth. Ónna is an old, literary word meaning naïve, simple, innocent. It isn’t found at all in the main modern Irish dictionary, Ó Dónaill. It is found in the earlier Dinneen’s dictionary, which tends to mix up words from different registers and eras.

There is actually a word that is quite similar to ónna in English, the word callow. Callow is no longer a current word in the language. You get it in phrases like ‘a callow youth’ but many English speakers wouldn’t know it or use it. As for people using the phrase ‘callow mouth’ to mean nonsense, there is just as much evidence of this as there is for Cassidy’s béal ónna. In fact, people don’t say ‘stupid mouth’ or ‘dumb mouth’ or ‘idiot mouth’ for nonsense either. And in Irish, they don’t combine béal with more common words for stupid to make béal amaideach, or béal bómánta, or béal dúr.

On 25 April 2006, an unregistered guest on the Daltaí Boards posted the following on a discussion on language survival and gender:

Your wingnut assertion about women killing the Irish language is a bunch of béal ónna agus dríb. You sound like a leathcheann foirfe.

This was Cassidy. Béal ónna was his version of baloney, and dríb was his candidate for the English tripe. The smartass tone and the wordplay is so distinctive and so typical of Cassidy. When another person said that they didn’t understand ‘a bunch of béal ónna’, Dennis King posted this comment:

Bain triail as Google. [Try Google] It’s one of the cockeyed concoctions of Dan Cassidy (or is that Jerry de Rossa?). Ní Gaeilge é ar chor ar bith. [It’s not Irish at all.]

Then Cassidy (using a different IPA and identity) posted three comments in succession on 26 April:

A Chara,

Re: béal ónna, simple, silly, foolish talk.

Is it incorrect to use ónna with béal?

ónna, indec. adj., simple, silly. (Dineen, p. 821.)

I should have written leathdhuine: a half-witted person, or a half-smart fool.

But I thought béal ónna was grammatically correct, though I defer to the experts on this site and stand corrected if it is improper.

Of course, a leathdhuine only uses leathcheann (one side of the head.

Why is the adjective ónna incorrect with the noun béal? I am very new to Irish.

Thanks,

Ed “a Lorgaire (Seeker) from New Jersey”

‘Ed’ then posted two citations which prove that ónna existed in 17th century Irish. Nobody bothered replying to any of these comments. Of course, ónna does exist and that is beyond question. Béal ónna doesn’t and that is also beyond question. And there is nothing ungrammatical about béal ónna. Béal is a noun, and ónna is an adjective. Almost all adjectives come after the noun in Irish. Cassidy was missing the point. Callow mouth isn’t ungrammatical in English either but that doesn’t mean it exists. My guess would be that because nobody bothered to reply to his posts, Cassidy thought he had won the argument.

That’s how ignorant and stupid the man was.

 

 

Two Plus Two Still Equals Four

In Orwell’s 1984, there is a famous piece where the interrogator, O’Brien, tries to get the central character, Winston Smith, to deny that two and two make four.

“How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.”

“Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”

The unitary nature of truth and the multiplicity of lies is a commonplace of world literature and it is built into the very fabric of language itself. We talk about duplicity for dishonesty in English, we say that people are two-faced, or in Irish that someone is Tadhg an Dá Thaobh (Tadhg of the Two Sides, Tim Turn-coat). The English poet Spenser, who has been mentioned several times here, who lived in County Cork, decided to give his true and virtuous fairy queen the name Una, while the deceitful opponent was called Duessa. And we could also mention Tolstoy’s comment: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

In other words, the ideal, the perfect, the correct is always unitary, while the possible incorrect versions are inexhaustible. In the case of 2 + 2 = 4 (assuming that this is in base ten), four is the only correct answer. The incorrect answers are as numerous as the integers available, and that is an infinite set.

Cassidy’s supporters are continually trying to get people like me to accept that two and two equals something other than four. When people like me point out that the Irish phrases given by Cassidy aren’t genuine Irish phrases, that nobody has ever said (or at least that nobody can be proven to have ever said) the phrase béal ónna in Irish, their answer tends to be that in the teeming ghettoes of North America, the rules of Irish usage fell away and people produced a new version of Irish. Maybe this happened and probably it didn’t. But if it did happen, the range of possible corrupt versions of Irish is almost as inexhaustible as the integers, so the idea that Cassidy’s fake versions will map accurately onto the versions that supposedly existed in Irish slums in America in the 19th century is absurd (even when we take into account that Cassidy made these phrases up to resemble English expressions phonetically). After all, Cassidy himself regularly changed his Irish expressions when he noticed one that he liked better (as in the case of dingbat, variously from duine bocht or duine bod according to the Great Fraud).

Why does baloney have to come from béal ónna just because these were the words Cassidy chose? What about béal omhna, tree-trunk mouth, because of the clumsy nonsense stuck in it? Or béal abhna (a variant of abhann), meaning river-mouth, because the person has a mouth as big as the mouth of the Liffey or the Lagan? Or béal uainín, a little lamb’s mouth, because of the innocence of the stupidities coming from it? Or béal Eoghnaí, from someone called Eoghan who was notoriously thick? Or béal eorna where eorna (barley) stands ‘figuratively’ for whiskey? Or béal eamhnaithe, doubled or twinned mouth, because the person is deceitful? Or hundreds of other possible but not probable explanations?

And then, of course, there’s the two plus two equals four explanation. That baloney is the name of a cheap type of sausage originating in Bologna in Italy and that it came to be used as a euphemism for balls, bollocks or bullshit in American English, just as people say ‘sugar’ as a mild oath instead of ‘shit’.