Tag Archives: OED

Damp Squid

Daniel Cassidy did no original research at all. His idea of research was to abstract information from dictionaries, then sneer at the people who had done the work for him. His main targets were the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster, who he misrepresented as a clique of WASP bigots. Cassidy called these bastions of the linguistic establishment ‘the dictionary dudes’. In reality, of course, there is more of an implied criticism of the main dictionary-makers in the Irish language in Cassidy’s work, as none of Cassidy’s insane phrases like pá lae sámh and béal ónna are mentioned in any of the Irish dictionaries. It is also interesting that when Cassidy was confronted with a real Irish person who knew some Irish and could clearly see that Cassidy knew nothing about the subject, Cassidy was quite happy to hide behind the authority of the OED. This happened in an RTÉ radio programme, Highway 101 with Myles Dungan, now available as a podcast, where Cassidy, having been pulled up on his pronunciation, talks about the origins of phoney in Irish fáinne. Cassidy says: Your audience must be saying, this guy Cassidy’s a real crackpot, [TRUE!!] but that’s not my etymology, that’s the etymology in the Oxford English Dictionary … Strange that he both sneers at the OED and then appeals to its authority when it suits him. But then, Cassidy was what we call a teanga liom leat (a tongue with-me with-you, a hypocrite) or a coileach gaoithe (a weather vane). Or in the English of Ireland, a gobshite.

However, most of Cassidy’s sheeple have never heard this podcast and don’t know anything about Irish, and they continue to spout nonsense about how the OED and Merriam-Webster are full of anti-Irish bigots. Just recently I quoted the Boston writer Michael Patrick MacDonald, who talks about the ‘racist OED lapdogs!’ What an idiot!

I have been reading a book recently by one of these ‘racist OED lapdogs’, Jeremy Butterfield, who has commented here. I do not know Jeremy personally. I’ve never met him outside of the virtual realm of language blogs and I’ve never even been to Oxford.

However, I loved the book, and I am giving a brief review here, mainly because it’s a good book and worth reading, but also because it exemplifies very clearly how stupid and paranoid the criticisms of the ‘dictionary dudes’ by the Cassidy Cargo Cult are.

Damp Squid: The English Language Laid Bare is a very witty, informative and well-written account of lexicography and its history and the way that corpus linguistics and computing have changed the way that dictionaries like the OED are compiled. I have read a lot of books on linguistics, so much of the material was familiar to me, but there were plenty of interesting facts which were new to me. For example, the term dictionary was quite late in arriving on the scene. The first English dictionary was Latin-English. The second was apparently Welsh-English (1547)!

There are fascinating discussions of metaphor, register and eggcorns (phrases like damp squid, which was originally damp squib, but most people don’t know what a squib is these days, so they reinterpret it). I was particularly struck by his observations about how society is always metaphorically a building, while the state is often a ship. (‘foundations of a just society’, ‘Captain, My Captain…’) Obvious, when you think about it, but I had never thought about it.

It is also quite clear that Jeremy Butterfield is not the bigoted WASP Cassidy and his friends liked to denigrate. His views on language are very democratic. In the culture war between people like Simon Heffer and David Crystal, there is no doubt that he is on the Crystal side. He does not believe that dictionary definitions are set in stone, and he mocks the approach of a long-dead generation of language mavens who disliked the use of French words because you can apparently say all kinds of morally suspect things in French which English simply can’t express!

The open-mindedness of his approach demonstrates beautifully that comments like MacDonald’s ‘racist OED lapdogs’ are just childish displays of ignorance and bigotry.

In other words, Damp Squid is a fascinating book. It is full of information, but it is also fun and very readable. In short, it is everything that Cassidy’s rubbishy book is not. And even more gratifying, it is much higher on the Amazon Bestsellers Rank than How The Irish Invented Slang. Yay!!

You can (and should) buy the book at Amazon here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Damp-Squid-English-Language-Laid/dp/019957409X

A Halloween Challenge

I found an interesting piece on an online forum called Irish Gaelic Translator, relating to the death of Daniel Cassidy. It talks about his awful book and one commentator, someone calling themselves Redwolf, says:

“This book was being discussed at the Deireadh Seachtaine Gaeltachta, and one of the teachers from Ireland noted that for a long time the Oxford dictionary refused to acknowledge the Irish origin of many words that are KNOWN to be Irish (such as “slew” and “whiskey,” listing them instead as “origin unknown”).”

Interesting. It is amazing what kind of a stew people get into when they refuse to base their arguments on real evidence. I am quite sure that these claims are nonsense. I don’t know when slew first made it into the OED, but I would suggest this was pretty recent, because it would have been regarded as an Americanism even a couple of decades ago. The Gaelic origin of slew seems to me pretty cast-iron and I think it would be very strange if the OED denied this. As for whiskey/whisky, they may have argued about which version of Gaelic it comes from, Scottish Gaelic or Irish, but the idea that any dictionary ever put ‘origin unknown’ beside the word whisky seems to me to be a pure fiction.

So, here’s a Hallowe’en challenge for the Cassidy Cronies out there. This is a matter of evidence. It’s either true that the OED said that slew and whiskey are ‘origin unknown’ or it’s untrue. I’m saying that, on the basis of what I know, this is not likely to be true. It’s likely to be another childish, half-baked, worthless piece of crapology from the Cassidy lobby.

But I suppose I could be wrong. So, why don’t you go out and find a good library, check a few old editions of the OED and find a clear reference? Quote me chapter and verse about which edition of the OED we’re talking about and I’ll post this information here. However, I won’t be holding my breath! So far, these people have refused to provide any evidence at all.

Bainigí sult as Oíche Shamhna, cibé!

 

Spunk

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.