This is just a quick update on the state of my investigations into Cassidy’s academic record. Did he have any degrees? Did he claim to have degrees when he applied for academic jobs? Apart from Cassie Dembosky at Cornell, a registrar who plainly takes her responsibility to combat academic fraud seriously and who replied promptly with the information that Cassidy did not have the claimed degree from that institution, I have tried emailing a number of institutions but with no result, not even a negative reply. However, as I have said before, I am not going to give up on this. I have written a number of formal letters and sent them off by snail mail. Hopefully the recipients will respond to them just as Cassie Dembosky did, by doing the right thing. If they don’t, I have a number of other plans. I will not rest until the full extent of Cassidy’s fraud and deceit is exposed to the world.
Over the past ten months, I have done my best in these posts to demolish the theories of a charlatan called Daniel Cassidy, who wrote a ridiculous book in which he claims that thousands of English words derive from Irish. He claims this on the basis of slight phonetic similarities but takes no account of the usage of Irish words or of the known history of the English words he discusses. I have decided to move on and do something more creative with my time. However, before doing that, I would like to give a brief thumbnail account of some of the words I haven’t had time to deal with in detail and explain why Cassidy’s derivations are ridiculous in these cases as well.
Hip – This is a term first used in American slang in the early twentieth century. To be hip to something originally meant to be informed about it. Cassidy claims that it comes from the Irish aibí, meaning mature, ripe or sensible. This doesn’t sound much like hip (it is pronounced something like abbey or appy) and being ‘mature to the trip’ doesn’t really work, does it?
Cracker – This is a term meaning a white person. There are various theories about its origin. Cassidy selectively quotes sources to ‘prove’ that it comes from the Irish word craicire, meaning a boastful person. (This word is not given at all in Ó Dónaill, though it is given in Dinneen.) Craicire, like craic, is an obvious borrowing from dialect English or Lowland Scots. In fact, the term cracker is used by Shakespeare in the sense of boastful person, and in spite of some other crazy people’s claims, Shakespeare was not Irish.
Bummer – Cassidy claims that this comes from the Irish bumaire. In fact, the origins of this word are very complex and there are certainly a number of different meanings and derivations involved. There is the English word bum meaning backside, which is an ancient Germanic word. Then there is bum-bailiff (borrowed into Irish as bum-báille) which apparently comes from bum meaning backside (because he comes up behind people and catches them). Then there is the word bum meaning to boast or brag, which is still very common in Irish English. (He’s always bumming and blowing about that new motor!) The word bumaire is an obvious borrowing from this dialect word. And lastly, there is a word for a tramp or hobo in American slang, which comes from German. It is this that gives rise to expressions like ‘a bum steer’ or ‘it’s a bummer’.
Boiler room. In slang, this is the nerve centre or HQ of a racket like illegal gambling. It is perfectly understandable as a metaphor. Like water in a central heating system, all the money comes in and goes out of this central point, which is a hotbed of activity. According to Cassidy, it comes from bailitheoir, meaning collector. Yeah, that’ll be right! How could anyone be taken in by this rubbish?
Racket – Cassidy derives racket from raic ard, a high noise. In fact, racket is an English expression, a version of an earlier term rattick. The word raic in Irish is probably a borrowing from some related English word or perhaps from (w)rack, a dialect version of wreck (as in the ‘rackers’ who used to break into people’s houses and smash them up during agrarian disturbances in Ireland), or perhaps it’s just coincidence?
Racketeer – Again, this claim involves a complex set of words. The truth is probably quite simple. At some stage, racket as in to make a sound became linked to words like rack (to put someone on the rack) and rack-renting (to extort rent from someone) and thus a racket came to mean a criminal enterprise. This then gave rise to racketeer. Cassidy ransacks dictionaries looking for obscure Irish and Gaelic terms like reicire, which means a seller and in one obscure dialect also meant an ‘extortioner’, according to Dinneen (the alternative form reacadóir isn’t given with this sense, in spite of what Cassidy says). There is also a Scottish Gaelic term ragair, which apparently means an extortioner or bully, but how many Hebridean gangsters were there in 19th century New York, I ask myself?
Sketch – A sketch is a term for a humorous skit, so there is really no mystery about the use of phrases like ‘he’s an absolute sketch!’ However, Daniel Cassidy decided that this had to be Irish too, so according to him it comes from scairt, meaning a scream. If people ever said Is scairt é of a funny person, or if sketch didn’t mean something funny in English, this might be half-believable. They don’t and it isn’t.
Then there are the many examples where Cassidy is essentially right or may be right about an Irish or Gaelic derivation but he was not the first one to make such a claim.
Slew – Nothing new here. This word is from Irish slua. This is accepted by the ‘dictionary dudes’ and is completely uncontroversial.
Whiskey – Who’d have thought it? Whiskey comes from Irish uisce (beatha). There’s a surprise, mar dhea!
Twig – This is the slang term for understand, not branch. Twig in this sense is probably from Irish tuig and many different sources give this, including Brewer’s. This just goes to show that where there is a genuine similarity, other people can see it apart from Cassidy. Only Cassidy saw the similarity between hoodoo and uath dubh because before Cassidy, the phrase uath dubh didn’t exist!
Dig – Cassidy claimed that dig also comes from tuig, or more specifically from phrases like An dtuigeann tú? (Do you understand?) This is possible, but it didn’t originate with Cassidy. It is already given as a source in the Dictionary of American Slang.
Cock-eyed. Cassidy claimed that this comes from caoch-eyed, blind-eyed. This is not a ridiculous suggestion, though the other explanations to do with cocking a gun or the general notion of something being skew-whiff when it is cocked (to cock your hat) need to be investigated too. The fact is, even if Cassidy is right about this, all he did was copy other sources like Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, which mention Irish or Gaelic as a possible origin.
Daniel Cassidy, in his insane book, How The Irish Invented Slang, claims that the English slang terms goof and goofy derive from Irish gáifeach, which according to Cassidy means ‘exaggerated, given to wild exaggeration, flamboyant, ostentatious, loud, loud-mouthed, querulous.’ This is pronounced guy-fah or gaw-fah depending on the dialect. This is an adjective. There is no noun gáif (the adjective comes from gábh, which means danger), so it is hard to explain where the basic word goof would come from if Cassidy were right (which he isn’t).
According to the most reliable Irish dictionary, Ó Dónaill, gáifeach is defined as ‘1a dangerous, terrible 1b (of sound) wild, loud, fierce 2a exaggerated, sensational, given to exaggeration 2b flamboyant, ostentatious’.
None of which really fit the bill of what goofy means, which is ‘foolish or harmlessly eccentric.’ Meanwhile, back in the real world, far from the caisleán óir where Cassidy composed his delusional book, goof comes from an English dialect term goff, which in turn comes from the Middle French goffe meaning awkward or stupid.
Daniel Cassidy, in his ridiculous book How The Irish Invented Slang, impatiently grabbed all round him, swiping words from Black American English, Yiddish and French (amongst others) and claiming them for Irish America. This was apparently a pattern of behaviour established in childhood. Cassidy informs us that his mother used to call him Glom, because he was always grabbing things that didn’t belong to him …
Glom is one of the words which Cassidy’s supporters hold up triumphantly as a clear-cut example of Irish influence on American English, which is very strange, because a few minutes of research online is enough to prove that glom has nothing to do with Irish.
According to The Random House Mavens’ Word of the Day, this word was first used with the sense of ‘to steal’ in 1897, in a book by Jack London, who was not raised in any cabin Irish ghetto. This shows that by the end of the 19th century, this was a common word in English. It was used all over the States by English speakers of all ethnic backgrounds.
In the form glaum, this word has been a Scots dialect word for centuries with the meanings ‘to grope, especially in the dark’ or ‘to grab at something’. This in turn derives from the Scots Gaelic word glàm, meaning to grab. The mainstream dictionaries are quite happy to accept this derivation in spite of their supposed anti-Gaelic bias.
It is true that glàm has a cognate in Irish with the word glám. (As a point of information, glám is not that common and most Irish speakers I know would use sciob instead.) What is absolutely clear is that the fact that Cassidy was nicknamed Glom when he was a child has nothing whatever to do with his Irish family’s roots. Glom was a part of the English which was spoken by everyone around him when he was growing up regardless of their ethnic background. It had become a part of English in Scotland and was an intrinsic part of mainstream American English. Cassidy’s claim (if it means anything at all) has to be about people retaining elements of Irish in their speech from generation to generation and these exotic elements surfacing in the language used by Irish Americans, which is obviously not the case here.
The liar Daniel Cassidy, in his ridiculous attempt to ‘queer the pitch’ of Irish linguistics, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that the word queer was of Irish origin.
As usual with Cassidy’s claims, this is fanciful, childish nonsense. The word queer is first recorded in English about 1500. It is thought to be derived from Scots and to be a cognate of the German quer, which means ‘oblique, perverse, odd’. It acquired the modern meaning (originally pejorative but now reclaimed by gay and lesbian activists) of ‘gay’ in the 20th century.
Cassidy derives it from the Irish word corr, meaning odd. The problem is that corr doesn’t sound anything like queer. It is pronounced kor or kore.
This is just another bit of stupid made-up nonsense from the pole-nosed Pinocchio of Irish Studies.
According to Daniel Cassidy’s ridiculous book, How The Irish Invented Slang, spunk comes from the Gaelic or Irish word sponnc. Cassidy is completely right about this. It does come from Gaelic or Irish. Sponnc (or sponc in modern spelling) does mean tinder or material to light a fire and the metaphorical use of this to mean fiery personality, courage or semen is quite clear.
So, does this mean that I have changed my mind about Daniel Cassidy and that I have decided to support him? Not a chance!
You see, Cassidy says that the OED claims that spunk is of uncertain origin and possibly related to punk and funk. So a naïve reader who believes in Cassidy’s integrity would accept that this is the view of all the English dictionaries. How stupid those dictionary people in their ivory towers are! There’s a word in Irish with the same meaning and these people refuse to believe that there’s a connection! Hooray for Daniel Cassidy, the man who gave Irish its rightful place in the dictionaries! The only problem with this is that most of the other English dictionaries already give the Gaelic or Irish derivation of spunk. They did so a long time before Cassidy started on his crazy project (and I imagine that the compilers of the OED also knew about this theory but decided that there was insufficient evidence that the word didn’t derive from the Latin spongia through some other route.)
Don’t believe me? Here’s Merriam-Webster:
“Scottish Gaelic spong sponge, from Middle Irish spongc, from Latin spongia sponge.”
And Collins’ Dictionary also derives spunk from Latin spongia through Scottish Gaelic spong. It’s available online!
So, how did Daniel Cassidy miss these Gaelic origins from the ‘Anglophile dictionary dudes’? Well, I think it’s a pretty fair bet that he didn’t miss them. Cassidy deliberately decided not to put them in because they spoil the nice little fantasy that he was single-handedly fighting the fight for Irish against a coterie of Anglophile dictionary compilers.
One of the many, many insane claims made by Daniel Cassidy in his outrageous piece of nonsense, How The Irish Invented Slang, is that the word bicker, meaning to argue, comes from the Irish word béicire, which means ‘a shouter, a person who shouts’. There is so much wrong with this claim it is hard to know exactly where to start.
Firstly, the word bicker goes back a very, very long way in English. There is some doubt about where exactly it came from, though some of the dictionaries suggest a possible connection with a Dutch word bicken, meaning ‘to slash or attack’. Bicker is found in English texts from the 13th century in the form biker.
The University of Michigan has an online Middle English Dictionary which is fully searchable. You can find it here: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/med/. If you take the trouble to search for the words biker and bikeren in this, you will find that they always referred to skirmishing, battling, quarrelling. So how an Irish word meaning a shouty person could have given rise to an English word which means battle or skirmish at a time when there was very little contact between the two language communities is a mystery and one which Cassidy makes no attempt to explain. It is also comparing like with unlike. Béicire is a modern Irish word from modern Irish dictionaries. I can find no evidence for a word corresponding to béicire in Middle Irish, though the word béicc was certainly in use then and something like béicire may well have existed. However, there is no proof that it did. And béicire sounds like the English baker, not bicker. If it was really an Irish borrowing, why doesn’t it sound more like the Irish word?
So, the chance that Cassidy was right about this is vanishingly slight. Béicire isn’t a good fit in terms of the known history of the two languages, or the meaning of the supposed source, or the pronunciation. The Middle Dutch word bicken is only suggested tentatively as a possible source by the dictionary experts (because they are real experts who insist on proof before stating something as fact) but it is obviously far more likely as a source than Cassidy’s nonsensical explanation.
But Cassidy was such an arrogant, self-worshipping moron that he summarily dismissed the opinion of the experts.
“I do not want to be a bickerer”, he crowed, with his usual feeble sub-Joycean attempts at wordplay, “but deriving bicker from Middle Dutch bicken, to slash, is a scream!”
What a total and utter TWAT!
According to Cassidy, the word gump, meaning chicken, comes from the Irish word colm, pronounced collum. This doesn’t mean a chicken – it means a dove or pigeon – but according to Cassidy it would be used ‘figuratively’ for a chicken. He cites no sources for this opinion and gives no evidence at all but in any case, the idea of a connection between gump and colm is … well, crazy. Say it to yourself – gump, collum, gump, collum. Most of Cassidy’s fake connections are pretty lame but this one is just insane.
One of the worst things about this atrocious book is its fake radicalism. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that Cassidy wasn’t politically radical or that he didn’t have strong beliefs. What I am saying is that Cassidy cynically turned his defence of this book into an issue of radicalism versus the establishment, when in reality it was nothing of the kind. Cassidy and his supporters like to depict this book as the little man taking on the self-absorbed academics in their ivory towers, David against Goliath, Galileo muttering ‘eppur si muove’ under his breath to the Inquisition. It is a popular trope and you can easily understand why gullible people find it so attractive.
The only problem is, it isn’t true. Cassidy might have been a man of the people in some ways, but he was first and foremost an egoist. He tried desperately to be taken seriously by academics and by the dictionary makers and only decided that they were bigoted when they turned round and disagreed with him. For example, he initially tried to get his ludicrous book published by A & A Farmar and the University of Limerick but as Alexander Cockburn says in an obituary for Cassidy, two weeks before the book was to go to press, Cassidy complained to him that some ‘hooded revisionist anonymous Irish academic’ had recommended that they didn’t publish it. Rather than thinking that maybe this Irish academic (who presumably knew some Irish) was right and that he should think again, his misplaced self-confidence was undented. Thus the book was published by Counterpunch.
According to Grant Barrett, for some time Cassidy regularly sent his derivations to the American Dialect Society, who politely tried to get him to see reason and use some methodology rather than just making everything up. Again, this turned sour and they were treated as rogues and fools by Cassidy because they had the temerity to disagree with him. Like some Stalinist secret policeman, Cassidy decided that anyone who disagreed with him was suffering from false consciousness. Their imperialist ideology made them unable to see the obvious truths that Cassidy was offering, namely, that the Irish who flocked to the States after the famine spoke a completely different version of Irish to that spoken in Ireland now or recorded in thousands of songs, folk tales, books and manuscripts in the 19th century, an unrecorded Cassidese version of Irish in which, for example, uath-anchor (which, if it existed, would really mean something like ‘spontaneous ill-treatment’ – right, Mr Grey, time for your spontaneous ill-treatment session …) is a normal and comprehensible way of referring to masturbation (rather than real words like féintruailliú, féinsuaitheadh, lámhchairdeas or lámhchartadh) and is the origin of the slang word wanker.
And of course, this idea of a right-wing anti-Irish conspiracy is an easy refrain to sing along to, so before long, Cassidy had assembled a choir of idiots who were prepared to be his backing group and repeat the defamatory claim that academics had closed ranks against Cassidy, not because he was an idiot and his ideas were rubbish, but because the academics were a clique of right-wing bigots.
Here are some of the idiots having a sing-song:
Circumstantial evidence? It sure is and it’s damn good circumstantial evidence. Enough to hang a pompous scholar on. Reality check for the ivory tower types …
At the very least, it opens, or should open, new ideas and new avenues of exploration for the professional scholars, and should cause the more open minded of them to reconsider their assumptions – If only they’ll do some swallowing of their own – of their professional pride – and admit that sometimes an amateur can develop insights into a subject that the experts and engineers miss …
I think I detect a trace of scholarship envy going on here. An individual outside the inner cabal of the Irish language establishment goes and produces one of the most interesting texts related to the language and one that is vastly more relevant to the world at large than anything produced by the little incestuous bodies that thrive and prosper on a relentless wastage of state funding. But said individual doesn’t play ball with the cabal. I think I get the picture.
Peter Quinn’s intro/snapshot history hints at the centuries of class and cultural suppression that have kept recognition of the contents of this book from getting the coverage it deserves.
In fact, there is certainly a clique in this story. It is the clique of Cassidy’s friends and family. Time and again, the names on favourable reviews of Cassidy’s work turn out to be New York jazzmen or relatives of Cassidy or people who had read at his Irish Crossroads Festival. The people who have slated him are a much more mixed bag. They include Irish speakers, Hungarian speakers, English speakers, left-wingers, academics, dialect experts … They don’t all know each other and they certainly aren’t conspiring against Cassidy for political reasons. They are opposing Cassidy because his ideas were up the left, not because his ideas were on the left.
There is nothing radical about lying to people to get them to part with their money. In this respect, Cassidy was no better than any grubby little right-wing politico on the planet.
This is a good example of how Cassidy subtly manipulated the evidence to hornswoggle the gullible. He claimed that luncheon comes from lóinte án (elegant food or splendid fare) or lóinfheis án (an elegant, splendid feast of meat). The Irish for lunch is lón, the primary meaning of which is provisions. It wouldn’t normally be put in the plural and anyway, in modern standard Irish the plural would be lónta. The adjective would have to agree with the noun, so it would be ána, not án, though the word án is almost unknown in Irish (though it is a high-frequency word in Cassidese). It goes without saying that there is no reference to lóinfheis án or lónta ána anywhere in any corpus of Irish literature. It is pure Cassidy invention.
Furthermore, Cassidy invites the reader to laugh with him at the whacky opinions of the dictionary dudes who apparently think luncheon derives from Middle English nonechenche. What he chooses not to say is that this is the ultimate source of the word. By the 17th century, this word had developed into the word nuncheon, which can be proven to have existed (unlike lónta ána or lóinte án) and meant a light snack in the afternoon. Nuncheon to luncheon. A mutation of one letter and the exact same meaning. Sounds credible to me – but then I’m neither stupid nor crazy.