Tag Archives: phoney linguistics

Cassidese Glossary – Mick

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.

One of the sillier claims in Daniel Cassidy’s etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, is the claim that the word ‘Mick’, which is used in various English-speaking countries as a racist insult against the Irish, comes from the Irish word mic, the plural of mac meaning son. Cassidy doesn’t explain why this should be the case, why racists would use a word meaning son (which is usually a mark of affection), in the language of the people they were denigrating, or why a plural word would be used as a singular. Mic sounds like Mick, so it must be the origin of the word, right? Never mind that everybody in Ireland knows full well that certain common names among the Catholic Irish have become slang terms for a Catholic Irish person – Taig (Tadhg), Tim (equivalent of Tadhg, used in Scotland), Paddy and Mick. Never mind that all of the (genuine) dictionaries are in agreement about this.

In fact, in exactly the same way, our Irish ancestors used terms like Bhullaí (=Wully or Willy) for the Ulster Planters from Scotland. For example, Art Mac Cumhaigh wrote “Bhullaidh is Jane ag glacadh léagsaidhe Ar dhúithchíbh Éireann” (Wully and Jane taking out leases On the territories of Ireland.) And seoinín (=Little John, later anglicised as shoneen and jackeen) was used for people who aped English ways. As usual, Cassidy’s claim is simply nonsense.


I have noticed that many of the early posts on this blog get relatively little traffic, so I have decided to start republishing some of them.


Here’s another example of my issues with Cassidy’s theories. According to Cassidy, the English word sneeze derives from Irish:

Sní as (pron. snee’as, flowing, dripping, leaking, coursing out of) is not to be sneezed at. It is the Irish origin of the English sneeze.

There are several points to be noted here. First of all, the phrase sní as doesn’t exist in Irish as a way of referring to sneezing. Nor could it exist, as far as I can see. The word sní refers to slow movement of liquids, such as a running, a dripping or a flowing, or to the slow movement of snails or slugs. Here is the entry from Mícheál Ó Siochfhradha’s Irish-English, English-Irish Dictionary published in 1973 by the Talbot Press in Dublin:

Sní, f. flowing slowly (as water); crawling (as snail)

As sneezing is one of the fastest and most dynamic actions the human body is capable of, it hardly seems likely that sní would be used to describe it! It would be far more likely to be used (if at all) as a way of describing a nose running because of a cold.

Then again, there is an Irish word for sneeze. It’s in all the dictionaries. Sraoth is the word. So if you want to say “I sneezed”, you would say lig me sraoth. If you want to say ‘I was sneezing’, you say bhí mé ag sraothartach (or in my Ulster dialect, bhí mé ag srofartaigh).

And last but by no means least, we have to look at borrowings between languages. Generally speaking, languages borrow words that they don’t have a word for themselves. Thus banshee, or kosher, or imam have been borrowed into English because English doesn’t have words for those concepts. But people have always sneezed, so why wouldn’t English have had a word for sneezing before the Irish gave them an expression?

Of course, the English did have an expression for sneezing. It’s the word sneezing. English is a Germanic language, which is why Irish fear is ‘man’ in English and ‘Mann’ in German, or Irish lámh is ‘hand’ in English and ‘Hand’ in German, because the core vocabulary of the Germanic languages is related. If we look at words for sneeze in the Germanic languages, sneeze is ‘niesen’ (pronounced ‘neezen’) in German and ‘niezen’ (neesa) in Dutch. Apparently all of these words originally had an f in front of them which in English was somehow replaced with an s, probably on the analogy of words like sniff, snort, snivel. As it happens, the version with f- is not found in any Old English text but this doesn’t mean it never existed.

By the time of Chaucer, the word already existed in English as snesen. The words sneeze, niesen and niezen are obviously the same word (and phonetically far closer than many of Cassidy’s fake associations like block and bealach or sách úr and sucker) and none of them has any direct connection with Irish.

Onwards and Upwards

Since I started Cassidyslangscam, there has been an increase every year in the number of visitors and the number of hits. This year is no exception. I have already surpassed the number of visitors and hits the site got last year. And that means that more people around the globe have been warned about the worthlessness of Cassidy’s fake research, and that can only be a good thing.

More on Michael Patrick MacDonald

Before Christmas, in a blog post called Fact or Fun, I mentioned an incredibly stupid tweet from the Boston writer Michael Patrick MacDonald, a crony of Cassidy’s. A Twitter user called Coiste Focal Nua (=New Word Committee) said that Cassidy’s book was regarded as ‘academic fraud’, whereupon Michael Patrick MacDonald wrote:

Never was academic. Bigger than that. It raises serious questions about the racist OED lapdogs.

Coiste Focal Nua replied:

No it does not. He made almost everything up. Here is a reliable enough list http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_words_of_Irish_origin

MacDonald replied with another stupidity:

That’s a ridiculous list. One of the most loquacious ethnicities in U.S. contributed a handful of words to American slang?

Of course, this is the same old nonsense we have had from every supporter of Cassidy. No specific words are mentioned. No evidence is provided. There just must be more words than that because Irish people talk a lot. Coiste Focal Nua replied with this:

Most probably. Go n-éirí leat le foghlaim na Gaeilge. (May you be successful in learning Irish.)

MacDonald’s reply was another typical piece of lame-brained nonsense:

good luck studying American social history & culture.

This is a standard response from the Cassidy-lovers. We’ve seen the same pompous rubbish from Sean Sweeney, amongst others. Apparently, there are certain arcane and obscure aspects of Irish-American culture which we non-Irish-Americans know nothing about and this is why we don’t accept Cassidy’s claims, not because they’re lies. It’s a foolish argument and it’s also incredibly condescending. I mean, what are these aspects of Irish-American culture which confirm Cassidy’s arguments? What exactly are we Irish so ignorant of?

Wow, so you mean that all those people who left Ireland, they went to America? Really? I thought they all went to Greenland, or Botswana. I know all my relatives lived in Boston and New York but I thought that was just us! So, they came over to the USA. And they lived in slum houses. Not castles … or mud huts … or houseboats? OK, slum houses. And they found jobs? They worked? Why did they work? Oh, I see, they would have starved to death if they didn’t. Never thought of that. But some of them didn’t work. They became criminals. Right. That means they broke the law? Hmm. This is getting complicated. Mind if I take notes?

The fact is, of course, that the number of Irish speakers in the community, the jobs they did or the social class they belonged to are entirely irrelevant. They mean nothing.

Cassidy’s crazy theories fall flat on one question and one question only. Are there hundreds of words in American slang which have no known origin and which resemble Irish phrases and words? And the answer to this is a resounding NO. Cassidy invented almost all the Irish phrases in the book, he lied about the definitions of the Irish words, he ignored alternative explanations. When you strip away all the rubbish, all that’s left is a handful of words and phrases like slew, galore, shebeen and sourpuss, which were already clearly labelled as words of Irish origin in the dictionaries.

The fact is, no aspect of American social history can increase the number of slang words which have matches in the Irish language. No aspect of social history can make Cassidy’s Irish better or his absurd phrases more like the real thing. No aspect of social history can make Cassidy less of a fraud and more of a scholar.

So MacDonald, wise up and stop talking nonsense! The only reason you’re supporting this shite is because Cassidy was a friend of yours. He wasn’t a friend of mine and he wasn’t a friend of the Irish language or the Irish people. And as long as you continue to support this American con-man who treated our language and culture with such obvious contempt, neither are you.


This is another instance where Daniel Cassidy got it massively wrong in his absurd insult to the world of scholarship, How The Irish Invented Slang.

There is a common word in Scots (the Lowland Scots version of English, not Scots Gaelic) which is also found in northern dialects of English, the word gallus. According to the experts, this word is related to the standard English ‘gallows’. It is used in the plural as galluses in Scotland and northern England as the equivalent of ‘braces’ in standard British English or ‘suspenders’ in American English. The word gallus is also used in Scotland as an adjective which originally meant ‘pertaining to the gallows’ (a bit like the English ‘a gallows bird’, a criminal), but which later meant ‘daring’ or ‘cheeky’ or ‘impressive’. It is still very much alive in Scottish speech.

The word gealaisí in Irish means ‘braces’/’suspenders’ and is a borrowing of galluses. We know that it came from Britain to Ireland rather than the other way round because galluses is found in both Scotland and England and has a recognised etymology (galluses=gallows) while gealaisí doesn’t. Cassidy tries to suggest a tenuous link with the Irish gealas meaning ‘brightness’ or ‘ray’ but fails to explain how this could become an adjective or how the meanings of gealas could give rise to gallus or galluses, or indeed how you can explain an Irish word becoming so widespread in northern England.

In other words, Cassidy’s item on gallus is just more anti-intellectual garbage from a fool who couldn’t be bothered doing any proper research himself but liked to taunt and insult genuine scholars in Ireland, Scotland, England and the US while borrowing extensively from their work when it suited him and selectively ignoring anything they wrote when it didn’t.


This is another ridiculous claim of Cassidy’s, that the word ‘gimmick’ comes from the Irish camóg, which according to The Great Fraud means ‘a trick’, ‘a deceit’ or ‘a hooked stick’. Gimmick first makes its appearance in the 1920s. It originally meant a device for fixing a roulette wheel or something similar at a fairground so that people would not win anything valuable. It then came to mean any kind of magician’s device and then a publicity stunt or politician’s trick.

Its origin is not known. Some have suggested a link to gimcrack but there are no good suggestions on the table. Among the no-good suggestions on the table is Cassidy’s idea that it comes from the Irish camóg. Camóg is a diminutive of the word cam, meaning crooked.  

Here are its definitions, according to the electronic version of Ó Dónaill’s dictionary.

1. crook, hooked stick

2. camogie stick (camogie is the women’s version of hurling)

3. gaff-hook

4. chinks

5. camóg ara, hollow of temple

6. a. concave scallop shell

6. b. small wooden dish

7. wisp (of smoke)

8. ripple (on water)

9. comma 

Is there anything there which makes you automatically think of devices or tricks? Maybe the original gimmick which was used to interfere with the wheel of fortune was hooked. And maybe it wasn’t. But I can’t really see why camóg would become gimmick, where the vowels are completely different and the g and c are reversed. Cassidy spoofed a lot about the ‘English phonetic overcoats’ which cover his candidate ‘Irish’ phrases but the fact is that most genuine borrowed words look a lot like the word they derive from. Samurai, bagel and shebeen may not be exactly like their Japanese, Yiddish or Irish source-words but they’re close enough and I see no reason why fairground folk wouldn’t have talked about kammogs instead of gimmicks if this were really the origin of the word.

Once again, Cassidy’s idea is superficially attractive but turns out to be very, very unlikely.

Spick and Span

Daniel Cassidy, in his crazy affront to the world of linguistics, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that the phrase spick and span comes from Irish spiaca’s bán. It doesn’t, of course. Let’s look at the evidence from Irish about the supposed term spiaca’s bán and then the evidence from English about the known origins of this phrase.

Does the term spiaca’s bán exist? As usual with Cassidy, there is absolutely no evidence that it does. Cassidy did not open a grammar book or a dictionary and find the phrase spiaca’s bán in it glossed as spick and span. He found two words in a dictionary and put them together to make a suitable phrase. The two words which make up the phrase do exist, of course. Spiagaí is a word meaning brilliant or gaudy, and it has an alternative version spiaca which is used in some dialects. Bán means white. So the phrase means ‘brilliant white’, which is not really what spick and span means.

However, there are also very good reasons for regarding spiaca’s bán as impossible, or at least highly improbable. Firstly, while Irish speakers sometimes put ‘s or agus between adjectives these days (because of Béarlachas or the influence of English), this is not traditional in the language. A big red book is leabhar mór dearg, not leabhar mór agus dearg. It is unlikely that an Irish speaker centuries ago would have done this. Secondly, when there are pairs of adjectives like this, it is almost always the case that the one-syllable word comes first. Thus we have tinn tuirseach, dubh dóite, deas néata, beag bídeach. It would really have to be bán spiagaí, which obviously isn’t going to be the origin of spick and span. 

As for the English, the term spick and span has been in the language for hundreds of years. It is found in Sir Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch’s Lives, 1579: ‘They were all in goodly gilt armours, and brave purple cassocks apon them, spicke, and spanne newe.’ Apparently ‘new’ was nearly always added to the phrase in these early references. Most dictionaries suggest that the word spick is a variant of spike or nail, and span is an ancient term for a chip of wood, so the idea is that everything is new in an item, including the wood and the nails. Sounds reasonable to me. In any case, how many Irish speakers were living in English-speaking communities in 1579 and so even if the Irish phrase existed, how could it have been transmitted from Irish to English back then?



Cassidy informs us in his bizarre dreckfest How The Irish Invented Slang that the obsolete slang term for the moon, oliver, comes from the Irish oll ubh óir, a great golden egg. This is one way (a wrong way – it should be ollubh óir) of saying big golden egg in Irish, though certainly not the usual way (ubh mhór óir) but why óir? Why golden? Surely the moon is always regarded as silvery, in contrast to the golden quality of the sun? I don’t know the real origin of oliver though folklore apparently links it to Oliver Cromwell and his bald pate. But I don’t believe it comes from oll ubh óir. It’s just more wild-eyed, dumb-ass lunatic speculation from the Cassidy lie-factory.