Tag Archives: phoney etymology

Chuck

Cassidy introduces his treatment of the word chuck as follows:

Chuck, v., chucking, vn., to throw, especially to throw or pitch a ball; tossing, discarding. Uncertain origin or onomatopoeic. (Chapman, 71; OED)

Cassidy’s claim is that “The Irish teilg (pron. chel’әg, throw) is spelled “chock” when it gets tossed into English slang in the 16th century.”

Why isn’t this true? Well, there are a couple of points to remember. One, Cassidy’s ‘system’ of referencing as shown above is completely inadequate. Cassidy gives information about the meaning and possible origins of the word. Then, he gives two different sources, Chapman and the OED. There is no way of knowing which pieces of information come from which books, or indeed if all the ‘information’ comes from either of them. It was a standard practice of Cassidy’s to slip in his own inventions in these multi-source definitions. And who is Chapman? Well, it’s hard to know when you’re dealing with a book with no bibliography, but I would assume it’s probably Robert Chapman of the Dictionary of American Slang. The OED states that chuck is probably from the Old French chuquer, later choquer, “to knock, to bump”. Other sources concur with this possible origin – for example, Eric Partridge’s Origins (originally published in 1958, though my edition was published in the 1990s). While it is not completely certain, it’s a reasonable guess. It was in Cassidy’s interests to pretend that there is no other possible origin because of the weakness of his own half-baked suggestion.

Another problem with Cassidy’s Irish origin is that the word chuck was first used at the end of the 16th century in English. Cassidy likes to claim that many words were borrowed this early from Irish but the only evidence for this is Cassidy’s own discredited words like dock from tobhach or queer from corr. In reality, there seems to have been little Irish influence on English as early as this (apart from words relating to warfare like kern and gallowglass and bonnaught, which the English had good reason to learn).

However, the main reason is that teilg doesn’t sound anything like chuck. Why would anyone borrow a word from Irish and pronounce it in a completely different way? And how can you prove a connection when the two words are so totally unalike?

Teilg does primarily mean to hurl or throw in modern Irish. It originally meant to release, to throw, to shoot a bow, to give birth, to shed tears. You can find a full list of meanings under telcud at the online dictionary eDIL (http://www.dil.ie/search?search_in=headword&q=telcud). It is pronounced something like chelleg in Ulster dialect while in the south it would be tellig. (You can find sound files for the three main dialects on focloir.ie: http://www.focloir.ie/ga/dictionary/ei/cast#cast__12)

In other words, not only is Cassidy’s claim unlikely, the choquer origin makes a lot more sense, which is why Cassidy pretended it didn’t exist. Which is another good reason to chuck your copy of How The Irish Invented Slang …

 

 

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Cassidy’s Plagiarism

In 2008, Daniel Cassidy published a dreadful book called How The Irish Invented Slang. His claim in this book was that he inherited a pocket Irish dictionary in 2001 from a friend and decided to learn a word a day, and in the process he realised that hundreds of English words came from Irish. Cassidy – who according to some people was passionate about the Irish language and Irish culture – was 57 years old before he decided to start learning a little Irish. He had been an Irish Studies professor for five years at that time (though he had no qualifications at all and presumably lied his way into that job.)

Many of the supporters of Cassidy and his absurd ‘research’ have admitted that a lot of Cassidy’s claims were wrong but said that he should be praised for the things he did get right. Those of us who realise how wrong Cassidy was and how arrogant he was in his wrongness don’t accept this. There is hardly anything worth having in Cassidy’s book and hardly any of the material which is even remotely possible can genuinely be attributed to Cassidy.

For example, in October 2003, a user called Paul posed a question on an Irish language learners’ site called the Daltaí Boards. He wanted to know about Irish words in English for a project. The users of the site provided him with lots of possible candidates. For example:  galore from go leor; smashing from is maith sin; slug from slogadh; smithereens from smidiríní; shebeen from síbín; glen from gleann; Tory from Tóraí; bog from bogach; bard from bard; slogan from sluaghairm; banshee from bean sí;  whiskey from uisce beatha; brogue from bróg (shoe) and barróg (lisp); gulp from ag alpadh; shanty from seanteach; slew from slua; longshoreman from loingseoir; moniker from Shelta munik; kibosh from caidhp bháis; dig from an dtuigeann tú?

As I have stated before, some of these are correct or are likely to be correct, though some are definitely wrong and in several  cases there is doubt about whether they come from Irish or Scottish Gaelic. The origins of bard are complex and it is as likely to come from Welsh as from Irish. Gulp dates to medieval times and has a cognate in Dutch gulpen, which meant (amongst other things) to guzzle, and in any case, the idea that people would borrow the ag along with the basic word alpadh is absurd. There is no evidence that caidhp bháis actually exists as a phrase. It is only in the dictionaries as the name of a fungus.

But it really doesn’t matter whether these words and phrases are right or wrong. The point is, Cassidy used many of these words in his book without crediting the source. He plagiarised them from this forum, which he joined in January 2005, long after this thread was published in October 2003. He posted on this forum for a while, was mocked and criticised by some of the other members and eventually stopped posting under his own name, just occasionally posting barbed comments under fake names but without disguising his highly idiosyncratic and childish turns of phrase.

The only real talent Cassidy possessed was a talent for glomming and grabbing things which didn’t belong to him. He was a thief, a fraud, a charlatan and a liar.