Tag Archives: pseudoscience

Swank

The word swank means dashing smartness or swagger. It is an English dialect word, related to swing. The root of it is the notion of swaggering, and from this it has picked up other notions of self-importance or poshness. It is a cognate of the German word schwanken, meaning to sway, to oscillate, to vary.

Daniel Cassidy, in his idiotic How The Irish Invented Slang, chose to ignore the available information on the origins of the word and claimed instead that it derives from the Irish word somhaoineach. This is obviously nonsense, even on the basis of pronunciation. The word somhaoineach has three syllables, while swank has only one. Like many English words, swank has a clipped, Germanic sound to it while somhaoineach is soft and Celtic. It is pronounced soh-ween-yah.  It would not become swank in English.

It is a very, very rare word, derived from the word maoin meaning wealth or property and the particle so– which means easy, along with the adjectival ending –each.  Ó Dónaill defines it as ‘profitable, valuable’, which is barely related to the various meanings of swank and swanky.

In short, there is no evidence for Cassidy’s claim and there is plenty of evidence in favour of the English derivation.

Grumble

In his stupid book How The Irish Invented Slang, Daniel Cassidy claims that the English word grumble comes from the Irish gruaim béal or gruaim béil, meaning despondency of mouth. As usual, the Irish phrase which is supposedly the origin of the word is not a real Irish phrase and Cassidy provides no evidence for its use. Try looking it up on Google. And it really isn’t a likely expression anyway.

Think about it. People complain a lot and because of that, all cultures have basic words for the activity. They don’t need to put words together into phrases to express the concept. They use grouch, or kvetch, or gearán. A single word is enough to express it.

A foreigner speaking a pidgin version of Irish might need to talk about their despondency of mouth. A native Irish speaker wouldn’t need to, because they would have single words to express the concept of grumble or complaint. In other words, simple logic should tell you this is unlikely.

As usual, Cassidy lied about the source of the word. He says that the OED says ‘proximate source uncertain.’ This is very telling. Proximate source. Proximate means immediate. Here’s what the OED really has to say on this subject, before the Great Fraud cut it and twisted it into the shape that suited him:

“Etymology: Proximate source uncertain: compare French grommeler to mutter between the teeth, Dutch grommelen, < grommen to rumble, growl (compare GRUMME, v.), German grummeln to rumble.”

In other words, grumble is closely related in sound and meaning to words in German and  Dutch, as well as a Germanic loanword in French. It’s either a borrowing from German or Dutch or an unrecorded cognate of these words in Old English. The details of this are in doubt, hence the ‘proximate source uncertain’. The Germanic origin isn’t. The wind doesn’t blow from the south and the north at the same time. If the word comes from the Germanic languages, it doesn’t come from Irish, even if the supposed Irish derivation were really convincing, which in this case it isn’t.

More lies, more nonsense, more garbage.

Cassidy and Cronyism

I have already discussed Cassidy’s claim that crony and by extension cronyism come from the Irish language. Cassidy was lying about this, because the word he claimed meant a comrade or companion, comhrogha (plural comhroghna or comhroghanna) does not exist. The word is used as an obscure term for an alternative or a rival, but never in the sense of friend.

However, in a sense, Cassidy was right to associate cronyism with Irish culture. According to Wikipedia, cronyism is ‘partiality to long-standing friends, especially by appointing them to positions of authority, regardless of their qualifications. Hence, cronyism is contrary in practice and principle to meritocracy.’

There is no doubt that cronyism is part of our national sickness. You only have to look at the way that corrupt bankers and politicians led our country to the brink of disaster to see that we are far too prone to this kind of old boys’ network.

Perhaps, depressingly, this is the greatest legacy of the Irish to American culture, that we have helped them to create a society where loyalty to your friends is often considered far more important than loyalty to your principles or loyalty to the public good.  

In the categories of this blog, I refer to the Cassidy affair as The Cassidy Scandal. Perhaps this is a little melodramatic but to me, it is a scandal. It is a scandal that anyone could write and publish such an amateurish, ignorant, worthless collection of nonsense and have it recommended by some of the most important Irish-American writers, intellectuals and academics, as well as a scattering of people in Ireland who should have had far more sense. It is quite clear from the internet that many of these people were friends of Cassidy’s. The whole Cassidy Scandal reeks of cronyism.

There is nothing  radical or left-wing about cronyism. Cronyism is contrary in practice and principle to meritocracy

To those people who are victims of this scam and who bought this book in good faith thinking it to be a serious work of scholarship, especially those who still thought that after reading it, I can only say that you are lucky to have been ripped off over something relatively trivial. You have spent a few dollars on something which in terms of its intellectual content isn’t worth a plug nickel. It could be a lot worse.

You could be feeding poison to your children in a South American jungle because the authorities are closing in on your Messiah. You could be facing penury because you invested your life-savings in a mine somewhere that doesn’t exist. You could be flying a plane full of innocent people into a building because you believe that this is the way to Paradise.  

So take this as a lesson. Learn to be more critical and less trusting. Because unfortunately there are lots of horrible people like Cassidy out there who think lying to you is fun.

Giniker

This is another extraordinarily silly claim made in Daniel Cassidy’s big book of nonsense, How The Irish Invented Slang, that the jazz term giniker comes from Irish. It is linked to his equally silly claim that jazz derives from teas, because according to him, teas is pronounced jass. It isn’t, of course (it’s pronounced tyass or chass).

The word giniker apparently means passion or energy while playing. Old jazz players used to talk about ‘the giniker fizz’. It’s a pretty obscure term and its origin is apparently unknown.

Because there’s a vacuum to be filled, Cassidy applied his vacuum of a mind to the problem and put a hole where the hole was. His suggestion is that giniker comes from tine caor, which he says means heat or lightning. This is incorrect, of course. The phrase tine caor means nothing. If you were pushed to give a meaning, you would probably say something like ‘fire of balls’ or ‘fire of round bright objects’ but it isn’t a recognised phrase and doesn’t make much sense. (Caor means a lot of things: berry, cannonball, fireball, pine cone.) There is a phrase caor thine (pron. keer hinna or keer hinnee) which means a fireball or a thunderbolt. And you could possibly put tine and caor together as tinechaor [pron. chinnaheer]. But would chinnaheer give rise to giniker? I doubt it and I’m certain keer hinna wouldn’t.

In other words, wherever giniker comes from, tine caor is just more old hot air and balls from the Great Fraud Cassidy.  

It is astounding to me that anyone would take this man’s ‘research’ seriously. I mean, this is the man who made up a fake (and seriously incorrect) Irish explanation for the Indian name of a FICTIONAL character (Gunga Din) in a poem by Rudyard Kipling! If that doesn’t qualify someone to be regarded as a seriously pixillated whack-job, then plainly anything goes, irrationality and insanity are just there to be celebrated as part of life’s rich tapestry and we should accept everything that anyone says uncritically. Great. I’ll get my hand-basket and off we go!

So, if we’re prepared to accept Daniel Cassidy as serious research, when people do a degree in cosmology or astronomy in future, they should presumably also learn about zodiac signs and personality and study articles from the Sunday Sport about how ‘aliens turned my son into a fish finger.’ Where’s the harm, eh?

Bicker

One of the many, many insane claims made by Daniel Cassidy in his outrageous piece of nonsense, How The Irish Invented Slang, is that the word bicker, meaning to argue, comes from the Irish word béicire, which means ‘a shouter, a person who shouts’. There is so much wrong with this claim it is hard to know exactly where to start.

Firstly, the word bicker goes back a very, very long way in English. There is some doubt about where exactly it came from, though some of the dictionaries suggest a possible connection with a Dutch word bicken, meaning ‘to slash or attack’. Bicker is found in English texts from the 13th century in the form biker.

The University of Michigan has an online Middle English Dictionary which is fully searchable. You can find it here: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/med/. If you take the trouble to search for the words biker and bikeren in this, you will find that they always referred to skirmishing, battling, quarrelling. So how an Irish word meaning a shouty person could have given rise to an English word which means battle or skirmish at a time when there was very little contact between the two language communities is a mystery and one which Cassidy makes no attempt to explain. It is also comparing like with unlike. Béicire is a modern Irish word from modern Irish dictionaries. I can find no evidence for a word corresponding to béicire in Middle Irish, though the word béicc was certainly in use then and something like béicire may well have existed. However, there is no proof that it did. And béicire sounds like the English baker, not bicker. If it was really an Irish borrowing, why doesn’t it sound more like the Irish word?

So, the chance that Cassidy was right about this is vanishingly slight. Béicire isn’t a good fit in terms of the known history of the two languages, or the meaning of the supposed source, or the pronunciation. The Middle Dutch word bicken is only suggested tentatively as a possible source by the dictionary experts (because they are real experts who insist on proof before stating something as fact) but it is obviously far more likely as a source than Cassidy’s nonsensical explanation.

But Cassidy was such an arrogant, self-worshipping moron that he summarily dismissed the opinion of the experts.

“I do not want to be a bickerer”, he crowed, with his usual feeble sub-Joycean attempts at wordplay, “but deriving bicker from Middle Dutch bicken, to slash, is a scream!”

What a total and utter TWAT!

Goon

Daniel Cassidy, in his crazy book How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that the word goon, meaning an idiot (and later, a muscle-bound henchman) derives from the Irish word guan, meaning ‘a fool’. There are several problems with this. Firstly, Cassidy states that the English word is ‘origin unknown’, while most dictionaries (including the OED) regard it as a contraction of an earlier word goonie or gooney, which is known since the 16th century and means a fool or a large bird like an albatross. This seems perfectly reasonable and I can see no reason to prefer an Irish derivation to this English origin.

Secondly, guan is not a common word in Irish. It is not given at all in Ó Dónaill’s dictionary, and in Dinneen’s dictionary it is ascribed to Ó Neachtain’s manuscript dictionary of 1730. The word guanach for silly or fanciful is certainly common and is given in all dictionaries but guan itself isn’t.

In short, this is not a completely stupid suggestion (unlike almost every other suggestion in this book) but given the existence of a strong English candidate, it does seem highly unlikely that Cassidy was right about this.

Freak

Another idiotic claim from Daniel Cassidy’s moronic waste of paper, How The Irish Invented Slang, is that the word ‘freak’ comes from the Irish fraoch. Freak is first recorded in English in the 1560s, when it meant ‘a sudden turn of mind’ or ‘a capricious notion’. It only started to get its current meaning of ‘a weird person’ in the 18th century, when it was used for ‘a freak of nature’.  Nobody knows where it comes from, though one suggestion is that it is linked to an Old English word frecian, meaning ‘to dance’.

Cassidy claims that the word freak comes from the Irish fraoch, which means heather and also fury. Some Irish scholars have suggested that the two senses are connected (i.e. because heather is something thorny and vicious), though nobody knows for sure. The problem is that there is no evidence at all for a connection between fraoch and freak. The word fraoch is pronounced freeh or freekh (kh as in the ch of Scottish loch) or frookh in some parts of Ulster. It doesn’t have any connection with capriciousness or changeability. It means fury, not uncertainty.

Cassidy characteristically tries to blether his way round this problem and the result is characteristically crappy. Having spelled the poet Edmund Spenser’s name wrong twice, he gushes that:

The “fickle freakes of fortune” saw the noble fraoch (pron. fraec, fury) of the tempest ehumerized into the grotesque freak in a carnival sideshow. 

Incidentally, if you are wondering about the word ehumerized, it doesn’t exist. It is really euhemerized, a term derived from the name of the Greek philosopher Euhemerus who claimed that the gods were merely exaggerated accounts of real heroes of the past. So even if it were spelled correctly, I don’t think it would be the right word here anyway. It is also worth noting that if freak does derive from Irish fraoch then Irish speakers must have forgotten the fact when they borrowed the word into Irish as praeic, as in the phrase Chaith mé an lá ar mo phraeic, I spent the day just as I pleased.

Reversing the Burden of Proof

I have already discussed this issue, of how difficult it is to prove that something isn’t the case, which is why the burden of proof has to be on the person making an extraordinary claim to prove that their claim is correct rather than the other way round.

Let me explain with an example. Suppose that I make a ridiculous claim. Here’s my claim. Enjoy! 

I have a copy of an old book which I bought many years ago in a small bookseller’s in Albi called Recherche sur les Cultes et Monumens Celtiques d’Irlande, written by Alexis Bonjovi de Croquemonsieur, published in Montpellier in the year 1767. I believe this to be the only surviving copy. Based on manuscripts he had seen in an Irish chateau near Cognac, the author refers to the curious customs surrounding the entry of the ancient Irish chieftain to a room. Before he entered, his poet and his reacaire (or reciter) would precede him and the poet (making a gesture uncannily reminiscent of modern jazz-hands) would wave his hands on either side of his head and utter the word ‘Rásamatás!’ in a loud voice. The reacaire, standing directly behind the poet, would then cross his arms in front of his body with two fingers extended on each hand and utter the phrase ‘Ió dúd!’ The chieftain would then enter, with gold chains draped around his neck, to cries of ‘Bhásáááp!!!’ from the assembled company.

I believe these customs described by Bonjovi de Croquemonsieur to be the origin of many features of modern popular culture in America. Somehow they have survived the centuries, come into the Irish ghettoes and have found a new home among urban black populations where they are to be seen in modern jazz, rap and hip-hop with their razzamatazz, yo dude and whassuuup.

 

So, I make this absurd claim. But I don’t provide proof that the book exists or that it contains this story. I expect you as a sceptic to prove that this book doesn’t exist and that I didn’t make it up. Not very fair or reasonable, is it, to expect you to hunt through every library on earth demonstrating that this author and this book is a fiction? Surely the burden of proof should be on me to prove that ancient Irish poets invented jazz-hands? But there are many supporters of Cassidy who seem to be incapable of understanding this basic principle, that it is up to Cassidy or his supporters to prove that nonsense like uí bhfolaíocht án and sách úr exist and that sceptics like me shouldn’t have to prove that they don’t.

Pseudo-scholarship

I have recently read a couple of excellent books, Bad Science by Ben Goldacre and Paranormality by Professor Richard Wiseman. I would recommend them to anyone with an intelligent and questioning mind. It’s great to read something rational after spending so much time arguing against a liúdramán like Daniel Cassidy. Inspired by Goldacre’s work on debunking the nonsense of alternative medicine and Wiseman’s treatment of the paranormal, I took a look at the article on Pseudoscience on Wikipedia. While Cassidy’s book How The Irish Invented Slang does not pretend to be science, it does pretend to be scholarship, and many of the characteristics of pseudoscience as given in the article (and in the two excellent books by Goldacre and Wiseman) are certainly applicable to Cassidy’s nonsense. Here are just a few of them:

Failure to make reasonable use of the principle of parsimony, i.e. failing to seek an explanation that requires the fewest possible additional assumptions when multiple viable explanations are possible. Thus, where we have a choice between English chicken meaning coward coming from English chicken meaning bird or coming from an unattested Irish phrase téigh ar cheann, a sensible person would opt for the parsimonious choice, that chicken is the English word chicken. Not Cassidy, of course!

Use of obscurantist language, and use of apparently technical jargon in an effort to give the superficial trappings of science. Cassidy uses terms like ‘back-formation’ and ‘macaronic’. He understands some of these terms but others like macaronic are not used correctly. (Cassidy thinks it means nonsense words – a macaronic song is really a song which uses two or more languages).

Lack of boundary conditions: Most well-supported scientific theories possess well-articulated limitations under which the predicted phenomena do and do not apply. This is also clearly a problem in Cassidy’s work. Where there is no satisfactory candidate in Irish, Cassidy takes words from Scots Gaelic. Where words are found in English centuries before the Mayflower, they are still included in Cassidy’s book, in spite of the fact that it claims to be an examination of Irish influence on American slang.

Lack of effective controls, such as placebo and double-blind, in experimental design. This is more applicable to hard science but it is still relevant to Cassidy’s work to some extent. As I have said before, you could make a list of Cassidy’s ‘Irish’ phrases and give them to some Irish speakers to see what they make of ‘uí bhfolaíocht án’ or ‘sách úr’ or ‘béal ónna’. If they failed to take the same meaning as Cassidy from them, or if they refused to recognise them as Irish (which they would), then Cassidy’s ‘research’ would have failed the test.

Lack of understanding of basic and established principles of physics and engineering. Cassidy was clearly completely clueless about linguistics, phonetics and Irish grammar, which are the subjects of this book.

Presentation of data that seems to support its claims while suppressing or refusing to consider data that conflict with its claims. This is an example of selection bias, a distortion of evidence or data that arises from the way that the data are collected. It is sometimes referred to as the selection effect. In other words, cherry-picking what confirms your argument rather than looking for evidence which might falsify your argument. Cassidy was a past master of this.

Reversed burden of proof: In science, the burden of proof rests on those making a claim, not on the critic. “Pseudoscientific” arguments may neglect this principle and demand that skeptics demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that a claim (e.g. an assertion regarding the efficacy of a novel therapeutic technique) is false. It is essentially impossible to prove a universal negative, so this tactic incorrectly places the burden of proof on the skeptic rather than the claimant. This is very important. Many of Cassidy’s supporters seem to think that sensible people should waste their time disproving his arguments. Of course, the burden of proof is on Cassidy and his supporters. If they think an Irish word beathuis is the origin of booze, then they should find an example in Irish of beathuis being used to mean alcohol. It is not up to critics to prove that the word beathuis DOESN’T exist (and ultimately we couldn’t do this anyway until every last manuscript in Irish has been transcribed and made available on line). 

Personalization of issues. Tight social groups and authoritarian personality, suppression of dissent, and groupthink can enhance the adoption of beliefs that have no rational basis. In attempting to confirm their beliefs, the group tends to identify their critics as enemies.  Cassidy seems to have been a charmer and had many friends and supporters (including academics who should have known better) who have boosted his work in spite of its intrinsic lack of merit. Others have taken to his work because they believe (erroneously) that it puts them in touch with their Irish roots and can’t bear to admit to themselves that the fact that their granny used the expression ‘the bee’s knees’ doesn’t automatically make them part of a bilingual Irish-American subculture.

Assertion of claims of a conspiracy on the part of the scientific community to suppress the results. Cassidy routinely claimed that overpaid academics and the ‘dictionary dudes’ from the OED had it in for him and that the linguistic community were determined to exclude all references to the Irish language from the dictionaries. This is nonsense. While there is possibly a slight subconscious bias against Irish in documents like the OED and there is almost certainly a practical bias caused by the fact that relatively few people are competent in Irish compared to other languages like French or Dutch, the idea of an academic conspiracy against Irish and against Cassidy’s work is just a smokescreen to protect him from criticism.

Attacking the motives or character of anyone who questions the claims (see Ad hominem fallacy). Cassidy and his supporters have attacked people like Grant Barrett and anyone else who criticised this idiotic book. Strangely, I have had very little direct criticism, probably because I actually speak Irish and am not an easy target.

 

So, buy Bad Science and Paranormality and read them. And if you have a copy of How The Irish Invented Slang, do the human race a favour and put it in the recycling bin.

Hunch

There is some doubt about the origin of the term ‘hunch’, as in ‘I had a hunch that would happen.’ The dictionary experts believe that it derives from the English word hunch meaning a hump, though it is very difficult to understand how that connection arose. Apparently it meant a push or final shove towards an answer, and then it came to mean a kind of intuition.

Cassidy disagrees with this, which is fair enough, if you can find a better and more convincing explanation. As usual, Cassidy couldn’t be bothered finding anything convincing, so he just pounced on a word which he happened to think sounded a bit like the candidate and had a meaning somewhere in the same general semantic area. The word he chose was aithint, which means knowing or recognition. Cassidy’s association of this with hunch only works if people in Irish would use aithint to mean a hunch. Would they? Of course not. Recognising something is not the same as having an opinion or a guess or a feeling about something.

How would you say ‘I had a hunch that would happen’ in Irish? Here are a few ways:

Bhí mé ag déanamh go dtarlódh sin.
Bhí mé ag smaoineamh go dtarlódh sin.
Bhí barúil agam go dtarlódh sin.
Bhí tuairim agam go dtarlódh sin.
Shíl mé go dtarlódh sin.
Cheap mé go dtarlódh sin.
Bhí iomas agam go dtarlódh sin.

What you wouldn’t say is ‘Bhí aithint agam go dtarlódh sin’ because it wouldn’t mean anything, any more than it would mean anything if you said ‘I had a recognition that would happen’ (though a precognition would just about work). In other words, this is just more stupid bar-room blether and fake scholarship from Cassidy.