Tag Archives: minced oath

Cassidese Glossary – Gee Whillikers

For some time now, some of my on-line friends have advised me to provide a version of CassidySlangScam without the invective aimed at Cassidy and his supporters. In response to that advice, I am working on providing a glossary of the terms in Cassidy’s ludicrous book How The Irish Invented Slang with a short, simple and business-like explanation of why Cassidy’s version is wrong.

This is one of earliest manifestations of a family of minced oaths based on ‘Jesus’. This, in the form of Gee Whilikens, is found from the 1850s and is originally associated with south-east England.

Cassidy ignores these facts and claims that it comes from the ‘Irish’ phrase Dia Thoilleachas, which he claims is an exclamation meaning ‘God’s Will!’ There is a word toileachas (with one l), which is given as meaning will in Dinneen’s dictionary, though it is not in Ó Dónaill. It is also found in Scottish Gaelic. So Dia exists and toileachas exists. Could the phrase Dia Thoileachas exist with the meaning God’s Will?

No. There is absolutely no evidence for the existence of this phrase, and it makes no sense in terms of Irish grammar. The Irish for God’s Will is ‘toil Dé’. You could, presumably, say ‘toileachas Dé’ (though the word toileachas is uncommon and obscure), but how would that give Gee Whillickers rather than Whillickers Gee?

Cassidese Glossary – Gee

For some time now, some of my on-line friends have advised me to provide a version of CassidySlangScam without the invective aimed at Cassidy and his supporters. In response to that advice, I am working on providing a glossary of the terms in Cassidy’s ludicrous book How The Irish Invented Slang with a short, simple and business-like explanation of why Cassidy’s version is wrong.

The word Gee used as an exclamation is certainly what is known as a ‘minced oath’. In other words, it is a way of avoiding a taboo word by saying something that slightly resembles the offensive term. I was under the misapprehension that this is short for God, because G is the first letter, but the overwhelming body of opinion has it that this is short for Jesus: https://www.etymonline.com/word/gee

Cassidy thinks this comes from the Irish Dia, which is pronounced with a j sound in the North, as jeea. There is no evidence for this and Gee is exactly like the first syllable of Jesus. Furthermore, Irish speakers tend to say a Dhia (the vocative – oh God!) which is pronounced a yeea, rather than ‘Dia!’

 

Cassidese Glossary – Darn

For some time now, some of my on-line friends have advised me to provide a version of CassidySlangScam without the invective aimed at Cassidy and his supporters. In response to that advice, I am working on providing a glossary of the terms in Cassidy’s ludicrous book How The Irish Invented Slang with a short, simple and business-like explanation of why Cassidy’s version is wrong.

Daniel Cassidy claims that the word darn comes from the Irish phrase dothairne air. This word does exist, but it is quite obscure. Ó Dónaill’s dictionary has this:

dothairne, f. (gs. ~). Affliction. Díth is ~ ort! Bad scran to you!

Dinneen has this:

dothairne g., id., f., evil, mischief; misfortune; do dhíth is do dhothairne ort, misery and misfortune attend thee.

However, “dothairne air” is not a common expression in Irish. I have just put it into Google and got 8 hits, all of them relating to this blog. The phrase “damnú air” got 489 hits.

There is no doubt about where darn it really comes from. It is first recorded (in America) in 1781. Early references include specific claims that darn is a euphemistic substitution for damn. The existence of expressions like ‘gosh darn it to heck!’ and ‘darnation’ leave us with little room for doubt that this is another minced oath, like Baloney! or Gee Whizz! or Holy Cow!

All About Baloney

I have already dealt with Cassidy’s claims about the Irish origins of the word baloney elsewhere on this blog. However, I don’t think I’ve ever told the whole story of Cassidy’s lies in relation to this word.

Put simply, Cassidy claimed that the American English term baloney, the name of an Italian sausage from Bologna, used as a disguised version of blarney or balls or something similar, really comes from the ‘Irish’ phrase béal ónna:

Béal ónna (pron. bæl óna), silly loquacity, foolish talk; blather; blarney; stupid gossip.

As I said before, the phrase béal ónna doesn’t exist. What’s more, Cassidy was actually told this before the book was published. However, before I deal with that, let’s just look at the ‘Irish phrase’ béál ónna. Béal is a well-known Irish word. It means a mouth. Ónna is an old, literary word meaning naïve, simple, innocent. It isn’t found at all in the main modern Irish dictionary, Ó Dónaill. It is found in the earlier Dinneen’s dictionary, which tends to mix up words from different registers and eras.

There is actually a word that is quite similar to ónna in English, the word callow. Callow is no longer a current word in the language. You get it in phrases like ‘a callow youth’ but many English speakers wouldn’t know it or use it. As for people using the phrase ‘callow mouth’ to mean nonsense, there is just as much evidence of this as there is for Cassidy’s béal ónna. In fact, people don’t say ‘stupid mouth’ or ‘dumb mouth’ or ‘idiot mouth’ for nonsense either. And in Irish, they don’t combine béal with more common words for stupid to make béal amaideach, or béal bómánta, or béal dúr.

On 25 April 2006, an unregistered guest on the Daltaí Boards posted the following on a discussion on language survival and gender:

Your wingnut assertion about women killing the Irish language is a bunch of béal ónna agus dríb. You sound like a leathcheann foirfe.

This was Cassidy. Béal ónna was his version of baloney, and dríb was his candidate for the English tripe. The smartass tone and the wordplay is so distinctive and so typical of Cassidy. When another person said that they didn’t understand ‘a bunch of béal ónna’, Dennis King posted this comment:

Bain triail as Google. [Try Google] It’s one of the cockeyed concoctions of Dan Cassidy (or is that Jerry de Rossa?). Ní Gaeilge é ar chor ar bith. [It’s not Irish at all.]

Then Cassidy (using a different IPA and identity) posted three comments in succession on 26 April:

A Chara,

Re: béal ónna, simple, silly, foolish talk.

Is it incorrect to use ónna with béal?

ónna, indec. adj., simple, silly. (Dineen, p. 821.)

I should have written leathdhuine: a half-witted person, or a half-smart fool.

But I thought béal ónna was grammatically correct, though I defer to the experts on this site and stand corrected if it is improper.

Of course, a leathdhuine only uses leathcheann (one side of the head.

Why is the adjective ónna incorrect with the noun béal? I am very new to Irish.

Thanks,

Ed “a Lorgaire (Seeker) from New Jersey”

‘Ed’ then posted two citations which prove that ónna existed in 17th century Irish. Nobody bothered replying to any of these comments. Of course, ónna does exist and that is beyond question. Béal ónna doesn’t and that is also beyond question. And there is nothing ungrammatical about béal ónna. Béal is a noun, and ónna is an adjective. Almost all adjectives come after the noun in Irish. Cassidy was missing the point. Callow mouth isn’t ungrammatical in English either but that doesn’t mean it exists. My guess would be that because nobody bothered to reply to his posts, Cassidy thought he had won the argument.

That’s how ignorant and stupid the man was.

 

 

Gosh Darn It, Danny

Another really stupid claim made in Daniel Cassidy’s book is that the expression ‘darn it’ comes from Irish.

Why is this stupid? Well, for one thing, there is no doubt about where darn it really comes from. It is first recorded (in America) in 1781. Early references include specific claims that darn is a euphemistic substitution for damn. The existence of expressions like ‘gosh darn it to heck!’ and ‘darnation’ leave us with little room for doubt that this is another minced oath, like Baloney! or Gee Whizz! or Holy Cow!

Cassidy ignores the logical explanation and claims that it comes from dothairne air. This word does exist but it is quite obscure. Ó Dónaill’s dictionary has this:

dothairne, f. (gs. ~). Affliction. Díth is ~ ort! Bad scran to you!

Dinneen has this:

dothairne g., id., f., evil, mischief; misfortune; do dhíth is do dhothairne ort, misery and misfortune attend thee.

Unusually, Cassidy’s definition is not too far from Dinneen’s and Ó Dónaill’s. In this case, Cassidy has resisted the temptation to add any ‘figurative’ meanings from his own imagination.

The problem is this. If we put “dothairne air” into Google, we get no hits at all. If we put “damnú air” into Google, we get (well, today I got) 1360 hits. So, dothairne is not as common in Irish as Cassidy would like us to believe and of course, Cassidy didn’t speak Irish and knew nothing about the language.

Incidentally, there is a variant of this which gets a handful of hits on Google, the fake word ‘daithairne’. This comes from a singularly dim-witted article by Brendan Patrick Keane on IrishCentral, where Keane was apparently too lazy to copy the word out from Cassidy’s book properly, and too stupid and ignorant of the Irish language to realise that daithairne violates a basic rule of Irish orthography, caol le caol is leathan le leathan. (It would take too long to explain this properly, but basically, consonants have two values depending on whether they are next to an i,e or an a,o,u. For example, in mise, pronounced misha, the s is slender because it has an i and an e next to it. In measa, pronounced massa, the s has an a before it and after it, so it’s broad. The –aithai- string is strange in Irish because it’s slender on one side and broad on the other.) Still, at least this is on IrishCentral where it will hardly be noticed. A little more rubbish there will be like mún dreoilín san fharraige (a wren pissing in the sea.)

Incidentally, dang it (which Cassidy’s razor-sharp intellect somehow missed) might just have an Irish connection. In Irish, damnú air (damn it) is sometimes disguised as daingniú air (strengthening on it). It is not impossible that this gave rise to dang it, as there is no word dang in English.

Baloney

Another oft-quoted piece of Cassidese is the phrase béal ónna. According to Cassidy, béal ónna is the origin of the American slang word baloney, meaning nonsense or rubbish.

            Béal ónna (pron. bæl óna), silly loquacity, foolish talk; blather; blarney; stupid gossip.

There are two major points we need to be clear on here. First of all, the Irish phrase béal ónna is not an Irish phrase. It does not exist. It is composed of two words: béal, which is very common and means mouth, and ónna, which is so uncommon and obscure that it doesn’t even get a mention in Ó Dónaill’s 1300 page dictionary of Modern Irish. Before Cassidy, nobody had ever linked it to béal to make a phrase béal ónna. If you used the phrase among Irish speakers they would look at you in confusion and wonder what you were talking about. It is pure invention from a total fantasist.

Look it up on Google! You will find no references to the phrase on line apart from direct quotes from Cassidy. The only other example I came up with was on a forum, where it was used casually to mean nonsense by someone whose username was Dancas1 – obviously Daniel Cassidy the great fantasist himself!

Secondly, baloney is an example of an interesting linguistic phenomenon called the minced oath. This is quite common, and exists in many languages. A minced oath is simply where an obscene or blasphemous or unpleasant word is disguised by cutting bits off it, or by saying a word which sounds a bit like it.

Thus the French avoid saying Sacré Dieu (Holy God) by saying Sacré Bleu (Holy Blue). The Irish say dar fia (by deer) instead of dar Dia (by God) or daingniú air (strengthening on it) instead of damnú air (damnation on it). The English say things like Gee Whizz (Jesus) and Blimey (God Blind Me) or Sugar (shit). 

It isn’t a difficult concept. It explains terms like Baloney, which is a minced oath for balls or bollocks. It also explains phrases like Holy Moly or Holy Mackerel and a number of other minced oaths for which Cassidy proposed ridiculously improbable Irish meanings.  

There are many naïve and silly people out there who have looked at Cassidy’s claims and asked the question, how did scholars miss these obvious Irish derivations? If you stop to think about it, the answer is pretty clear. There have been lots of clever Irish people who spoke Irish and English and if these phrases were really so obvious, they would have been spotted and suggested before.

The reason why scholars didn’t spot them is simply because most of them were invented by Cassidy and don’t exist! Occam’s Razor, my arse!