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How the Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads Paperback – July, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Daniel Cassidy is founder and co-director of An Léann Éireannach, the Irish Studies Program at New College of California in San Francisco. His research on the Irish language's influence on American vernacular and slang has been published in the New York Observer, Ireland's Hot Press magazine, The San Francisco Chronicle, and Lá, the Irish-language newspaper.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 303 pages
  • Publisher: CounterPunch Books (July 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1904859607
  • ISBN-13: 978-1904859604
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #525,141 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Seán on August 30, 2011
Format: Paperback
I have to say that the reception this book has been given shocks me. Why do respectable academics put their reputations on the line to defend something which is so sloppy and poorly-researched? Other people react as if ethnic pride entitles you to ignore the truth. The level of some of the comments I have read on different websites reminds me of the Columbus Day episode of the Sopranos. To those who will take umbrage at what I'm saying and regard me as a WASP/revisionist/communist/fascist/self-hating Gael/eejit, I just have one suggestion. Why don't you look up buanchumadh on Google. Then look up some of the real Irish expressions used by Irish speakers to mean nonsense - seafóid, raiméis, amaidí. You will notice that there are many entries for buanchumadh but all of them - ALL OF THEM - are related to Daniel Cassidy. This is not the case with seafóid, raiméis and amaidí - they get lots of hits from lots of sources. This proves that those words are used by Irish speakers, while buanchumadh was invented by Cassidy. The same for lots of other Cassidyisms, like bocaí rua and teas ioma. Other claims are invalidated because they already have explanations which are much more convincing, like longshoreman. (Plus the fact that loingseoir is pronounced lingshore.) By the time you have removed all the rubbish from this book, there is virtually nothing left.
The worst thing is that the lexicographers have sometimes been lax in looking for Irish sources for words, as Cassidy claims. For example, the OED gives conk (a big nose) as possibly deriving from conch, ignoring the Irish word cainc which means a big nose. But the flood of totally fake derivations in this book doesn't help to get the genuine examples recognised. Quite the reverse.
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Format: Paperback
from the "Irish News", Belfast, July 18, 2007,

"It is a conundrum that has long confused scholars - why the Irish language seems to have had little influence on English as spoken in America. Millions of Irish emigrated to America but English as Americans now speak it appears devoid of Irish references - despite the reputation of the Irish for verbal creativity. Now a new book credits the Irish language for influencing spoken English - and slang most of all.

In How the Irish Invented Slang: the Secret Language of the Crossroads, Irish American academic Daniel Cassidy demonstrates that the influence of Irish emigrants on American existence went beyond pubs and politics.

"The words and phrases of Ireland are as woven into the clamour (glam mor, great howl, shout and roar) and racket (raic ard, loud melee) of American life as the hot jazz (teas, pron j'as, cd'as, heat, passion, excitement) of New Orleans."

Mr Cassidy hopes to waft the winds of change in studies of English - but reminds readers that academics have long harboured a snobbish attitude to Irish. HL Mencken, author of The American Language, said the Irish had contributed very few words to Americans. "Perhaps speakeasy, shillelah and smithereens exhaust the list," Mencken wrote.

Mr Cassidy points out that West used the word "babe", meaning a physically attractive woman, in 1926 - and that the Irish word 'bab' meant a baby, woman or a term of affection. And baloney, meaning nonsense - a word synonymous with America if ever there was one - is derived from the Irish beal onna, meaning foolish talk.

So the idea that the Irish have contributed zilch (word meaning nothing or zero, origin unknown) to American English could be bealonna (baloney after all." - Margaret Canning
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46 of 62 people found the following review helpful By Ken McCarthy on November 30, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm sure this book is full of scholarly errors.

However, clearly there are many, many American words related to gambling, physical labor, violence, conversation, affection, poverty etc. that the professional scholars cannot - or have not bothered - to trace. Reality dictates these words had to have come from SOMEWHERE.

Where did they come from then? There isn't an infinite number of potential sources.

If these words did not come from native languages, Spanish, French, German or Dutch, maybe, just maybe they came from one of the biggest waves of immigrants ever to hit American shores.

Is that such a leap of logic?

How is it these scholars can trace some words back thousands of years, but words that sprung up in the 19th and early 20th century in America remain "of obscure origin?"

The problem is, of course, that there wasn't a whole lot of vernacular writing going on in the US when most of these words came to be and were Anglicized. People who wrote were rare and they were trained in the King's English (or French, Spanish or Dutch.)

Remember Mark Twain guys?

His writing was SHOCKING because he attempted to document the way real people spoke. No one else of prominence even attempted this and he came along very late in the game. The reality is there are a few centuries of American English we know little about - because it was never written down. Does that mean we stop thinking about word origins from this period?

Language begins with speech and then makes its way to print often long after the fact. It amazes me that people presenting themselves as professional linguists don't seem to know or appreciate this.
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