Thursday, December 06, 2007

What do the words humdinger, gimmick, doozy, and baloney all have in common?

Along with the words scam, hokum, and grifter, they all owe their origins to words in the Irish language, says Dan Cassidy, winner of the American Book Award for his How The Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads. A nice idea, and handy for the brag, but each of these words you are also likely to hear from reputable linguists, lexicographers and language historians when they are talking about Cassidy, and about his book.

Reviewed favourably by Corey Kilgannon in the New York Times, the book is more sensibly treated by Michael Patrick Brady, who considers Cassidy's endeavour a worthwhile pursuit that gets "lost among the wreckage" of Cassidy's lousy scholarship (or perhaps more precisely, Cassidy's contempt for scholarship in general).

According to Grant Barrett, "Cassidy’s theories are insubstantial, his evidence inconclusive, his conclusions unlikely, his Gaelic atrocious and even factitious, and his scholarship little better than speculation. In short, his book is preposterous."

The point of the American Book Awards is "to recognize literary excellence without limitations or restrictions," and How The Irish Invented Slang is published by Counterpunch. Why am I not surprised?

And is it not enough that the Irish saved civilization?


Blogger kurt said...

Maybe Cassidy is just taking the piss?

11:47 AM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

I wish.

12:16 PM  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Then there's "lollapalooza (?)".

Kerbang! Comic book stuff in my day but how words can spread.

Varoom! Oh my goodness, where this will all end knows only...

Budda budda budda!


7:30 PM  
Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

I once read that "frigging" is an Irish word and even though sweet elderly ladies may use it as they discuss their knitting projects, it really is a "bad" word. As evidenced in one scene shared by Bloom and Dedalus.

7:55 PM  
Blogger kurt said...

Reminds me of the classic sketch in which a Scotsman claims credit for inventing everything, including the bloody English:

Makes me want to buy a kilt... I've already got the bagpipes.

9:54 PM  
Blogger richard said...

As the smarties at Language Log put it, "the problem with the book is that there is no scholarship or real evidence at all in it."

Or as Grant Barrett said at The Lexicographer's Rules, "The author, Daniel Cassidy, used to post his rubbish to the email list of the American Dialect Society, but when his rickety logic and dubious scholarship couldn’t withstand the scrutiny of interested scholars and dilettantes, he took his quackery other places to people who don’t know any better."

8:27 PM  

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