Tag Archives: jazz

Cassidese Glossary – Jizz

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 links this word to jazz and claims that it derives from Irish teas. There is no evidence of this. See the article on Jazz above.

Cassidese Glossary – Jazz

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 book How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that the word jazz (and the alternative early form jass) derive from the Irish language.

The word jazz was first used in print in 1912, in the context of baseball, when Ben Henderson, a pitcher for the Portland Beavers reported in the Los Angeles Times of April 2 that he had a new curved throw which he called the jazz throw because it wobbled and was unpredictable.

The following year, a sports columnist with the San Francisco Bulletin, E. T. “Scoop” Gleason, used the word, which was new enough that Gleason felt obliged to explain it: “What is the ‘jazz’?  Why it is a little of that ‘old life,’ the ‘gin-i-ker,’ the ‘pep,’ otherwise known as enthusiasm.” Years later, Gleason recalled that he had learned the word from another journalist William “Spike” Slattery, who had picked up the word in a crap game. While rolling the dice, a player would shout “Come on, the old jazz.”

The following month another SF Bulletin journalist, Ernest J. Hopkins, wrote an article “In Praise of  ‘Jazz,’ a Futurist Word Which Has Just Joined the Language.” Spelling the word variously with one Z or two, he continued: “You can go on flinging the new word all over the world, like a boy with a new jack-knife. It is ‘jazz’ when you run for your train . . . ‘jazz’ when you demand a raise,  ‘jaz’ when you hike thirty-five miles on Sunday … Anything that takes manliness or effort or energy or activity or strength of soul is ‘jaz.’”

It seems to have acquired the meaning of a type of music later, after it was used to mean energy, enthusiasm, excitement. There was also a sexual meaning but etymologists are not agreed as to when it acquired this meaning.

All this information is uncontroversial and had already been covered by scholars like Peter Tamony and Gerald Cohen before Cassidy’s book was published. Cassidy took his information from these other researchers who had done the primary research already. The only original thing in Cassidy’s treatment of the history of the word jazz is his claim that the word jazz comes from the Irish teas, meaning ‘heat’.

This is highly unlikely, though unlike most of Cassidy’s claims, it is not completely impossible. Most of Cassidy’s claimed derivations are simply impossible because the phrase given by Cassidy doesn’t actually exist. (e.g. teas ioma, which Cassidy claimed was an Irish phrase meaning semen and was the origin of jasm.)

Teas is a genuine Irish word, though Cassidy misrepresented both its pronunciation and its meaning.

Cassidy claimed that it was pronounced as jass. It isn’t, in any variety of Irish. You can find sound files for the three main dialects of Irish Connaught, Munster and Ulster, by following this link: https://www.focloir.ie/en/dictionary/ei/heat

As for the definition, Cassidy defined jazz and teas as:

Jazz, n., a name given to African-American music; excitement, passion, enthusiasam; heat; “hot air”, excessive verbal passion; something or someone hot or exciting; sexual intercourse, to have sex with someone.

Teas (pron. j’ass, chass), n., heat, passion, excitement, ardor, enthusiasm, anger, highest temperature. (Ó Dónaill, 611; Dineen 517-518; Dwelly, 942.)

Later in the same article, Cassidy truncated this definition to “heat, passion, excitement”.

As others have pointed out, Cassidy took complex terms and cherry-picked the obscure meanings which suited him without taking into account the way these words are really used in the language. Of course, Cassidy did not speak any Irish and had no idea how any of these words would have been used in a real Irish conversation.

Here are the various definitions of teas according to Ó Dónaill’s dictionary:

teas, m. (gs. ~a). Heat. 1. Hotness, warmth. ~ na gréine, na tine, the heat of the sun, of the fire. ~ an tsamhraidh, summer heat. Fan go dtaga ~ an lae, wait till the day gets warmer. Tá an ~ ag teacht ionam arís, I am beginning to feel warm again. Tá a d~ féin acu, they are keeping each other warm. 2. Warm clothing, warm place. Cuir ~ ort féin, put on something warm. Cuir sa ~ é, put it in a warm place. Tá ~ éadaigh orthu, they are warmly clad. 3. Degree of hotness. Cuir ~ bhainne na bó ann, warm it to the level of milk fresh from the cow. 4. High temperature, feverishness. Tá ~ ina éadan, his brow is hot. Bhí ~ mór ina chuid fola, he had a very high temperature. Bhí ~ na haithinne ann, he was in a feverish hurry. 5. Ph:~ adamhach, atomic heat. ~ folaigh, latent heat. 6. Ardour, passion. ~ crábhaidh, fervent devotion. ~ ceana, grá, warmth of affection, of love. 7. Hottest, highest, stage. Bhí an chonspóid ina ~, the dispute was at its height.

And here are the definitions from Dinneen’s Dictionary:

Heat, warmth, sultriness; fig., comfort, excitement, anger, pain; teas na féil’ Eoin, the Midsummer heat; teas na gréine, the sun’s heat; teas na díthe, the severity of the loss; cuirim teas i. I heat; tháinig sé le teas na gréine, he is illegitimate.

Although Dwelly is irrelevant, being a dictionary of a different language (Scottish Gaelic) which was probably never widely spoken in the cities of North America, Dwelly defines teas as: Heat, warmth. 2 Superabundance, too much of the good things of life.

Of course, this is all rather complicated and that’s not even bringing adjectives like teasaí or related words like teaspach or teasaí into play! However, to summarise, Cassidy is saying that the original meaning of jazz was excitement, enthusiasm or sexual passion and that these are also primary meanings of the Irish word teas, meaning heat. So the question has to be, would anyone use teas to describe the excitement of a match or a party? Eh, no. Would they say that there is teas involved when they find someone sexually arousing? Eh, no. Would they say that someone is full of teas(a) if they are enthusiastic? Not really. Teas means heat. It doesn’t mean excitement (in spite of that word being mentioned by Dinneen) and it doesn’t mean sexual passion.

So, if jazz doesn’t come from the word teas, where does it come from? There are dozens of theories. Here’s a brief selection of them:

From the word jasmine, because jasmine oil was used in brothels and became associated with sex.

From Creole brothels where jezebels (prostitutes) worked.

From Creole patois jass “strenuous activity,” especially “sexual intercourse.”

From a black entertainer called Jas (James).

From a black entertainer called Chas (Charles).

From a Chicago musician called Jasbo (Jasper) Brown.

From jaser, a French word meaning conversation or intercourse, in various senses.

From the French word chasser, to hunt.

From a variant of jasm, a slang term dating back to 1860 that means ‘pep, energy’ and is related to jism for semen.

From various African languages, words like Mandingo jasi, ‘to become unlike oneself’.

From deas, the Irish for nice.

The link with jasm is the most likely to be correct but several others are reasonable candidates and certainly better than teas. The best you could argue for in the case of Cassidy’s supposed link between teas and jazz is that it should be given a place on this list as a possible origin. However, as I’ve argued above, because its pronunciation and meanings are not as suitable as Cassidy pretended, it is not a great candidate.

Litir Oscailte Chuig Rónán

Bhí mé ag éisteacht le clár Rónáin inniu. Is breá liom Rónán Mac Aodha Bhuí. Bíonn scoth na Gaeilge le cluinstin ar a chlár agus níorbh aon eisceacht clár an lae inniu. Bhí roinnt daoine ina chuideachta agus is é saibhreas na Gaeilge a bhí i gcaibidil acu. Bhí go maith agus ní raibh go holc, go dtí gur luaigh Rónán an focal snagcheol. Chuir duine éigin téacs isteach. Cad chuige ar úsáid Rónán an focal snagcheol? Ní focal Béarla é jazz, dar leis an téacsóir. Is focal Gaeilge é, mar dhea, a thig ón fhocal deas. Tháinig téacs eile. Ní hea, arsa an ceann sin. Is ón fhocal teas a thig sé. Aidhe, agus fuair an Béarla rock ón Ghaeilge fosta, mar bíonn sé de nós ag lucht an rac-cheoil na seomraí san óstán a raiceáil i ndiaidh dóibh ceolchoirm a dhéanamh…

Agus ansin, luaigh Rónán leabhar Cassidy. Nár scríobh duine éigin leabhar i Meiriceá faoi na focail Ghaeilge atá le fáil sa Bhéarla?

Cuireann rudaí mar sin díomá orm. Tá go leor fianaise sa bhlag seo agus in áiteanna eile ar an idirlíon nach raibh sa Chasaideach ach leathghealt, lán-amadán agus caimiléir cruthanta. Ní raibh eolas dá laghad aige ar an Ghaeilge, agus cé gur Ollamh a bhí ann go hoifigiúil, ní raibh oiread agus céim aige. Is mór an náire nach mbíonn lucht na Gaeilge ag magadh go neamhthrócaireach faoin bhocamadán sin a luaithe agus a luaitear a ainm nó a theoiricí bómánta i lúb cuideachta.

Ní lia saoi ná tuairim maidir le bunús an fhocail sin jazz, agus ní fiú na teoiricí bómánta sin a nascann an focal leis an Ghaeilge a chur ar an liosta, dar leis na saineolaithe, gan trácht ar iad a chur ag barr an liosta! Más mian le daoine a chreidmheáil gur ón fhocal teas a tháinig jazz, bíodh acu, ach is bréag lom a rá nach bhfuil míniú ar bith eile ann nó go bhfuil tuairimí bómánta Cassidy chun tosaigh ar na barúlacha eile.

A Rónáin, a chara, is maith liom do chlár agus tréaslaím do shaothar leat. Léiríonn do chlár nach bhfuil an Ghaeilge marbh ná baol air, agus nach gá do lucht na Gaeilge sodar i ndiaidh na nGall agus scáil na teanga s’againne a fheiceáil i ngach aon chrístín agus drochfhocal atá le cluinstin san Oileán Úr, go díreach mar a bhíonn lucht na cráifeachta ar lorg aghaidh Íosa i ngach aon phancóg agus giota arán rósta dá bhfeiceann siad. Ní linne an snagcheol, agus ní le Cassidy agus a lucht leanúna an teanga s’againne ach an oiread.


Cassidy claimed that ragtime (a style of music which was in many ways the forerunner of jazz) derived its name from the Irish language. Of course, there was no evidence for this apart from the fact that there is a word in Irish which slightly resembles rag, the word ráig. (Of course, English also has the word rag but Cassidy didn’t believe that any English slang terms derive from English – they were all secretly Irish!)

His post on ragtime is typical Cassidese rubbish. Cassidy says that ráig means ‘a rush, gadding about, an impulse, impulsiveness, a fit of madness, frivolity, happiness, lightheartedness, acting the fool, revelry, noise;. Ráig-time (rush-time) is joyous music, characterized by its impulsive, driving syncopation and rapid shifts of tempo and melody.’

Of course, this is How The Irish Invented Slang, so this is not a real entry from a real dictionary. Here’s what the principal modern Irish dictionary, Ó Dónaill, says:

ráig, f. (gs. ~e, pl. ~eanna). Sudden rush; sudden outbreak; fit, bout, attack. ~ a thabhairt amach, to dash out, to sally forth. ~ reatha, sudden spurt. ~ ruathair, mad rush. ~ feirge, fit of anger. Tháinig ~ air, he flew into a rage. ~ thinnis, bout of illness. ~ bhruitíní, outbreak of measles. ~ bháistí, ~ de mhúr, sudden shower. De ~, suddenly, hurriedly, with a rush. (Var: raig)

So … where’s the frivolity and happiness here? Where’s the noise and revelry?

Dinneen’s dictionary tends to be more inclusive and mixes up different eras and different dialects with abandon. Dinneen says that ráig is ‘A hurried journey, visit or attack; a fit of sickness, madness or anger; a sudden shower, bout or battle; frivolity, “rage”, pursuit, conflict, noise; …’ In other words, in both Irish dictionaries, the negativity of the word is emphasised. Cassidy implies that ráig is something nice, while the genuine sources tell us that ráig is primarily a fit of anger or madness or a spell of bad weather.

Is this really a good match for any possible meaning of ragtime? Call me an old cynic, but I don’t think so.

Most experts regard ragtime as black music rather than Irish and they think that the syncopation makes it ragged or raggy, which they believe is the origin. There are other theories. But Cassidy’s ráig is not a good match and Cassidy knew it, which is why he invented the fake definition he gave rather than copying a real one out of a dictionary.


Cassidy claimed that jazz comes from the Irish teas, meaning heat. He is not alone in claiming an Irish origin for the word jazz. Years ago, I remember someone saying to me that jazz comes from the Irish deas, meaning nice. I was sceptical of that claim and I’m just as sceptical of Cassidy’s. I suppose it is just possible but there is no evidence for it beyond a slight phonetic similarity. Cassidy also makes a basic mistake of pronunciation, in that he insists that teas is pronounced as jass, which it isn’t. Teas is pronounced chass, or tyass, but never jass. (In the book, he ganches on about something called the Rule of Tír, which I am fairly certain doesn’t exist and is not in any grammar book or textbook of Irish which I have seen).

There is no convincing solution to the problem of where the term jazz comes from. Some scholars insist that it was originally a sexual term which became applied to a type of music. They may be right, or they may be wrong. But there is no reason at all to associate it with an Irish word for heat (or nice).

I am also suspicious of the idea of the Irish ‘claiming’ jazz. I don’t dispute that individual Irish Americans had a big influence on the development of jazz but I wonder if Irish people were involved much in its inception. After all, the popular instruments among the Irish diaspora were the fiddle, the flute, the pipes and the whistle. The quintessential jazz instruments like brass and clarinet and drums and piano were really not part of the Irish music scene and most Irish music is in triple time, while most jazz is in quadruple time.

However, the most interesting thing about Cassidy and jazz for me is the debates on Wikipedia about the origin of the word. If you go to Wikipedia at this address: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jazz_(word)&offset=20081022201100&action=history you will find a number of debates involving a character who calls himself Medbh. I say himself, in spite of the fact that Medhbh(?)/Medb/Méabh is a woman’s name, because I am pretty certain that Medbh is really Daniel Cassidy. Read it yourself and make up your own mind but it ends up as a rant against the ‘dictionary dudes’ who have criticised Cassidy’s book. If Medbh’s comments were not written by Cassidy, then he or she had a stalker’s knowledge of Cassidy’s life and work and he or she used the same style of language. It is also a style of language found in other places by Cassidy himself under his own name, as well as by people who talked about Cassidy in the third person but were almost certainly sock-puppets for Cassidy (check out this exchange here http://www.wordorigins.org/index.php/forums/viewthread/663/ which is obviously from Cassidy himself and then compare it to Medbh’s hysterical rant below).

“You do not own the word “jazz” (teas) on Wikipedia or anywhere else. You are not balancing anything. Your article is replete with inaccuaracies and distortions. It is an embarassemnt. The attempt to marginalize Daniel Cassidy’s pioneering work on the word “jazz” and hundreds of other American vernacular words and phrases in his new book How the Irish Invented Slang: the Secret language of the Crossroads is pathetic. Cassidy’s book has been hailed by scores of respected academics, journalists, writers, and Irish language scholars, since its publication 3 months ago. See the Irish Times, The Irish Independent, The Belfast Telegraph, Irish News, The Derry Journal, RTE, Ireland’s national broadcaster, and Irish language publications like La Nua, Beo, and Foinse, as well as American media, including ABC radio, KPFA, WBAI, the SF Chronicle, and NY Observer,and this is just in the first weeks after publication. I shall continue to put up the Irish sanas of jazz. These last feeble attempts to censor Cassidy’s work are laughably pathetic. Let’s put it to mediation. I will provide 20 PUBLISHED articles supporting Cassidy’s thesis. All you have are the same old white boy cronies and Anglophile dictionary dudes.”

The strangest thing about this is the sheer ineptitude. After all, if you wanted to post a defence of your own book under a false identity, would you use highly distinctive phrases (sanas, dictionary dudes) which are associated with you in contexts where your name is given? Wouldn’t you try to adopt another persona, use a different voice to make your point? I would, certainly, but then I’m not barking mad …