Tag Archives: The Secret Language of the Crossroads

Cassidese Glossary – The Letters L and M

Last week, I completed the section for the letter L and M from Cassidy’s ludicrous book, How The Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads. There were 38 words in Cassidy’s glossary for these two letters. Added to the 277 words covered in the entries for the letters from A to K, this is a total of 315 headwords.

In the words for L and M, there were a handful of genuine Irish words and phrases. For example, the word meitheal does exist in Irish, and it was used by the union activist Mike Quill in the USA. However, it is an Irish word. There is no evidence that it ever crossed the language barrier and became an English word, used by non-Irish speakers as part of their language. And machree, macushla and mavourneen (mo chroí, mo chuisle and mo mhuirnín) are all part of the stage-Irish vocabulary of sentimental songs and plays, but again, none of them ever really became English.

There are also a couple of words like mucker and longshoreman, which have been claimed by other people before Cassidy to be of Irish origin, though these claims are also improbable.

As for the rest, they are complete nonsense. There is no chance at all of them being correct. Most of the candidate phrases, absurdities like liú lúith or leathluí géag, were invented by Cassidy, and even when words are genuinely to be found in Irish dictionaries, the entries given in those dictionaries are not given accurately, but rewritten by Cassidy to make them closer to whatever term he was trying to promote. We can see this rewriting clearly in words like the noun mug, which Cassidy claims comes from muc meaning a scowling, piggish face. Except that muc doesn’t mean a scowling, piggish face. This meaning was invented by Cassidy.

As I have said before, it is hard to know exactly how much of the garbage in Cassidy’s book should be attributed to outright dishonesty, how much to stupidity and how much to mental illness. It seems to me that the truth has to be somewhere between these three extremes. He managed to fool a lot of people, so presumably he wasn’t completely or obviously nuts. He was clearly very stupid and ignorant, though he must have been smart enough to fool people of limited ability. And he was certainly a liar, not only because of the claims made in the book, but because having failed his BA degree in the 1960s, he turned up thirty years later working as a professor in a small private university in California. There is no evidence that he ever acquired any qualifications in the intervening thirty years and he never mentions any subsequent studying in interviews. He also seems to have lied about many other aspects of his past, such as the claim that he was in the newsroom of the New York Times when Kennedy was shot.

If Cassidy had simply been mad, it would perhaps have been wrong of me to criticise him so strongly, but it would also have been unnecessary. If he had been obviously crazy, nobody would have believed him, least of all the high-profile Irish and Irish-American twits who have disgraced themselves by publicly supporting him and his work.

Anyway, over the next few weeks, I will turn my attention to the letters N, O and P, and we’ll see if Cassidy actually managed to find any genuine examples of words from Irish in the English language. Don’t hold your breath!

Cassidese Glossary – Mug (Verb)

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 word mug means to attack someone with a view to robbing them. Curiously, the late Daniel Cassidy, in his etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, does not define the word in this way. To him, to mug someone means “the act of strangling, choking a person” or assaulting someone from behind with a chokehold. This is, to say the least, a rather idiosyncratic definition. When we look at Cassidy’s claim about its origin, all becomes clear.

Cassidy claims that this mug comes from the Irish verb múch, which he claims means to smother; suffocate, choke; press upon, squeeze together; stifle, throttle; destroy; quell, pacify.

The real definitions of the word múch can be found here:

https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/múch

As you will see if you follow the link, this word is more about extinguishing fires than strangling people, which would normally be expressed with the verb tacht.

In fact, the word mug has a clear history in English. By 1818, it is found with the meaning “to beat up,” which derives from a boxing term meaning “to strike the face” and this in turn comes from mug as in a mug you drink from or a face. The meaning of attack to rob is attested by 1846.

As usual, Cassidy’s definition is nonsense.

Cassidese Glossary – Mug

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. 

Mug is a slang term for face in English. According to most dictionaries, it comes from those old mugs which were decorated with faces like Toby Jugs.

Daniel Cassidy, author of the etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang, disagrees. He believes that it comes from the word muc, meaning pig. It is worth quoting his claim in full, as it clearly shows Cassidy’s poor scholarship and dishonesty.

“Muc, n., a pig; anything resembling a pig or hog; (of person) a piggish, hoggish individual, a swine; a scowl; a beetling brow; a scowling face; a piggish face. Múchna; n. a surly appearance; piggish scowl. Muc ar mala, a scowl, a beetling of brows, a piggish mug.

Most Anglo-American dictionaries derive the slang word mug from an English drinking mug with an ugly face painted on it. In Irish American vernacular, a mug (muc, a scowling, beetle-browed face) is a pig-faced mucker.”

The first point to make is that múchna is nothing to do with muc. Múchna comes from múch, meaning to extinguish or suppress. And it doesn’t sound anything like mug, so it is completely irrelevant here.

Then there is the problem of what muc means. If it meant ‘a scowling face, a piggish’ face, then it would be a pretty good candidate for the origin of mug. However, Cassidy was consistently and pathologically dishonest and the word muc does not mean a face … scowling, beetle-browed, smiley or any other kind. Muc means a pig, or a bulge which is rounded or pig-shaped. Muca sneachta are snowdrifts. When someone frowns, they get a small rounded bulge on their forehead, which in Irish is called muc ar gach mala (a bulge on each brow). It is used in this way but the phrases quoted above “a scowling face; a piggish face … a piggish mug … a scowling, beetle-browed face” are not true definitions of muc. They were invented by Cassidy. If you asked somebody in Irish why they had a muc on them (without the ar gach mala bit), they would look at you in puzzlement and say that they don’t have a pig on them. What Cassidy is saying is a little like saying that ‘laughter’ can be used in English to mean a wrinkled face because people talk about laughter lines. It is pure and total nonsense.

Cassidese Glossary – Lucre

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.

Long ago, in Central Europe, there were two language groups which resembled each other. One was the ancestor of Latin, the other the ancestor of Irish. These language groups had many similar words, like the words for land or sea. They also had a similar word for value or wealth. In Irish, thousands of years later, this was to become luach. In Latin, the word became lucrum, and this later developed into the French lucre, which by the time of Chaucer had been borrowed into English and was used to mean ‘money’. It was often used with words like foul or filthy to show that wealth was corrupting.

This is how English got the word lucre, as in ‘filthy lucre’. There is no doubt or room for argument about this. The word lucre came from French, which developed out of Latin. The word is a cognate (a cousin, if you like) of the Irish luach. But it isn’t a borrowing from Irish. So why is it in this book? How is it relevant to Cassidy’s theory of Irish influence on English?

Tá mise chomh haineolach leat féin! (Your guess is as good as mine.)

Cassidese Glossary – Loogin

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.

Loogin is a slang term in America for a fool. There is no agreement about its derivation. It may be from a surname like Logan.

According to Cassidy, it comes from the Irish leathdhuine. This word is not a bad match in terms of meaning but it is definitely a bad match in terms of pronunciation. However, don’t take my word for it. Listen to the sound files for leathdhuine at the link below to find the pronunciation in Connaught, Munster and Ulster Irish:

https://www.focloir.ie/en/dictionary/ei/cock#cock__7

Cassidese Glossary – To Lag

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.

As a verb, the English word means to fail to keep up. As a noun, the word lag means a delay. This is a very old word in English, dating back to the early 16th century. You can find some more information about its etymology here:

https://www.etymonline.com/word/lag

As you can see, there is some doubt about its origins but it seems to be related to a Scandinavian root. For example, there is a Norwegian verb lagga, meaning to move slowly, and/or to a dialect English term for the last one in a race, who was referred to as the lag or laggie.

From Cassidy’s treatment of this word, it is clear that he has nothing original to say on the subject. The OED had apparently already discussed the supposed origin of the word from a Celtic source such as Welsh llag (or llac) or Gaelic lag, and dismissed it as highly improbable. Cassidy, of course, from a position of complete ignorance of linguistics and the Celtic languages, dismisses the OED’s concerns and states that “the Irish lag (weak, feeble; a weak person or thing) and its verb lagaigh (pron. lagí, to weaken, slacken) first lag into English slang and cant in the 16th century”.

The Irish for “my horse started well but soon lagged” is “thosaigh mo chapall go maith ach níorbh fhada gur thit sé chun deiridh”. Nothing to do with lag or lagaigh. (And lag is not a noun meaning a weak person in Irish, it’s an adjective).