Tag Archives: rubbish

Slacker

I’ve had a request from someone asking (politely and civilly) for confirmation that the word slacker is like the rest of the words in this blog and that it doesn’t come from Irish.

I’m more than happy to oblige. Cassidy claimed that slacker comes from the Irish sleabhcadh, which means to go limp or to wilt, or the Scottish Gaelic slabhcar, meaning a slouching person. It is really quite difficult to understand why Cassidy even included the words slack and slacker in the book (except of course that the notion of quality control was completely alien to Cassidy and he preferred to pad out the book with any old rubbish rather than end up with the uninteresting pamphlet which he would have had if he had applied any kind of standards to the material he included.) The words sleabhcadh and slabhcar don’t sound much like slack. They are pronounced to rhyme with cow (or sometimes as low, depending on dialect), as shlowkoo or slowkar. The Irish word slacadh does sound exactly like slack, but alert readers of this blog will remember that this means to hit and was Cassidy’s candidate for English slugger. Go figure …

There is absolutely no doubt about the Germanic origins of the word slack. Perhaps this would be a good time to explain what Germanic means, as certain people like Brendan Patrick Keane are clearly too lazy to look up the relevant sections on Wikipedia. The decision of linguists to class English as Germanic is not random or mysterious. If you look at the basic words found in European languages, you will find that some languages tend to be closer than others.

English

German

Dutch

Irish

French

man

Mann

man

fear

homme

sea

See

zee

muir

mer

house

Haus

huis

teach

maison

land

Land

land

tír

terre

cold

kalt

koud

fuar

froid

hair

Haar

haar

gruaig

cheveux

thin

dünn

slank

tanaí

maigre

The vast majority of the basic vocabulary of English is clearly related closely to other Germanic languages like German, Dutch, Danish and Swedish, though there are also many loanwords in English from Latin, Greek and French. Remember that to Gaelic and Irish speakers, English people are Sasanaigh (Saxons) and this shows that they were perceived as the descendants of settlers who came to Britain after the decline of Roman power from what is now Germany or Denmark. Irish shows some similarities of basic vocabulary with French, but not enough for them to be regarded as part of the same family. A comparison with French and Spanish would certainly show that these languages are closely related, and a comparison with Irish and Welsh would also confirm that these Celtic languages are close (though not as close or as similar as the Germanic languages).

A comparison of all these languages together will also show that all of them are distantly related. They all belong to the Indo-European group. This can be seen in things like the numbers, which are similar in all branches of this group. Anyone looking at this data objectively would reach the same conclusions. It’s just common sense.

The word slack is part of this basic Germanic vocabulary of English. It goes back to Old English (the ancient version of the language used before the Norman Conquest) and is very well attested. The OED says that it is from “Old English slæc ‘inclined to be lazy, unhurried’, of Germanic origin.” Slæc was pronounced the same as modern English slack. In Middle English, it was written slac. For example, here is our old friend, the Michigan University Middle English Dictionary:

Slac (a) Of persons: indolent, lazy, lax; negligent, remiss; slow (to do sth.) …

Slacker seems to be a development from these meanings of slack in the late 18th century.

Sleabhcadh and slabhcar are almost certainly borrowings from Old Norse (the language of the Vikings). McBain’s Gaelic Dictionary links slabhcar to Norse slókr, which apparently meant ‘a slouching fellow.’

In other words, even leaving aside the probability that sleabhcadh and slabhcar are probably of Germanic (Norse) origin, if slack has always existed in English with the sense of loose or lazy, what’s the point of looking at other languages for the origin of slacker? Only an idiot would bother. Only an idiot ever did – that idiot being Daniel Cassidy, Professor of Pseudo-Irish Hornswoggling and General and Applied Flakiness at the New College of California.

Snoot, Snooty

Another ridiculous claim in Daniel Cassidy’s dreckfest How The Irish Invented Slang is that snoot (as in snooty, stuck up) comes from the Irish snua ard. As usual, of course, this is a made up phrase and is not recorded in Irish. Snua is defined as complexion or colour or appearance. Ard means high. So this means ‘a high complexion’ (though there is no evidence in my experience of the language or in the dictionaries that ard would be used in contexts like this the way high is in English, to mean ruddy.) In other words, ‘a high complexion’ is pretty meaningless in Irish and certainly doesn’t convey the idea of snobbishness.

Neither does ‘snooa ard’ sound much like snoot. And then again, there is the fact that snoot is a Scottish variant of snout, meaning nose, and the idea of snobbishness comes from the notion of someone looking down their nose at you. As usual, Cassidy’s claim is just fatuous made-up garbage.

Jack

Daniel Cassidy, in his atrocious book How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that ‘jack’, a slang term for ‘money’ and the probable origin of ‘jackpot’, comes from the Irish tiach. Cassidy defines tiach as ‘a small purse, a wallet, a budget fig. money’. Now, there are two common words for a wallet in Irish: sparán (equivalent to the sporran of Highland dress) and vallait. Tiach is not a bag used for money, as far as I know. Furthermore, even if it did mean wallet rather than satchel, why would it figuratively mean money? Do people ask if someone has lots of wallet? They certainly don’t ask if they can borrow some sparán in Irish, never mind tiach!

Then there is the issue of pronunciation. Tiach is not pronounced like jack or jah. It is pronounced (roughly) chee-ah, with the ch of English cheese, or tee-ah in the south, so why would it become jack? (Cassidy didn’t understand Irish pronunciation at all.)

And then there is the fact that jack was a term for a coin in English by the 16th century. It is not completely impossible that an Irish term might have come into English this far back, but it is pretty unlikely.

All in all, Cassidy’s claim is as stupid and as worthless as the vast majority of the claims made in this book.

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.