Tag Archives: pseudolinguistics

A Challenge To Hugh Curran

 

I have had a comment from Hugh Curran. Remember him?

Why the negative talk using terms like “scumbag” etc. Did I say anything at that merits this kind of comment? I admitted that I was not proficient in Gaeilge even though as a young boy I spoke it at home with my parents who were native speakers. The fact that we immigrated to Canada when I was young reduced my chance to continue as a native speaker even as all my cousins in Ireland are native speakers. The writer of the above article is vehement in his denunciation for reasons I am unable to comprehend unless he feels that any positive comments about Cassidy’s book are totally erroneous. There are at least some words in Cassidy’s book that merit consideration . I would hope the writer of the article withdraws the article or apologies for his remarks.

He claims to find my hostility inexplicable, though I’ve explained it at great length in two languages. I’ve made it absolutely clear that yes, any positive comments about Cassidy’s book are totally erroneous and yes, there are effectively no words in Cassidy’s book that merit consideration. Cassidy’s theories and his book are an immoral and disgusting hoax and Cassidy was a criminal liar who worked for twelve years as an academic without any qualifications at all. He didn’t speak any Irish at all and his knowledge of Irish history and linguistics was entirely inadequate – like the man himself. In short, Cassidy’s book is malicious dross.

And as this is the case, I believe that the term scumbag is entirely justified. Myself and a number of other critics of Cassidy are trying to prevent people being ripped off and lied to and misinformed. And you are trying to spread the lies and misinformation and support the liar. What a scumbag!

However, I’m a reasonable man. You claim that this book is not a malicious hoax. So, you want me to remove the articles about you? Fine, I’ll do that – if you can justify your position with evidence.

So, here’s my challenge to you. Find 10 words or phrases in Cassidy’s book where there is sufficient evidence for Cassidy’s derivation that a reasonable and impartial person would accept that Cassidy got it right. Oh, and they have to be Cassidy’s claims, not claims that were already in the public domain which Cassidy plagiarised, so you can’t use words like pet and cross and snazzy and galore and slew.

Of course, there are hundreds of words and phrases in Cassidy’s book, so if it’s the mine of undiscovered gems you claim, rather than a dark malodorous empty cave containing only the echoes of Cassidy’s insanity, it shouldn’t be that hard to find ten words or phrases that fit the bill. Should it?

If you can do that, I’ll apologise and withdraw the posts about you. (Let me tell you now, you won’t be able to – Cassidy’s book is that big a pile of shite!) And if you can’t, then I will also take down the posts about you, on condition that you apologise for supporting this nonsense in the face of all the evidence and recommend that other people avoid it, which is what a decent person would have done in the first place.

 

The English For Comhar

I recently criticised the claim made by Daniel Cassidy and perpetuated by some of his apprentices in idiocy that the word comhar is of central importance in Irish culture and language and that it is ‘a long-standing ideal of cooperative society’.

By a strange coincidence, someone asked me the other day to find out where bee comes from, as in a sewing or spelling bee. It turns out that bee is thought to be a corruption of been or bean, an English dialect word meaning a favour or a gathering of people to help out a neighbour. It suddenly struck me – BEAN OR BEEN IS THE ENGLISH FOR COMHAR!

In other words, it must be a central concept of Anglophone culture, a long-standing ideal of a cooperative society! I’m so excited at having made this major anthropological discovery just by clicking a mouse a couple of times.

I am beginning to see the appeal of Cassidy’s methods. It’s so much easier to make major discoveries when you don’t have to do any work or present any evidence! Brilliant! Remember, you heard it here first …

 

(Just in case anyone has stopped by here without understanding the context of the blog, let me make it quite clear that I am being sarcastic here!)

 

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

In earlier posts, I suggested that Cassidy had some kind of narcissistic personality disorder. Note that I didn’t say he suffered from NPD. I know from personal experience that people with personality disorders are rarely the ones who suffer. It’s usually the people around them who do the suffering.

Some people might think it strange that a person who is completely self-obsessed, selfish and narcissistic would be able to inspire the kind of loyalty that Cassidy’s supporters obviously feel towards him. However, we should remember here that while they are quite prepared to show a very negative side to people who have nothing they want or who stand up to them, narcissists are famous for their ability to charm those they want to use or control, which explains why so many cult leaders and con-men are narcissists.

Here is a list of some of the most important characteristics of a person with NPD:

1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).

His book was, according to Cassidy, bigger than Frank McCourt’s and he had degrees from Cornell and Columbia – though in reality he didn’t have any degrees from anywhere.

  1. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.

A short while after his idiotic book was published, Cassidy was already using his new-found status as a published author by helping to found the Irish American Writers’ and Artists’ Association.

  1. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).

Look at all the ‘friends’ that Cassidy boasted of an association with, the professors and writers who provided glowing reviews for his crazy book.

  1. Requires excessive admiration.

There is a term in the literature about narcissism which is quite useful – the notion of narcissistic supply. Unfortunately, unlike the eponymous Narcissus, real narcissists do not content themselves with hanging around in woods gazing longingly at their own reflection in a limpid pool. Fans and admirers are the mirror these people require. Their followers are simply the cannon-fodder in the narcissist’s ongoing war against reality. The flip-side of this is that the narcissist gets really angry when they are challenged, which is known as narcissistic rage.

For an example of narcissistic rage, here’s Cassidy holding forth through a sock-puppet identity in response to critics of his idiocies about the word jazz: “You do not own the word “jazz” (teas) on Wikipedia or anywhere else. You are not balancing anything. Your article is replete with inaccuaracies and distortions. It is an embarassemnt. The attempt to marginalize Daniel Cassidy’s pioneering work on the word “jazz” and hundreds of other American vernacular words and phrases in his new book How the Irish Invented Slang: the Secret language of the Crossroads is pathetic. Cassidy’s book has been hailed by scores of respected academics, journalists, writers, and Irish language scholars, since its publication 3 months ago. See the Irish Times, The Irish Independent, The Belfast Telegraph, Irish News, The Derry Journal, RTE, Ireland’s national broadcaster, and Irish language publications like La Nua, Beo, and Foinse, as well as American media, including ABC radio, KPFA, WBAI, the SF Chronicle, and NY Observer,and this is just in the first weeks after publication. I shall continue to put up the Irish sanas of jazz. These last feeble attempts to censor Cassidy’s work are laughably pathetic. Let’s put it to mediation. I will provide 20 PUBLISHED articles supporting Cassidy’s thesis. All you have are the same old white boy cronies and Anglophile dictionary dudes.”

  1. Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations.

Yes, taking a job as a professor when you don’t have a degree, don’t speak Irish and have never published anything of any value certainly suggests a sense of entitlement.

  1. Is inter-personally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.

Did Cassidy ever stop to ask himself whether all the people who quoted his shit would be humiliated or shamed by their association with him? Probably not, but plainly these people were all used and exploited by Cassidy.

  1. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.

How about this from his sister Susan? “He just believed that he was so much smarter than everyone else that no one would dare to question him. I certainly would have never questioned him because he would have been so abusive. I spent most of my life just listening to his bullshit.”

  1. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.

Cassidy continually scoffed at the dictionary dudes and the genuine academics who wouldn’t play according to his rules. For example, here’s one of his comments, given under yet another sock-puppet identity: “Zwicky has no books published on etymology, slang, or Irish, while Barrett is just a shill for the Oxford Dictionary which publishes his barely selling boring slang dictionaries. I agree with the reviewer above. The Anglophile neo-conservative lexicographers got caught with their English knickers down on Irish language influence on American vernacular and now they are piling on Cassidy with ad hominem attacks.”

  1. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

As his sister said: He really thought he was so much smarter than everyone–a real egomaniac with an inferiority complex–that’s why he always barked at anyone who dared to question him.

The evidence that Cassidy was a total narcissist is very strong. Certainly much, much stronger than any of the evidence for the Irish derivation of slang Cassidy provided in his ridiculous book.

The Lessons of the Cassidy Scandal

Now that Cassidy’s Reign of Error is over, it seems like a good time to examine some of the lessons to be learned from this case.

Cassidy, who had no qualifications at all, was able to hide his fraud in plain sight. While he never gave a clear account of his academic record in public, there is enough evidence on line that he claimed to have a degree from Cornell. Cornell and its Registrar Cassie Dembosky responded to my request for information very quickly and with no hassle. The other universities were less responsive and in spite of a campaign of letter-writing and contacting the press, I have still not received satisfactory answers to my questions. Academic fraud is on the increase and it’s in everybody’s interests to make it easier to expose it. Unfortunately, no one body is responsible for tracking down frauds like Cassidy, so the evidence may have to be sought in different states and different countries. If even one of these individuals or institutions fails to do its duty (such as Columbia and San Francisco State), it may be difficult to prove the fraud conclusively.

People need to be taught to think. Thinking rationally is the most basic skill of all and people should be taught how to distinguish manipulative bullcrap from reality. It is amazing how many people don’t understand that ‘I want this to be true’ is not a valid argument, or simply don’t feel it necessary to check ‘facts’ because they’ve seen them in black and white in a book.

People should be taught a little about linguistics. Everything we do is based on language, yet the scientific study of language is a mystery to many people who consider themselves educated. Many people would rather read the pontifications of grammar mavens who spout nonsense (e.g. food cannot be healthy, it can only be healthful!) rather than read a genuine expert on language like David Crystal. There seems to be a prevailing view among some people that linguists are just a bunch of trendy lefties who are intent on reducing the language of Shakespeare to textspeak.

A common view among people who have never been taught to think (or have they been taught not to think?) is that being reasonable consists of finding a middle point between two competing positions. Let’s just think about this for a minute. If someone is telling me that black people are genetically non-human, should people like me who are not racists go half way on the path of irrational bigotry to meet them? Of course not! It’s not a question of finding compromises between opposing theories, it’s a question of assessing how well the theories correspond to the facts. Not all theories are created equal and not all theories deserve to be treated with equal respect. Some theories, like racism, deserve no respect at all.

The newspapers really should strap on a pair and start to clear up the messes they make. I know their function is to sell copies and get noticed but in the case of Cassidy, they were all very keen to spread the word about his book and his lunatic theories without actually checking whether those theories had any validity at all. (There are a few exceptional journalists like Ed Power, but most of them couldn’t be arsed confirming that Cassidy wasn’t a flake.) But when the dog bites man story comes around, that Cassidy was simply an unqualified fraud masquerading as a professor and that he knew nothing about Irish, none of the papers want to know. None of them are prepared to publish a retraction or set the record straight because there’s no profit in it for them and apparently, informing people of the truth isn’t what they do.

Friends are a wonderful thing. When people use their friendships to gain advantage at the expense of the truth and even at the expense of the people who regarded themselves as their friends, that’s another matter. Cassidy used his friends to support his ignorant posturing, and all of these friends – Joseph Lee, Peter Quinn, Peter Linebaugh, John Rickford and many others – all of them have been diminished as people and as academics by their contact with the Great Fraud. They may not recognise that fact but those of us who recognised Cassidy’s childishness and stupidity the moment we opened his book find their gullibility astounding and their unwillingness to set the record straight a clear indication of the kind of people they really are.

However good somebody is as a party animal, that doesn’t make them a talented researcher or academic. If you want a comedian or musician to make the faculty Christmas party go with a swing, contact a theatrical agent. If you want someone who can do academic research, make sure they actually have a degree or two before you employ them.

Wikipedia can be a wonderful source of information but there are problems with it. The famous case of Philip Roth should stand as a warning. Roth corrected certain claims about his own novel The Human Stain on Wiki but was told by administrators that they needed secondary sources! It seems to me that the original intention of Wikipedia was that subject experts who really understand the issues would contribute their specialist knowledge. However, it appears that much of the activity on Wikipedia is by busybodies who edit so much on such a wide range of matters that they cannot possibly have any expert knowledge of the area in question. Furthermore, the protocols of Wikipedia favour pseudoscience and false claims, just as they did in the case of Philip Roth. If someone publishes a false claim in a book, that is regarded as a valid source, even if it’s a work of pseudoscience like How The Irish Invented Slang and completely valueless. Academics do not routinely publish books or articles debunking nonsense (perhaps they should!) and so the only sources for the correct information are often inadmissible sources by Wikipedia’s criteria, such as privately published blogs like this one.

Lastly, be careful of people playing certain political cards in their own defence. Cassidy played the ethnicity card and the class card in order to protect himself from legitimate criticism. He depicted the world of linguistics and lexicography as an upper-class Anglophile closed shop where men in dinner jackets decide on fake English etymologies to play down the cultural contribution of the Irish. Because of this bizarre fantasy, a large number of idiots who consider themselves Irish were quite happy to rush to his defence, even if that meant trying to shout down people who actually speak Irish.

Another Update

Well, it has been several weeks now since I last updated people on my search for the truth about Cassidy’s qualifications. However, before giving a further update, I will just run through the background for the sake of anyone who has just joined us.

Daniel Cassidy worked as an academic in California for twelve years. He published a totally off-the-wall book which revealed that he knew absolutely nothing about Irish, Irish Studies or Linguistics. Sources online claim that he had a degree from Cornell. Others claim that he had a degree from Columbia as well. However, a couple of months ago, acting on a tip-off from his sister, I contacted Cornell, whose registrar Cassie Dembosky confirmed that Cassidy flunked out and never received his degree.

Since then, I have been searching for further information. I particularly wanted to find out if there was any evidence of what qualifications he claimed to have when he applied for work in California at New College of California and before that at San Francisco State (probably) and I also wanted to confirm that he had no qualifications from Columbia. So, I have written a few letters and emails to these institutions.

So far, the only reply I have had was from WASC, the body in charge of higher education in California. In a somewhat begrudging exchange (on both sides, after the first reply) I have established that WASC does not keep the records of the staff of the now defunct New College of California. Still, begrudging is better than no answer at all. Way to go, Danielle! Anyway, that’s one door closed.

Whatever dog-eared and largely fictional curriculum vitae this man submitted to these institutions has probably been shredded years ago. That’s assuming that there was ever a proper hiring process at New College. Perhaps they did something Californian – casting the runes or the I Ching, looking at Cassidy’s horoscope, or perhaps Martin Hamilton had a prophetic dream or decided that the vibes were good (“I have a good feeling about Daniel. The chakras are strong in this one…”) Who knows?

Anyway, that leaves San Francisco State, who haven’t replied, and Columbia. I suppose it isn’t really essential to get confirmation from Columbia (we know he didn’t graduate from Cornell and personally I refuse to believe Cassidy had any qualifications at all until I see proof of it) but you would think an academic institution like Columbia, when informed that a fairly high-profile charlatan has almost certainly claimed to have a degree from them when he almost certainly didn’t would be at pains to set the record straight.

Apparently not. Perhaps Columbia doesn’t value its academic integrity as highly as Cornell.

Still, I’ll keep on trying and I live in hope that one day someone in Columbia will say “Hm, maybe he’s right! Perhaps we should do something about a well known pseudo-scholar who apparently claimed to be a graduate of Columbia when he wasn’t!”

… And a Slice of Cold Turkey

In his insane collection of fake etymology, How The Irish Invented Slang, Daniel Cassidy made many ridiculous claims. None is more ridiculous than his claim about the origins of the expression ‘cold turkey’, a slang term for the awful fever and craving which an addict goes through when giving up drugs (especially heroin). Cassidy would have known a thing or two about this, as he spent 23 months in rehab at Phoenix House, where he managed to kick his narcotics habit. (Please note, I am not sneering at Cassidy here. I have nothing but respect for people who manage to overcome addictions. My beef with Cassidy is to do with his arrogance, his nastiness and his incompetence, not his history of drug-abuse).

The term ‘cold turkey’ makes its appearance quite late on, in the early 50s. There are various theories about its origin. The most convincing is quite simply that it is descriptive of the cold clammy flesh and goosebumps associated with withdrawal.

Cassidy, of course, had a different view. According to him, this is the Irish word coillteoireacht, which he claims means ‘cutting off, expurgation, castration’. Back in the real world, coillteoireacht is an abstract noun from coillteoir, which has two separate meanings and two separate etymologies. One is from the noun coill, meaning a wood. In this case, coillteoir means a woodcutter or forester. The other is from the verb coill, meaning to geld or to spoil. So coillteoir means someone who castrates or despoils. So coillteoireacht can mean ‘the actions or behaviour of one who is engaged in forestry work’ or ‘the actions or behaviour of one who castrates or despoils.’ Well, that’s such a close correspondence to the meanings of cold turkey, it’s truly amazing nobody ever made the connection before, especially when you consider that coillteoireacht almost sounds a little bit like cold turkey!

Of course, this is complete nonsense. It isn’t a fit in terms of meaning, or sound, or the date of its appearance, and an Irish speaker back then would probably call it haras na ndrugaí (from English horrors), or rámhaille na ndrugaí, or something like that. Coillteoireacht? Not a chance!

Incidentally, this reminds me of a well-known story about an Irish country and western band back in the 60s and 70s who called themselves Big Tom and the Mainliners, unaware that mainliner had the slang meaning of heroin-user in the States. When Big Tom went to America, loads of druggie types turned up to the concerts only to find that Big Tom was more Jim Reeves than Lou Reed.

 

Owen on Lollygagging

Oh dear! Here we go again! I’ve had another message from Owen.

Your argument that the word “leath-luighe géag” couldn’t mean “lollygag” is flawed because you’re basing it on the present day meaning of the Irish Gaelic words and not the language as it was used by poor Irish immigrants in the 1800’s. It stands to reason that semantic shifts and phonology could have produced the English word in question.

Man dear, it’s obvious that you are intent on defending Cassidy’s idiotic book go bun an angair but perhaps you should find some other pointless and Quixotic enterprise – restoring King Zog to the throne of Albania or saving the dodo from extinction spring to mind.

So the language as used in the 19th century was totally different from the modern language, was it? Like many Irish speakers, many of the books I read in Irish were written in the early years of the Revival, works like Mac Gabhann’s Rotha Mór an tSaoil, which I mentioned in a post recently. I have no difficulty in understanding Mac Gabhann’s Irish at all, yet he was born in 1865. Most of the people around him when he was growing up lived through the Famine. Languages change, but they don’t change that radically in 150 years.

As for how that language differed from modern Irish, I have some idea about that. Cassidy didn’t, because Cassidy didn’t speak any Irish at all. I suspect the same is true of you. You are talking about things you know nothing about.

There is no evidence that anyone has ever used leath-luighe géag in Irish. As I’ve explained, it doesn’t make sense and incidentally, it is a phrase, not a word. Phrases are rarely borrowed between languages, especially phrases which don’t actually exist in the source language. And as for semantic shifts, I suppose that means changing the meaning of words any way you want. And phonology means changing the sounds any way you want. So essentially, you’re saying that I’m being unreasonable if I don’t accept your right to take a made-up phrase in ‘Irish’, change the pronunciation and meaning of the constituent words any way that suits you and claim this as the origin of an English word.

The fact is, there is no evidence for any of this. And it might seem to you that these things ‘stand to reason’, but to people who are genuinely reasonable they don’t make sense at all. Have a very merry Christmas with Cassidy, Santy and the Tooth Fairy. And as for me, I’ll continue to put my trust in genuine, verifiable facts.