Tag Archives: the Irish language

Cassidese Glossary – Pussy (Weak male)

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.

In his etymological hoax, how the Irish Invented Slang, the late Daniel Cassidy claimed that pussy in the sense of a vulva comes from the use of pusa in the plural to mean vagina in Irish. (He was unable to provide any proof that this expression pusa actually existed in Irish with the meaning of vagina.) Pussy in the sense of ‘Don’t be a pussy’ is apparently (according to Cassidy), nothing directly to do with vaginas and not directly linked to his imaginary word pusa, meaning vagina. It comes from pusachán or pusaire meaning a cry-baby or a whimperer. Not only is there no evidence at all in support of this theory, strangely, there is no reference to people being referred to as a pusser or a pussahawn in American slang, and the phrase ‘Don’t be a pussy’ was unknown in Ireland until Hollywood made us aware of it.

Pussy is an ancient English expression for a vagina, and in America males who are regarded as weak or effeminate are traditionally insulted by comparing them to a vagina. (In fact, in Irish the same is true – the term piteog, which literally means a little vagina, is used by ignorant Irish speakers of males considered effeminate or gay.)

Níl sé ceart go leor …

Ciara Ní É (https://miseciara.wordpress.com/) has started an interesting campaign called NílSéCLG (Níl sé ceart go leor = It’s not alright.) The idea of this campaign is to highlight the kind of things that people say that are regarded as acceptable when applied to Irish, but which would be regarded as ludicrous or racist or just plain ignorant when applied to other languages. I’m not much of a one for social media but it’s a campaign worth supporting, I think. Here are a few good examples:

“I don’t mind when people speak French, but can’t they do it in a normal accent instead of all this fancy French pronunciation?”

“God, my love for the English language was utterly destroyed by having Thomas Hardy’s gloom and misery shoved down my throat at school.”

“You speak English? I hate English. It’s all Shakespeare and Morris Dancing.”

Here’s my contribution:

“Ariel Sharon was the 11th President of Israel – but of course his real name was Scheinemann.”

“Chinese, Japanese and Korean underwent a fundamental transformation and reinvention in the 19th and 20th centuries. They are totally artificial and can no longer be regarded as real languages.”

 

 

Tá feachtas spéisiúil curtha ar bun ag Ciara Ní É (https://miseciara.wordpress.com/), feachtas darb ainm NílSéCLG (Níl sé ceart go leor = It’s not alright.) Is é an smaoineamh atá taobh thiar den fheachtas seo ná aird a dhíriú ar rudaí bómánta a deir daoine, rudaí nach síltear go bhfuil aon rud cearr leo agus iad ag tagairt don Ghaeilge, ach mheasfadh daoine go bhfuil siad áiféiseach nó ciníoch nó aineolach ar fad dá ndéarfaí an rud céanna faoi theangacha eile. Níl mórán eolais agamsa ar na meáin shóisialta, ach sílim gur feachtas é ar fiú go mór tacú leis. Seo roinnt samplaí maithe:

“I don’t mind when people speak French, but can’t they do it in a normal accent instead of all this fancy French pronunciation?”

“God, my love for the English language was utterly destroyed by having Thomas Hardy’s gloom and misery shoved down my throat at school.”

“You speak English? I hate English. It’s all Shakespeare and Morris Dancing.”

Agus seo na cinn s’agamsa:

“Ariel Sharon was the 11th President of Israel – but of course his real name was Scheinemann.”

“Chinese, Japanese and Korean underwent a fundamental transformation and reinvention in the 19th and 20th centuries. They are totally artificial and can no longer be regarded as real languages.”

Pure Evil (English version of Íonaí Meanie)

The Irish language is obviously in trouble. There are people who believe it to be a dead language, though that is obviously untrue. I am able to write this article and I am sure that a lot of people will read it and understand it in the future. If Irish were dead, this wouldn’t be the case, of course. But Irish is in a weakened state, undoubtedly, especially among the young people in the Gaeltachts.

The English were certainly responsible for its decline. They were the ones who made it a language of paupers and pee-ons. They were the ones who forced their culture and their language on our ancestors and left the Irish language up shite creek without a paddle.

Having said that, people often blame the Irish themselves and especially the íonaithe or the purists as they are known in English. The purists are the ones who are killing the language, according to many people. They put off people who are learning the language. They discourage people. They were the ones who created a split between the native Irish of the Gaeltachts and the unnatural Irish of the books! The purists are a disgrace! If it weren’t for them, the language would be safe and sound (yeah, right!)

But this is the question which is bothering me. Who are these purists? You would think that is a simple question, so simple that it is barely worth asking, and that there would be a simple answer too. However, things are rarely as they seem.

Even if we are talking about the official language of written Irish, there are significant differences between the Christian Brothers, the different versions of the Official Standard and the practices that educated writers use in their writings, both native speakers and people in the cities.

Or there are native speakers (I mentioned people like this recently) who will not accept any new-fangled words at all. If a person says that they have to buy bogearraí to put onto the tiomántán crua in their ríomhaire, they will think there is something false and un-Irish about that way of talking. That person should buy software, they would think, to put on the hard drive of the computer. It doesn’t matter to those people that the language can’t survive if it is not able to tackle ordinary modern subjects. And this kind of defeatism didn’t exist in the olden days, when native speakers like Amhlaoibh Ó Súilleabháin were quite happy to make words up rather than accepting words from English. Who are the purists in this case? The native speakers who want to protect their version of the language (which is full of English), or those people who are trying to keep the language free of English?

And what about those people who believe that one dialect is better than any Standard, or the other dialects? There are people like this, people who believe that anything which is not Munster Gaoluinn is not Irish, or that nothing is as good as Ulster Irish. Who are the purists in that case? Them, or the lovers of the Standard?

And there are people who believe that the rot set in long before there was any mention of the Official Standard. For example, John Grenham, a man whose opinions I have little respect for and who doesn’t even have a couple of words (because he wrote those couple of words “an cúpla focal” as the cúpla focail in the same article), claimed (wrongly, of course) that the people of The Gaelic League thought that the language of the people was corrupt and they decided to purify it. And because of that, urban Irish-language experts who had been raised with English were teaching groups of students who also only had English. The result – that English-language idioms, grammar and syntax seeped into the “revived” tongue.

Then, he gives us an example of this impure Irish : My own favourite example is the Irish-language sign in my local park urging dog-owners whose pets foul the grass to “Glan suas é”, “Clean it up”, an utterly idiomatic English phrasal verb translated word by word. Imagine a sign in French that says “Nettoyez-le en haut.” But this comparison is not valid at all, because French has an entirely different history. There are plenty of long-established phrasal verbs in Irish which have suas in them, which is not the case with en haut in French, of course. (If you don’t believe me, this is a line referring to Luther from the year 1615 – he opposed [chuir sé suas do – he put up to] the head of the Church through envy and lust and the phrase glanadh suas/clearing up was common enough with Amhlaoibh Ó Súilleabháin in the 1820s in reference to the weather.) So, it is clear that Grenham’s opinions about the Irish language and its corrupters are nothing but horse feathers and nonsense.

What is my position on these matters, then? Well, I am not a purist. I believe in the Standard. It is a very useful thing. With the Standard, Irish speakers can share books, material on line and other things freely throughout the island and overseas. But it is not necessary to give up the dialects at all. The Standard is only a tool and as is the case with English, it is not a matter of Irish but of Irishes. There are different kinds of Irish which are suitable for different purposes. A conversation in a pub in Kerry and an article on science in a state publication are not the same and it would not be right to use the same kind of Irish in both cases.

Having said that, I respect people who care about the Irish language and who work tirelessly to master it. At the end of the day, we Irish speakers cannot do much to defend the language. The only thing which all of us can do is to learn the language properly and acquire fluency and richness and a wide knowledge. If there are ten thousand people speaking Irish throughout the country every day, the enemies of the language can say that it is not worth saving. It wouldn’t be as easy for them to claim that if there were three hundred thousand, or five hundred thousand, or seven hundred thousand people speaking it every day. If everyone who is favourable to the language learned the language and used it, it would stop the rot immediately.

There are strong similarities between falling in love with a language and falling in love with a person. If you love a language, you will try to learn everything about that language. Not only that, but you will accept that language for what it is. You won’t try to change it or recreate it in your own image, as the various purists mentioned above do – and as those dilettantes do, who are too lazy to put in the effort needed to acquire the basics of the language.

Cassidy’s Plagiarism

In 2008, Daniel Cassidy published a dreadful book called How The Irish Invented Slang. His claim in this book was that he inherited a pocket Irish dictionary in 2001 from a friend and decided to learn a word a day, and in the process he realised that hundreds of English words came from Irish. Cassidy – who according to some people was passionate about the Irish language and Irish culture – was 57 years old before he decided to start learning a little Irish. He had been an Irish Studies professor for five years at that time (though he had no qualifications at all and presumably lied his way into that job.)

Many of the supporters of Cassidy and his absurd ‘research’ have admitted that a lot of Cassidy’s claims were wrong but said that he should be praised for the things he did get right. Those of us who realise how wrong Cassidy was and how arrogant he was in his wrongness don’t accept this. There is hardly anything worth having in Cassidy’s book and hardly any of the material which is even remotely possible can genuinely be attributed to Cassidy.

For example, in October 2003, a user called Paul posed a question on an Irish language learners’ site called the Daltaí Boards. He wanted to know about Irish words in English for a project. The users of the site provided him with lots of possible candidates. For example:  galore from go leor; smashing from is maith sin; slug from slogadh; smithereens from smidiríní; shebeen from síbín; glen from gleann; Tory from Tóraí; bog from bogach; bard from bard; slogan from sluaghairm; banshee from bean sí;  whiskey from uisce beatha; brogue from bróg (shoe) and barróg (lisp); gulp from ag alpadh; shanty from seanteach; slew from slua; longshoreman from loingseoir; moniker from Shelta munik; kibosh from caidhp bháis; dig from an dtuigeann tú?

As I have stated before, some of these are correct or are likely to be correct, though some are definitely wrong and in several  cases there is doubt about whether they come from Irish or Scottish Gaelic. The origins of bard are complex and it is as likely to come from Welsh as from Irish. Gulp dates to medieval times and has a cognate in Dutch gulpen, which meant (amongst other things) to guzzle, and in any case, the idea that people would borrow the ag along with the basic word alpadh is absurd. There is no evidence that caidhp bháis actually exists as a phrase. It is only in the dictionaries as the name of a fungus.

But it really doesn’t matter whether these words and phrases are right or wrong. The point is, Cassidy used many of these words in his book without crediting the source. He plagiarised them from this forum, which he joined in January 2005, long after this thread was published in October 2003. He posted on this forum for a while, was mocked and criticised by some of the other members and eventually stopped posting under his own name, just occasionally posting barbed comments under fake names but without disguising his highly idiosyncratic and childish turns of phrase.

The only real talent Cassidy possessed was a talent for glomming and grabbing things which didn’t belong to him. He was a thief, a fraud, a charlatan and a liar.

Boot and Babhta

Daniel Cassidy, in his absurd and ridiculous work of pseudo-scholarship, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that the word boot (as in ‘to boot’) comes from the Irish word babhta.

In fact, the etymology of the words boot and bout in English is quite complex.

Boot comes from the Old English bot ‘help, relief, advantage; atonement,’ while bout comes from a Middle English word bught meaning ‘a bend’. Neither of these words has any connection with boot meaning shoe (which is from French) and only a distant connection with booty meaning captured prize, which is from Germanic through French (and acquired its current meaning as in ‘bootilicious’ through Black American English). Freebooter is from Dutch.

At some stage over the last four hundred years, the English word bout was borrowed into Irish as babhta. There is no doubt that this is a borrowing into Irish and not the other way round. As we have said before, the only words with this pattern of sounds in Irish are borrowings, words like stabht (the drink, stout), clabhta (clout), dabht (doubt) or fabht (fault).  In Irish, the meanings of the two English words boot and bout are conflated in babht, because we find expressions like de bhabhta, to boot, as well as babhta tinnis, a bout of illness.

Jazz

Cassidy claimed that jazz comes from the Irish teas, meaning heat. He is not alone in claiming an Irish origin for the word jazz. Years ago, I remember someone saying to me that jazz comes from the Irish deas, meaning nice. I was sceptical of that claim and I’m just as sceptical of Cassidy’s. I suppose it is just possible but there is no evidence for it beyond a slight phonetic similarity. Cassidy also makes a basic mistake of pronunciation, in that he insists that teas is pronounced as jass, which it isn’t. Teas is pronounced chass, or tyass, but never jass. (In the book, he ganches on about something called the Rule of Tír, which I am fairly certain doesn’t exist and is not in any grammar book or textbook of Irish which I have seen).

There is no convincing solution to the problem of where the term jazz comes from. Some scholars insist that it was originally a sexual term which became applied to a type of music. They may be right, or they may be wrong. But there is no reason at all to associate it with an Irish word for heat (or nice).

I am also suspicious of the idea of the Irish ‘claiming’ jazz. I don’t dispute that individual Irish Americans had a big influence on the development of jazz but I wonder if Irish people were involved much in its inception. After all, the popular instruments among the Irish diaspora were the fiddle, the flute, the pipes and the whistle. The quintessential jazz instruments like brass and clarinet and drums and piano were really not part of the Irish music scene and most Irish music is in triple time, while most jazz is in quadruple time.

However, the most interesting thing about Cassidy and jazz for me is the debates on Wikipedia about the origin of the word. If you go to Wikipedia at this address: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jazz_(word)&offset=20081022201100&action=history you will find a number of debates involving a character who calls himself Medbh. I say himself, in spite of the fact that Medhbh(?)/Medb/Méabh is a woman’s name, because I am pretty certain that Medbh is really Daniel Cassidy. Read it yourself and make up your own mind but it ends up as a rant against the ‘dictionary dudes’ who have criticised Cassidy’s book. If Medbh’s comments were not written by Cassidy, then he or she had a stalker’s knowledge of Cassidy’s life and work and he or she used the same style of language. It is also a style of language found in other places by Cassidy himself under his own name, as well as by people who talked about Cassidy in the third person but were almost certainly sock-puppets for Cassidy (check out this exchange here http://www.wordorigins.org/index.php/forums/viewthread/663/ which is obviously from Cassidy himself and then compare it to Medbh’s hysterical rant below).

“You do not own the word “jazz” (teas) on Wikipedia or anywhere else. You are not balancing anything. Your article is replete with inaccuaracies and distortions. It is an embarassemnt. The attempt to marginalize Daniel Cassidy’s pioneering work on the word “jazz” and hundreds of other American vernacular words and phrases in his new book How the Irish Invented Slang: the Secret language of the Crossroads is pathetic. Cassidy’s book has been hailed by scores of respected academics, journalists, writers, and Irish language scholars, since its publication 3 months ago. See the Irish Times, The Irish Independent, The Belfast Telegraph, Irish News, The Derry Journal, RTE, Ireland’s national broadcaster, and Irish language publications like La Nua, Beo, and Foinse, as well as American media, including ABC radio, KPFA, WBAI, the SF Chronicle, and NY Observer,and this is just in the first weeks after publication. I shall continue to put up the Irish sanas of jazz. These last feeble attempts to censor Cassidy’s work are laughably pathetic. Let’s put it to mediation. I will provide 20 PUBLISHED articles supporting Cassidy’s thesis. All you have are the same old white boy cronies and Anglophile dictionary dudes.”

The strangest thing about this is the sheer ineptitude. After all, if you wanted to post a defence of your own book under a false identity, would you use highly distinctive phrases (sanas, dictionary dudes) which are associated with you in contexts where your name is given? Wouldn’t you try to adopt another persona, use a different voice to make your point? I would, certainly, but then I’m not barking mad …

Chicken

I have already said that Cassidy ignores perfectly good English explanations for words in favour of improbable or impossible made-up Irish derivations. This is a perfect example. Chicken means scared and a chicken is a coward. I think this comes from the English word chicken which is a nervous type of bird. In English, phrases like hen-hearted go back to the 14th century at least. It is obvious, realistic, and it ticks all the boxes.

Cassidy and his supporters will have none of it. Chicken doesn’t come from chicken, apparently. It comes from teith ar cheann, which means – says Cassidy – to run away first. Does it? No, of course not. This is How The Irish Invented Slang we’re talking about here, not a serious work of scholarship! Teith ar cheann is unattested. If you look it up on Google, you will find a handful of references to Daniel Cassidy. In terms of Irish grammar, it doesn’t make sense, as it really means ‘flee at the head of’ rather than flee first. At the head of what? I hear you ask. Exactly. On its own, this phrase means nothing.

There are lots of expressions for a weakling or coward in Irish and any of them could have been used in slang, so it seems strange that people would use a grammatically meaningless and unfamiliar phrase in preference to these words. Of course, in reality, they didn’t. Chicken is English. A chicken is a chicken is a chicken. And Cassidy was a birdbrain.