Tag Archives: slang

Cassidese Glossary – Dock

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.

This is another example of Cassidy’s selective treatment of his sources. Cassidy says that dock, meaning to take a chunk out of someone’s wages as a punishment, comes from the Irish tobhach, which means a levy. Tobhach is pronounced toe-akh or toe-ah, so it doesn’t sound a lot like dock anyway, but it would not be an entirely unreasonable suggestion if there were no better candidate.

And this is Cassidy’s claim, that there is no other candidate, that dock suddenly appears in English out of the blue in the 19th century. This is a distortion of the truth. Cassidy cherry-picked the information in the English dictionaries and only used what made his case look stronger.

Dock in the sense of taking a chunk out of your pay only goes back to the 1820s but this is merely a natural extension of the meaning of a word which has been used since the Middle Ages in English to describe the action of cutting an animal’s tail off. All dictionaries recognise that dock (cut off a tail) and dock (clip someone’s wages) are the same word. This word has been used in rural communities in England in the tail-cutting sense since at least the fourteenth century, so it doesn’t come from Irish.

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Cassidese Glossary – Cadger

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.

It is true that there is a similar word in Irish, as Cassidy claims, the word caidéir. However, caidéir is clearly a borrowing from English, not the other way around. The word cadger is attested in English more than a century before it occurs in Irish for the first time. Cadger may be related to the word codger and to the verb cadge, which have a longer history: https://www.etymonline.com/word/cadge

Cassidese Glossary – Butter and Eggman

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.

Butter and Eggman is a phrase that was used in the Jazz Era for a ‘sugar daddy’, a person who pays for someone else’s food and board in exchange for certain favours. How do I know this? Well, Cassidy conveniently provides a quotation which says as much:

“I’ll buy you all the pretty things that you think you need ‘cause I’m your big butter and egg man …”

However, in spite of giving this quotation, Cassidy does not believe that this phrase has anything to do with butter or eggs. No, according to Cassidy, this comes from an ‘Irish’ phrase bodaire an aicme án, which Cassidy says means a debauchee of the noble class or ‘figuratively’ a wild upperclass lout. This is nonsense, for a number of reasons.

For one thing, the word bodach would be familiar to me, though it sounds very old-fashioned, but I have never heard bodaire in use. Cassidy took an enormous dictionary, found things that looked a bit like the sound he was trying to find, and then used obscure variant forms of those words given in the dictionaries if they sounded closer. In this case, he doesn’t stop with Irish dictionaries, throwing in the Scottish Gaelic bodair from Dwelly’s dictionary for good measure! This is a bit like going to a Dutch dictionary if you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for in a German one!

The word aicme is modern Irish and is used in Irish in words like meánaicmeach, middle class. It is not used to mean social class in ordinary conversational Irish and indeed, its use in sociology would only be found in the mid to late 20th century, too late to be relevant here.

The word án is old-fashioned and not at all common in modern Irish – certainly not as common as Cassidy’s use of it in his etymologies would suggest.

And then again, the word aicme is feminine, so in genuine Irish, the phrase would have to be bodaire na haicme áine, not bodaire an aicme án.

Cassidese Glossary – Big Onion

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 Big Onion is a term of recent coinage based on the name for New York, The Big Apple. The Big Onion is used of the ethnic history of the Lower East Side, because that history is like peeling back the layers of an onion. There is a Big Onion walking tour (mentioned by Cassidy) that deals with this ethnic history.

In other words, the term ‘The Big Onion’ is recent and entirely self-explanatory in English.

Cassidy claims that this comes from ‘the big Anonn’, which he claims means ‘far side, other side’. In fact, anonn is a word used only with movement. You can say you went anonn over a river, but when you are on the other side, you are thall, not anonn.

Cassidese Glossary – The Bee’s Knees

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.

I had assumed that ‘the business’ for something great or outstanding was the original and that ‘the bee’s knees’ was a jocular version of this. Apparently, this is not the case. It seems that the bee’s knees came first and that this was then reinterpreted as ‘the business’. You live and learn. For example, the OED website has this:

(https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/explore/what-is-the-origin-of-the-phrase-the-bee-s-knees/)

The phrase was first recorded in the late 18th century, when it was used to mean ‘something very small and insignificant’. Its current meaning dates from the 1920s, at which time a whole collection of American slang expressions were coined with the meaning ‘an outstanding person or thing’. Examples included the flea’s eyebrows, the canary’s tusks, and one that still survives – the cat’s whiskers. The switch in meaning for the bee’s knees  probably emerged because it was so similar in structure and pattern to these other phrases.

Cassidy’s claim is that this comes from the ‘Irish’ phrase an béas nuíosach, which he claims means:

Béas núíosach (pron. bæs núísǝċ, bæs núísǝh), fresh new style, novel manner; fig. the new thing.

Of course, this is not a real Irish phrase and invented phrases do not have figurative meanings. Try putting it in inverted commas and searching for it in any Irish dictionary, corpus, database, or indeed on Google itself. The only references you will find to it are in connection with Cassidy and his book. Note also the peculiar ‘system’ of transcription invented by Cassidy, using bits of outmoded Irish orthography (ċ), current Irish orthography (í), and the IPA (æ, ǝ).

Incidentally, go to the online Irish dictionary here to find out how you say ‘the bee’s knees’ in REAL Irish: https://www.focloir.ie/en/dictionary/ei/the+bee’s+knees

 

 

Cassidese Glossary – Bard

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.

It is hard to understand why Cassidy included this word, except as padding. All the English dictionaries are in agreement that this word derives from the Old Celtic bardos. There is no certainty as to how it came into English from Celtic, as it could have been from Scottish Gaelic, Irish or Welsh and it may have been influenced by Classical writers like Strabo, who wrote that the three branches of the Celtic priesthood were the vates, the bards and the druids. The word bard certainly has nothing to do with slang.

The usual theory now is that the word came into Scots from Scots Gaelic in the 15th century and spread into English.

 

 

Cassidese Glossary – A Nail

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 is his book How The Irish Invented Slang, the slang expression ‘a nail’ means a dose of venereal disease. If this is the case, it seems likely to me that it refers to the inflammation and swelling that someone would experience when they catch themselves on a nail, though this is only a guess.

Cassidy claimed that it comes from ainfheoil, an Irish and Scottish Gaelic word deriving from the elements feoil (meat, flesh) and ain-, a prefix that means unnatural or bad. It is worth quoting Cassidy’s definition:

Ainfheoil [pron. An’ól, an⁓ĭӱ-il] n., corrupt flesh, gross flesh, granulations; fig. STD. (Dineen, 19; Dwelly, 15.)

This is very inaccurate. Dinneen defines this word as meaning ‘proud flesh, gross flesh’. Dwelly, which is a dictionary of Scottish Gaelic, also defines it as ‘proud flesh, gross flesh’. Proud flesh is the primary meaning of this word. Proud flesh is a specific phenomenon, a kind of tissue that grows around a wound when it is not fully healed. Cassidy’s ‘figurative’ meaning of sexually transmitted disease is imaginary.

The ‘phonetics’ given by Cassidy are also imaginary. The n’ is a convention in Irish phonology to show a palatal consonant, but the rest is false. A correct phonetic transcription would be something like /an̠ʲɔːlʲ/.