Tag Archives: slacaire

Poke That Folklore!

Here is a link to a fascinating video of Daniel Cassidy, author of the ridiculous How The Irish Invented Slang, speaking to an audience at the New York Writers’ Institute.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4za9Rl8Qrc&noredirect=1.  The video is fascinating because it shows that even after Cassidy had written and published the book, he was still totally clueless about the Irish language.

In the clip, after an intro in which he quotes Professor Terence Dolan, who later publicly criticised Cassidy’s ridiculous book, Cassidy unsuccessfully attempts to pronounce a number of Irish words.

Firstly, he shows off a dog-eared pocket dictionary which he had received as a bequest from a friend. This, he says, is a folklore poker. To you or me, this is a foclóir póca, which is pronounced focklore pawka but to Cassidy, it’s a folklore poker. It shouldn’t surprise anyone who has read this blog that Cassidy had such poor Irish that after supposedly studying Irish for over six years he stood up in public and did the equivalent of pronouncing dictionary as dickery. Why should it surprise anyone? After all, in Cassidy’s hands, the contents of the dictionary were reduced to a mixture of dickery and folklore.

Then there are other words. When he says that hunch comes from aithint, he seems to simply repeat the word hunch again in English rather than even attempting to pronounce aithint. And his claim that the American ‘in Dutch’ comes from duais is very wide of the mark. Nobody has ever said Bhí mé i nduais le mo mháthair’ for ‘I was in trouble with my mother’ and if they did, they wouldn’t pronounce it ‘dush’, to rhyme with hush. Many southern speakers pronounce it doosh. I would pronounce it dooish, to rhyme with newish with a NY accent. But dush? Not a chance.

The funniest bit is when he pronounces slacaire, which according to Cassidy is pronounced in Irish the way a drunken Frenchman would pronounce slugger. (E eez a great sluggair, zat batsman, no?)

Anyway, log on and have a good laugh or as Cassidy would have said, a snag gáire and a gíog gheal (that is, a hiccup of laughter and a bright squeak, Cassidy’s absurd Irish candidates for snigger and giggle!)

Slugger

Cassidy claims that the word slugger, as in someone who hits a ball strongly, comes from the Irish word slacaire, which means a hitter or a batsman (slacaí in modern Standard Irish). On the face of it, this seems like a convincing claim but if you examine it more closely, it starts to lose its appeal.

Firstly, let’s look at slug as a word for hitting. The English dictionaries agree that it is related to slog (as in ‘a hard slog’) and that its origin is unknown. For the word slog, its first recorded use in English is apparently in 1824, while slug is even later, in 1830.

The Irish word slacadh apparently comes from slaic (slacán) which mean stick or bat. So far, so good for Cassidy’s theory.

The problem is this. Slog looks Germanic. It looks and sounds as though it is related to the German schlagen or the Yiddish shlogn. It may well be an English dialect word which went mainstream around the time that dialectologists first went to work. Whatever the real origin of slog/slug, I don’t believe in Cassidy’s theory.

My reason for being sceptical of Cassidy’s claim is that slacadh sounds very different from slog or slug. The sl is the same, but if English borrowed the word slacadh without changing the sound, you would have a great batsman described as a slacker, who really slacks the ball! Slog could have been borrowed into English from Irish, but it means to swallow. When languages borrow from other languages, they frequently have difficulties because the other language has sounds or combinations of sounds that are unfamiliar and then they change the borrowed word. This wouldn’t be the case here. Both slack (slac) and slog (slog) are perfectly good words in both English and Irish, so there would be no reason to use slog instead of slack. Admittedly, slack has another meaning in English and this could be confusing, but then lots of words have lots of different meanings. People don’t assume that someone has given up football because they kicked the ball or that someone has murdered his wife because he took her out last night. Most words and phrases are complex and multi-faceted but native speakers still manage to use them effectively. I don’t believe that anyone would have a problem with “slacking the ball” if it existed as a common phrase, but it doesn’t. People say slug, not slack, and they do that because they didn’t borrow it from Irish slacadh.

I admit that this is somewhat more plausible than most of Cassidy’s claims, but I am still unconvinced because of the lack of any phonetic similarity.