Tag Archives: Jonathan Scott

A Really Stupid Review of Cassidy’s Book

In the post I wrote on the word cac (Irish for shit), I criticized a foolish and pseudo-intellectual article by Jonathan Scott in the Journal of Socialism and Democracy online. This review of Cassidy’s book manages to build a towering edifice of pretentious verbiage on the shifting quicksand of Cassidy’s insane speculations, and I feel that it is high time that I had a further go at dismantling the foolish arguments advanced by the author.

The author of this childish and pompous review, Jonathan Scott, was obviously impressed with Cassidy:

Daniel Cassidy’s How the Irish Invented Slang is a specialist work of linguistic scholarship, but it cuts across many academic disciplines. This explains its particular power, for it cannot be reduced to linguistics, Irish studies, American studies, ethnography or cultural theory, and yet none of these disciplines can remain the same as a result of his work.

Of course, in reality, Cassidy’s work was simply a hoax and a con-job manufactured by a narcissist with no genuine qualifications and no knowledge of Irish, linguistics, history or (apparently) anything else. It has had and will have no lasting influence on any of these disciplines, though some naïve and foolish individuals have taken some of Cassidy’s claims seriously and suffered the consequences by shaming themselves in public.

One of the stupidest claims in this article is the one about the phrase ‘Don’t be a pussy!’ It’s worth quoting in full here because it’s so ridiculous and so full of nonsense:

By the end of Cassidy’s study not only is the claim that Shakespeare was Irish plausible, but also many mysteries of American vernacular, extremely perplexing hitherto, are finally solved – the offensive word “pussy,” for example. From a feminist standpoint, the word is pornographic and its use morally indefensible, as it associates the female genitalia with weakness and cowardice, thus belonging to misogynist discourse. Cassidy shows that “pussy” is an Irish word, both a noun and an adjective (pusaire: n., a crybaby; pusach: adj., pouting, whimpering, sulking). In Irish, “Don’t be a pussy!” means “Stop crying all the time!” or “Be brave!” Of course this is how American boys and men, and girls and women too, always use the word, but without knowing its Irish root they’re indeed guilty of deploying it in sexist way, by comparing their (almost always male) object of ridicule to a female’s private parts – what everyone wrongly assumes when they say it. The original Irish meaning of the word is actually gender-free – it can refer to a male or a female – and has no connection whatever to the Latin word pusa, which refers to the labia. “Pussy,” like all the Irish words in Cassidy’s text, was passed down from one generation of Irish-Americans to the next, and then adopted by Americans of all languages and ethnicities, both because of its appealing lyrical quality and its special knack for signifying precisely what the speaker is trying to say. 

This is, of course, total and complete horse feathers. Leaving aside the nonsense about Shakespeare being Irish, it is true that the word pus in Irish means a sulky expression or a protruding mouth. This is well known as the origin of expressions like sourpuss in English. It is commonly used in Irish dialects of English as well as in American dialects.

However, there is no evidence that pussy in phrases like ‘don’t be a pussy!’ derives from Irish words like pusachán or pusaire or pusach. Where’s the evidence? Why don’t people in communities in Ireland where the tide of Irish retreated only a couple of generations ago say things like ‘don’t be a pussy?’ They don’t because these are Americanisms, not Irishisms. And what about the tendency of borrowed words to follow the syntax of the language they came from? People say ‘don’t be an ommadawn’ because they realise that amadán (fool) is a noun. If they borrowed amaideach (foolish), they would say ‘don’t be amaideach!’ not ‘don’t be an amaideach!’ So, if they said ‘don’t be pussy’ or ‘don’t be a pussahawn’ or ‘don’t be a pusser’, Cassidy might have a case. They don’t and he doesn’t.

Furthermore, the author seems to be throwing things in here which are not even claimed in the book. He claims that pusa is Latin for the labia. It isn’t. The Latin for the labia is … labia, stoopid! There is a word pusa in Latin. It means a girl, not a vagina. Cassidy claimed (wrongly) that pussy in the sense of vagina comes from the plural of pus in Irish, pusa – not Latin – and thus means lips and figuratively vagina, so Cassidy’s claim was that pusa, pusaire, pusach and pusachán are all related anyway, which, if it were true, would invalidate the argument made above.

In fact, Cassidy was wrong about this as well. (After all, Cassidy was wrong about nearly everything.) There is no evidence of anyone using the word pusa in Irish to mean vagina or labia and the fact is, pussy for vagina is clearly of Germanic, not Celtic or Latin origin. The usual word for vagina in Irish is pit or pis (pronounced pitch or pish). Even more damningly for the incompetent attempt at an argument above, a common pejorative word for an effeminate man and (in more recent usage) for a gay man in Irish is the word piteog. The –eog part is a feminine diminutive, so it literally means ‘a little vagina.’ In other words, an ignorant native speaker of Irish might well attack someone they consider to be weak or effeminate with a phrase like ‘ná bí i do phiteog!’ which literally means ‘don’t be a little vagina!’ (And allow me to get up on my soapbox here. As in English, the use of words like piteog in Irish is a mark of stupidity and bigotry. It says a lot about the deficiencies of the person using it and nothing at all about the victim of the homophobic abuse. It should be avoided by anybody with a brain.)

Of course, Cassidy wouldn’t have known any of this because Cassidy didn’t speak any Irish. He didn’t know anything about the language or the culture surrounding it or the historical context or the methods used by real academics. He was a total arse and that’s pretty much all there is to say about the matter.


A Post About Shit

In this post, I will conclusively demonstrate that Daniel Cassidy didn’t know about shit. With this turn of phrase, I am not trying to be ‘down with the kids’. I am not like Cassidy himself, who, according to a sickeningly pseudo-intellectual and sycophantic review by Jonathan Scott in the Journal of the Research Group on Socialism and Democracy online, presented his research in an easy-going style ‘as if he’s delivering all his humdingers in a spiel at some local joint while lollygagging with a few hep kids from the block.’ Oh dear God! How uncool is that?

No, what I mean is that Cassidy had no idea about the Irish word for shit, cac. In his mind-numbingly stupid book, How The Irish Invented Slang, Cassidy claimed that the word caca (used as a childish euphemism for shit in English) derives from the Irish word cac, meaning shit. This sounds reasonable enough, but the fact is that variants of the word cac are found in many Indo-European languages, including English. The Spanish swear by saying things like Me cago en la mar salada! (I shit in the salty sea), the Irish have cac, cack is used in English dialects in phrases like cack-handed and in the childish expression above, a cacophony is literally a shitty sound in Greek, and even in Hindi the word khaki means dust-coloured or shit-coloured. So no, ca-ca is not a borrowing from Irish. It is a word which is found all over Europe and Asia in slightly different forms. Linguists know these things, because they study them closely, look for evidence, weigh it up and analyse it, all activities which Cassidy couldn’t be arsed doing.

Cassidy also says that the Irish cac is a borrowing from the Latin caco. It isn’t, of course. The Irish knew how to shit before the advent of Christianity and the Latin book-learning of monks and they had a word for it too.

So, Cassidy didn’t know shit about shit or indeed about anything else. However, according to the reviewer mentioned above, this lack of any methodology is in fact a radical departure from traditional ways of working in the academic world and should be welcomed. At least, I think that’s what he’s saying – it’s badly-written as well as pretentious.

‘This is so precisely because the cross-disciplinary method’s concrete principle – to discover in every culture’s development and change an immanent logic – is anathema to the fusing together of discrete disciplines. Instead of integrating or de-localizing highly specialized academic disciplines, the cross-disciplinary method sees in every existing field of knowledge a wealth of particular information essential for the further enrichment of theory itself, of a general theory of historical development and change. To put it another way, whereas the interdisciplinary tendency is counter to historical materialism –- it favors radical heteronomy over the logic of immanence – the cross-cultural approach is entirely consistent with it.’

Luckily, I have a pretty good idea what shit is, which is why I wouldn’t give Daniel Cassidy a good review and also why I wouldn’t come out with crud about favouring radical heteronomy over the logic of immanence. Tí Dia a chiall … (God love his wit!)