Tag Archives: New York University

More on Professor Joseph Lee

 

Among the numerous cronies who have boosted the reputation of the charlatan Daniel Cassidy and his absurd book, How The Irish Invented Slang, one of the worst is Joe Lee, a respectable academic historian and scholar who is connected with New York University.

Lee provided a gushing and ridiculously positive review for the back of Cassidy’s book.

“In this courageous, crusading manifesto, Daniel Cassidy flings down the gauntlet to all those compilers of dictionaries who fled to the safe haven of ‘origin unknown’ when confronted with the challenge of American slang …The originality and importance of the argument makes this an exciting contribution to both American and Irish Studies. This is a landmark book, at once learned and lively, and quite enthralling as to how American English acquired so vibrant a popular vocabulary.”

I have read some of Lee’s work. In spite of his idiotic support for Cassidy, he deserves to be respected as an historian. Interestingly, he is critical of the traditional nationalist narratives. For example, he is critical of the claims that there was enough food in Ireland to feed the population during the Famine years. Why he chose to take the reputation which he has acquired through decades of hard work and study and flush it down the pan by supporting a joke like Cassidy remains a mystery. There is no doubt that he knew Daniel Cassidy and many of Cassidy’s friends. Does this explain it? Was it simple nepotism?

Or was it pity? Did he choose to support Cassidy because Cassidy had no health insurance after the collapse of New College and was relying on the sales of the book? If so, this was a shitty thing to do. The Irish people are not responsible for Daniel Cassidy and we are certainly not responsible for one of the richest nations on earth choosing to have a cruelly inadequate health care system. If he wanted to help Cassidy, Lee could have remortgaged his house to pay the insurance bills, not sold out our language and culture.

Or was it a more selfish motive? Was Lee trying to stay on the right side of a parcel of cronies, men like Peter Quinn and Pete Hamill, who would do anything to avoid admitting that Daniel Cassidy was a fraud?

Of course, I suppose there is a possibility that Lee genuinely believed the praise he lavished on the book. However, I find this impossible to believe, because Lee is not an idiot. How could anyone who speaks Irish believe that more than a handful of the ‘Irish’ phrases in this book are genuine? (Of course, he’s not a linguist, but even so!) And we have to remember that Lee is an academic. He must have seen dozens, if not hundreds of theses and dissertations. He knows full well that any thesis or dissertation with standards of scholarship as poor as Cassidy’s would not be acceptable in any university, anywhere.

There is also another bit of evidence, posted by someone using the username ap-aelfwine on this forum: http://gaeilge.livejournal.com/175737.html

The bit of Cassidy’s work I’ve seen struck me as dubious,* although I recently heard a faculty member–a clueful historian who has good Munster Irish–at the programme I just graduated from say he thought C. was pointing in some directions that deserved exploration. It was in the midst of a reception–I didn’t get a chance to ask him more about it, unfortunately.

The clueful historian is obviously Lee. It doesn’t surprise me that he was still making broadly positive comments about Cassidy in 2010, because he had been stupid enough to put his endorsement on the book a couple of years earlier. But ‘pointing in some directions that deserve exploration’ (a view which is also foolish, in my opinion, and there’s plenty of evidence of that in this blog) is a far cry from ‘landmark book’, ‘courageous and crusading manifesto’, or ‘learned and lively’, never mind ‘an exciting contribution to both American and Irish Studies’. Yet Lee’s review still stands on the back of every copy of this ludicrous turd of a book. No doubt many people have been conned into believing that Cassidy’s work is a genuine piece of scholarship because of Lee’s endorsement and his continued refusal to set the record straight.

Or could it just be that Lee is a victim of that old enemy of rationality, the arrogance and hubris that so frequently goes with titles like Professor and Senator, the feeling that who you are makes you above the ordinary decencies that lesser folk have to live with?

Who knows? Who cares? Integrity is a precious commodity. Life is far too short to waste on people who are prepared to squander their reputation on a putz like Cassidy, whatever bizarre motive they had for doing so.

A Night Out For The Cronies

It has been several months now since my last contribution, so I thought it was high time I gave a brief update. Cassidy’s ridiculous book is still being sold on Amazon. Most of the time, the sales are sluggish, but occasionally some poor schmuck, impressed by the rave reviews from Cassidy’s crony friends, buys a few copies for his relatives and the book’s rating goes up again.

I found this picture on line. Here we see several of the worst of Cassidy’s cronies at a night out in New York in April. There is Peter Quinn, Joe Lee and Terry Golway, all of whom were quite happy to praise and support this crap, in spite of the fact that it is obvious nonsense. As far as I am aware, none of them has ever recanted, retracted, repudiated Cassidy or apologised for helping to sell this garbage to unsuspecting people (even after it was revealed that Cassidy was an academic fraud with no degrees). Well, what the hell! It’s their reputations which are being dragged through the mud and the longer they refuse to do the right thing, the shabbier and more ridiculous they look.

An Bhfuil Gaeilge Agat?

One of the most startling aspects of the Cassidy Scandal is the number of people who have argued in favour of Cassidy while pretending to a knowledge of the Irish language. As we have said, a few Irish speakers who genuinely do speak Irish have supported Cassidy. In the majority of cases (Joe Lee, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir) there seems to be a social link between these people and Cassidy, so they cannot be regarded as impartial.

However, in many other cases, there is a tendency for Cassidy’s supporters to exaggerate the amount of Irish that they or others speak in order to further their ridiculous claims.

We have already looked at Cassidy himself. Cassidy, on his own admission, had absolutely no Irish at all until he was in his late fifties, when he inherited a pocket Irish dictionary and started leafing through it. Over the next few years, he plainly failed to acquire even the most basic knowledge of Irish grammar and pronunciation. His attempts to produce Irish phrases are embarrassingly bad.

Then we have others whom Cassidy claimed as fluent Irish speakers. For example, using his sockpuppet of Medbh, he claimed that Alexander Cockburn was a fluent Irish speaker. Cockburn was raised in the Cork town of Youghal, and no doubt some of his education would have had an Irish component. But he then went to an English public school and spent most of his adult life in America. If he was fluent in Irish, none of the obituaries mention the fact.

But the main group of people claiming a knowledge of Irish are those in reviews who claim that they speak the language and can therefore judge the merits of Cassidy’s ‘research’. Let’s take one example. On Goodreads, for example, we find comments like this:

I know Irish. I speak Irish. It’s always bothered me how so many Irish words sound like English words that are similar in sound. AND those English words have NOTHING to do with a similar English word like “Raspberries.” Now I can sleep at night. (The book makes so much more sense if you can speak “as Gaeilge.”

This is very badly written, (well, they would sound like English words that are similar in sound, wouldn’t they?) and is plainly nonsense as there is no Irish phrase which sounds like raspberries. Cassidy’s claim is pure invention and I don’t believe that this individual invented Cassidy’s absurd candidate (roiseadh búirthí) independently before reading the book. This also comes from someone who gives a list of their other books on Goodreads, which include things like Buntús Cainte, Book 1 (an elementary text for someone learning the language). Of course, this person may be a genius who acquired a fantastic knowledge of the language in the year and a half between reviewing Buntús Cainte and reviewing Cassidy’s book, though the fact that he seems to take Cassidy’s ideas seriously suggests to me that his knowledge of Irish is much more limited than he claims.

Others say in their reviews that they have been learning Irish for a year, or that they are students of the Irish language, and so are in a position to confirm Cassidy’s claims. The fact is, Irish is a very difficult language. It takes people years of study to become properly fluent in the language. After a year, and possessing a few dictionaries, people might be in a position to confirm that, for example, uath exists and dubh exists and roiseadh exists and búirtheach exists. It’s a long way from that to being able to make a reasoned judgement about whether phrases like uath dubh or roiseadh búirthí are likely to make sense to a genuine Irish speaker.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Irish is wonderful and I like the fact that people are keen to learn it. However, having studied a bit of Buntús Cainte really doesn’t qualify anybody as an expert in Gaelic linguistics. This addresses one of the fundamental problems of the whole Cassidy Scandal, the idea that there is no special skill involved in linguistics and that amateurs like Cassidy who don’t speak Irish or know the grammar or know how to pronounce the language have an equal right to pronounce on word origins with genuine experts who have genuine qualifications. Just occasionally, people who are amateurs manage to make major contributions to scholarship (people like Susan Hendrickson or Grote Reber). It’s not unheard of. The difference is that these people work with and through the consensus developed in their field to make a new contribution and they work very hard to do it. The other big difference is that these people are generally respected by established experts in their field.

That’s because genuinely gifted amateur scholars like this engage in discourse with experts and provide genuine evidence of their talents, unlike Cassidy who couldn’t even be bothered learning the basics of the Irish language before rushing into print with this ridiculous travesty of a book.