Tag Archives: Slang from Irish

Cassidese Glossary – (Bad) Beat

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.

Beat means, according to Cassidy, ‘to rob, cheat or swindle’ or to be robbed, cheated or swindled. A ‘bad beat’, according to Cassidy, is a severe loss in poker and of course, a ‘dead beat’ is a person who is down and out. All of these meanings are perfectly easy to understand in terms of the various meanings of the English word ‘beat,’ meaning to flog, to defeat, to overcome.

Cassidy’s explanation for the origin of this word is that it comes from the Irish word béad, which, according to him, is defined as ‘(bad) loss; crime, robbery, injury. To be robbed or cheated badly.’

This multifaceted definition doesn’t come from any Irish dictionary. While the diminutive béadán is common enough in modern Irish (it means ‘gossip’), béad isn’t. Ó Dónaill’s dictionary says simply that the word béad is a literary (old-fashioned or obsolete) term for ill deed. Dinneen’s dictionary says that béad means ‘a deed; crime or injury; sorrow, ill tidings or doings’. No definition says ‘To be robbed or cheated badly’. I can find no examples of this word in use in modern Irish, though it was used in poetry in phrases like ‘Is mór an béad’ (Great the sorrow) until the 1850s.

Strangely, Cassidy gives no pronunciation guide. Béad would be pronounced baid, to rhyme with laid or made, so its transformation to beat would be hard to explain.

(This is Cassidy’s entry for ‘bad beat’. A few pages later, he gives an entry for ‘Beat’. The ‘information’ given – such as it is – is pretty much the same, so I have not bothered dealing with the later entry.)


Putting The Kibosh On Cassidy

In Daniel Cassidy’s worthless book of fake etymology, he claimed that the word kibosh or kybosh is of Irish origin. Cassidy was certainly not the first to claim this and his sole authority for saying it was a website called Cork Slang Online. The usual claim in relation to its supposed Irish origin is that it comes from caidhp bháis or caidhp an bháis or caip bháis, meaning a cap or cape of death. Some sources also mention cie báis, but cie is not a possible word in Irish orthography.

While caidhp bháis is given as the name of a fungus in Irish dictionaries (the death cap), there is no evidence that this is an ancient expression and it may have been composed on the pattern of the English phrase death cap in the 20th century.

There are various explanations for the meaning of caidhp bháis as a possible origin of kybosh. Some people say that it was the black cap used by a judge when pronouncing the death sentence. (I would use caipín dubh, though it doesn’t seem to be in any dictionary.) Others say that it is from the pitch cap, a punishment used by the British in Ireland where a cap of burning pitch was placed on a person’s head. This is more commonly a caipín pice in Irish. On line, I have also found claims that the caidhp bháis was a word for a candle snuffer or smóladán. There seems to be no independent evidence for any of these claims.

Only the mushroom explanation is in the dictionaries. Corpas na Gaeilge (a huge corpus of Irish material from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries) gives a number of examples of caidhp but nothing with caidhp bháis or caidhp an bháis.

We don’t know who first suggested this Irish origin. Charles Earl Funk said that he received this information in a letter from the poet Pádraig Colum. This is not dated but could have been in the 1930s, 1940s or 1950s. However, the earliest certain reference is in the Cornell Daily Sun from the first of December 1936, where there is an account of a lecture by a man called Conboy about the Irish origin of English words. He gives words like shanty and quid (as in a quid of tobacco, which he derives from Irish cuid, a piece) as well as kibosh.

“Kibosh,” Conboy said today, “comes from ‘caip,’ which means cap, and bais,’ which means death. “It originated in Ireland about the time of Judge Norbury, who was called the ‘hanging judge.’ When the people would see him reaching for the black cap he wore when giving the death sentence, they would say: ‘The prisoner is ‘ finished. The judge Is putting on the caip bais – kibosh. Thus when we say we ‘put the kibosh on something,’ we mean we have disposed of it.” (Editor’s note: Some authorities hold that “kibosh” might be of Yiddish origin.)

Strangely, while there is no evidence of caidhp bháis being used in the language long ago, there is certainly evidence of its existence in the language now. For example, there is this, from an article by Donncha Ó hÉallaithe in the online journal Beo in 2012:

Trí dhiúltú do na logainmneacha a bhí ar bhéal na ndaoine, rinne an Donnabhánach a chuid féin, chun caidhp an bháis a bhualadh ar an nGaeilge sa gcuid mhór den tír ina raibh an Ghaeilge in uachtar roimh an Drochshaol. (By rejecting the placenames which were in popular use, O’Donovan did his own bit to put the kibosh on the Irish language in the large area of the country where Irish was in the ascendant before the Famine.)

Unfortunately, this proves nothing. The story of the Irish origin of kibosh is so common and well-known that it is hardly surprising that people have started to use the terms caidhp bháis or caidhp an bháis in Irish in recent years. It sounds convincing and natural enough. However, without some evidence of its use in Irish before speculation about kibosh began, we can’t accept these modern uses as evidence for an Irish origin of the phrase.

There are various theories about the real origin of the word kibosh. You will find an account of these different theories by following this link:


Hall of Shame

This is a list of some of the many people and organisations who should be heartily ashamed of themselves for lending their support to this idiotic piece of trash. All of them are guilty of helping to make this book a commercial success. I should point out that it is not an academic success – Cassidy is quite rightly regarded as a joke by academics in the field of Irish linguistics.

Tom Deignan, writer of the weekly Sidewalks column in the Irish Voice and author of Irish Americans, who recommended this garbage as one of his 20 books all Irish Americans should read. Why?

New York Public Libraries for giving him a platform to recommend this nonsense to an unsuspecting public. This book and the vast majority of its claims are fraudulent. A library should certainly stock it and provide it if people want it (along with books on homeopathy and Young Earth Creationism) but no self-respecting educational institution should be recommending it to anyone, at any time, in any way. I love books but when I am finished with my debunking, I will quite happily dump my copy with the rest of the rubbish.

The New York Tenement Museum, which continues to sell this book through its shop. You are a museum, for God’s sake! That means you have a responsibility not to support intellectual fraud and lies. People should be taught the facts about their past, not a load of old nonsense.

Éamonn McCann, who is a well-known journalist and political activist in Ireland. I would admire a lot of what he does and says which is why it is so disappointing to see him lending his support to rubbish like this. A search on the internet shows that he appeared on a documentary about censorship in Ireland made by Cassidy in 1995, five years before Cassidy began to make up his ridiculous theories about Irish, so presumably he was a friend of his. Which would perhaps excuse a lukewarm thumbs-up. But this is above and beyond! According to McCann, ‘Cassidy’s ideas have rapidly gained academic respectability since the publication of his book early this summer.’ ACADEMIC RESPECTABILITY????

Educational Cyber-Playground. This is a really bizarre website which contains a large amount of Cassidese nonsense. I have no idea what this website is for but in my opinion, to put the words education and Daniel Cassidy in proximity is absurd. This site contains many of the wilder and dafter claims which never made it to the book, like the one that the phrase Jump Jim Crow comes from the Irish tiomp díomá crua, which Cassidy thinks means ‘thump hard disappointment’. (Although it would have to be díomá chrua in correct Irish and tiomp isn’t a verb, so it would just mean ‘a thump, hard disappointment’!) What about Jim Cuff or Jim Crow, the African-American man the song is thought to be based on? Isn’t he entitled to his place in history? Not according to The Great Fraud and his supporters! Cassidy wants that footnote for himself and to hell with an obscure black man in the early 19th century!

The New York Times, an American rag which published this toothless and uncritical article on Cassidy by Corey Kilgannon: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/08/nyregion/08irish.html?_r=0.

There are plenty more. I will be back with a Hall of Shame Part 2. Bígí ag amharc ar an bhlag seo! (Watch this space!)