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 work of false etymology How The Irish Invented Slang, claimed that the term buckaroo, an American term for a cowboy, comes from Irish:
“Buckaroo, n., a cowboy, a cattle drover, a roving, wild rogue of the western plains. Buckaroo is said by all Anglo-American dictionaries to be from bakhara, a “corruption” of vaquero.
Bocaí rua (pron. bucæ rúŏ), n., a fierce buck, a rough wild rogue, a wild playboy. Boc, bocaí, n., a playboy, a scamp, a buck, a rogue. Rua, adj., red-haired, wild, fierce, tough, strong.”
With Cassidy’s ‘research’, we always have to go back to the original sources to see what they really say. Firstly, there is no doubt about the real origin of buckaroo. It derives from the Spanish word vaquero, meaning a cowboy. It is first recorded in English in the form bakhara in the year 1827. It is believed that its transformation into buckaroo occurred under the influence of the English word buck.
When Cassidy first unveiled his etymology for this word in 2005 on an Irish learners’ forum (The Daltaí Boards), it was treated with a healthy scepticism. One post mentioned the number of Spanish words among cowboys like lasso and lariat and rodeo and bronco and calaboose.
Cassidy answered this with the following: “Why is vaquero preferable to boc rua or bocai/ rua? There wasw a large and significant Irish (speaking) presence in both Texas and New Orleans as early as mid 18th century. Why wouldn’t there be a significant Irish language contribution to the gambling and cattle ranching “slang” of the region? Vaquero is the accepted etymology of buckaroo. But why is boc rua or bocaí rua for buckaroo not at least a humble contender?”
Back in the real world, of course, Cassidy simply looked through a dictionary, found the words bocaí and rua and put them together. Here are the real definitions of bocaí and rua from Ó Dónaill’s dictionary:
bocaí, m. (gs. ~, pl. -aithe). Playboy; scamp.
rua3, a3. 1. Red(-haired). Gruaig ~, red hair. Duine ~, red-haired person. 2. Reddish-brown, russet, copper brown. Capall ~, chestnut horse. Bonn ~, copper coin. Ball ~, rusty spot; scorched patch. An Mhuir R~, the Red Sea. S.a. arán, bruth12, cailleach 13, caoch2, cianóg, feamainn, lacha, lionn 1, madra 1(b), pingin 1, raithneach, rí15. 3. Wild, fierce; rough, strong. Oíche ~, wild night; night of fierce brawling. Gaoth ~ Mhárta, wild, withering, March wind. Sruth ~ rabharta, strong spring-tide flow. Cath ~, fierce, bloody, battle.
In other words, bocaí rua would mean ‘red-haired scamp’ or ‘wild scamp’. Yes, that’s so much more convincing as an origin than the Spanish for cowboy.
It doesn’t help matters that Cassidy forgets that bocaí is a singular noun and not the plural of boc: ‘Bocaí rua were the wild Gaelic “bucks” of the American prairie.’
Finally, under this heading Cassidy takes the word bugaroch, which Francis Grose gives in his excellent Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue of 1785 as an Irish word meaning comely and handsome, as ‘perhaps derived from Irish bocaí ruthagach, or a dashing, impulsive young buck’. This is a made-up noun phrase and the meaning makes little sense. The most likely explanation is that this word is the Irish bogúrach which means soft, maudlin, generous (according to Dinneen, bogúir means liberality). Grose was not Irish, though he died here and was buried here, in Drumcondra – he might just have known that the word had a broadly positive meaning and decided that it referred to physical beauty.