Tag Archives: Joseph Lee

It’s Official: The Etruscans Were Irish!

[I would like to make it quite clear that THIS IS NOT A REAL THEORY. I AM TAKING THE PISS. Unfortunately, it is the nature of the Internet that people flit around reading little bits of things and then tweeting about them and republishing them in other ways, so it is no surprise that there is a thing called Poe’s Law, which states that unless the material is clearly labelled as ironic, somebody will always take your parodies and satires at face value. On this blog, I have already had people take seriously claims that the phrase Vichy Water is from Irish and that the Irish language has a word for the sound horses make when you pull their feathers out. Seriously! So, just to be clear, I’m being sarcastic – Etruscan is NOT an early form of Irish.]

The Irish Milesian Academy For Intellectual Arts (IrishMAFIA), founded five years ago to further the work of the late Daniel Cassidy, have come up with their biggest and boldest claim yet. According to Brendan Patrick Gurne, Head of Creative Etymology with IrishMAFIA:

“We were looking at Google and found a website about Etruscan, an ancient language of Italy, and its links to extra-terrestrials, the Illuminati and home-made anti-gravity machines. We then found a vocabulary of Etruscan and were amazed to find clear parallels between Irish and Etruscan. We are convinced that Etruscan is in fact an early form of Irish and that through the Etruscans, Irish was responsible for the Roman Empire and the whole history of Western Civilization.

Let’s look at some examples. For example, clan is Etruscan for son. This is just like clann in Irish, which means children. The Etruscan for jar is pruchum, which is like the Irish próca. Shuthi, meaning a vault or grave is very like the Irish or sidhe, meaning a fairy mound or grave mound. The Etruscan word for a state, tuθi (tuthi) is almost exactly the same as Irish tuath, meaning a petty kingdom. Cel, the word for earth, ground or soil, is very similar to cill, which means churchyard. The Etruscan for bull, thevru, is very like Irish tarbh. The Etruscan for I is mi, which is just like Irish . The Etruscan for a free person is zeri, which is just like the Irish word saor. And what about mech, meaning lady or queen? Surely this is the same word as Macha, the ancient goddess of war who gave her name to Armagh? There can be no doubt about it. The Etruscans were Irish.”

Reaction to the revelation from academic linguists has been universally skeptical and hostile, but it has been enthusiastically repeated by the Irish Times, the Irish News, IrishCentral , the Irish Echo, RTÉ, Michael Patrick MacDonald, Joseph Lee and Peter Linebaugh.

[WARNING: THIS IS SATIRE! The Etruscans were NOT Irish. The vast majority of Etruscan vocabulary bears no relation to any Celtic language. Próca isn’t originally an Irish word. Clann is an early Irish borrowing of Latin planta. Cill also comes from Latin and is related to English cell. The taurus/tarvos word for bull is found in many Indo-European languages and is probably Afro-Asiatic in origin. The others are just coincidental similarities, helped along by selective use of definitions. It just goes to show how easy it is to make random and completely worthless connections when you are dealing with a fairly large set of data.]


Most dictionaries regard yack and yacking as versions of the phrase yackety-yack. In other words, they are an onomatopoeic rendering of the noise a set of teeth make when they are chattering. In Daniel Cassidy’s outrageously stupid book, How The Irish Invented Slang, Cassidy suggests that it comes from the Irish éagcaoin (properly éagaoin), which is pronounced aygeen and means ‘mourning’ or ‘lamenting’. This is really not similar at all, either in sound or meaning and of course, there is no evidence of yacking having an Irish origin. It is just bullshit and nonsense, like everything else in this book.

I came across a really funny quotation from Cassidy the other day in an article called Family History and Irish America, which is by someone called Marion R. Casey and published in The Journal of American Ethnic History (remind me to cancel my subscription!). She is apparently a genuine academic, though her impartiality is suspect (as well as her common sense) because she is linked to Professor Joseph Lee at NYU, who is on record as supporting Cassidy and endorsing his duff research as though it were a real and valid contribution to the sum of human knowledge. Anyway, I will quote it below:

“Ireland will take care of itself. My advice to students who are into Irish studies, or into any studies that look at America, and who want to come into an interesting field, and a field that will open up – you know, there are not a lot discoveries being made in the Humanities these days, folks! You come into Irish American Studies and there’s a lot of them. They’re like big gold nuggets sittin’ on the ground so get out there, start pickin’ ’em up.”

This is (unintentionally) rather funny, when you consider that the stupid claim above and hundreds like it are among Cassidy’s ‘nuggets’. The image of gold nuggets is very apt, given that gold nuggets often turn out to be fool’s gold, and that fairy gold which turns out to be worthless is a cliché of Irish folklore. But the strongest image it evokes in my mind is Cassidy the madman, squatting down and producing another fresh ‘nugget’ which he then holds up proudly to idiots who should know better. ‘Dat’s right. It might look like shit but I can assure you dat’ it’s pure gold. I’ve laid a whole lot o’ dem. And my ass is a p’fume factory too.’

Irish Speakers Who Supported Cassidy

I find it very hard to understand why any Irish speaker would compromise their integrity by supporting this nonsense. I can only assume that Joseph Lee, of UCC and New York University, must have been a friend of Cassidy’s. Either that, or he must have taken leave of his senses.  

As for some of the other Irish speakers like Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and Pól Ó Muirí, whom Cassidy described as Celtic scholars, both have made valuable contributions to the Irish language, but neither of them is really a Celtic scholar. I don’t know why they supported this book. Ó Muilleoir described Cassidy as ‘our friend’ in his own blog, so he presumably knew him. Cassidy was instrumental in establishing the Irish Crossroads Festival in San Francisco and Ó Muilleoir’s colleague Ciarán Ó Pronntaigh was a guest speaker at that festival. It seems inconceivable that Ó Muilleoir and Ó Muirí couldn’t spot the bullshit in Cassidy’s arguments. I can only assume that they thought that Cassidy’s book would be good for the Irish language and that the debate would help to awaken interest in the language throughout the Irish diaspora. If so, I think this was a bad mistake. It was a mistake because it is wrong to spread false information and journalists shouldn’t have to be reminded of that. It is a mistake because as a result of it, a substantial proportion of the ‘facts’ that are given in cyberspace relating to the Irish language were made up by Cassidy and have no basis in reality.

It is a mistake because people who have read Cassidy’s book, when they hear that someone is an Irish speaker, will start asking them if they know anything about the uath dubh or what a sách úr is, and the poor Irish speaker will wonder what the Hell they are talking about, while the Cassidy dupe will wonder if they speak Irish at all. If you think I’m making this scenario up, check out this exchange from a GAA forum: http://hoganstand.com/Antrim/MessagePage.aspx?PageNumber=0&TopicID=49420

And it is a mistake even in tactical terms, because far from encouraging people to learn Irish, it allows people to regard themselves as plugged into their Gaelic roots simply because they happened to hear words like nincompoop, hippy, shindig, hick and baloney bandied around when they were growing up, words which are part of every English speaker’s patrimony and have nothing to do with Irish at all.

The case of Ciarán Ó Pronntaigh is a little different. Cassidy posted Ó Pronntaigh’s review proudly on several websites, so we have access to it, and it is clear that Ó Pronntaigh was between a rock and a hard place because, as we have said, he knew Cassidy. While the overall tone of the review is positive and laudatory, Ó Pronntaigh simply can’t avoid the fact that there is a huge pile of elephant dung in the room – Cassidy’s theories. So while his review is diplomatic and kind, you can see that, reading between the lines, he realised what a load of nonsense the book is. He classifies the words and phrases in the book into four categories, only one of which is really positive. Of the others, two are saying that he should be praised for his attempts to prove his case and the fourth is negative. He says that the first category consists of those which are almost certain (is scéal cinnte, chóir a bheith, gur ón Ghaeilge a tháinig siad), such as spraoi and gab. (I don’t accept either of these as Irish). He also mentions words like acushla and aroon, which are obviously Irish and therefore leave the paradigms untouched. Then his second category is words which he thinks have the look of truth and which it is possible to make a good case for, words like squeal and longshoreman. Again, it is clear from these examples that Ó Pronntaigh is no linguist, as neither of these words is likely to be correct. Then there is a third category, the list of words which Ó Pronntaigh finds doubtful but feels that Cassidy makes a good case for, such as slum and scam (both ridiculous in my opinion).  And then there is the fourth category, where Ó Pronntaigh says that Cassidy is completely wrong and where he twists the language to achieve the result he wants. 

In other words, the review is a bit ‘weasel wordy’. It is far too kind to Cassidy but it still manages to tell the truth in a subtle way. I include it in full below for those who understand Irish. Be warned, it was transcribed by Cassidy so it is full of mistakes!


How the Irish Invented Slang by Daniel Cassidy,

by Ciaran O Prontaigh, La Nua, Jan. 17, 2008

Buille Tabhachacht i gcogadh teanga (A Significant Blow in the Language War)

Glacann sé fear cróga an dúshlán a thabhairt do choimeádaithe Bhéarla na Stát Aontaithe, agus leis an leabhar nua ó Daniel Cassidy, How the Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads (Counterpunch), tá seans maith go bhfuil a leithéid de dhuine inár láthair.

Agus mar a bheifeá ag dúil leis i leabhar a thugann a mhalairt de léamh ar bhunús mór bhéarlagair an ghnáthdhuine (nó is dócha gur cruinne ‘caint na ndaoine’ a thabhairt air) ba mhór an chonspóid a tháinig mar gheall air.

Is é atá leagtha amach ag an Uasal Cassidy, ar as ceantar ‘Gaelach’ i Nua-Eabhrac é, sanas Gaeilge slám mór focal a tháinig isteach ‘ón bhonn aníos’ i mBéarla na Stát.

Ní mhaíonn Cassidy aon mhóreolas faoin Ghaeilge ach de thairbhe gur tógadh é le caint na ndaoine, an cineál teanga nach raibh sna nuachtáin, níl duine ar domhan níos fearr leis na ceangail a dhéanamh.

(Rud amháin a thagann amach as an leabhar seo cé chomh haineolach is atáimid faoin teanga faoi cheilt seo, is cuma cá mhéad scannán de chuid James Cagney a fheicimid).

Cuid de na focail a luann sé is scéal cinnte, chóir a bheith, gur ón Ghaeilge a tháinig siad; focail amhail ‘spree’ (spraoi) agus ‘to gab’ (gab/gab nó fiú gob).

Leis an fhírinne a dhéanamh is geall le liosta iad de na focail Ghaeilge a bhí in úsáid ag na Gael-Mheiriceánaigh, rudaí cosúil le ‘acushla’ agus ‘aroon’. 

Cuid eile tá an oiread sin de chraiceann na fírinne orthu go nglacfainn leis go bhfuil cás maith le déanamh ar a son. Orthu siúd d’áireoinn focail amhail ‘longshoreman’ (loingseoir) agus ‘squeal’ (scaoil an fhírinne), agus tá liosta le háireamh ann cinnte.

An tríú rang a dhéanfainn, agus an rangú is suimiúla díobh uile, sanas a mbeadh amhras orm faoi ach ag an am céanna a ndéanann an t-údar cás iontach maith ar a son.

Cuir i gcás ‘slum’ (is lom an áit é) nó ‘scam’ (is cam an cluiche é), baineann siad go mór le saol na nÉireannach i Meiriceá i ndiaidh an Drochsaoil.

Sin ráite tá cuid eile de na focail agus ní léir go bhfuil an ceart ag an údar ar chor ar bith. Cuid acu tá an chuma orthu go bhfuil an teanga á lúbadh ar mhaithe leis an mhíniú ba mhaith leis.

Ach maithim sin dó. Tá a thuilleadh oibre de dhíth ar an cheist seo agus leis an leabhar seo tá bunús againn a dtig linn tús ceart a chur léi.

Agus ardaítear ceist eile, chomh maith. Cad é faoi na focail a chonacthas i mBéarla na Stát roimh theacht na mórshluaithe Gael ach de thairbhe thionchar lucht na Gaeilge gur daingníodh iad nó gur thug an téarma ón Ghaeilge athbhrí dóibh, an bhrí atá againn faoi láthair?

Agus d’éireodh leis an chogadh smaointe beag a dhéanamh den tsibhialtacht Ghaelach murach daoine fearacht Daniel Cassidy, agus bí cinnte is cogadh é atá ar siúl go dtí an lá inniu. Fiú na leabhair fhónta (Five Points le Tyler Anbinder, mar shampla) ní mó ná go luann siad go raibh a dteanga féin ag na Gaeil.

Is furasta agus is rófhurasta an rud nach bhfuil i bprionta a fhágáil as an áireamh agus staidéar á dhéanamh ar an cheist seo, ach fiú Cassidy féin ní luann sé go raibh nuachtán dátheangach ag na Gaeil i Nua-Eabhrach, An Gaodhal.

Ar bhealach tá an leabhar seo mar chéim eile san obair atá déanta ag údair ar aon dul le Séamas de Napier (Lorg na nGael), Daniel Corkery (The Hidden Ireland) agus fiú Thomas Cahill (How the Irish Saved Civilization) ach go bhfuil an suíomh anois aistrithe trasna an Atlantaigh.

Tá scéal suimiúil le hinsint sa leabhar seo, ní amháin scéal na Gaeilge san Oileán Úr (agus an bhéarlagair a spreag sí) ach scéal sóisialta na nÉireannach nach raibh anró agus an sluma i ndán dóibh nuiar a chuaigh siad anonn.  Tá tús curtha Ciaran O Prontaigh is editor of La Nua .