Grant Barrett wrote to alert me to this NY Times story by Corey Kilgannon, which enraged me to the point of incoherence. I’m not mad at Daniel Cassidy—he’s a genial amateur who got a crackpot book published, no better or worse than the zillions of crackpot books that get published every year, and it’s not his fault he knows nothing about language and its history, it’s the fault of the educational system, for which linguistics and its results do not exist. No, I’m mad at the Times, which accords his nonsense the kind of respect they wouldn’t give theories about how space aliens killed Kennedy or how you can produce nuclear energy at home with knitting needles and walnuts. Here, see for yourself:
…Mr. Cassidy’s curiosity about the working-class Irish vernacular he grew up with kept growing. Some years back, leafing through a pocket Gaelic dictionary, he began looking for phonetic equivalents of the terms, which English dictionaries described as having “unknown origin.”
“Glom” seemed to come from the Irish word “glam,” meaning to grab or to snatch. He found the word “balbhán,” meaning a silent person, and he surmised that it was why his quiet grandfather was called the similarly pronounced Boliver.
He began finding one word after another that seemed to derive from the strain of Gaelic spoken in Ireland, known as Irish. The word “gimmick” seemed to come from “camag,” meaning trick or deceit, or a hook or crooked stick.
Could “scam” have derived from the expression “’S cam é,” meaning a trick or a deception? Similarly, “slum” seemed similar to an expression meaning “It is poverty.” “Dork” resembled “dorc,” which Mr. Cassidy’s dictionary called “a small lumpish person.” As for “twerp,” the Irish word for dwarf is “duirb.”
Mr. Cassidy, 63, began compiling a lexicon of hundreds of Irish-inspired slang words and recently published them in a book called “How the Irish Invented Slang,” which last month won the 2007 American Book Award for nonfiction, and which he is in New York this week promoting.
And I’m mad at the American Book Award (to be distinguished from the much more prestigious National Book Award), which rewarded this tripe. After a couple of days of fighting computer problems and worrying about a work deadline, I’m in no shape to do the kind of thoughtful debunking this should get; fortunately, Grant has done it himself. Go here and read his demolition job, and join me in wishing the Times and other news sources would treat language as seriously as they do, say, football.