Tag Archives: pseudoscience

Why I hate Cassidy/An fáth ar fuath liom Cassidy


I have noticed a slight decrease in the number of hits on this site over the last week. This may just be coincidence, or it may be that the bilingual content is off-putting for some English speakers. In case this is the problem, I have decided to try putting the English version first in all cases, instead of my usual practice of putting the original language of composition first, whether English or Irish, and putting the translation below.

Over the years since I founded CSS, people have often asked why this stuff matters so much to me. Why do I get so angry and irritated about Cassidy and his behaviour and the nonsense emanating from his supporters?

There are lots of reasons. I don’t like people misusing the Irish language or Irish culture. I don’t like pseudo-scholarship of any kind. I don’t like fakes and phoneys like Cassidy and his friends. However, there is a little more to it than that.

Cassidy and his buddies often criticise the world of genuine etymology for its supposed pomposity and self-importance. By contrast, Cassidy is supposed to be a man of the people, who saw things the scholars didn’t because of his street smarts.

The self-appointed experts who dismiss this book are kidding themselves.” “I think the professional linguists have a lot of explaining to do as to how they missed this obvious and obviously fertile contributing source of the American language.” “No, I don’t need the scholars to tell me what is right, because they engage in as much guess work as we lay people do, only they cloak it in arcane language and references.

The truth is very different from the anti-intellectual know-nothing shite above. In reality, genuine etymologists and lexicographers work tirelessly to gather information and make judgements based on the known facts. Cassidy, in his book, his articles and his interviews, shows a level of pomposity, dishonesty, smugness and manipulation which is off the scale. He misses out important facts which would disprove the claim he is making. He sneers at the efforts of genuine scholars and misrepresents what they really say. He continually invites the ignorant and uneducated to join him in disparaging the smart people in their ivory towers and he massages their egos for having the simple common sense which enables them to recognise his version of the truth.

And many of those who support him are cut from the same cloth. They know absolutely nothing about linguistics or the Irish language, but they think they have a right to pontificate and mouth off in defence of Cassidy.

People like this make me angry – and with good reason. I don’t have a right to hold forth on subjects I know nothing about. That’s why I don’t do it. Why do these people think they’re so special that they have a right to do that without being challenged or criticised for it?


Thug mé faoi deara go raibh laghdú beag ar líon na gcuairteanna ar an tsuíomh seo le seachtain anuas. B’fhéidir nach bhfuil ann ach comhtharlú, nó b’fhéidir go bhfuil an t-ábhar dátheangach ag cur as do roinnt Béarlóirí. Ar eagla gur mar sin atá, tá socrú déanta agam triail a bhaint as an Bhéarla a chur chun tosaigh i gcónaí, in áit cloí leis an nós a bhí agam go dtí seo, i. an bhunteanga inár cumadh an t-alt a chur i dtús báire, bíodh sin i mBéarla nó i nGaeilge, agus an t-aistriúchán a chur thíos faoi.

Thar na blianta ó chuir mé CSS ar bun, is minic a cuireadh an cheist, cén fáth a bhfuil an t-ábhar seo chomh tábhachtach sin dom? Cén fáth a n-éirím chomh feargach crosta faoi Cassidy agus a chuid droch-iompair agus an raiméis a thagann óna lucht leanúna?

Tá a lán fáthanna leis. Ní maith liom daoine a bhaineann mí-úsáid as an Ghaeilge ná as cultúr na nGael. Ní maith liom bréag-léann de chineál ar bith. Ní maith liom caimiléirí ná daoine bréagacha ar nós Cassidy agus a chairde. Agus sin ráite, tá giota beag níos mó i gceist ná sin.

Is minic a bhíonn Cassidy agus a lucht leanúna ag cáineadh shaol na fíorshanasaíochta mar gheall ar an phoimpéiseacht agus féintábhacht a bhaineann leis, dar leo. Ní hionann agus Cassidy, dar leo, ar fear den phobal é, a chonaic rudaí nach bhfaca na scoláirí cionn is go raibh tuiscint aige ar shaol na sráideanna.

The self-appointed experts who dismiss this book are kidding themselves.” “I think the professional linguists have a lot of explaining to do as to how they missed this obvious and obviously fertile contributing source of the American language.” “No, I don’t need the scholars to tell me what is right, because they engage in as much guess work as we lay people do, only they cloak it in arcane language and references.

A mhalairt ar fad atá fíor agus níl fírinne ar bith ag baint leis an chacamas aineolach fhrithintleachtúil thuas, ar ndóigh. Is é fírinne an scéil, go mbíonn fíor-shaineolaithe teanga agus foclóirithe ag obair gan stad gan staonadh le heolas a bhailiú agus le breithiúnais a dhéanamh bunaithe ar na fíricí mar is eol iad. Cassidy, ina leabhar, ina chuid alt agus sna hagallaimh a thug sé, léiríonn sé leibhéal poimpéise, mí-ionracais, féinsástachta agus ionramhála atá dochreidte amach is amach. Fágann sé fíricí tábhachtacha ar lár, fíricí a bhréagnódh na rudaí atá á maíomh aige. Déanann sé a bheag d’obair na bhfíorscoláirí agus cuireann sé an méid atá le rá acu as a riocht ar fad. Is minic a mheallann sé daoine aineolacha neamhoilte le bheith ag magadh faoi na daoine cliste sna hollscoileanna ina chuideachta, agus déanann sé béal bán agus bladaireacht leo as an chiall choiteann shimplí a bheith acu a chuireann ar a gcumas a leagan féin den fhírinne a aithint.

Agus cuid mhór de na daoine a thugann tacaíocht dó, is den chineál chéanna iad. Níl eolas dá laghad acu ar an teangeolaíocht ná ar an Ghaeilge, ach síleann siad go bhfuil an ceart acu bheith ag pápaireacht agus ag spalpadh uathu ar son Cassidy agus a chuid raiméise.

Cuireann daoine dá leithéid fearg orm – agus ní gan chúis. Níl an ceart agamsa cur tharam faoi ábhair nach bhfuil aon chur amach agam orthu. Sin an fáth nach ndéanaim amhlaidh. Cén fáth a síleann na daoine seo go bhfuil siad chomh speisialta sin gur chóir ligean dóibh sin a dhéanamh gan dúshlán gan cháineadh?

Is Pseudo-Scholarship Good For Anything?

This is a subject I have been mulling over for a while. It was sparked by a casual comment on the excellent podcast Life, The Universe and Everything Else by the Winnepeg Skeptics. One of the panel said that they were addicted to pseudoscience and supernatural books when they were young. Then I read that Jason Colavito, an excellent debunker of Ancient Aliens, began his interest as a believer and gradually realised it was all bollocks. I must say, I was an omnivorous reader when I was young and I used to buy all kind of nonsense at jumble sales – Dennis Wheatley, T. Lobsang Rampa, Erich von Däniken, Carlos Castañeda, John M. Allegro.

I grew out of it by the time I was in my early twenties and it certainly never did me any harm. But could you make a case that exposure to this kind of dim-witted rubbish is actually a good thing for young minds?

The thing is, teenagers don’t think like adults. Teenagers are alive to a thousand possibilities. They are still looking for who they are and what they think about the world. The behaviour of teenagers is frequently a challenge for older people because it is often irrational and contradictory but in a sense, that’s because it needs to be. In many ways, it’s like the process of brainstorming. The first stage is to generate ideas uncritically, without rejecting anything. And one thing you can say about pseudoscientists is that they are also open to all kinds of irrational nonsense. No idea is too stupid to be rejected out of hand by a follower of pseudoscience. As a kid, I can remember reading Erich von Däniken’s books and the sense of wonder and of infinite possibility that his absurd theories gave me.

Another thing is that pseudoscientific books frequently cherry-pick exciting facts. They home in on things which are surprising, anomalous and interesting in mainstream research, as well as generous dollops of made-up nonsense. If you can work out which is which, pseudoscience can sometimes lead to some genuinely interesting material. (Of course, one common complaint is that these people make money by riding on the back of good research and distorting its conclusions, a criticism which is entirely justified.)

And last but not least, if I only read respectable and accurate works of scholarship as a child, would I have such an acute ability to detect bullshit now? Somehow I doubt it. I think that exposure to the illogical arguments and non sequiturs and random prejudices of pseudoscience actually works like an inoculation (for some people, at least). It makes them think about the nature of truth and dishonesty and it makes them develop the antibodies of skepticism and doubt.

However, if people still believe in this nonsense when they’re fully grown up, that’s a problem. But let’s face it, while it’s a problem for the wider society, it’s far more of a problem for these individuals themselves. They are the ones who are really missing out by preferring woo to true. As adults, they should be looking for that buzz of awe and wonder in the amazing amount we now know about the universe around us instead of watching Ancient Aliens. They should be impressed at the incredible amount that medical science has achieved rather than putting their faith in expensive water.

At the very least, I think that this kind of dross should be read and discussed in schools, because people need to be taught to recognise bad thinking and to develop good thinking and the easiest way to do that is to look at the worst examples of bad thinking around.

How Words Get Borrowed

In this, my first post of 2017, I would like to examine an issue that I have touched on before but never really dealt with properly, the question of how words are passed from language to language.

Cassidy’s methodology was simple. He looked at words and phrases in English, especially slang expressions, and then hit the Irish dictionaries and cobbled together ludicrous phrases which he thought sounded like these English terms. Of course, Cassidy was badly educated and did not speak any Irish.

What really happens when words cross language boundaries in situations like this? (Of course, we need to remember that similar processes were involved in Ireland itself, where the issue was colonialism, not immigration.) Well, basically, a group of speakers of Irish (or any other language) turn up as immigrants. At first, they are unable to communicate with the society around them. Some of them never learn the new language. Others manage to pick up a basic knowledge. As they learn the majority language, they retain grammatical structures and certain words and phrases from their own language. Thus we might hear sentences like this:

“There is whiskey go leor in the jug there.”

“Sure I’m after seeing Lannigan out there, the old amadán!”

“Sure, I’m away to the síbín for a drink.”

Because lots of people in the initial generation of learners use these expressions, they are continually heard and learned and used by the younger generation. Before long, people who speak no Irish are using galore and ommadawn and shebeen in their English.

Note that nearly all of these borrowings are single words and nearly all of them are nouns. There’s a reason for this. It wasn’t enough for a phrase to be used once by one individual. These had to be expressions which were commonly used by that first generation of bilingual English and Irish speakers, by thousands of people in different contexts.

And of course, that’s not what we find in Cassidy’s moronic book. We find that according to Cassidy, Irish speakers supposedly stuck the word án onto lóinte to make something sounding like luncheon (even though the phrase lóinte ána was unknown in Irish until Cassidy invented it), or that sách was used as a noun meaning a well-fed person and that that word always had úr (fresh) stuck on to the end of it. Apparently nobody ever separated the two words. They never said that there was a good sách, or a handy sách, or a stupid sách, or a big sách. No, it was always a fresh sách, so that it would sound like sucker. Yeah, right. You’d need to be a real sucker (which comes from the English suck) to believe that.

Pretty much all of Cassidy’s ‘Irish’ candidates rule themselves out because they are absurd and improbable phrases. Things like n-each as the origin of nag are simply laughable, because nobody is going to pluck a random inflected phrase out of conversation and use it. (Plus the fact that each ceased to be the usual Irish word for a horse hundreds of years ago!)

The question of pronunciation is another tricky issue. People learn English and throw the odd word of Irish into their conversation. The next generation grow up hearing these words and use them themselves. They pronounce them the way the older generation did. There would be no reason for them to mispronounce uath-anchor as wanker or sciord ar dólámh as skedaddle or éamh call as heckle or gus óil as guzzle, because there’s an unbroken chain of transmission and there is no stage at which this kind of mangling could take place. (And please note that none of these Irish phrases exists anyway. They were all invented by Cassidy, along with nearly all of the Irish in How The Irish Invented Slang.)

The bizarre changes of meaning posited by Cassidy are also problematic. Why would shanty come from seanteach if a native Irish speaker would call their hut a bothán or a cró or a cábán? Why would loingseoir, a word meaning a sailor, become a word for a landlubber who works on the dock? Why would a native speaker of Irish say “Sure, I hate living here in dis is lom é?” if they wouldn’t say “Dhera, is fuath liom bheith I mo chónaí san is lom é seo?” The answer is, of course, they wouldn’t and they didn’t.

In other words, this isn’t the way that words cross from language to language. Cassidy’s ‘research’ was entirely fake, like the man who invented it. I don’t know why people like Michael Patrick MacDonald or Peter Quinn or Joe Lee still support this dishonest garbage. It seems a very high price to pay for friendship but then I suppose it’s a sad fact that some people really are that desperate for friends – desperate enough to betray everything they claim to believe in for the sake of a worthless fraud like Daniel Cassidy.

It’s Official: The Etruscans Were Irish!

[I would like to make it quite clear that THIS IS NOT A REAL THEORY. I AM TAKING THE PISS. Unfortunately, it is the nature of the Internet that people flit around reading little bits of things and then tweeting about them and republishing them in other ways, so it is no surprise that there is a thing called Poe’s Law, which states that unless the material is clearly labelled as ironic, somebody will always take your parodies and satires at face value. On this blog, I have already had people take seriously claims that the phrase Vichy Water is from Irish and that the Irish language has a word for the sound horses make when you pull their feathers out. Seriously! So, just to be clear, I’m being sarcastic – Etruscan is NOT an early form of Irish.]

The Irish Milesian Academy For Intellectual Arts (IrishMAFIA), founded five years ago to further the work of the late Daniel Cassidy, have come up with their biggest and boldest claim yet. According to Brendan Patrick Gurne, Head of Creative Etymology with IrishMAFIA:

“We were looking at Google and found a website about Etruscan, an ancient language of Italy, and its links to extra-terrestrials, the Illuminati and home-made anti-gravity machines. We then found a vocabulary of Etruscan and were amazed to find clear parallels between Irish and Etruscan. We are convinced that Etruscan is in fact an early form of Irish and that through the Etruscans, Irish was responsible for the Roman Empire and the whole history of Western Civilization.

Let’s look at some examples. For example, clan is Etruscan for son. This is just like clann in Irish, which means children. The Etruscan for jar is pruchum, which is like the Irish próca. Shuthi, meaning a vault or grave is very like the Irish or sidhe, meaning a fairy mound or grave mound. The Etruscan word for a state, tuθi (tuthi) is almost exactly the same as Irish tuath, meaning a petty kingdom. Cel, the word for earth, ground or soil, is very similar to cill, which means churchyard. The Etruscan for bull, thevru, is very like Irish tarbh. The Etruscan for I is mi, which is just like Irish . The Etruscan for a free person is zeri, which is just like the Irish word saor. And what about mech, meaning lady or queen? Surely this is the same word as Macha, the ancient goddess of war who gave her name to Armagh? There can be no doubt about it. The Etruscans were Irish.”

Reaction to the revelation from academic linguists has been universally skeptical and hostile, but it has been enthusiastically repeated by the Irish Times, the Irish News, IrishCentral , the Irish Echo, RTÉ, Michael Patrick MacDonald, Joseph Lee and Peter Linebaugh.

[WARNING: THIS IS SATIRE! The Etruscans were NOT Irish. The vast majority of Etruscan vocabulary bears no relation to any Celtic language. Próca isn’t originally an Irish word. Clann is an early Irish borrowing of Latin planta. Cill also comes from Latin and is related to English cell. The taurus/tarvos word for bull is found in many Indo-European languages and is probably Afro-Asiatic in origin. The others are just coincidental similarities, helped along by selective use of definitions. It just goes to show how easy it is to make random and completely worthless connections when you are dealing with a fairly large set of data.]

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!”

The Linguist’s List

I recently stumbled upon an interesting source, at linguist.list.org. It is a list of the exchanges between the late Daniel Cassidy, phoney scholar, and members of the American Dialect Society in 2003 and 2004. There are a number of interesting things about this. One of the most amazing things is the level of politeness and deference shown by the members of the ADS towards a man who was obviously crazy, though I would have to say that his credentials look more impressive than they really were and they would have had no way of knowing that he didn’t know any Irish at all.

In his posts, Cassidy did exactly what he did in the book. He simply ignored anything which didn’t suit him, refused to give any evidence which related to the actual words (rather than the social context of the time, the number of Irish speakers in the community etc.) and kept up an endless stream of word-play which I suppose he must have thought was funny but just ends up being irritating and gives his comments a protective camouflage of jokiness.

However, the thing which really stands out in these exchanges is the number of words which are given completely different Irish derivations on this forum and in the book which was published three years later.

For example, in this list, he claims that he has solved the mystery of samollions (a slang term for lots of money, apparently). He says that it comes from suim oll i n’eineach. I imagine this is probably meant to be suim oll in éineacht, as he glosses it a huge amount (sum) all at once. In the book, this is given as suim oll amháin, which he claims means one big sum. (In reality, oll is a prefix in modern Irish so you would have to say ollsuim, not suim oll, so the claim is obvious rubbish anyway, whatever random element Cassidy chose to put at the end.)

Then there are the many expressions which are minced oaths in English and which begin with Holy (Holy Cow, Holy Mackerel). In this forum, Cassidy claimed that these are really the word oille (a nominal form of the adjective oll). I have never heard the word oille in use and I suspect that most Irish speakers would say the same, though it is certainly in the dictionary. Cassidy also claimed that this was pronounced something like holly, as he believed that Irish words that begin with a vowel are pronounced with a h-, which of course is completely untrue. This claim had been dropped in the book, so these oaths were half-English and half-Irish in that version. Cassidy claimed in the book that the Mackerel of Holy Mackerel is Mac Ríúil, Kingly Son. In this list, it is Mac Ríogh-fhuil, Son of King-blood, or as the Great Fraud put it, Great Royal-Blooded Son.

Then there’s growler, a pot used for getting a ‘carry-out’ of beer in the tenements of New York. In the book, this was given the unlikely Irish origin of gearr-ól úr (‘a fresh short-drink’). In this forum, it is given the even more unlikely derivation of gearradh ól leor, which Cassidy defines as ‘plenty of fast drink’. Apparently the gearradh (a word meaning cutting) is supposed to mean quick and Cassidy obviously didn’t know how the word leor is used in Irish.

There is another spate of comments on this list after the publication of Cassidy’s book. By that stage, none of the experts involved were in any doubt that Cassidy was a fraud and they said so clearly and repeatedly. One particular comment caught my eye, from a medievalist called Amy West:

“Having seen Cassidy’s signature block at the end of his archived posting on “big onion,” I’m wondering if there’s a much larger criticism of Cassidy’s work other than, as Grant said, the work being “unreliable and not to be trusted.” With his position as a professor of Irish Studies, should we be holding him to an even *higher* standard even though this is not an academic work? If so, would this be an instance of not academic fraud but *malpractice*? That is, we know what academics can and should do: look for tangible evidence, present points against, think and read critically, attempt to be objective and rational. He not only fails to do this, but engages in superficial thinking using superficial connections /resemblances, a lack of concrete evidence, with an agenda and not only a lack of recognition of counterarguments and other positions but derisive dismissal of them: things I expect more from my freshmen than a professional academic. And those are things I would not tolerate from my freshmen.”

Obviously she didn’t realise what we now know to be the case, that Cassidy was completely unqualified to be a professor of anything, but her comments are exactly right. Cassidy failed to follow even the most basic principles of genuine academic research. He was a fraud and it is bizarre that years later, I am still having to argue with deluded people who insist that Cassidy was some kind of linguistic guru.



Certainty Creep and Accuracy Slip

To anyone studying pseudoscience and weird beliefs, the idea of certainty creep is an important one. I thought I had invented this term but when I looked it up on Google, I found that others have coined it before me. The idea is very simple. You start with a theory which is tentative. You claim, for example, that jasm comes from the Irish teas ioma, which means (according to you) excessive heat or ‘figuratively semen’. Then it enters cyberspace and people start to copy it. Do they copy the whole thing? No, they copy the most satisfying, wow-factor bit, so teas ioma becomes a phrase meaning semen. Then someone else copies it and it becomes ‘the Irish for semen’. And so on until all doubt and negativity have been removed and a silly made-up phrase is passed off as genuine Irish. 

Related to this is the useful concept of accuracy slip. This is basically what happens in Chinese whispers. Gradually, the claim gets further and further away from what was originally suggested. Of course, in a sense, certainty creep is a sub-category of accuracy slip. In some cases, the transformation of material will be fairly random, but in other cases it will be motivated by a desire to make the story ‘better’ – i.e. to make the facts fit the myth, and that is certainty creep.

Incidentally, in the example above, teas does mean heat. Ioma is a variant of iomaí, which means excessive but cannot be used the way Cassidy uses it, so teas ioma is just a meaningless piece of nonsense. Even if it did mean ‘excessive heat’, is this really going to mean the same as semen?

Hardly! This is yet another example of Daniel Cassidy’s bizarre fantasy world. 

The Strange Case of Charles Mackay

Charles Mackay (1812 – 1889) is one of the strangest writers and thinkers of the 19th century. He was born in Perth, Scotland, and educated in London. In his youth, he worked as a journalist through French in Belgium. He was a poet and a lexicographer. His fame today rests on the book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841), which is one of the first accounts of pseudoscience and crazy beliefs. Bizarrely, in addition to this book, he also wrote an eccentric work of fake etymology called Gaelic Etymology of the Languages of Western Europe. In this book, his methodology is almost exactly that of Cassidy. He looked at words in other languages and then tried to find a word which could correspond vaguely in sound and meaning. This then became the ‘origin’ of the word, regardless of the evidence of the word’s roots in other languages or any other common sense considerations. The paradox of Mackay’s life is that he was both a great sceptic and a major crank.

Cassidy, of  course, was just a major crank. There was no upside to his work. Unsurprisingly, Cassidy quotes Mackay’s ‘etymology’ sometimes as if he were a believable source, as in the case of the word feud, which has nothing to do with the Celtic languages.

Ward Heeler

This is yet another crappy and ridiculous claim made in Daniel Cassidy’s book of fake Irish derivations for English terms, How The Irish Invented Slang. I don’t know much about this word, heeler, but apparently in American politics a ward heeler was the assistant to a politician and made sure that the grass roots support in the ward was kept sweet. This is obviously a reference to his walking around at the heels of the politician or perhaps his role bringing the electorate to heel. 

According to Cassidy, it comes from the Irish word éilitheoir. This word is defined by Ó Dónaill as claimant or as plaintiff, neither of which is very appropriate. It is the clear mark of a crank that they walk past an obvious and believable explanation in favour of a contrived and unbelievable one, and Cassidy did this all the time.