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How the Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads Paperback – July, 2007
New from Tom Wolfe
The maestro storyteller and reporter provocatively argues that what we think we know about speech and human evolution is wrong. Learn more
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
"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
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Funny and through, I gave as a gift to my brother-in-law who is Irish and he appreciated and really liked
the analysis of the derivations and the peppering of history of US... Read more
Incredible research! The topic lends itself to being very boring, but not the way Mr.Cassidy tells it. Read morePublished 14 months ago by tgs-2015
Anyone interested in Irish history in America in the time of the Potato Famine and the impact they had on the major entrance port cities on the East Coast will find the history... Read morePublished 18 months ago by Constant Rearder
It's fairly obvious Cassidy has farmed the fertile fields of his own imagination for this book. I am disinclined to believe he has any knowledge of Irish, other than he may have... Read morePublished on August 20, 2014 by Kyle Lerfald
I am a native speaker of Irish with an interest in etymology. This book is an utter scam. The vast majority of the assertions in it are false(at least 98% I guess). Read morePublished on August 6, 2014 by Eoin Ó Murchú
I bough this book as a gift for a friend, so I have not read it. It came on time in very good condition.Published on April 7, 2014 by ArtsEdMA
This book is really interesting. So many of the words and phrases we use everyday come from the Irish language.Published on February 6, 2014 by Jonathan Robert Lancaster
I bought this for my Irish significant-other. Thinking he would be interested, He looked through it and said it was like reading a dictionary. Read morePublished on January 9, 2014 by Roberta D Housel