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Book: How the Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads By Daniel Cassidy
Review by: James Generic (Posted:10.7.2007)

The Irish make up one of the biggest ethnic groups in the English speaking world of Britain, the USA, and Australia. As the first colony of England, where much of later British imperialist policies were perfected and tested, the Irish were the laborers, the soldiers, and the maids of the Anglo rulers in the United States and Britain. Irish women were especially popular in the States as servants because they spoke English. However, it is very easy to forget that the Irish's native language is not English, but Irish-Gaelic.

Yet, for a group whom was so emerged in English speaking culture after they were conquered by the English, and crushed over and over again in rebellions, very little of the Irish language appears to have influenced the English, at least according to most mainstream English dictionaries, like Oxford. In "How the Irish Invented Slang", Daniel Cassidy lays out an argument that most English linguistic study have all overlooked the Irish influence, most because much of the words come from working class language of the Irish slums, and therefore much of our "colorful" language actually is descended from the Irish Gaelic language, though the spelling has changed and origin was often listed as "unknown" by the scholars. Therefore, Irish-Americans can take heart that their language is still spoken in the bars and streets across the US, especially amongst working people.

He explores popular songs, like railroad songs, cowboy songs, and baseball songs, to how the Irish influenced popular card game lingo, to cowboy lingo, to how the book and movie "Gangs of New York" got the name of the gang Dead Rabbits completely wrong. In the back is a nice dictionary of words that Cassidy attributes to being descended from Irish-Gaelic, a language not crushed out of existence by Anglo culture after all. For examples, listed below are 45 slang/descended-from-slang words which Cassidy attributes to the working-class Irish.

1. Babe (sexually attractive young woman)
2. Baloney (as in foolishness)
3. Bee's Wax (as in "none of your…")
4. Booze
5. Brat
6. Chuck (as in "to throw")
7. Cop (as in policeman)
8. Dork
9. Dude
10. Fluke
11. Freak
12. Gams (as in legs)
13. Geek
14. Guzzle
15. Hick (as in peasant or country fool)
16. Honky
17. Jerk
18. Lunch
19. Lick (as in to beat someone)
20. Ma/Pa
21. Mug (as in someone's face)
22. Malarkey (foolish talk)
23. Mutt
24. Phoney
25. Pussy (as in vagina, or whiner)
26. Puss (as in mouth or lips)
27. Slugger (as in baseball hitter)
28. Queer (as in odd)
29. Razzamatazz (showing off, high spirits)
30. Root (as in to cheer for)
31. Slew (as in large number, a whole… of 'em)
32. Shanty
33. Shindig (party)
34. Shoo
35. Whiskey
36. Skinny (inside information)
37. Slacker
38. Slogan
39. Smack (as in to hit)
40. Sock (as in to punch)
41. Spunk (spirit, energy, semen)
42. Sucker (as in fool)
43. Taunt
44. Yacking
45. Yellow (as in cowardly)

This is a great book for anyone curious about language and why certain words arose. In a country where working people are often slammed for their language as being outrageous or overly emotional or dramatic or offensive, and while working people are told how stupid they are for they way in which they talk or continuingly corrected their entire lives, it's very nice to read a history of where those "dirty words of the rabble" come from. It's nice to not feel stupid when people are talking about language for once.

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