Tag Archives: Scottish Gaelic

Cassidese Glossary – Spunk

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.

According to Daniel Cassidy’s etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, spunk comes from the Gaelic or Irish word sponnc. Cassidy is completely right about this. It does come from Gaelic or Irish. Sponnc (or sponc in modern spelling) does mean tinder or material to light a fire and the metaphorical use of this to mean fiery personality, courage or semen is quite clear. However, though Cassidy says that the OED claims that spunk is of uncertain origin and possibly related to punk and funk, what he doesn’t tell us is that the other English dictionaries already give the Gaelic or Irish derivation of spunk and they did so a long time before Cassidy started on his etymological project.

Cassidese Glossary – Racket (Criminal)

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 truth is probably quite simple. At some stage, racket as in to make a sound (especially used as a distraction for criminal activity) became linked to words like rack (to put someone on the rack) and rack-renting (to extort rent from someone) and thus a racket came to mean a criminal enterprise.

Cassidy claims that this is of Irish or Scottish Gaelic origin but gives a number of different terms in both languages with his chaotic and disorganised ‘system’ of referencing, where he gives all the references in a jumble at the end, so it is impossible to say with any certainty which of these terms Cassidy is claiming as the origin of racket or what evidence he has for this claim. For what it’s worth, here is Cassidy’s take on it:

Ragaireachd (pron. ragerǝċd), n., (Gaelic) violence; extortion, oppression, roguery Racaireacht (pron. rakerǝċt), n., dealing, selling. Ragair, n., an extortioner, a violent man, villain, rogue, deceiver; cf. reacaire, reacadóir, n., a seller, a dealer; an extortioner (Ó Dónaill, 988; Dineen [sic], 872 882; Dwelly 744.)

Of course, ragaireachd is Scottish Gaelic, not Irish, and it would be pronounced ragurrakhk, with a k sound at the end, not a d. There was very little if any Scottish Gaelic spoken in urban areas of the USA in the 19th century, so it and Ragair are probably not relevant, even if they do mean what Cassidy said. (Extortioner does seem to be one of the meanings of ragaire in Gaelic.) Even if these were relevant, they don’t sound much like racket or racketeer.

Racaireacht doesn’t exist. Reacaireacht means selling, reciting or gossiping, none of which are appropriate, and reacaire means seller, reciter or gossip. Ragaire is given in Dinneen as meaning an extortioner but the reference is to the 17th/18th century Kirk/Ó Broin Glossary (Egerton 158) which is a glossary of Scottish Gaelic terms.

Cassidese Glossary – Punk

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 origins of the word punk are quite mysterious, as the late Daniel Cassidy claimed in his etymological hoax How The Irish Invented Slang. However, it isn’t an American slang word derived from the word ponach. Why not? Well, firstly, the development of the word punk seems to have been from an English word meaning rotten wood used as tinder (dating to the 17th century and found all over New England), to anything rotten, to a prostitute, and thus to a male prostitute or a criminal’s apprentice.

Ponach does mean a boy, but it means a very young boy, as in a toddler. And it means that in Scottish Gaelic, not in Irish. (How much influence did Scottish Gaelic have on American slang, I ask myself?) It is pronounced ponna or ponnakh, which is not a great match for punk anyway.

In other words, this is so improbable it is really not worthy of consideration.

Cassidese Glossary – Poke

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.

Daniel Cassidy, in his etymological hoax How The Irish Invented Slang, claims that the carnival slang term poke for a bag comes from the Irish póca, which means a bag or pocket. In reality, of course, it is the other way round. Poke is an ancient term in English for a wallet or money bag, which dates back to the early 13th century. It probably derives from some Germanic source via Old North French.

Incidentally, several of the words given by Cassidy here such as poc and poca are Scottish Gaelic, not Irish. They are different languages and there is little evidence of Scottish Gaelic being spoken in America in the 19th century.

Cassidese Glossary – Big Shot

 

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.

Big shot is first found in American slang in the 1920s. It is thought to be associated with the Prohibition-era gangsters who fought their way to the top by shooting people. This is the entirely reasonable claim made by most etymologists.

Cassidy’s claim is that this comes from the Scottish Gaelic word for gem or jewel, seòd, which is sometimes used in poetry as a figurative term for a valiant person. It is not used this way in Irish, or outside of poetry. The idea that this is the source of the English slang ‘big shot’ is highly improbable and not supported by any evidence.

Cracker

I recently bestowed my December Twit of the Month Award on Michael Krasny for an appalling radio interview with the late Daniel Cassidy. At one point, Krasny mentions the word cracker to Cassidy. Cracker is a slang term, originally referring to the poor whites of certain southern states, and now used as a disparaging term for a white man. A letter to the Earl of Dartmouth dated to the 1760s says: “I should explain to your Lordship what is meant by Crackers; a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascalls on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia, who often change their places of abode.”

In the interview, Cassidy laughs smugly and says that he is certain that the word cracker is derived from Irish. In his insane rubbishy book, Cassidy says that it comes from similar Irish or Scottish Gaelic words meaning boaster or jester. Cassidy is right that there are terms for boaster or jester in both Irish and Scottish Gaelic which sound like cracker (cracaire or craicire in Irish, cracaire or cnacair in Scottish Gaelic).

However, just because there are similar words in English and Gaelic doesn’t tell us anything about why they are similar. There are four possible explanations.

One is that this is pure coincidence. This is less unlikely than you might think (look at Irish daor and English dear, both meaning expensive, both pronounced similarly and completely unrelated). However, it is still pretty unlikely, so we will leave this possibility aside.

Secondly, there is the possibility that the two words are cognates, words which derive from an earlier language which was ancestral to both sets of languages. However, there is no history to explain the words craicire in Irish or cnacair in Scottish Gaelic and these words can only be traced back a couple of hundred years in the Gaelic languages, so this is unlikely.

The third possibility is that the similar words result from borrowing and that that borrowing was from the Gaelic languages to English. As crack meant a loud noise and then boastful talk in English and cracker for boaster dates back at least to the 16th century in English, it makes more sense to regard cracker in English/Scots as being the original and the Gaelic words as borrowings, particularly given that there is a pattern of borrowing from English to Irish and no pattern of extensive borrowing from Irish to English. The word craic may be treated as an Irish word now but it is very definitely a borrowing from English or Scots and therefore can’t be the origin of craicire. Cracaire in Irish (modern spelling craicire) is first found (as far as I can ascertain) in O’Reilly’s Irish-English Dictionary of 1817, where it means a boaster. I cannot find any reference to it in Corpas na Gaeilge (a collection of poems, prose works and songs in Irish from the 17th to the 19th centuries, with over seven million words of searchable text). It is not in the Electronic Dictionary of Irish Texts.

In other words, the fourth possibility is by far the most likely – that this word originates from English or Scots cracker (derived from crack meaning loud noise, conversation) and then was borrowed into Irish and Scottish Gaelic in the 18th century. The word seems to be derived from the Middle English cnac, or crak, which originally meant the sound of the cracking of a whip and later came to mean loud or bragging talk. Cracker goes back a long way in English. It is found in Shakespeare’s King John (1595): “What cracker is this same that deafs our ears with this abundance of superfluous breath?”

Just a word about a couple of other pieces of dishonesty in Cassidy’s idiotic book. In the book, Cassidy mentions that some slang dictionaries claim that cracker is linked to the sound of slave-masters cracking their whips and says that Dwelly’s dictionary confirms this. However, when we look at the original quotation from Dwelly, it directs you to the word cnacair:

“Cnacair, sm Talker, (Scot, cracker). 2 Cracker. 3 Cracker of a whip. 4 Knocker. (see: http://www.dwelly.info/index.aspx)”

In other words, it does mention ‘cracker of a whip’, as Cassidy says. However, it also says that this is not really a Gaelic word at all, but a borrowing from Scots (not Scottish Gaelic, but the Lowland Scots cousin of English). How did Cassidy miss this vital piece of information? Well, I don’t believe he did. He continually doctored and edited the information he found in his sources in order to make the best case possible for whatever piece of nonsense he was trying to prove. He had no respect for the truth or for the values of genuine scholarship.

I should also point out that this word is mentioned in Green English, Loretto Todd’s May 2000 book on the Irish influence on English. I have discussed this before. It is a rather slapdash affair, though nowhere near as flaky as Cassidy’s ‘research’. I am convinced that Cassidy used it as a source, though there is no acknowledgement of his indebtedness in the book.

Incidentally, there was also an historian of Celtic influences on the Old South called Grady McWhiney who insisted (erroneously) that cracker derived from craic. I don’t know if Cassidy had come across this book or not.

Once again, Cassidy’s claims turn out to be self-serving, dishonest, badly-researched baloney.