Tag Archives: scolla

Cassidese Glossary – Scallywag

For some time now, some of my on-line friends have advised me to provide a version of CassidySlangScam without the invective aimed at Cassidy and his supporters. In response to that advice, I am working on providing a glossary of the terms in Cassidy’s ludicrous book How The Irish Invented Slang with a short, simple and business-like explanation of why Cassidy’s version is wrong.

The history of the terms scally and scallywag are complex and they are not made any less complicated by Cassidy’s cavalier handling of the etymological facts. Because Cassidy regarded both words as deriving from the same root(s) in Irish, I will write a composite article here covering both scally and scallywag, which I will post for both terms.

The term scally is mostly known as a slang term in Northern England, especially around Liverpool, meaning a rogue or a chancer. It is often contemptuous but as is the case with many such expressions (rascal, for example), it is sometimes used with a hint of admiration or indulgence. The term scallywag or scallawag may be related to the English scally but the link (if any) is unclear.

Scallywag is an American slang term which may or may not be of Scottish origin. It is first found with the meaning of “disreputable fellow” in 1848 but an early recorded sense (in 1854) was “undersized or worthless animal”. Etymonline suggests that it may be derived from Scottish scallag (equivalent to our scológ) “farm servant, rustic”. Others link it to Scalloway, one of the Shetland Islands, with the reference being to little Shetland ponies. Others link it to another Scots term, “scurryvaig,” which is apparently erived from the Latin “scurra vagas,” meaning roughly “wandering fool or buffoon,” this “scurryvaig” means “a vagabond or wanderer.”

Cassidy claimed that scally comes from an Irish word scolla or perhaps from scollaire or scallaire or perhaps from scallóir. Scolla is a word given in Dinneen’s dictionary, meaning a feeble or contemptible person or animal. (It is not given in Ó Dónaill’s dictionary.) It is unclear where scolla comes from. Scollaire and scallaire (neither of which sound close enough to scally) are essentially the same word (according to Dinneen) and are both from scalladh, a verb meaning to scald or to scold. In other words they do not refer to weak cattle or to rogues, loveable or otherwise. Scolla does relate to at least one of the stated meanings of scallywag (not of scally), the idea of weak or feeble cattle.

So, is Cassidy correct in regarding the English words scally (and scallywag) from the Irish scolla? The problem is that a similarity is just a similarity and it can be explained in a number of ways. It could be pure coincidence (not as improbable as you might think – see the similarity of daor and dear). It could be because the word is originally an English term and was borrowed into Irish. It could be a word derived from some other language such as Old Norse and borrowed into both English and Irish. Or, as Cassidy suggests, it could be from Irish and borrowed into English.

The latter is very unlikely because almost all nouns in the Irish language ending in a consonant and -a are borrowings from Norman French or from Middle English. It is easy to think of examples: seomra (from chambre); cóta (from coat or coate); rolla (from roll or rolle); pota (from pot or potte); siopa (from shop or shoppe).

We may not know the exact details of where scolla was borrowed from but it seems likely to have been a borrowing. Just because there is a gap in our knowledge in relation to this word does not mean that we should fill the gap up with any random nonsense proposed by people with poor standards of scholarship.

According to Cassidy, scallywag or scalawag is also from scolla (or perhaps from scollaire or scallaire or scallóir), with the addition of the English wag, also meaning rascal.

Cassidese Glossary – Scally

For some time now, some of my on-line friends have advised me to provide a version of CassidySlangScam without the invective aimed at Cassidy and his supporters. In response to that advice, I am working on providing a glossary of the terms in Cassidy’s ludicrous book How The Irish Invented Slang with a short, simple and business-like explanation of why Cassidy’s version is wrong.

The history of the terms scally and scallywag is complex and these complexities are not made any less complicated by Cassidy’s cavalier handling of the etymological facts. Because Cassidy regarded both words as deriving from the same root(s) in Irish, I will write a composite article here covering both scally and scallywag, which I will post for both terms.

The term scally is mostly known as a slang term in Northern England, especially around Liverpool, meaning a rogue or a chancer. It is often contemptuous but as is the case with many such expressions (rascal, for example), it is sometimes used with a hint of admiration or indulgence. The term scallywag or scallawag may be related to the English scally but the link (if any) is unclear.

Scallywag is an American slang term which may or may not be of Scottish origin. It is first found with the meaning of “disreputable fellow” in 1848 but an early recorded sense (in 1854) was “undersized or worthless animal”. Etymonline suggests that it may be derived from Scottish scallag (equivalent to our scológ) “farm servant, rustic”. Others link it to Scalloway, one of the Shetland Islands, with the reference being to little Shetland ponies. Others link it to another Scots term, “scurryvaig,” which is apparently erived from the Latin “scurra vagas,” meaning roughly “wandering fool or buffoon.” This “scurryvaig” means “a vagabond or wanderer.”

Cassidy claimed that scally comes from an Irish word scolla or perhaps from scollaire or scallaire or perhaps from scallóir. Scolla is a word given in Dinneen’s dictionary, meaning a feeble or contemptible person or animal. (It is not given in Ó Dónaill’s dictionary.) It is unclear where scolla comes from. Scollaire and scallaire (neither of which sound close enough to scally) are essentially the same word (according to Dinneen) and are both from scalladh, a verb meaning to scald or to scold. In other words they do not refer to weak cattle or to rogues, loveable or otherwise. Scolla does relate to at least one of the stated meanings of scallywag (not of scally), the idea of weak or feeble cattle.

So, is Cassidy correct in regarding the English words scally (and scallywag) from the Irish scolla? The problem is that a similarity is just a similarity and it can be explained in a number of ways. It could be pure coincidence (not as improbable as you might think – see the similarity of daor and dear). It could be because the word is originally an English term and was borrowed into Irish. It could be a word derived from some other language such as Old Norse and borrowed into both English and Irish. Or, as Cassidy suggests, it could be from Irish and borrowed into English.

The latter is very unlikely because almost all nouns in the Irish language ending in a consonant and -a are borrowings from Norman French or from Middle English. It is easy to think of examples: seomra (from chambre); cóta (from coat or coate); rolla (from roll or rolle); pota (from pot or potte); siopa (from shop or shoppe).

We may not know the exact details of where scolla was borrowed from but it seems likely to have been a borrowing. Just because there is a gap in our knowledge in relation to this word does not mean that we should fill the gap up with any random nonsense proposed by people with poor standards of scholarship.

 

A Comparison With Yiddish

As I have said before, many of Cassidy’s supporters outdo Cassidy himself in the lying stakes by claiming something that Cassidy himself didn’t (not in the book, anyway), that the Irish language was completely changed and mangled in the ghettoes of America. They do this in order to continue claiming that Cassidy’s ridiculous Irish candidates are the origin of English words in spite of the fact that they don’t exist in Irish and break all the rules of Irish grammar and usage. According to these clowns, the words and phrases do exist, though they were never recorded, because the shanty Irish in the ghettoes produced a completely new version of the language.

I got to thinking about this. Is there any way of testing the hypothesis? Of course, as it doesn’t depend on any evidence, it is hard to confirm or refute it. However, it occurred to me that it would be useful to compare some of the loan words found in English from another language, to see if the same pattern is found there. The language I chose was Yiddish, which has given a number of high-profile and well-known words to American (and world) English.

Here are five common Yiddish words which have made it into English.

The English word putz is from Yiddish puts or pots. It is found in an online Yiddish dictionary with the meaning of fool or penis.

The English word shmuck is from Yiddish shmok or shmuk. It is found in online Yiddish dictionary with the exact same meaning of fool or penis.

The English word glitch comes from Yiddish glitsh or glitshn, meaning a slip or to slip. It is find in online Yiddish dictionaries.

The English word schmooze is from Yiddish shmues, meaning, talk, chat or converse. It is in the online Yiddish dictionaries.

The English word maven is from the Yiddish meyven, meaning expert, connoisseur. It is found in an online Yiddish dictionary with the same meaning.

Now let’s look at five of Cassidy’s daft derivations, taken pretty much at random from the words which haven’t yet been dealt with on this blog.

The phrase to eighty-six something, according to Cassidy, is derived from eiteachas aíochta (a denial of hospitality). As usual, this is a very clunky and unnatural phrase which has never been recorded in Irish. Furthermore, there are various explanations for ‘eighty-sixing’ and there is a full discussion of the term on Wikipedia (which doesn’t include eiteachas aíochta as a possibility.)

According to Cassidy, the phrase drag racing comes from Irish de ráig, meaning suddenly or precipitately. Explanations involving the Englsh word drag range from a simple challenge (“Drag your car out of the garage and race me!”) to geographical locale (the “main drag” was a city’s main street, often the only one wide enough to accommodate two vehicles) to the mechanical (to “drag” the gears meant to hold the transmission in gear longer than normal). De ráig is a real phrase but is quite uncommon and is much less appropriate as an origin than the English word drag, which is obviously a lot closer in sound as well.

Cassidy claimed that scallywag or scalawag comes from Irish scolla + English wag. Cassidy couldn’t make this one work without randomly bringing in the English word wag. He claimed that the Irish word scolla is suitable for the first part, but not only is scolla not found in Ó Dónaill’s dictionary, (it is found in Dnneen) it is obviously a word of non-Irish origin, like almost all nouns in Irish which end in a consonant and the letter a.

Cassidy claimed that cheese it derives from Irish téigh as. Téigh is the imperative form of the verb ‘to go’, and as means ‘out of’. In other words, this could mean ‘go out of’. Apparently, the slang term cheese it means to shut up or to run away. There are two verbs to go in Irish. The appropriate one here is imigh, not téigh, because imigh means to go away. Cassidy’s claim that téigh as is figuratively used to mean ‘shut up’ is a typical Cassidy lie.

Cassidy claimed that Holy Mackerel derives from Irish Mac Ríúil (Kingly Son!) Of course, as in the case of scallywag, in order to get this the way he wanted, Cassidy had to leave half of it in English! The fact is that Holy Mackerel is a euphemism for Holy Mary or something similar. And there is no evidence that anyone has ever used Mac Ríúil in any context as a phrase in Irish.

Spot the difference? The Yiddish borrowings are nearly all simple words, recognisable to Yiddish speakers. Cassidy’s claims are implausible rubbish, unsupported by any evidence and completely meaningless to any Irish speaker.