Tag Archives: rational debate

The Madness of Sweeney

I have received a message from someone calling themselves Sean Sweeney, who has contributed a number of rather rabid and not very intelligent posts in support of Daniel Cassidy’s crazy theories on different websites. I don’t know if this person is genuinely just a fan of Cassidy’s or if he is a sockpuppet for one of Cassidy’s Cronies.

Now, I am a great believer in democracy. Debate is a fine thing. However, I have gone to a lot of trouble to produce an intelligent and trustworthy blog (far more trouble than Cassidy ever went to!) and I don’t want this to become some kind of Democracy Wall for every saucer-eyed crazy and deluded idiot to deface with their stupidities. For that reason, I will publish this message along with an appropriate answer here.

This is what Sweeney says:

So, a people as garrulous, vibrant, influential, street-wise and abundant as the the Irish contributed a mere handful of words to the language, whilst other groups have contributed hundreds? Get real.

Some of Cassidy’s derivations may be nonsense, but nowhere as nonsensical as what you claim.

And here is my reply.

Personally, Sweeney, I think you have some nerve telling me to get real, when you are trying to tell people that Daniel Cassidy’s book is worth reading! With all due respect (and that’s no respect at all), you claim that the Irish language must have contributed hundreds of words to American vernacular because the Irish talk a lot. Talk about a non-sequitur! Nor is it bringing anything new to the debate. It is the same weak and childish argument used by Cassidy when he said that he knew Irish people who could talk the paint off walls, so how come they made no contribution to American vernacular? (His answer was, of course, that a sinister cabal of Anglophile dictionary-makers had conspired to hide the fact that they did! What were you saying about me getting real?)

Why MUST the Irish have contributed hundreds of words to American vernacular? (Apart from the fact that you say so, of course!) Language contact is a complex sociolinguistic situation and there are lots of factors at play. How many of the Irish immigrants were already bilingual when they arrived? What was the language of choice among young Irish immigrants? What was their attitude towards Irish – did they think of it as something good or as the language of the old lad in the corner? (Douglas Hyde was told by an Irish American in Boston that there were two kinds of cranks they didn’t like – cranks who are against alcohol and cranks who are in favour of the Irish language!) Was there already a fully developed urban slang in English when they arrived? And is it really true that other languages gave hundreds of terms to American vernacular? Yiddish certainly gave more than Irish but I don’t think there are that many common Yiddish expressions in vernacular American English (i.e. slang terms like putz and shmuck) – probably no more than a couple of dozen. For German it’s even fewer, and there were probably as many German as Irish immigrants and almost none of them were bilingual!

In other words, Sweeney or whoever you are, this isn’t a rational argument based on facts. It’s just a sweeping generalisation unsupported by any evidence.

And that brings me to the most important part. In this blog, I have analysed a large number of Cassidy’s fake derivations and given the truth about them. I have also stated that apart from obviously Irish words like machree, whiskey and shebeen and the handful of other words which are already given as Irish or Shelta in mainstream dictionaries such as sourpuss, slob and moniker, there are only a couple of words in Cassidy’s book which might be considered to be possible, such as snas for snazzy and deifir for jiffy. And that doesn’t make them right, just worthy of further consideration. For the rest, the derivations given in this book are as stupid and improbable as béal ónna for baloney or gus óil for guzzle. They are complete nonsense.

In spite of all the evidence presented here you apparently STILL believe that the Irish gave hundreds of words to American vernacular. Fine! Do you believe that I have got it wrong about some of these words on the blog? Tell me which words and why I’m wrong! Do you believe that some of the words I haven’t dealt with in Cassidy’s book are good candidates? Then tell us what those words are and tell us why they are good candidates. And I’ll do my best to argue against them using logic and facts. (Or in the unlikely event that I agree with you, I’ll say that too.)

Debates like this need to be based on facts. If you’re prepared to offer some facts and debate rationally, then bring it on! If all you want is to repeat baseless irrational opinions over and over again, then go and waste someone else’s time.