Tag Archives: the liar Daniel Cassidy

Cassidese Glossary – Jazz

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.

Daniel Cassidy, in his book How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that the word jazz (and the alternative early form jass) derive from the Irish language.

The word jazz was first used in print in 1912, in the context of baseball, when Ben Henderson, a pitcher for the Portland Beavers reported in the Los Angeles Times of April 2 that he had a new curved throw which he called the jazz throw because it wobbled and was unpredictable.

The following year, a sports columnist with the San Francisco Bulletin, E. T. “Scoop” Gleason, used the word, which was new enough that Gleason felt obliged to explain it: “What is the ‘jazz’?  Why it is a little of that ‘old life,’ the ‘gin-i-ker,’ the ‘pep,’ otherwise known as enthusiasm.” Years later, Gleason recalled that he had learned the word from another journalist William “Spike” Slattery, who had picked up the word in a crap game. While rolling the dice, a player would shout “Come on, the old jazz.”

The following month another SF Bulletin journalist, Ernest J. Hopkins, wrote an article “In Praise of  ‘Jazz,’ a Futurist Word Which Has Just Joined the Language.” Spelling the word variously with one Z or two, he continued: “You can go on flinging the new word all over the world, like a boy with a new jack-knife. It is ‘jazz’ when you run for your train . . . ‘jazz’ when you demand a raise,  ‘jaz’ when you hike thirty-five miles on Sunday … Anything that takes manliness or effort or energy or activity or strength of soul is ‘jaz.’”

It seems to have acquired the meaning of a type of music later, after it was used to mean energy, enthusiasm, excitement. There was also a sexual meaning but etymologists are not agreed as to when it acquired this meaning.

All this information is uncontroversial and had already been covered by scholars like Peter Tamony and Gerald Cohen before Cassidy’s book was published. Cassidy took his information from these other researchers who had done the primary research already. The only original thing in Cassidy’s treatment of the history of the word jazz is his claim that the word jazz comes from the Irish teas, meaning ‘heat’.

This is highly unlikely, though unlike most of Cassidy’s claims, it is not completely impossible. Most of Cassidy’s claimed derivations are simply impossible because the phrase given by Cassidy doesn’t actually exist. (e.g. teas ioma, which Cassidy claimed was an Irish phrase meaning semen and was the origin of jasm.)

Teas is a genuine Irish word, though Cassidy misrepresented both its pronunciation and its meaning.

Cassidy claimed that it was pronounced as jass. It isn’t, in any variety of Irish. You can find sound files for the three main dialects of Irish Connaught, Munster and Ulster, by following this link: https://www.focloir.ie/en/dictionary/ei/heat

As for the definition, Cassidy defined jazz and teas as:

Jazz, n., a name given to African-American music; excitement, passion, enthusiasam; heat; “hot air”, excessive verbal passion; something or someone hot or exciting; sexual intercourse, to have sex with someone.

Teas (pron. j’ass, chass), n., heat, passion, excitement, ardor, enthusiasm, anger, highest temperature. (Ó Dónaill, 611; Dineen 517-518; Dwelly, 942.)

Later in the same article, Cassidy truncated this definition to “heat, passion, excitement”.

As others have pointed out, Cassidy took complex terms and cherry-picked the obscure meanings which suited him without taking into account the way these words are really used in the language. Of course, Cassidy did not speak any Irish and had no idea how any of these words would have been used in a real Irish conversation.

Here are the various definitions of teas according to Ó Dónaill’s dictionary:

teas, m. (gs. ~a). Heat. 1. Hotness, warmth. ~ na gréine, na tine, the heat of the sun, of the fire. ~ an tsamhraidh, summer heat. Fan go dtaga ~ an lae, wait till the day gets warmer. Tá an ~ ag teacht ionam arís, I am beginning to feel warm again. Tá a d~ féin acu, they are keeping each other warm. 2. Warm clothing, warm place. Cuir ~ ort féin, put on something warm. Cuir sa ~ é, put it in a warm place. Tá ~ éadaigh orthu, they are warmly clad. 3. Degree of hotness. Cuir ~ bhainne na bó ann, warm it to the level of milk fresh from the cow. 4. High temperature, feverishness. Tá ~ ina éadan, his brow is hot. Bhí ~ mór ina chuid fola, he had a very high temperature. Bhí ~ na haithinne ann, he was in a feverish hurry. 5. Ph:~ adamhach, atomic heat. ~ folaigh, latent heat. 6. Ardour, passion. ~ crábhaidh, fervent devotion. ~ ceana, grá, warmth of affection, of love. 7. Hottest, highest, stage. Bhí an chonspóid ina ~, the dispute was at its height.

And here are the definitions from Dinneen’s Dictionary:

Heat, warmth, sultriness; fig., comfort, excitement, anger, pain; teas na féil’ Eoin, the Midsummer heat; teas na gréine, the sun’s heat; teas na díthe, the severity of the loss; cuirim teas i. I heat; tháinig sé le teas na gréine, he is illegitimate.

Although Dwelly is irrelevant, being a dictionary of a different language (Scottish Gaelic) which was probably never widely spoken in the cities of North America, Dwelly defines teas as: Heat, warmth. 2 Superabundance, too much of the good things of life.

Of course, this is all rather complicated and that’s not even bringing adjectives like teasaí or related words like teaspach or teasaí into play! However, to summarise, Cassidy is saying that the original meaning of jazz was excitement, enthusiasm or sexual passion and that these are also primary meanings of the Irish word teas, meaning heat. So the question has to be, would anyone use teas to describe the excitement of a match or a party? Eh, no. Would they say that there is teas involved when they find someone sexually arousing? Eh, no. Would they say that someone is full of teas(a) if they are enthusiastic? Not really. Teas means heat. It doesn’t mean excitement (in spite of that word being mentioned by Dinneen) and it doesn’t mean sexual passion.

So, if jazz doesn’t come from the word teas, where does it come from? There are dozens of theories. Here’s a brief selection of them:

From the word jasmine, because jasmine oil was used in brothels and became associated with sex.

From Creole brothels where jezebels (prostitutes) worked.

From Creole patois jass “strenuous activity,” especially “sexual intercourse.”

From a black entertainer called Jas (James).

From a black entertainer called Chas (Charles).

From a Chicago musician called Jasbo (Jasper) Brown.

From jaser, a French word meaning conversation or intercourse, in various senses.

From the French word chasser, to hunt.

From a variant of jasm, a slang term dating back to 1860 that means ‘pep, energy’ and is related to jism for semen.

From various African languages, words like Mandingo jasi, ‘to become unlike oneself’.

From deas, the Irish for nice.

The link with jasm is the most likely to be correct but several others are reasonable candidates and certainly better than teas. The best you could argue for in the case of Cassidy’s supposed link between teas and jazz is that it should be given a place on this list as a possible origin. However, as I’ve argued above, because its pronunciation and meanings are not as suitable as Cassidy pretended, it is not a great candidate.

Cassidese Glossary – Grifter

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.

Cassidy claims that this is another version of grafadóir. As we saw with the words Graft and Grafter, grafadóir means someone who digs over a garden or field and has no connotations of scrounging, money-grubbing or corruption. These meanings were invented by Cassidy.

Cassidese Glossary – Fink

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 American slang term fink, meaning a contemptible person or an informer, dates back to the year 1894. Daniel Cassidy, in his work of false etymologies, How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that the word fink is from the Irish fionnachtain or fionnachtaí. This is absurd.

Fionnachtain, according to Ó Dónaill, means:

fionnachtain, f. (gs. & pl. -ana).1. (Act of) finding; find, discovery. 2. Invention.

The word fionnachtaí, according to the same source, means:

fionnachtaí, m. (gs. ~, pl. -aithe). Finder, discoverer. (Var:fionnachtóir m)

In other words, these are neutral words for finding or discovering. The neutrality of these words is also confirmed by Dinneen. Cassidy invented pejorative meanings like snoop and snitch for fionnachtain/fionnachtaí, meanings that these words have never had. There is another problem with this word being the origin of fink, namely that it has three syllables, while fink only has one!

Then there is the problem that there is a much better and more convincing explanation.

Cassidy dismissed this explanation, as he did on many occasions with many words, by giving a loaded definition calculated to make the claim look ridiculous:

“Some Anglo-American dictionaries suggest fink and finking might be derived from the German fink, meaning a finch …”

This is completely dishonest. The primary meaning of Fink is finch but Fink was also used in German student societies to mean a non-member of the group. In German there are also abusive compound words like Dreckfink (Dreck “filth”), Mistfink (Mist “manure”), Schmierfink (Schmiere “grease”), referring to a dirty or untidy person. It is also found in German criminal argot (Rotwelsch) with the meaning “contemptible person” and “penis”.

This clearly shows the dishonest nature of Cassidy’s work. He carefully and callously manipulated the facts in relation to both the Irish word and the English word in order to make his putative link plausible. Without that manipulation, there is no link.

Cassidese Glossary – Blowen

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.

Blowen is an old term in criminal jargon, defined as ‘a showy or flaunting prostitute, a thief’s paramour’. It was first recorded in the 16th century. There are various suggestions as to its origin, none of them very convincing. Hotten (1865) suggests that ‘blowen may mean one whose reputation has been blown upon, or damaged’. Charles Mackay, the man who tried to do something very similar to Cassidy with Scottish Gaelic, suggested that it comes from blaodh eun, which he says means birdsong, because of the siren-like effect of such women on men. Hmm.

Cassidy’s claim sounds reasonably plausible (certainly compared to Mackay’s, anyway). He claims that it comes from the Irish bláthán. According to Cassidy, this is defined as:

Bláthán (pron. bláhán), n., a small flower, little blossom; fig. a pretty girl, term of endearment for a young girl.

Cassidy cites Dinneen (misspelled as Dineen) and Dwelly for this definition. Ó Dónaill, the most authoritative modern dictionary of the Irish language (not cited by Cassidy), gives the word bláthán with only one definition, grilse, a term that means small fry, young fish. It doesn’t mention blossoms (though the word is almost certainly linked to the Irish bláth meaning flower or blossom) or young girls.

Dinneen gives the following definition: ‘a small flower, a bud; also a fry, as salmon fry; a kind of rock-fish’.  Again, nothing about endearment or terms for young girls.

Dwelly’s Dictionary is of no relevance here, because it’s a dictionary of Scottish Gaelic, not of Irish. However, since Cassidy cited it, we should reproduce what it says. The cognate of bláthán given in this dictionary does not support any meaning to do with girls or terms of endearment. It simply says: ‘blàithean -ein, sm dim. of blàth. Little blossom.’

In other words, bláthán can mean a bud or a blossom, or a small fish. Cassidy’s definition is imaginary. Of course, some people might be thinking that a term for a little blossom could easily be used figuratively, as Cassidy said. However, if this were the case, it would probably have been recorded.

There is also another good reason to regard this claim with suspicion. In Irish, there are three commonly-used diminutives. One is the general –ín found in words like cailín (colleen) or poitín (poteen). The other two were traditionally known as the sister diminutive (-óg) and the brother diminutive (-án). Generally speaking, animate words with –óg are female. A giobóg is an untidy or lazy woman, a sraoilleog is a slattern. Many of these are pejorative terms. Words with –án are either referring to men or unspecified. (Like cancrán, a grumpy person.) However, while is conceivable that bláithín would be used as a pet term for a girl (Bláithín is used as a girl’s name, after all), it is not at all likely that bláthán would be used that way in reference to girls or women because it’s basically a masculine diminutive, even if the dictionary meanings were appropriate – which they aren’t.

Moolah Isn’t Irish

I have just noticed a tweet put out by Shamrock Clubwis (Wisconsin Shamrock Club) on January the 12th.

Today’s slang word from the Irish language is “Moolah.”

Moolah comes from the Irish phrase, “Moll Oir,” meaning “a pile of gold.”

Thanks to Daniel Cassidy’s “How The Irish Invented Slang,” from 2007.

It’s unfortunate how this garbage just keeps on circulating, disappearing and then surfacing again like a dead rat in a blocked drain. No, there is no evidence that moolah has any connection with Irish. While Cassidy’s suggestion of moll óir is much better than his usual standard (at least the phrase could exist and doesn’t infringe any grammatical rules) there is precious little evidence of anyone, anywhere using this phrase. On Google, the one example I found was in relation to a taped interview with a native Irish speaker from Donegal. In a description of the contents of the audio, it talks about someone finding a pile of gold (moll óir) under a flagstone. However, listening to the actual audio, the phrase isn’t mentioned.

There are numerous theories about the origins of the word moolah, which first appears in America in the 1930s. The strongest suggestion, as far as I’m concerned, is the Spanish phrase (especially associated with Venezuela) bajáte de la mula, which literally means ‘get down off the mule’ and figuratively means ‘give me the money!’ Mula sounds exactly like moolah. (However, there are problems with this. See the comment from David Gold below.)

Moll óir, on the other hand, sounds like ‘moll oar’. In other words, it sounds absolutely nothing like moolah.


Tá mé díreach i ndiaidh tvuít a fheiceáil a chuir Shamrock Clubwis (Wisconsin Shamrock Club) suas ar Twitter ar an 12ú lá de mhí Eanáir.

Today’s slang word from the Irish language is “Moolah.”

Moolah comes from the Irish phrase, “Moll Oir,” meaning “a pile of gold.”

Thanks to Daniel Cassidy’s “How The Irish Invented Slang,” from 2007.

Ní thagann. Más féidir leat an Ghaeilge seo a léamh, beidh a fhios agat nach frása coitianta é “moll óir”. Agus níl an frása sin ar dhóigh ar bith cosúil le moolah, agus cé go bhfuil a lán teoiricí ann faoi bhunús an fhocail moolah, an ceann is fearr, is dócha, ná an frása Spáinnise (atá le cloisteáil go coitianta sa Veiniséala, de réir cosúlachta) “bajáte de la mula”, a chiallaíonn “tuirling den mhiúil” ach a bhfuil brí fháthchiallach leis, mar atá, “tabhair dom an t-airgead!”  Tá an focal mula go díreach cosúil le moolah, ní hionann agus moll óir. (Agus sin ráite, tá fadhbanna ag baint leis an tsanasaíocht seo fosta – féach na tuairimí thíos.)

Much kerfuffle about nothing/Cíor thuathail faoi kerfuffle

In many places on line it is claimed that the word kerfuffle is derived from the Irish phrase cíor thuathail. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary says that it is perh. from Scots curfuffle (prob. from Sc. Gaelic car ‘twist, bend’ + imitative Scots fuffle ‘to disorder’), or rel. to Ir. cior thual ‘confusion, disorder’.

This ‘Irish’ phrase is not correct. The real Irish phrase is Cíor thuathail, confusion, bewilderment. For example, you could say ‘Tá an seomra folctha ina chíor thuathail aige’, – he has made a total mess of the bathroom. Cíor thuathail is pronounced keer hoo-il. The first element seems to be cíor, which means a comb or the crest of a bird. Tuathal means left-handed or anticlockwise.

In reality, the derivation of kerfuffle from Scots makes perfect sense. There are lots of related words for disorder like curfuggle and curfuddle, as well as words like curslap and curwallop which contain the same first element. You can find more information about this at the Dictionary of the Scots Language: http://www.dsl.ac.uk/entry/snd/cur

So, kerfuffle almost certainly doesn’t derive from Irish. However, looking at this reminded me of a question I have had for a long time and which nobody has been able to answer satisfactorily. Where does the Irish expression cíor thuathail come from?

If we take cíor to mean comb or crest in Irish, as it usually does, this makes little sense. What is a left-handed comb, or a left-handed crest? However, in researching this, I did find one possible origin. According to an old Irish dictionary published in 1768 (Focaloir Gaoidhilge-Sax-Bhearla Or an Irish-English Dictionary by John O’Brien), there is a literary term Cíor-ghal, where the gal means courage and the cíor is an old word for hand given by Ó Cléirigh in his Foclóir no Sanasan Nua in 1643, a borrowing from the Greek cheir.

This would make perfect sense. There are lots of expressions linking left-handedness to disorder or clumsiness in many languages. You only have to think of words like sinister or gauche in English, or ciotógach and tuathalach in Irish (both of which mean clumsy as well as left-handed).

Please note, however, that this is not a certainty. This is a possibility and needs to be confirmed by experts on the history of Irish. Scum like Daniel Cassidy were quite happy to jump to conclusions about language, rejecting sensible explanations on the flimsiest of grounds. Real scholars don’t behave the way Cassidy did. Real scholars care about the truth and act accordingly.


Is minic a mhaítear ar line gur tháinig an focal kerfuffle ón fhrása Gaeilge cíor thuathail. Mar shampla, deir an Oxford English Dictionary gur féidir gur ón Albanais curfuffle (is dócha ó Ghaidhlig na hAlban car ‘casadh, lúbadh’ + focal aithriseach Albanaise fuffle ‘cur in aimhréidh), nó gaolta le Gaeilge cior thual ‘corrabhuais, rírá’.

Ní Gaeilge an frása seo, ar ndóigh. Cíor thuathail an leagan ceart. Mar shampla, thiocfadh leat a rá: ‘Tá an seomra folctha ina chíor thuathail aige’. Ciallaíonn an focal cíor, rud a úsáidtear leis an ghruaig a réiteach, nó an círín ar chloigeann éin. Ciallaíonn tuathal ciotógach nó in éadan na gréine.

Ar ndóigh, tá an tsanasaíocht ón Albanais thar a bheith sochreidte. Tá a lán focal eile ar rírá ar nós curfuggle agus curfuddle, chomh maith le focail ar nós curslap agus curwallop a bhfuil an chéad chuid den fhocal mar an gcéanna. Is féidir níos mó a fhoghlaim faoin fhocal seo ag an Dictionary of the Scots Language: http://www.dsl.ac.uk/entry/snd/cur

Mar sin de, tá sé chóir a bheith cinnte nach focal Gaeilge é kerfuffle. Ach, agus mé ag amharc ar an cheist seo, chuir sé i gcuimhne dom go bhfuil ceist i mo chloigeann leis na blianta faoin fhrása seo, ceist nach bhfuair mé freagra sásúil uirthi riamh. Is é sin, cá has a bhfuarthas an cor cainte sin cíor thuathail?

Má ghlacaimid leis go bhfuil an ghnáthchiall cíor agus go gciallaíonn sé gléas le do chuid gruaige a chíoradh nó an círín ar chloigeann circe, níl mórán céille ag baint leis. Agus sin ráite, tháinig mé ar bhunús féideartha amháin agus mé ag déanamh taighde. De réir seanfhoclóir Gaeilge a foilsíodh in 1768 (Focaloir Gaoidhilge-Sax-Bhearla Or an Irish-English Dictionary le John O’Brien), tá seantéarma liteartha ann, Cíor-ghal. Ciallaíonn an gal misneach agus is seanfhocal ar lámh é cíor, focal a luann Ó Cléirigh ina Foclóir no Sanasan Nua in 1643, iasacht ón Ghréigis cheir.

Tá an méid seo le ciall. Tá a lán frásaí ann a nascann ciotógacht le hamscaíocht nó le haimhréidhe, ina lán teangacha. Ní gá ach focail ar nós sinister agus gauche a lua sa Bhéarla, nó ciotógach agus tuathalach i nGaeilge.

Agus sin ráite, ní féidir a bheith cinnte faoin tsanasaíocht seo. Níl ann ach féidearthacht agus ní mór do shaineolaithe ar stair na teanga é a dhearbhú. Sin an difear le gramaisc mar Cassidy. Bhi seisean i gcónaí sásta dóigh a dhéanamh dá bharúil féin agus diúltú do mhíniúcháin eile, míniúcháin níos fearr, ar na cúiseanna is laige amuigh. Ní dhéanann fíorscoláirí na rudaí a rinne Cassidy. Is maith le fíorscoláirí an fhírinne, agus bíonn siad ag gníomhú dá réir.


Hick and Aitheach

The English word hick (peasant, bumpkin) means the same as the Irish words tuathánach, cábóg, tútachán, farcach. That is, it means the same thing, more or less, as that common word in the English of Ireland, culchie.

According to Daniel Cassidy, in his work of fantasy How The Irish Invented Slang, it comes from the Irish word aitheach. Aitheach is an old-fashioned, literary word for a churl and of course, the sound of aitheach is nothing like the sound of hick. (For English speakers with no Irish, it’s pronounced something like Aha or eye-hah. To get a proper flavour of how it might be pronounced in the main dialects, go to focloir.ie and play the sound files for the words maith and teach.)

And of course, etymologists know where the word hick originated in English. Hick is an affectionate version of the name Richard. It’s a form of the name which was found among rural people. Hick is used with the meaning of yokel as far back as 1565. As usual, Cassidy ignored what real scholars had to say about this word.

Cassidy’s conjecture about this word is just a bare-faced lie – just like the rest of Cassidy’s stupid conjectures.


Ciallaíonn an focal Béarla hick an rud céanna leis na focail Ghaeilge tuathánach, cábóg, tútachán, farcach. Is é sin, ciallaíonn sé an rud céanna, a bheag nó a mhór, leis an fhocal choitianta sin i mBéarla na hÉireann, culchie.

De réir Daniel Cassidy, ina leabhar fantaisíochta How The Irish Invented Slang, is ón fhocal Gaeilge aitheach a tháinig sé. Is focal seanfhaiseanta liteartha é aitheach a chiallaíonn cábóg nó duine tuaithe agus ar ndóigh, níl fuaim aitheach cosúil le hick ar chor ar bith.

Agus ar ndóigh, tá a fhios ag lucht na sanasaíochta cá has a dtáinig an focal hick sa Bhéarla. Is leagan muirneach é Hick den ainm Richard. Bhí an leagan seo den ainm le fáil i measc na dtuathánach. Faightear hick leis an chiall sin tuathánach chomh fada siar leis an bhliain 1565. Mar is gnách, rinne Cassidy neamhaird den méid a bhí le rá ag daoine léannta faoin fhocal seo.

Níl i mbuille faoi thuairim Cassidy faoin fhocal seo ach deargbhréaga, ar ndóigh – go díreach cosúil leis an chuid eile de thuairimí amaideacha Cassidy.


Ceann de na rudaí is amaidí i leabhar amaideach Cassidy ná an cacamas faoi bhunús Gaelach an fhocail giggle. Deir Cassidy go dtagann giggle ón ‘Ghaeilge’ gíog gheal. Níl a leithéid ann sa Ghaeilge, ar ndóigh, ach oiread le ‘brightsqueaking’ sa Bhéarla.

Ní hamháin sin, ach mar atá léirithe againn roimhe seo, san áit a bhfuil gaol ag focal i mBéarla sa Ghearmáinis, ciallaíonn sin gur focal seanbhunaithe atá ann sa Bhéarla (sleep, schlafen; bed, Bett; drink, trinken; foot, Fuß etc.) Tá focal sa Ghearmáinis, gickeln, a chiallaíonn an rud céanna le giggle agus atá an-chosúil leis ó thaobh fuaime de. Giggle, gickeln. Nach bhfuil an míniú sin míle uair níos fearr ná raiméis bhréagach Cassidy faoi ghíoga geala?


One of the stupidest things in Cassidy’s stupid book is the nonsense about the Irish origin of the word giggle. Cassidy says that giggle comes from the ‘Irish’ gíog gheal. This doesn’t exist in Irish, of course, any more than ‘brightsqueaking’ does in English.

That’s not all. As we have shown before here, where a word in English has a cognate in German, this means that it is a long-established word in English (sleep, schlafen; bed, Bett; drink, trinken; foot, Fuß etc.) There is a word in German, gickeln, which means the same thing as giggle and which is very similar to it in sound. Giggle, gickeln. Isn’t that a far better explanation than Cassidy’s fake rubbish about bright squeaks?


Cassidy introduces his treatment of the word chuck as follows:

Chuck, v., chucking, vn., to throw, especially to throw or pitch a ball; tossing, discarding. Uncertain origin or onomatopoeic. (Chapman, 71; OED)

Cassidy’s claim is that “The Irish teilg (pron. chel’әg, throw) is spelled “chock” when it gets tossed into English slang in the 16th century.”

Why isn’t this true? Well, there are a couple of points to remember. One, Cassidy’s ‘system’ of referencing as shown above is completely inadequate. Cassidy gives information about the meaning and possible origins of the word. Then, he gives two different sources, Chapman and the OED. There is no way of knowing which pieces of information come from which books, or indeed if all the ‘information’ comes from either of them. It was a standard practice of Cassidy’s to slip in his own inventions in these multi-source definitions. And who is Chapman? Well, it’s hard to know when you’re dealing with a book with no bibliography, but I would assume it’s probably Robert Chapman of the Dictionary of American Slang. The OED states that chuck is probably from the Old French chuquer, later choquer, “to knock, to bump”. Other sources concur with this possible origin – for example, Eric Partridge’s Origins (originally published in 1958, though my edition was published in the 1990s). While it is not completely certain, it’s a reasonable guess. It was in Cassidy’s interests to pretend that there is no other possible origin because of the weakness of his own half-baked suggestion.

Another problem with Cassidy’s Irish origin is that the word chuck was first used at the end of the 16th century in English. Cassidy likes to claim that many words were borrowed this early from Irish but the only evidence for this is Cassidy’s own discredited words like dock from tobhach or queer from corr. In reality, there seems to have been little Irish influence on English as early as this (apart from words relating to warfare like kern and gallowglass and bonnaught, which the English had good reason to learn).

However, the main reason is that teilg doesn’t sound anything like chuck. Why would anyone borrow a word from Irish and pronounce it in a completely different way? And how can you prove a connection when the two words are so totally unalike?

Teilg does primarily mean to hurl or throw in modern Irish. It originally meant to release, to throw, to shoot a bow, to give birth, to shed tears. You can find a full list of meanings under telcud at the online dictionary eDIL (http://www.dil.ie/search?search_in=headword&q=telcud). It is pronounced something like chelleg in Ulster dialect while in the south it would be tellig. (You can find sound files for the three main dialects on focloir.ie: http://www.focloir.ie/ga/dictionary/ei/cast#cast__12)

In other words, not only is Cassidy’s claim unlikely, the choquer origin makes a lot more sense, which is why Cassidy pretended it didn’t exist. Which is another good reason to chuck your copy of How The Irish Invented Slang …




I am rapidly reaching the point where I find it hard to find new stupidities in Cassidy’s book that I haven’t already debunked. However, there are odd exceptions here and there. One unplucked piece of low-hanging fruit is the claim that ‘miller’, an old cant term for a fighter or boxer, is from Irish.

Firstly, the most parsimonious explanation is quite simply that this expression is an extension of the word miller, someone who keeps or works in a mill. Millers have always had the reputation as strong, rough men, even back as far as Chaucer. And of course, milling can mean grinding, breaking, destroying. In other words, you don’t need to look any further than English ‘miller’ for the origins of the English slang expression ‘miller’. Unless you’re a flake like Daniel Cassidy, of course.

Cassidy’s explanation, as usual, lacks any evidence.

Miller, n., a boxer, a murderer. “Miller, a Killer …” (B.E.’s Dictionary of the Canting Crew, 1699.)

Míle (pron. m’íl’ə), n., a warrior, a soldier; a champion, a hero. Mill, v., to break, to injure; to damage, to destroy. (Dineen [sic], 742; Ó Dónaill, 859, 860.)

One person’s killer is another person’s miller (míle, pron. m’íl’ə, hero, warrior, soldier; champion; destroyer.)”

The problem with this is that míle is not a particularly good match in terms of sound (it’s pronounced meelya or meela – note that Cassidy’s phonetic transcription was as fake as everything else in his miserable ‘skill set’) and it’s not a particularly common word. There are dozens of other words which suit the meaning of boxer or soldier or warrior far better, words like dornálaí (boxer), or saighdiúir (soldier). Míle is actually a fairly obscure borrowing of the Latin word mīles, the root of military and militia.

And it has no etymological connection with the word mill, meaning to destroy in Irish. (MacBain’s dictionary: destroy, Irish, Old Irish millim: *mel-ni-, root mele, fail, miss; Lithuanian mìlyti, fail; Greek @Gméleos, useless, wretched …) The word destroyer added to the list of meanings of míle above is yet another example of the kind of casual random dishonesty that makes Cassidy’s book so totally worthless. And in any case, only an irrational, brain-burned nut-job like Cassidy would think that giving two totally different words with different etymologies as the origin of one English expression would help his case!