Tag Archives: pápaireacht

Some useful terms

I have recently been looking at a handful of words and phrases which are useful in describing pseudoscience and woo and fake information. All of them could easily be applied to the crackpot supporters of Daniel Cassidy. The first of these words is truly wonderful. It’s ultracrepidarianism.

The story goes that an ancient Greek artist called Apelles heard one of his paintings being criticised by a cobbler, and the artist replied that the cobbler should not go beyond his soles (ultra crepidam in the Latin version). This has become proverbial in many languages, though the sole has often been transformed to last, the wooden block (ceap in Irish) used to fashion a shoe. (The cobbler should stick to his last in English, for example.) Ultracrepidarianism describes someone who is going beyond his area of expertise, holding forth on subjects he or she knows nothing about. Unfortunately, as far as I can see, this proverb has never made it into the Irish language, and we have no direct equivalent for ultracrepidarianism, though the word pápaireacht (=pontificating, talking like a pope, talking nonsense) is a fairly close match, as is the phrase ‘ag labhairt thar a eolas’ (speaking beyond his knowledge).

Ultracrepidarianism has no connection to the word decrepit, by the way, and is nothing to do with the expression ‘a load of cobblers’ either, which comes from rhyming slang (a load of cobbler’s awls = balls).

Another great phrase which I have just come across is The Dunning-Kruger Effect. This was coined fairly recently by the eponymous psychologists. It means: a cognitive bias wherein people of low ability suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their cognitive ability as greater than it is. Basically, it means the tendency of stupid people not to realise just how stupid they are. If you want to use it as Gaeilge, it’s just Éifeacht Dunning-Kruger, of course.

And here’s a word that I have invented and I want to try to get it into the OED, so I hope others will pick up on it and use it as much as possible. It’s synomosophilia. Synomosia (συνωμοσία) is the ancient Greek for conspiracy, so a synomosophile is a lover of conspiracies. Many of Cassidy’s supporters are clearly synomosophiles. The default position of a synomosophile is to assume that there is a hidden story and that the facts aren’t really the facts. Hitler? Survived the War, lived in South America, the Holocaust didn’t happen. 9/11? A coup carried out by the military-industrial complex against the American people! Shakespeare? Written by an Irishman and full of coded messages! Pyramids? Made by aliens and brought to South America by ancient navigators! etc. etc.

In Irish (using the conventions usually employed to Gaelicise scientific terms), these people would be sionamósaifíligh (singular, sionamósaifíleach).

Nice word, isn’t it, and incredibly useful in the sad old world we live in today! Let’s get it out there …