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.
If you look at Douglas Harper’s excellent website, Online Etymology Dictionary, at
https://www.etymonline.com/word/buster, you will find that the word buster apparently first surfaced in the 1830s in the Missouri/Arkansas area. Its original meaning was an exceptional thing or a very strong man and it seems to derive from bust as in break. It also came to mean a spree and the kind of person who would be out on a spree.
Cassidy ignores these facts and inexplicably decides that buster means a fellow, a joker, a roisterer and that it comes from the Irish word pastaire.
According to Ó Dónaill, pastaire means “cheeky fellow; brat”. Of course, there is no evidence linking pastaire with buster, and Cassidy only manages to make a case by changing the meanings so that both words apparently mean ‘trickster’.
I have just had a pleasant surprise. Apparently Douglas Harper’s Online Etymological Dictionary or Etymonline (an amazing resource which I have frequently referenced in this blog) has published a link to CassidySlangScam on Facebook with the words: “Salute to this site for patiently and persistently picking apart bad popular etymology”.
It’s always nice to know that my efforts are appreciated and doubly so when it comes from etymologists who really know what they’re doing.
Sap is an American slang term for an idiot or sucker. According to Daniel Cassidy, the dork of New York, in his crap book of fake etymologies, How The Irish Invented Slang, this derives from the Irish sop, which according to him means ‘a wisp of straw, a useless lout, a cowardly weak fellow, a silly person.’ This sounds like a good match, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, Cassidy seems to have made this definition up, as Dinneen’s dictionary gives no human meanings at all for sop, while Ó Dónaill’s dictionary states that sop de dhuine (a sop of a person) can mean ‘a wispy or unkempt person.’ Most of the lengthy definition quoted by Cassidy seems to be pure invention.
Back in the real world, sap seems to derive from earlier English and Scottish terms like sapskull and saphead, both of them meaning chump or idiot. You can find out more here at the excellent Online Etymological Dictionary, a resource created by real scholars to inform people about genuine word origins: