Tag Archives: Irish origins of slang

So long to the Irish origin of ‘so long’

One of the language myths that have been brought to light by the Rubber Bandits’ recent tweet on Cassidy’s eymology is the claim that the English colloquial ‘so long’ is really a corrupted form of Irish slán, a parting salutation.

There are several claims for the origin of this term. Some derive it from Arabic salaam, or from Hebrew shalom. Neither of these seems very convincing. The etymology websites (along with Cassidy’s book – unusually, he admits that he didn’t come up with the slán derivation) say that it first appears in 1860 in the works of Walt Whitman.

Most of them agree that it probably comes from the German expression Adieu so lange (something like ‘farewell until we meet again’) or from related Scandinavian phrases Norwegian Adjø så lenge, Farvel så lenge, Mor’n så lenge, literally “bye so long, farewell so long, morning so long;” and Swedish Hej så länge “good-bye for now,” with så länge “for now” attested since 1850 according to Swedish sources. The German expression Adieu so lange dates back to at least 1791.

In a recent OED blog post, Anatoly Liberman quotes a Mr Paul Nance who has found an earlier reference to so long from 1835.

However, I think I can do better than that. I Googled the phrase the other day and I have come across an earlier example of it. It’s in a book of humorous material called Salmagundi written in magazine form by Paulding in New York. The book is available on Google Books. It is dated 1835 but the internal headings show that the particular magazine containing the entry was first published in 1819.

The article takes the form of a humorous letter from a lady of means, who signs herself off at the end with the salutation: Adieu, so long, Aurelia.

Personally, I think that’s a smoking gun and gives a clear bridge between the German and the English expressions. But even if you choose to say that it’s just a coincidence that the earliest known use of so long in English has Adieu stuck in front of it, there are other reasons for dismissing the Irish origin. Why is this expression always written as two words? Why does it never occur as slawn, or slong? And why does it never have any other words attached? Why don’t we find it sometimes as so long go foyle (slán go fóill), or so long lath (slán leat) or so long a wallah (slán abhaile)? These are common expressions in Irish. And then again, why don’t we find it commonly in stage-Irish idiom? Begorrah, sor, it’s so long and farewell to yous

So, let’s just forget the idea that the expression so long comes from Irish. There’s no evidence for it and there’s something so needy and desperate about these attempts to trace words to Irish. It’s as if our language and culture have no reality or value outside their relations with the English-speaking world. Anyone who thinks that should learn some real Irish – NOW!

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Miller

I am rapidly reaching the point where I find it hard to find new stupidities in Cassidy’s book that I haven’t already debunked. However, there are odd exceptions here and there. One unplucked piece of low-hanging fruit is the claim that ‘miller’, an old cant term for a fighter or boxer, is from Irish.

Firstly, the most parsimonious explanation is quite simply that this expression is an extension of the word miller, someone who keeps or works in a mill. Millers have always had the reputation as strong, rough men, even back as far as Chaucer. And of course, milling can mean grinding, breaking, destroying. In other words, you don’t need to look any further than English ‘miller’ for the origins of the English slang expression ‘miller’. Unless you’re a flake like Daniel Cassidy, of course.

Cassidy’s explanation, as usual, lacks any evidence.

Miller, n., a boxer, a murderer. “Miller, a Killer …” (B.E.’s Dictionary of the Canting Crew, 1699.)

Míle (pron. m’íl’ə), n., a warrior, a soldier; a champion, a hero. Mill, v., to break, to injure; to damage, to destroy. (Dineen [sic], 742; Ó Dónaill, 859, 860.)

One person’s killer is another person’s miller (míle, pron. m’íl’ə, hero, warrior, soldier; champion; destroyer.)”

The problem with this is that míle is not a particularly good match in terms of sound (it’s pronounced meelya or meela – note that Cassidy’s phonetic transcription was as fake as everything else in his miserable ‘skill set’) and it’s not a particularly common word. There are dozens of other words which suit the meaning of boxer or soldier or warrior far better, words like dornálaí (boxer), or saighdiúir (soldier). Míle is actually a fairly obscure borrowing of the Latin word mīles, the root of military and militia.

And it has no etymological connection with the word mill, meaning to destroy in Irish. (MacBain’s dictionary: destroy, Irish, Old Irish millim: *mel-ni-, root mele, fail, miss; Lithuanian mìlyti, fail; Greek @Gméleos, useless, wretched …) The word destroyer added to the list of meanings of míle above is yet another example of the kind of casual random dishonesty that makes Cassidy’s book so totally worthless. And in any case, only an irrational, brain-burned nut-job like Cassidy would think that giving two totally different words with different etymologies as the origin of one English expression would help his case!

Another Cassidy Sockpuppet?

In a post a while ago, I pointed out that there are a number of fake reviews on line of Cassidy’s book which seem to use variants of the name of Cassidy’s wife – eclaremc, ellen, ellen mcintyre. Whether they were posted by his wife or not is unclear, as the style is pure Cassidy. These fake reviews claim that the book is wonderful, that academics have it in for Cassidy, that the author of the review is a student of Irish. Most of them were posted around the time the book came out, around November 2007 to January 2008.

I think I have found another on the Barnes and Noble website. It is anonymous – the poster is just called Guest. It is titled One Snazzy Book and was posted on the 22nd of December 2007:

This book is amazing! Cassidy makes a strong case that slang words like scam, slum, moolah, knicknack, mind your own ‘beeswax,’ Say ‘Uncle,’ snazzy, swell, rookie, fluke, nincumpoop, and even poker and jazz may be derived from the Irish language! The stories in the book are as good as the etymologies and definitions. As a student of the Irish language, it has been a revelation to me to read How the Irish Invented Slang. I recommend it to all people interested in language and slang and the secret history of the Irish in America.

Compare this to a comment left by Ellen McIntyre on 23rd of November 2007:

I have read Daniel Cassidy’s How the Irish Invented Slang and found it to be an incredibly interesting read! It has essays and a dictionary that lay out his thesis that the irish language (like the languages of every other major immigrant group to N. America) did have an influence on American vernacular and popular speech… I study the Irish language in college. I heartily recommend Cassdy’s book. It is funny and eye-opening at the same time. Refreshingly he doersn’t take himself too seriously like many self-styled language scholars. Slán, Ellen

My guess would be that if the people at Barnes and Noble looked at the email account linked to that comment, it would contain something like Ellen, Eclaremc, Cassidy or Camog and that it is really a fraudulent review written by the author of this ridiculous, trashy book and/or his wife.

Irish and Jamaican Slang

I recently came across an interesting little comment from a certain Bob Fagan, who ran into Cassidy in an empty classroom in New College of California in 2005 or 2006. As Fagan says:

When I heard he was Professor of Irish Studies, I asked him if he had ever heard the theory that much Jamaican/reggae slang comes from Gaelic words that had entered their language centuries earlier, when Irish immigrants and indentured servants settled in Jamaica. Forgetting about his papers, he walked up to the blackboard and for the next ten minutes, wrote down every Jamaican slang term I threw at him, and figured out its Gaelic origins. It was obvious to me that this was a man in love with language, with teaching, as well as with learning. It was an unexpected, brief but truly delightful and memorable encounter.

I would love to have been a fly on the wall listening to Cassidy bullshitting that day. There is, of course, no evidence for Irish influence on Jamaican slang. A quick search on Google fails to turn up even one clear instance of an Irish or Gaelic slang term used in Jamaican patois. Even Montserrat, which has a much stronger claim to direct Irish connections, has almost no Irish influence on its speech patterns. (This source mentions one word which is found in Montserrat which is not found elsewhere and has a clear Irish origin, but generally finds the evidence of an Irish influence on the speech of Montserrat very underwhelming: http://www.phon.ucl.ac.uk/home/wells/brogue.htm)

I wonder what kind of rubbish Cassidy produced as he ‘figured out’ the Gaelic origins of these words for Bob Fagan that day. I’ll have a guess. No doubt, according to Cassidy, jah (in the real world, a shortened form of Jehovah) came from the Irish Dia (God), pronounced jeea. And I think he could well have suggested that irie, meaning good or excellent, comes from éirí, meaning rising or succeeding, though nobody has ever said “Tá sé éirí” in Irish.

Or perhaps (because Cassidy really didn’t know any Irish at all and I’m sure couldn’t have come up with even ludicrous fake Irish candidates without access to a dictionary) he just invented a load of random nonsense, plucking fake Irish words out of his arse to impress a total stranger. Because that’s what hateful ignorant narcissists like Cassidy do, invent a load of lying nonsense in a desperate, needy attempt to impress strangers, then leave the messes they create for other people to clear up.

Comhar

In a tweet in December 2014, Michael Patrick MacDonald was once again demonstrating his naivety by commenting in relation to the word comhar, which apparently he learned from Cassidy. In reply to someone who gave the real meanings of the Irish word, he said: “Besides whatever dictionary meaning. It’s a long standing ideal of cooperative society.”

In another article on the band the Dropkick Murphys, dated 2012, he also quotes his friend Cassidy about this word:

“Comhar (pron., co’r), n., co-operation; alliance, reciprocity, mutuality; companionship, a cooperative society; cómhar na gcómharsan (pron. co’r na go’ r-arsan), system of reciprocal labor among neighbors, companions, friends, etc.; cómhar na saoithe (pron.co’r na seeh’e), the companionship and society of artists and scholars.”

In fact, Cassidy (and MacDonald) grossly overstated the importance of this word and its centrality to Irish culture. It is mostly used in phrases like ‘ag obair i gcomhar lena chéile’ (working in partnership with each other) or “dhíol mé an comhar leis” (I paid him back for the favour). While it is sometimes used on its own (it is famously the name of an Irish-language magazine) these uses are quite rare. If it really had such a central importance in Irish culture, why has no Irish anthropologist or sociologist (to my knowledge) ever written an essay or an article on it? Where did Cassidy get the idea that it was so important?

The answer is, of course, that Cassidy looked in the dictionaries and found entries describing comhar as mutual work, partnership and cooperation, and the rest came from his imagination. You see, Cassidy claimed to be a socialist (not that his behaviour gave any hint of genuine socialist principles), and so he romanticised Irish by pretending that a kind of peasant communism was built into the very fabric of the language. Of course, there was some degree of collectivism and mutual self-help in Ireland, just as there was in every peasant society but the idea that Irish people lived by the (proto-communist) principle of comhar just as Sicilians followed the code of omertá is just nonsense.

The tweet from Michael Patrick MacDonald is really quite funny. An American who doesn’t speak any Irish is pontificating about the importance in Irish culture of the word comhar, and saying to someone else that it’s quite OK to ignore the dictionary definitions produced by real Irish scholars (Besides whatever dictionary meaning. It’s a long standing ideal of cooperative society). The person who told him about its importance was another American, Daniel Cassidy, who didn’t speak any Irish or know anything at all about the language either! What a joke!

The claim is a pure fake, like everything else derived from the late Daniel Patrick Cassidy and spread like a plague of ignorance by his cronies.

James B

One of the least pleasant aspects of writing this blog is dealing with Cassidy’s supporters, many of whom show signs of the same mental illness, arrogance and stupidity that made their guru such a waste of space. Recently, someone calling himself James B tried to post a message as a reply to Emma’s nomination of this blog for a Liebster Award. For a while, I thought of just ignoring it, because I’ve answered this kind of nonsense over and over again and nothing’s changed. However, on reflection, I’ve decided to rescue it from the bin and make a post of it. Here’s what ‘James B’ had to say:

“Perhaps this award will propel the courageously anonymous “Debunker” to reveal something about himself – like his actual name and his credentials (if he has any at all), since he has no reservations doing the same for the late Professor Cassidy. But don’t count on it. We know how rats run from the light of day.”

Where do I start? Well, first things first. This message came from New York, from the same person who posted recently under the name of Jimbo. He uses the email address AfterTheFall@gmail.com. A troll with the username AfterTheFall also contributes regularly to NY Curbed, where he shows a great deal of interest in the New York Citibike scheme and the activities of Margaret Chin, a local politician. Both of these issues are also dear to the heart of Sean Sweeney, who has posted in many places in support of Cassidy’s rubbish. So, while I can’t prove it, I believe that this is either Sean Sweeney or a close associate of Sean Sweeney.

I won’t labour the obvious point that using a fake identity to criticise someone for writing anonymously isn’t very consistent or logical, and I won’t waste any time mocking the pretentious New York ‘Goodfella’ cliché in the last line. You … doidy … rats …

As in the last message (or the last few messages, if this is a sockpuppet for SS), the poster is still refusing to deal in facts or evidence. While he mentions the revelations about Cassidy’s qualifications, he again refuses to acknowledge them or discuss them. I mean, if he doesn’t believe in them, surely he should be using his post to defend Cassidy’s reputation? And if he does accept them, then he obviously doesn’t consider the scale and severity of Cassidy’s academic fraud to be a problem. I mean, when is he going to stop attacking the messengers and address the evidence that his friend Cassidy was a fraud?

As I have said many times, who I am is completely irrelevant, as are my qualifications. That I am better qualified than Daniel Cassidy is true – around 40% of the population of Ireland has a degree and is therefore better qualified than DC, and that’s not even including thousands of teenagers who pass competitive examinations in the Irish language every year, demonstrating a knowledge of the Irish language which Cassidy never had. But I have never said that people should trust what I say because of my qualifications. I have said, repeatedly, that people should go to primary sources and check them. And let’s not call him ‘the late Professor Cassidy’. Thanks to Cassidy’s sister and the registrar at Cornell, we know that he didn’t have a degree and that means that he obviously wasn’t a real professor. He was Cassidy, the nut Cassidy, the fraud Cassidy, or perhaps Mr Cassidy if I’m feeling nice. But why should I or anyone else call him Professor?

You see, what this blog is about is informing people of the truth, using proper evidence-based methods. Here’s an example, in case you’ve forgotten what the truth is like. The English dictionaries say that the American English expression buncombe (or bunkum) comes from Buncombe County in North Carolina and dates back to a number of filibustering speeches made by Felix Walker in 1820. When challenged, he said that he was ‘speaking to Buncombe’ and not to Washington. This expression goes back to the 1820s and is found first in a journal of 1829, but was later used by other sources in the early 19th century and was even used by Thomas Carlyle in Britain – also with the spelling Buncombe. Bunkum came later. And the early references are to people ‘speaking to Buncombe’, as in the North Carolina story, not ‘talking Buncombe’ or ‘talking bunkum’. Cassidy then comes along and claims that this story is nonsense and that the word really comes from Irish buanchumadh, which he says means a long-drawn out story. He provides no evidence for either claim. The real origin story is solid. The word buanchumadh is not in any dictionary or Irish text. There is not a shred of evidence that buanchumadh has ever existed and, as I have explained before, it doesn’t work as an Irish expression.

Most of Cassidy’s claims are similar. Worse still, lots of people think they know some Irish from reading Cassidy’s book. The nonsense phrases invented by Cassidy are spreading virally. Because of the Cassidy hoax, there are t-shirts available on line with Giog Gheal (sic) on them. This is another fake Cassidy phrase. There are people walking around with Dead Ráibéad tattooed on their arms. More fakery. Some history books have been polluted with this childish fraud, and are full of fake Irish nonsense. Thousands of people who don’t know any genuine Irish at all are convinced that Cassidy’s made-up rubbish is real. That’s why Cassidy and his supporters are traitors to the Irish language. These scum (which of course comes from Irish is cum meaning ‘is invented’ – only joking!) are betraying our heritage by pretending that a fake version of the language is the real thing.

I suspect that James B or Jimbo or Sean or whoever he is already knows that he’s wrong. If he thought he could provide some evidence to defend Cassidy’s theories, he would have done so by now. But rather than admit that he got it wrong, he is such an egomaniac that he’d prefer to carry on lying and disrespecting our language and our culture, while sneering at people who actually speak Irish, because that’s the kind of person he is. A person whose values are purely cosmetic and who doesn’t really care a damn about Ireland or its language. Greater love hath no man than this, that he betray his country for his cronies.

So, James B or Jimbo or Sean, or whoever you are, nobody gives a damn about the opinions of a self-deluding crank like you. You may not have admitted it to yourself yet, but you know full well that Cassidy was wrong, and that all the evidence is against you. Still, don’t get downhearted at your own stupidity. Why don’t you go out for a nice meal to cheer yourself up? I believe the restaurant at SoHo House is great. Just don’t forget your wallet …

The Tyranny of Narrative

One of the most noticeable aspects of Cassidy’s work (and indeed of much pseudoscience and pseudohistory) is that it is driven far more by narrative than by facts. The story takes over and if it doesn’t fit the evidence, it’s the evidence that is sidelined and ignored.

And of course, it’s easy to regard Cassidy’s book as a story (or a myth, if you prefer). All great stories begin with some revelation: a bottle with a message in it; a door to another dimension; a letter delivered by an owl. In this case, it was a book willed to Cassidy by a dying friend, an Irish dictionary.

The book was nearly thrown into the bin. For a second, the whole future of American linguistics teetered on the brink! But – phew! – Cassidy decided to keep the dictionary and read a word a night (maybe something with pictures would have been more appropriate?) Anyway, Cassidy, the loner, the maverick, the little man from the slums of Brooklyn, had an epiphany and realized that English is full of Irish. He took on the villains (academic linguists and Anglophiles) using his magic powers of street smarts and self-belief. After all, academic linguists and lexicographers don’t know street words (they sing madrigals and attend hunt balls with people called Lucretia and Sebastian in their spare time – they NEVER watch DVDs of The Wire or Goodfellas) and this is their weakness, their Achilles’ heel.

Eventually, our hero defeats his enemies with these magic powers (along with his flying monkeys like Peter Quinn and Joe Lee). He demonstrates his worth with the sheer volume of his examples and his sales and ‘proves’ that Irish America did not lose its language. No, rather the Irish language BECAME American English. So hurrah, the language and culture were not lost, merely misplaced until they were rediscovered by one plucky little motor-mouth from the Big Apple. Admittedly, it’s a great story, even if it is the purest of horseshit.

I was thinking of this recently when I received another comment from Cassidy’s sister, Susan Cassidy Connors, an old friend of Cassidyslangscam. Among several interesting points she raised was that she had never quite believed Cassidy’s story about how How The Irish Invented Slang came to be written.

As his sister says, everything Cassidy claimed is suspect. He was a liar and dishonesty was his default position. However, there are more substantial reasons to doubt Cassidy’s story about the origins of How The Irish Invented Slang.

For one thing, there are two versions of the story. In one of them, Cassidy was bequeathed a box of books by someone called Kevin O’Dowd in 2000. “He left me a box of Irish books in his will. One of the books was a pocket Irish dictionary, a focloir poca. I was in Ireland making a film at the time and thought ‘I’m too old to learn Irish, it’s too hard.’ But I told my wife, Clare, ‘I can’t throw that away. It was a sacred gift from Kevin.’”

Here’s the other version. In the book, it says that Cassidy was about to bin the book when his wife said “You can’t throw that book out, Danny. It’s a gift from Kevin. Why don’t you put it on your nightstand and look up a word a night?”

OK, memory is fickle but which of these two versions is correct? (If either of them is!)

Another bit I’m a little suspicious of is that according to the first account, Cassidy was in Ireland making a film in the year 2000. What film was this? Did it ever get finished? We know he produced a couple of documentaries in the mid 1990s. But what was this film in 2000?

Then there are the numerous examples he gives in various sources of the words which started to make him think that Irish had had such a major effect on English. Some of them are believable enough. You might well think that slug comes from Irish slogadh, to swallow. And I personally think it’s possible that snazzy comes from Irish snas meaning polish. Also, these are both basic words and would be in a learner’s dictionary. However, though I don’t have a copy of the Foclóir Póca that Cassidy had, I’m quite sure there is no word camag meaning a trick in it (camag is Scottish Gaelic, not Irish). I would also doubt that rare words like dorc and duirb are in a pocket dictionary. Perhaps if anyone does have a copy of the Foclóir Póca, they could check it and let us know. It seems to me that Cassidy is talking about words he found later, when he started looking at larger dictionaries. These are not the words he initially noticed in his pocket dictionary.

In short, it seems to me that Susan Cassidy Connors is right. This little story about the origins of Cassidy’s theory is not an accurate description of what really happened. Like everything Cassidy wrote and said, it has been doctored and manipulated carefully to produce the desired effect – parting suckers from their money.