Tag Archives: linguistics

The Big Bad Wolof

The other day, I came across a comment which Cassidy wrote on the Daltaí Boards in 2005. It shows plainly what a worthless, whining, self-righteous dimwit Daniel Cassidy was. Here’s Cassidy’s post, interspersed with my comments:

Terence Patrick Dolan, in his Dictionary of Hiberno English claims that smithereens and kabosh are not Irish.

He is an English professor at UCD.

Here, of course, we are being invited to sympathise with Cassidy and regard Dolan, the ‘establishment’ academic, as a fool (even though Cassidy quoted Dolan as an authority long after this, when the book was published). However, as soon as Cassidy posted this, another member of the site with the username Daisy challenged him. He was distorting the facts. Dolan mentions the proximate origin of smidiríní and the word smiodar but he (rightly) is unsure whether the word smiodar is originally a loanword from English. It certainly looks like it’s from smith and therefore of Germanic rather than Celtic origin. And kybosh, as we’ve discussed before, almost certainly isn’t of Irish origin.

When I suggested that glom, which is NY slang meaning to grab, might be derived from the Irish word gla/m I was laughed off the American Dialect Society website. They have a sarcastic motto…if any word is origin unknown they say it must be “Wolof or Irish.” It is meant to be a joke, since the assumtpion is that there are no Wolof or Irish words in English and American speech.

Again, this shows what a useless, lazy, incompetent little twit Cassidy was. Glom is ultimately from Scottish Gaelic glàm, via Lowland Scots glaum. All the dictionaries agree on this. It isn’t New York slang and it doesn’t derive from an undercurrent of Irish below the surface of American society. It is irrelevant to his thesis. As for the ‘sarcastic motto’ about Wolof and Irish, it’s quite possible that people used ‘Wolof and Irish’ when addressing Cassidy and his arrogant bullshit. But the real phrase, known to linguists the world over, is ‘to cry Wolof.’ This is a jocular reference to ‘crying wolf’, and it means that someone is using the evidence of obscure languages to prove a point so that few scholars will be able to follow them. In a sense, Cassidy was crying Wolof, because there are relatively few linguists out there with Irish. If Cassidy had been claiming a massive influence from Russian or German in English, he would have been outed as a liar immediately. He was able to hide behind the obscurity of a language which relatively few people speak (Cassidy certainly didn’t speak any Irish, as I’ll demonstrate below).

I suggested ward “heeler” might be from éilitheoir and slugger might be from “slacaire” (a batter, a mauler) and brag from bréag and these etymologies were utterly dismissed in a blizzard of hostility on the ADS-LIst.

But what d’ye expect from a pig but a…grunt?

What indeed would you expect from a pig but a grunt? This is so typical of the lying bullshit Cassidy tried to use to fool the public in his insane book. A word which means claimant or plaintiff and is pronounced aylihore is a better source for a politician’s helper than the English heel + er? To me heel + er makes perfect sense, because he walked at the politician’s heel or brought his supporters to heel. What about slugger? Why wouldn’t it be slacker if it came from slacaire? And what about other possible origins? What about schläger in German, which means a hitter or a bat, or a cognate in Swedish or Dutch or English dialect? As for bréag, it’s quite obvious why the people from the ADS-List thought Cassidy was a time-wasting crank. The words brag and bost (brag and boast) are found together as a phrase in English within a generation of the Black Death in the 14th century. If brag is so ancient in English, how can it have anything to do with Irish, or with American slang? And bréag doesn’t mean a boast, it means a lie, which isn’t the same thing.

To think that ten million Irish people came to North America over 500 years — at least 60% of whom were Irish speakers — and left no lexical imprint on the vernacular is a counter-intuitive impossibility. But in American and English scholarly discourse and among ALL DICTIONARY EDITORS in 2005 it is the Iron Law of English linguistic neo-orthodoxy.

Again, most American dictionary editors are “more English than the English…”

Again, in this case Cassidy is trying to lead people into a morass of ignorance (and it’s amazing how many people have been more than willing to follow him into it!) Yes, lots of Irish speakers went to the States down the years but the words ‘counter-intuitive impossibility’ are just more of Cassidy’s self-serving crap. Why is it so counter-intuitive that Irish would leave little trace? There are millions of people of Indian and Pakistani origin in England. How many Hindi or Urdu words are used in English slang (apart from words that date back to the Raj like blighty?) I can’t think of any. The point being, the borrowing of vocabulary depends on lots of different factors. Cassidy failed utterly to demonstrate the influence of Irish on English. I’ve just shown that with Cassidy’s examples above. Cassidy didn’t provide evidence, or research properly, or give references. He just stated that there was a phrase similar to something in English and in most cases, like baloney and béal ónna or crony and comhroghna, his ‘Irish’ candidates were simply nonsense he had just made up and didn’t exist in Irish at all! Then, to protect himself from criticism, he pretended that the academics were all involved in some pro-English conspiracy! In the years since I started CassidySlangScam, I have repeatedly challenged his supporters to provide the proof that he didn’t. Not one of them has ever done so and not one of them ever will, because the evidence simply doesn’t exist.

So at this point all agree that every ethnic group in America has contributed to the hybrid vernacular tongue that created our culture but…the Irish.

Gaeilge dofheicthe agus balbh, covered over with a shroud of “whiteness.”

What a total and utter cretin! The Irish have contributed to American English, with a handful of words and a few idioms which have been translated like ‘to hit the road.’ But have other groups like the Germans or the French or the Swedish really contributed a lot more than the Irish? No, they haven’t. German has contributed loads of words for philosophical or culinary concepts but ordinary ‘street’ words of German origin like keister and spiel are a mere handful. Even less in the case of Swedish. There are a few slang words from French like craps and dime but again, we’re talking about a handful. (Leaving aside the huge numbers of French words borrowed into English from the Middle Ages onwards, which are completely irrelevant to Cassidy’s argument.) Cassidy is just lying and distorting the truth when he writes this – as usual.

As for Gaeilge dofheicthe agus balbh, covered over with a shroud of “whiteness” … This just shows that Cassidy didn’t give a toss about our language. He thinks he’s saying ‘Invisible and dumb Irish language’ – whatever that means. (Unseen and unheard, perhaps?) But Gaeilge is a feminine noun, so it would have to be dhofheicthe and bhalbh, and then again, when you have two adjectives together after a noun you don’t put and in as you do in English, so it would be Gaeilge dhofheicthe bhalbh. Even if you correct the grammar like this, it still sounds like shite. A real Irish speaker might say something like “Rinneadh neamart sa Ghaeilge agus fágadh gan ghuth í.” (The Irish language was neglected and left without a voice.) Or dozens of other things but they would say it in a way that genuinely works in Irish. Cassidy had no understanding of this because he didn’t know any Irish.

As for the nonsense about ‘whiteness’, this is typical of Cassidy’s fake radicalism. Cassidy was a pompous nobody with no qualifications, a thief and a liar and a charlatan. He had absolutely no right to appoint himself a spokesperson for the Irish diaspora, and anyone who supports him is either a liar or a nut-job or a fool. Take your pick.

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The top ten Cassidy lies

There are still many people out there who are determined to carry on spreading the same old lies about Daniel Cassidy. Why do they do it? Some of them are obviously friends of Cassidy’s who want to continue believing in the myth rather than looking the facts squarely in the face. Others are just trolls, fantasists and compulsive liars, just like their hero Cassidy. Still others are stupid and naive people who have been conned into thinking that support for Cassidy is support for Irish Republicanism or socialism, while criticism of Cassidy is criticism of those causes. Anyway, to help balanced and rational people who find their way to this site to understand what a liar Cassidy was, here is a list of the top ten lies from and about Daniel Cassidy. Enjoy!

 

Cassidy was qualified

Cassidy went to Cornell but flunked out in 1965. While there is no direct evidence of Cassidy claiming that he was a graduate, there is plenty of indirect evidence. The most important piece of indirect evidence is that Cassidy worked as a professor in New College of California (and apparently he lectured in San Francisco State before that). Who would give someone a lecturer’s job if they didn’t have any degrees at all? It seems clear that there was some kind of fraud here. Until someone provides evidence to the contrary or explains how Cassidy became an academic with only a high school diploma, then the logical assumption has to be that he committed a crime in accepting a job as a lecturer, probably stealing in excess of half a million dollars from the American education system by using non-existent qualifications to gain employment.

 

The Rule of Tír

According to Cassidy, this is a rule of Irish pronunciation. In fact, it’s just another piece of nonsense invented by Cassidy. Cassidy made use of a forum for Irish learners to find out how to pronounce certain sounds. He was too stupid to understand the linguistic explanations given. Eventually, one poster said:

BOTTOM LINE?!  How do I say “tír?”

Cheer

Tear

jeer.

I’ll bet every native speaker would understand me no matter which I said.

In other words, this poster was saying, it doesn’t matter what you say really because people will understand you, NOT that native speakers use these forms interchangeably. But in the insane world of Cassidy’s head, this casual online comment was transformed into The Rule of Tír, a fictional ‘rule’ which states that they ARE interchangeable!

 

Cassidy’s grandparents

Cassidy, using his sockpuppet identity of Medbh, claimed that his grandparents spoke Donegal Irish. He gives no further details. Grandparents (plural) means that at least two of his grandparents were supposedly speakers of Donegal Irish. According to a family tree on Ancestry.co.uk, only one of Cassidy’s grandparents was born in Ireland. She was from Monaghan, so she didn’t speak Donegal Irish. The rest were born in New York and Toronto. Some of his forebears had Munster names like O’Brien and Garrity. There seems to be no certainty about where the Cassidys themselves came from, but it’s primarily a Fermanagh name, not a Donegal name.

 

Cassidy and Dallas

Cassidy claimed that he was in the newsroom of the New York Times as a rookie journalist the day JFK was shot in 1963. Yet Cassidy stated elsewhere that he was still in Cornell until 1965 and started as a rookie journalist in the NYT after he was booted out of Cornell university with no degree.

 

Cassidy was award-winning

According to the sources on line, Cassidy won an award for poetry at Cornell, before they kicked him out. In his adult life, he only won one award. He received an American Book Award for his ridiculous dreckfest How The Irish Invented Slang in 2007. We don’t know who the judges were (they don’t tell us in any detail how the judging is done), but I find it interesting that at least four of his friends are currently on the board of the Before Columbus Foundation ( based in Oakland, CA), which hands out the awards (David Meltzer, Ishmael Reed, T.J. English and Jack Foley). Cassidy was also supposed to have received a nomination (which isn’t an award) for an Emmy for his documentary Civil Rights and Civil Wrongs, but there is no independent confirmation of this anywhere on line.

 

Cassidy’s work was endorsed by many Irish speakers

This is nonsense. Some Irish speakers did support Cassidy, but we have to remember several points here. Almost all those who provided support for Cassidy (Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, Ciarán Ó Pronntaigh, Joe Lee) knew him. We have no information about the circumstances in which they gave their support. Had they read the book or were they asked to provide a favourable review ‘blind,’ without seeing the finished article? The reaction to Cassidy’s work among genuine Irish speakers who didn’t know him has been very hostile, and many people who have only a nodding acquaintance with the language have praised his work while pretending to be better informed about Irish than they really are – just like Cassidy himself.

 

Cassidy’s work was ‘peer-reviewed’

This is claimed by his sockpuppet identity Méabh, and repeated by some of his more enthusiastic and less intelligent supporters. Cassidy’s work was not peer-reviewed (the closest it got to that was when it was rejected by an academic reviewer when Cassidy tried to get it published by the University of Limerick). It was given reviews in newspapers, which is not the same thing at all. In fact, if a body of experts on linguistics, slang and the Irish language were assembled together to assess the merit of Cassidy’s work, not only would they fall about laughing, they would not be peers of Cassidy’s. A peer means an equal. Cassidy knew absolutely nothing about any of these subjects. Cassidy’s peers were other fake Irish loudmouths with no qualifications and no idea about their ancestral culture.

 

Cassidy was ‘passionate’ about the Irish language

As one Irish blogger who had listened to too many fools in New York said: Cassidy argued in his book that many American English slang words were derived from Gaelic, a claim with which some disagreed. But if they thought his argument thin, they must never have experienced his vast passion for the Irish language. Let’s just examine this one closely. Cassidy lived his whole life in cities like New York and San Francisco. There were Irish organisations in both these cities giving classes in the language. Linguaphone used to offer a course in Irish, starting in 1957, which would have been available anywhere. Yet somehow, Cassidy managed to avoid learning any Irish – or indeed buying any books, dictionaries or tape courses in or on the language – until 2001, when he was left an Irish dictionary in someone’s will. Some passion! And he never succeeded in learning any Irish. He had no idea about the pronunciation, the grammar, or the usage. Cassidy’s interest in Irish was shallow dilettantism, not passion.

 

A working-class hero is something to be ..

Cassidy really played up the working-class hero thing, cultivating a broad Brooklyn accent and talking about his past as a merchant marine (though it’s hard to work out when, or indeed, if, he was ever a merchant marine). His sister Susan commented that: Cockbum also said that Danny grew up in the “slums of Brooklyn”. we grew up on Long Island in the ’50’s – it was all country … And while his family may have been ordinary folk, they don’t seem to have been that poor. His father ran an Irish bar. Cassidy won a scholarship to the New York Military Academy, alma mater of Donald Trump and Stephen Sondheim, and then went on to Cornell. Not exactly Les Misérables

 

“…this pioneering book proves that US slang has its strongest wellsprings in nineteenth-century Irish America.”

I started writing this blog before I knew anything about Daniel Cassidy. The more I learned, the more I despised him. All I knew at the start was that the book was nonsense and that a number of high-profile buffoons were trying to pretend that it isn’t nonsense, for reasons best known to themselves. The fact is, this book is stuffed with lies. You can find lies on every page. And we’re talking whoppers here, not minnows. Cassidy invented the overwhelming majority of the Irish ‘phrases’ in this book. They have never existed. Since I began this project, none of the buffoons who have lauded this idiotic garbage has tried to defend Cassidy. We have had the occasional idiot or troll calling in to make sweeping generalisations about how the Irish talk a lot so American English must be full of Irish. But none of them has answered the challenge which I have repeatedly given them – to provide evidence that Cassidy’s phrases had any existence independent of his crazy echo-chamber of a head. Of course, none of them ever will do, because there is no evidence. Cassidy made it all up as he went along.

Is Irish a Superlanguage?

I am a big fan of Flann O’Brien (or Myles na Gopaleen, as he sometimes styled himself). However, I don’t agree with everything he wrote. For example, in one article, he claimed that English is inferior to Irish:

“A lady lecturing on the Irish language drew attention to the fact (I mentioned it myself as long ago as 1925) that while the average English speaker gets along with a mere 400 words, the Irish-speaking peasant uses 4,000. .. Your paltry English speaker apprehends sea-going craft through the infantile cognition which merely distinguishes the small from the big. If it’s small, it’s a boat, and if it’s large, it’s a ship. In his great book, An tOileánach, however, the uneducated Tomás Ó Criomhthain uses perhaps a dozen words to convey the concept of varying super-marinity — árthach long, soitheach, bád, naomhóg, bád raice, galbhád, púcán and whatever you’re having yourself.”

In a way, of course, the great Myles was joking here. However, the drift of his argument is serious enough. The claim that an ‘average’ English speaker uses 400 words is absurd and even the most stupid and limited English speaker of my acquaintance has a far larger vocabulary than 400 words. And a look at the example of ship/boat shows the contrived nature of the argument. How many Irish speakers know the official Irish for sloop, brig, ketch, frigate, destroyer, catamaran, dhow, junk, trireme, galleon, man o’war, dinghy, hydrofoil etc. etc.? (slúpa, bruig, cits, frigéad, scriostóir, catamarán, dabha, siunca, tríréim, gaileon, long chogaidh, báidín, duillárthach, in case you’re wondering!) Irish is not in a healthy state, and the ‘average’ Irish speaker these days has a fairly impoverished grasp of the language. That’s not the fault of the language, or of its speakers, but it reflects the fact that the resources available to Irish speakers and learners are severely restricted. Yet many people continue to claim, with Myles, that Irish is superior to English.

In a way, the claim made in Daniel Cassidy’s book is similar. Cassidy’s theory is flattering, which probably explains why so many otherwise rational human beings have chosen to believe it, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. Cassidy’s nonsense suggests that Irish was such a lively and colourful language that it crossed the language barrier with ease, colouring the vulgar and expressive argot of American crime and street life, ultimately becoming modern English. Of course, Irish is an extremely colourful and expressive language and would have had no shortage of expressions to contribute, but in spite of that, there is no evidence at all that Irish exerted any influence on American slang or modern English (apart from a paltry handful of words like sourpuss and slew).

This unfortunate tendency is also found in claims about the vocabulary of the Irish language. For example, there are plenty of people in Belfast – usually people who don’t know much of the language – who will try to tell you that the word faiteadh is the Irish for warming yourself on a cold day by flapping your arms around. In fact, faiteadh just means flapping or fluttering. It’s used in phrases like i bhfaiteadh na súl (in the fluttering of an eye(lid)). It can describe someone flapping their arms, or a bird or a bat flapping around, or lots of other things. But the notion that Irish has ‘a word for warming yourself by flapping your arms’ is just nonsense and what’s more, it’s nonsense calculated to make out that Irish is somehow more sophisticated and more expressive than all other languages.

Another of these words is one which has probably been noticed and commented on by generations of Irish learners, a word found in Dinneen’s dictionary, the notorious sleith. This is not a modern word. It is found in ancient legal texts. Dinneen, the great amateur lexicographer, defined it as ‘carnal intercourse with a woman without her consent or knowledge’, which – on the face of it, seems like a concept unlikely to have a word devoted to it in many languages. However, the word (a verbal noun formed from a verb meaning – appropriately enough – ‘to creep’), is unfortunately an all too familiar concept in the modern world. As defined in the examples on eDIL, it simply means the rape of a sleeping or unconscious woman. One reference specifically mentions sleith trí mheisce (sleith through drunkenness). In other words, far from showing the richness and sophistication of Irish, it’s a fairly clear indication that jerks like Brock Turner and his appalling grunt of a father were as big a problem in ancient times as they are today.

Another one I came across recently is the claim that the word gránna can mean both ugly and nasty or nice in Irish, which is again suggesting that Irish is somehow different from other languages. In reality, this is from a minor error in a book by Seán Mac Corraidh on the translations of Seosamh Mac Grianna. In a translation of the play The White-Headed Boy, the line ‘It would be nice if after all the money were lost” was translated as Ba ghránna an t-airgead a bheith caillte, because the nice is ironic here and means terrible or awful. Mac Grianna could have used irony as well, and Nár dheas an t-airgead a bheith caillte (Wouldn’t it be just great if the money were lost!) would have worked just as well. Instead of that, he chose to translate the implied rather than the literal meaning. Someone has then seen the entry in the book, which gives no indication that this is ironic, and has decided that Irish is some bizarre quantum language where words can mean two opposing things at once, nasty and nice.

So, what’s happening here? Basically, it is a product of an inferiority complex. It is a case of people taking a minor language which is weakened and disadvantaged and trying to claim that the language in question, far from being down on its luck and struggling, is really a super-language, a language which is vastly superior to languages like English. I dislike this kind of claim, for all kinds of reasons. As I’ve explained before, all languages have strengths and weaknesses, but all languages are beautiful because all languages are products of human ingenuity. All of them. There are no primitive languages where people grunt and point and have no grammar. And there are no super-languages either.

I want Irish to survive. I love the language and use it as much as I can. I also try to learn words and enrich my knowledge of the vocabulary (there’s a great fun resource for learning interesting vocab on Twitter called TheIrishFor). But Irish doesn’t have to be anything special to justify its existence. It doesn’t have to be a language of miraculous expressive power to be treated with the same respect as major world languages. It doesn’t have to be better. It just has to be as good – which it is.

Trying to categorise languages – or indeed peoples or races – as inferior or superior is a dangerous and foolish game, and should be avoided by anyone with a brain.

 

The English For Comhar

I recently criticised the claim made by Daniel Cassidy and perpetuated by some of his apprentices in idiocy that the word comhar is of central importance in Irish culture and language and that it is ‘a long-standing ideal of cooperative society’.

By a strange coincidence, someone asked me the other day to find out where bee comes from, as in a sewing or spelling bee. It turns out that bee is thought to be a corruption of been or bean, an English dialect word meaning a favour or a gathering of people to help out a neighbour. It suddenly struck me – BEAN OR BEEN IS THE ENGLISH FOR COMHAR!

In other words, it must be a central concept of Anglophone culture, a long-standing ideal of a cooperative society! I’m so excited at having made this major anthropological discovery just by clicking a mouse a couple of times.

I am beginning to see the appeal of Cassidy’s methods. It’s so much easier to make major discoveries when you don’t have to do any work or present any evidence! Brilliant! Remember, you heard it here first …

 

(Just in case anyone has stopped by here without understanding the context of the blog, let me make it quite clear that I am being sarcastic here!)

 

Teach Yourself Pomposity

Recently, I have criticised Michael Patrick MacDonald, an Irish-American writer, who supported Daniel Cassidy and his crazy theories and attacked real scholars and lexicographers (“racist OED lapdogs”) for disagreeing with him and his friends. I have nothing to say about MacDonald’s activism or indeed about his books. He may be a great man and a great writer. He may be as big a fraud as Cassidy himself. I don’t know and I can’t be bothered finding out. All that interests me here is his support for the liar Daniel Cassidy (who was apparently a personal friend of his). 

The other day, I noticed another comment on Twitter from MacDonald which irritated me almost as much as his “racist lapdogs.” 

Can I say this? University is stupid. Kill your memorized “radical” language and walk free, connect. 

And below that:

A month in belfast, Jo-burg, east NY, and one will learn the history of the world & post colonial theory for plane fare. 

Now, there are several reasons why this is stupid and objectionable. For one thing, this man doesn’t seem to have any university degrees. He works in a university as a writer in residence, but that’s not the same as having a background in academia. Of course, there are criticisms to be made of academia, but they sound better coming from people who’ve actually proven themselves within that system. They certainly sound ridiculous coming from someone who mistook Daniel Cassidy for a serious scholar. As has been pointed out many times before, autodidacts (people who teach themselves in an informal and unstructured way) tend to be massively confident. And in many cases, as in the case of Cassidy, this is not because they have weighed up all the facts and can confidently identify which are correct or incorrect: rather, it is because they are simply ignorant of anyone else’s viewpoint apart from their own, so it seems OBVIOUS to them that their own opinion must be right. 

As I said above, it’s possible to criticise academia for a lot of reasons. It probably does serve to sharpen class divisions, and in recent years it has become very managerial and money-driven. However, it is also, like democracy, the worst system apart from all the others. The methods of academia are about establishing the facts, anchoring speculation in observable truth, not allowing bigotry and groupthink to undermine the international community of scholars and the work they produce.

The alternative is the malicious dross you can find in any bookshop, shit about ancient aliens building Newgrange and how the Sumerians discovered America and how various royal families of Europe are descended from Jesus’s girlfriend, and how the cadences of modern American speech descend from the crude bilingual patois of Irish speakers. In other words, there is a choice between building human knowledge throughout the generations by checking facts and eliminating error, or just believing any old shite that suits your world-view, from White Supremacism to 9/11 ‘Truth’, from Nazis living on the moon to the extreme numptiness of Young Earth Creationism. 

The search for and the accumulation of knowledge is important. It’s not a class thing. It’s not a national or racial thing. It’s a human thing. It’s one of the most important parts of what we are as humans, and anyone who dismisses it as casually as MacDonald is a fool.

Here, MacDonald shows us again that he doesn’t give a toss about academia or the search for knowledge. However, there is another stupidity in the tweets above. (Amazing how much crap some people manage to squeeze into 140 characters …) So a trip to Belfast will automatically broaden your mind and teach you about history and colonialism? What about all those people who’ve never spent much time out of Belfast and they still get exercised about their little fleg protests? I’m sure there are plenty of bigots in Jo’berg as well. Travel doesn’t automatically broaden the mind, and some people would probably be better staying at home and reading a good book by a genuine academic rather than going abroad to confirm their prejudices. When I read the nonsense in MacDonald’s tweet, I immediately thought of that lovely old Irish poem about pilgrimage written in the margin of a 9th century text:

Teicht do Róim:
mór saído, becc torbai!
in rí chon·daigi hi foss,
mani·m-bera latt, ní·fogbai.

Here’s a rough translation:

Going to Rome: great the pain,
and all for very little gain.
The King you were looking for at home,
if you don’t bring Him with you, you won’t find in Rome.

 

Kitty

In Daniel Cassidy’s insane work of etymological fiction, How The Irish Invented Slang, the phoney professor of Irish Studies claimed that the word kitty, meaning a pot of money in a gambling game, derives from the Irish phrase cuid oíche. This is highly improbable.

The origins of the word kitty are unknown, though there are several possibilities. You can find some information at these links:

http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-kit2.htm

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=kitty

The phrase cuid oíche (earlier spelling cuid oidhche) is an historical term. It literally means ‘a night’s portion’ and it refers to the entertainment which a lord could expect from his subjects. It is pronounced roughly as cudge-eeha and has been anglicised as cuddy. In other words, it is not a good match for kitty in terms of pronunciation or of meaning.

Putting The Kibosh On Cassidy

In Daniel Cassidy’s worthless book of fake etymology, he claimed that the word kibosh or kybosh is of Irish origin. Cassidy was certainly not the first to claim this and his sole authority for saying it was a website called Cork Slang Online. The usual claim in relation to its supposed Irish origin is that it comes from caidhp bháis or caidhp an bháis or caip bháis, meaning a cap or cape of death. Some sources also mention cie báis, but cie is not a possible word in Irish orthography.

While caidhp bháis is given as the name of a fungus in Irish dictionaries (the death cap), there is no evidence that this is an ancient expression and it may have been composed on the pattern of the English phrase death cap in the 20th century.

There are various explanations for the meaning of caidhp bháis as a possible origin of kybosh. Some people say that it was the black cap used by a judge when pronouncing the death sentence. (I would use caipín dubh, though it doesn’t seem to be in any dictionary.) Others say that it is from the pitch cap, a punishment used by the British in Ireland where a cap of burning pitch was placed on a person’s head. This is more commonly a caipín pice in Irish. On line, I have also found claims that the caidhp bháis was a word for a candle snuffer or smóladán. There seems to be no independent evidence for any of these claims.

Only the mushroom explanation is in the dictionaries. Corpas na Gaeilge (a huge corpus of Irish material from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries) gives a number of examples of caidhp but nothing with caidhp bháis or caidhp an bháis.

We don’t know who first suggested this Irish origin. Charles Earl Funk said that he received this information in a letter from the poet Pádraig Colum. This is not dated but could have been in the 1930s, 1940s or 1950s. However, the earliest certain reference is in the Cornell Daily Sun from the first of December 1936, where there is an account of a lecture by a man called Conboy about the Irish origin of English words. He gives words like shanty and quid (as in a quid of tobacco, which he derives from Irish cuid, a piece) as well as kibosh.

“Kibosh,” Conboy said today, “comes from ‘caip,’ which means cap, and bais,’ which means death. “It originated in Ireland about the time of Judge Norbury, who was called the ‘hanging judge.’ When the people would see him reaching for the black cap he wore when giving the death sentence, they would say: ‘The prisoner is ‘ finished. The judge Is putting on the caip bais – kibosh. Thus when we say we ‘put the kibosh on something,’ we mean we have disposed of it.” (Editor’s note: Some authorities hold that “kibosh” might be of Yiddish origin.)

Strangely, while there is no evidence of caidhp bháis being used in the language long ago, there is certainly evidence of its existence in the language now. For example, there is this, from an article by Donncha Ó hÉallaithe in the online journal Beo in 2012:

Trí dhiúltú do na logainmneacha a bhí ar bhéal na ndaoine, rinne an Donnabhánach a chuid féin, chun caidhp an bháis a bhualadh ar an nGaeilge sa gcuid mhór den tír ina raibh an Ghaeilge in uachtar roimh an Drochshaol. (By rejecting the placenames which were in popular use, O’Donovan did his own bit to put the kibosh on the Irish language in the large area of the country where Irish was in the ascendant before the Famine.)

Unfortunately, this proves nothing. The story of the Irish origin of kibosh is so common and well-known that it is hardly surprising that people have started to use the terms caidhp bháis or caidhp an bháis in Irish in recent years. It sounds convincing and natural enough. However, without some evidence of its use in Irish before speculation about kibosh began, we can’t accept these modern uses as evidence for an Irish origin of the phrase.

There are various theories about the real origin of the word kibosh. You will find an account of these different theories by following this link:

http://www.worldwidewords.org/articles/kibosh.htm