As we’ve said before, there is almost nothing of any value in Daniel Cassidy’s absurd work of pseudo-scholarship, How The Irish Invented Slang. Some of his claims are just stupid, many of them are mad, and some of them are just plain dishonest. This is one of the dishonest claims.
The word kinker, according to Cassidy, is a slang term for a circus performer or a circus act. However, he also implies that kinkers were surly, rude or snooty.
Kinkers, adj., surly, rude; fig. snooty person) were the stuck up stars of the circus.
Ingeniously, he manages to find a quote from Jim Tully’s Circus Parade (1927) to back him up. He was certainly a dab hand at making fake connections and finding clever angles:
The performers were more snobbish than any class of people I have ever known. They did not talk to the lesser gentry of the circus save only to give commands. They were known as the ‘kinkers’ to us.
He needs to emphasise this snobbishness because his candidate for the origin of kinker is the Irish geancach, which means a person with an upturned nose (geanc) or a snooty person. (Cassidy only mentions the secondary meaning.)
Kinker doesn’t sound much like geancach, of course, and geancach certainly isn’t the origin of the circus slang word. How do I know? Well, when you look up kinker on line, all becomes clear. Kinkers weren’t just circus performers. Kinkers were acrobats or contortionists. If you think of all the contorted and twisted and crooked meanings of the word kink in English, kinker is self-explanatory.
How did Cassidy miss this? Call me a cynic, but I don’t think he did miss it – I think he missed it out. He did this because he was a liar. His book is not about discovering the truth. It’s about conning suckers.