Tag Archives: slang

Holy Mackerel

Of all the stupid things invented by Daniel Cassidy and presented to the world as truth in his idiotic work of fake etymology How The Irish Invented Slang, none is more ludicrous than his claims about the English exclamation ‘Holy Mackerel’, which dates back to 1803. 

Holy Mackerel, as we’ve said before, belongs to a class of exclamations called minced oaths, where a similar word is said in order to avoid a vulgar or blasphemous term. Thus, the French say Sacré Bleu (Holy Blue) to avoid saying Sacré Dieu (Holy God), and the Irish say Dar Fia (by the deer) instead of Dar Dia (by God). Holy Mackerel is probably a minced oath for ‘Holy Mary’. Mackerel is particularly appropriate because the mackerel is associated with Roman Catholics – people of the Catholic tradition tend to eat fish on a Friday instead of meat, and mackerel was a common choice.  Mackerelism was used as a pejorative slang term for Catholicism in the 19th century.

Cassidy claimed that this was wrong and that it derives from an Irish phrase mac ríúil – ‘kingly son’. In other words, it was supposedly something to do with Jesus. The problem is that while mac rí (son of a king) is a common phrase for a prince in Irish, mac ríúil is not. By definition, a prince is a mac rí. But princes are princely, not kingly and ríúil means kingly, not royal. That’s another word, ríoga.

As with the other minced oaths dealt with by this pompous dilettante (Holy Cow, Holy Gee), there is no evidence for mac ríúil (or the older spelling mac righiúil) existing in the Irish language as a term for a prince, or for Jesus.


As na rudaí amaideacha uile a chum Daniel Cassidy agus a chuir sé i láthair don tsaol ina leabhar bómánta bréagshanasaíochta How The Irish Invented Slang, is beag ceann acu atá chomh bómánta lena chuid tuairimí faoin uaillbhreas Béarla ‘Holy Mackerel’, atá le fáil chomh fada siar leis an bhliain 1803.

Mar a mhínigh mé roimhe seo, baineann Holy Mackerel le haicme uaillbhreas ar a dtugtar mionnaí mionaithe. Sa mhionn mhionaithe, baintear úsáid as focal atá cosúil leis an bhunfhocal le focal gáirsiúil nó blaisféimeach a sheachaint.  Mar sin de, deir na Francaigh Sacré Bleu (Gorm Naofa) le Sacré Dieu (Dia Naofa) a sheachaint, agus deir muidne  Dar Fia in áit Dar Dia. Is dócha gur mionn mionaithe é Holy Mackerel bunaithe ar ‘Holy Mary’. Tá maicréal (nó ronnach nó murlas más iad sin na focail atá agat air) thar a bheith fóirsteanach cionn is go raibh baint idir an t-iasc sin agus Caitlicigh – ar ndóigh, bíonn Caitlicigh ag ithe éisc ar an Aoine in áit feola, agus bhí maicréal saor agus flúirseach. Baineadh úsáid as Mackerelism mar théarma maslach ar an Chaitliceachas sa 19ú haois.

Deir Cassidy nach bhfuil an tsanasaíocht seo ceart agus go dtagann sé ó fhrása ‘Gaeilge’, mar atá mac ríúil, ainm ar Íosa. Ar ndóigh, ní raibh mac ríúil riamh ann sa Ghaeilge. Níl ann ach cumadóireacht.

Go díreach mar an gcéanna leis na mionnaí mionaithe eile a phléigh an t-amadán poimpéiseach seo (Holy Cow, Holy Gee), tá ciall leis na bunúis Bhéarla agus níl ciall ar bith leis an ‘Ghaeilge’ a chum Cassidy. 



It’s a terrible disgrace that there are a lot of people in the world of the Irish language who supported the con-artist Daniel Cassidy, author of the idiotic book How The Irish Invented Slang. For example, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir was prepared to support him and described him as ‘our friend’. Joe Lee speaks Irish too. It seems that he supported this weak-minded book because of his friendship with friends of Cassidy’s. In the case of Liam Ó Cuinneagáin, it seems that he was responsible for providing teachers for the Gaeltacht Weekends in San Francisco. If he had criticised Cassidy, he would probably have lost whatever money and status is associated with that, because Cassidy’s supporters have the upper hand in the world of ‘Irish Studies’ in California.

Pól Ó Muirí is a journalist with the Irish Times. In an article which is still available here  (www.beo.ie/alt-leabharmheas-7.aspx), he praises Cassidy’s dim-witted efforts, though, apparently, he didn’t know Cassidy, unlike the people mentioned above. It is hard to understand why he would be prepared to praise rubbish like this. He says, for example, that there is sense to the theory proposed by Cassidy that buckaroo comes from the Irish phrase ‘bocaí rua’. Of course, bocaí rua makes no sense in Irish. Were the cowboys all ginger? And as everybody knows, buckaroo comes from the word vaquero, which means ‘cowboy’ in Spanish!  

He also says that John Wayne speaks the word clábar (Irish for mud or curdled milk) when referring to women being thick in the film True Grit. That much is true and the word clabber is a word of Gaelic origin, without doubt. What he doesn’t say (he probably hadn’t done any fact-checking at all) is that bonny-clabber and clabber came into the English language from Irish bainne clábair and clábar early in the 17th century. They were in common use in the English of England, America and the West Indies for hundreds of years when John Wayne used the term in True Grit. 

There is an interesting article on Wikipedia about the word Clabber:



Twits of the Month – The Organisers and Sponsors of the Irish-American Crossroads Festival

In a couple of days time, the Irish American Crossroads Festival will begin in San Francisco. This festival was founded by Daniel Cassidy and a number of his friends and enablers. That is why the festival’s organisers continue to lie about Cassidy.

The facts about Cassidy are well-known. Cassidy had no degrees, having flunked out of Cornell in a narcotic haze in 1965. He had no degree from Cornell and he never even attended Columbia. He had a life full of failures and then managed to bluff his way into a job as a professor at a diploma-mill called New College of California by lying about his lack of qualifications. After drawing a lecturer’s salary which he was not entitled to for twelve years, he published an absurd book called How The Irish Invented Slang, in which Cassidy, who didn’t speak any Irish at all, invented hundreds of fake Irish expressions such as béal ónna and gíog gheal and gearról úr and pá lae sámh so that he could pretend they were the origins of American slang expressions.

Cassidy was a pathological liar who invented all kinds of nonsense about his life and work – not just his fake degrees – and anyone who reads this blog carefully will quickly realise what a humungous liar the man was.

Unfortunately, the organisers of The Irish-American Crossroads have decided that the truth isn’t what they are about and that Cassidy should continue to be promoted as a role model and that his malicious hoax at the expense of the Irish language and Irish culture should continue to be treated as a valid piece of scholarship. This nonsense is still in the In Memoriam section of the festival’s website.

This is why I am happy to bestow the title of Twits of the Month on the organisers and sponsors of this festival. Anybody with any common sense or decency would avoid Cassidy and all his works like the plague.


(This is another piece which I have republished, edited and translated into Irish because of The Year of the Irish Language 2018. Seo píosa eile atá athfhoilsithe agam anseo, agus a bhfuil eagarthóireacht déanta agam air agus aistriúchán de curtha ar fáil agam in ómós do Bhliain na Gaeilge 2018.)

According to Cassidy, the English word sneeze derives from Irish.

Sní as (pron. snee’as, flowing, dripping, leaking, coursing out of) is not to be sneezed at. It is the Irish origin of the English sneeze.

There are several points to be noted here. First of all, the phrase sní as (=ooze out of) doesn’t exist in Irish as a way of referring to sneezing. Nor could it exist, as far as I can see. The word sní refers to slow movement of liquids, such as a running, a dripping or a flowing, or to the slow movement of snails or slugs. Here is the entry from Mícheál Ó Siochfhradha’s Irish-English, English-Irish Dictionary published in 1973 by the Talbot Press in Dublin:

Sní, f. flowing slowly (as water); crawling (as snail)

As sneezing is one of the fastest and most dynamic actions the human body is capable of, it hardly seems likely that sní would be used to describe it!

Then again, there is an Irish word for sneeze. It’s in all the dictionaries. Sraoth is the word. So if you want to say “I sneezed”, you would say lig me sraoth. If you want to say ‘I was sneezing’, you say bhí mé ag sraothartach (or in my Ulster dialect, bhí mé ag srofartaigh). You can find the ancestor of these words in eDIL. In a text of c. 800 AD, it occurs in the form sred.

We also have to look at borrowings between languages. Generally speaking, languages borrow words that they don’t have a word for themselves. Thus banshee, or kosher, or imam have been borrowed into English because English doesn’t have words for those concepts. But people have always sneezed, so why wouldn’t English have had a word for sneezing before the Irish gave them an expression? Did the Irish give them the flu at the same time?

Of course, the English did have an expression for sneezing – the word sneezing. It has many cognates in Germanic languages. Sneeze is ‘niesen’ (pronounced ‘neezen’) in German and ‘niezen’ (neesa) in Dutch. It occurs as early as 1470 in the works of Chaucer. The words sneeze, niesen and niezen are obviously the same and none of them has any direct connection with Irish.


De réir Cassidy, is ón Ghaeilge a tháinig an focal Béarla sneeze:

Sní as (pron. snee’as, flowing, dripping, leaking, coursing out of) is not to be sneezed at. It is the Irish origin of the English sneeze.

Tá roinnt pointí le tabhairt faoi deara anseo. Ar an chéad dul síos, níl an frása ‘sní as’ le fáil sa Ghaeilge mar dhóigh le labhairt ar an tsraothartach, agus ní dóigh liom go dtiocfaí úsáid a bhaint as ar an dóigh sin ach oiread. Ciallaíonn an focal sní an dóigh a mbíonn leacht tiubh ag bogadh go mall. Sileadh smugairle ón tsrón, mar shampla, nó an dóigh a mbíonn seilide nó drúchtín ag bogadh. Seo an chiall de réir Irish-English, English-Irish Dictionary Mhícheáil Uí Shiochfhradha, a d’fhoilsigh an Talbot Press i mBaile Átha Cliath sa bhliain 1973:

Sní, f. flowing slowly (as water); crawling (as snail)

Ní hionann sin agus sraoth a ligean, ar ndóigh. Tá sraoth a ligean ar cheann de na gníomhartha is gasta agus is dinimiciúla dá dtig le corp an duine a dhéanamh. Ní dócha go mbainfí úsáid as an fhocal sní le cur síos ar rud chomh gasta leis.

Agus ar ndóigh, tá focal i nGaeilge ar ‘sneeze’ an Bhéarla. Sraoth atá ann. Tá sé le i ngach foclóir Gaeilge. Deirtear ‘Lig mé sraoth’ nó ‘bhí mé ag sraothartach (nó sa chanúint s’againne ó thuaidh, ‘bhí mé ag srofartaigh’.) Thig leat sinsear na bhfocal seo a aimsiú in eDIL. Tá sé le fáil i dtéacs a scríobhadh c. 800 AD san fhoirm sred.

Ní mór dúinn amharc ar an dóigh a nglacann teangacha focail óna chéile fosta. Go ginearálta, tógann teangacha focail ó theangacha eile nuair nach bhfuil focail acu ar na rudaí sin. Sin an fáth ar thóg an Béarla banshee ón Ghaeilge, kosher ón Eabhrais agus imam ón Araibis, cionn is nach raibh focail ag an Bhéarla ar na rudaí sin a bhaineann le cultúir eile. Ach cén fáth nach mbeadh focal ag an Bhéarla ar shraoth sular thug na Gaeil ceann dóibh? An amhlaidh gur bhronn na Gaeil ulpóg orthu ag an am chéanna?

Ar ndóigh, bhí focal ag an Bhéarla ar shraoth – an focal sneeze. Tá a lán gaol ag sneeze i dteangacha Gearmánacha eile. Is é ‘niesen’ an focal ar shraoth sa Ghearmáinis agus ‘niezen’ san Ollainnis. Tá an focal le fáil sa Bhéarla chomh luath le saothair Chaucer sa bhliain 1470. Is léir gurb ionann iad na focail sneeze, niesen agus niezen agus níl baint dá laghad acu leis an Ghaeilge.


I have noticed that many of the early posts on this blog get relatively little traffic, so I have decided to start republishing some of them.

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 éachtaint agam 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.


Thug mé faoi deara nach bhfaigheann cuid mhór de na haltanna luatha ar an bhlag seo mórán cuairteanna, agus mar sin de, tá cinneadh déanta agam iad a athfhoilsiú anseo.

Níl a fhios againn cá has a dtáinig an téarma ‘hunch’ sa Bhéarla, focal a chiallaíonn buille faoi thuairim nó tomhas. Creideann na saineolaithe Béarla go bhfuil baint aige leis an fhocal hunch a chiallaíonn cruit, cé gur deacair a oibriú amach cén fáth a mbeadh an nasc sin ann. De réir cosúlachta, bhí sé ag tagairt don bhrú nó seáp a thugann duine agus iad ag iarraidh freagra a fháil, agus as sin, fuair an focal an chiall bhreise sin de ‘iomas’.

Ní aontaíonn Cassidy leis an mhíniú seo. Tá sin maith go leor, más féidir leat teacht ar mhíniú atá níos fearr agus níos inchreidte. Ach mar ba ghnách, ní thiocfadh le Cassidy bheith gaibhte rud éigin níos inchreidte a fháil agus mar sin de, léim sé ar fhocal a bhí giota beag cosúil leis an Bhéarla, dar leis, agus a raibh ciall aige a bhí giota beag cosúil lena chiall. Ba é aithint an focal a roghnaigh sé, focal a chiallaíonn knowing nó recognition i mBéarla. Ar ndóigh, ní chiallaíonn aithint an rud céanna le hunch an Bhéarla. Ní hionann rud a aithint agus iomas a bheith agat faoi rud.

Cad é mar a déarfá ‘I had a hunch that would happen’ i nGaeilge? Seo roinnt dóigheanna:

Bhí mé ag déanamh go dtarlódh sin.

Bhí éachtaint agam 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.

Ach ní déarfá, ‘Bhí aithint agam go dtarlódh sin’ mar ní bheadh ciall ar bith leis, ach oiread leis an fhrása ‘I had a recognition that would happen’ i mBéarla (cé go bhféadfá cás a dhéanamh ar son ‘I had a precognition that would happen!’) Lena rá ar dhóigh eile, níl sa raiméis seo ach cabaireacht lucht tábhairne agus léann bréagach ó Cassidy.


I have noticed that many of the early posts on this blog get relatively little traffic, so I have decided to start republishing some of them.

This is a typically ridiculous Cassidy claim. Scholars have quite rightly identified that this word is Germanic in origin and is linked to the Dutch word busen, which meant to drink to excess. Booze is a long-established word in English, both as a verb and as a noun. For example, searching on the Michigan Middle English Dictionary website, I found this, from around 1325: Hail, ȝe holi monkes..Late and raþe ifillid of ale and wine! Depe cun ȝe bouse. (Hail, you holy monks. Late and early filled with ale and wine! Deep can you booze.)

Cassidy disagrees. On the basis of his vast knowledge of the Irish language (!) he believes that this word derives from an Irish word beathuis. Now, you will search in vain for this word in the dictionary. Beathuis is not a real word. Even if it were real, it wouldn’t sound much like booze. It would be pronounced as bahish.

Where did Cassidy get this word? Well, there is a word beathuisce (life-water) in the dictionaries. It is a variant of the vastly more common uisce beatha (water of life) which is the origin of English whisk(e)y. This variant seems to be found mostly in songs and poems and is probably used in these contexts for reasons of metre, because it has 3 syllables rather than 4. It is pronounced bahishka. So what about the inconvenient –ka at the end? After all, nobody talks about boozeka in English! According to Cassidy, beathuisce was shortened to beathuis. He gives no evidence of this or reason for it, and it seems about as likely as someone in English contracting the word water to wart.

So, to recap, there is a perfectly good derivation from Dutch which fits the facts, sounds right and has the right meaning, and was established in English by the early 14th century. And there is a completely improbable candidate which doesn’t sound like booze and which was made up by Cassidy by mutilating a rare variant word beathuisce, the ‘word’ beathuis.

Which is correct? I’ll leave you to make up your own mind on that one!



Daniel Cassidy, in his insane work of fake etymology, How The Irish Invented Slang, tried to convince people that he had made a major discovery. This discovery was that the Irish language didn’t die out in America and had a massive influence on the speech of ordinary Americans, a contribution which has been ignored by snobbish scholars and lexicographers and apparently went unnoticed even by Irish linguists and academics who could actually speak the language. Cassidy, who didn’t have any qualifications at all, and knew no Irish, was a fantasist and liar and con-man. Most of the supposed ‘Irish’ candidates for the origins of slang terms were made up by Cassidy himself. There is no evidence for their existence.

Even after years of debunking this pompous rubbish, I can still open his book and quickly find another example of the kind of puerile crap that demonstrates that Cassidy, far from working like a true scholar, was more like a toddler playing with fuzzy felt.

For example, Cassidy claims that the English slang term pash comes from Irish:

Pash, n., a long and enthusiastic kiss; passion. “Australian and New Zealand term for French or tongue kissing. Used mainly by teenagers and preteens. Used also in a situation so that adults won’t know what they are talking about …” (Urban Dictionary Online.)

Páis [pron. pásh], n., passion.

Apart from the obvious point that pash is just as likely to be a shortening of English passion rather than anything from Irish, we should also remember Cassidy’s total ignorance of the Irish language and his willingness to doctor and distort the material he found in dictionaries to convince badly-educated people of his case. Here’s what Ó Dónaill’s Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla has to say about the word páis:

páis, f. (gs. ~e). Passion, suffering. An Pháis, P~ Chríost, P~ ár dTiarna, the Passion (of Christ, of Our Lord). Domhnach, Seachtain, na Páise, Passion Sunday, Week. An Pháis a léamh, to read the Passion (from the gospels). ~ oíche a fhulaingt, to endure a night of travail, of suffering.

In other words, páis is used pretty much exclusively in the religious sense of a crucifixion or a torment. There is another word, a straight Gaelicisation of the English passion (and pronounced the same), paisean. It is this word – or a native equivalent like tocht – which is used for strong emotions like love or desire, not the word páis.