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Spoken Soul: The Story of Black English by John R. Rickford, Russell J.
American Book Award for 2000 from the Before Columbus Foundation.
John R. Rickford is the Martin Luther King Centennial Professor of Linguistics and
African and Afro-American Studies at Stanford University.
American Book Award for 2000 from the Before Columbus Foundation.
A leading expert explores the roots of African-American Vernacular English, which is the first language of millions of African-American children and the signature sound of informal conversation among the generations. Claude Brown, author of the classic Manchild in the Promised Land, called black English "spoken soul." In this book John Rickford traces its history, use influence and America's love/hate attitude toward it.
MORE Editorial Reviews
In 1996, an America Online poll about Ebonics sparked more responses than did its survey on O.J. Simpson. And that's just a taste of the controversy and debate that Black English has provoked over the years. Called "Spoken Soul" by Claude Brown, author of Manchild in the Promised Land, the dialect of African Americans has been lauded, derided, questioned, and discussed for decades, but never so comprehensively and fairly as in this historic, sociologic, and linguistic overview and analysis by John Russell Rickford (the Martin Luther King Jr. Centennial Professor of Linguistics at Stanford University) and Russell John Rickford (a journalist, formerly of the Philadelphia Inquirer).
"That mainstream English is essential to our self-preservation is indisputable
. . but it is not necessary to abandon Spoken Soul to master Standard English, any more than it is
necessary to abandon English to learn French or to deprecate jazz to appreciate classical
How the Irish Invented Slang by Daniel Cassidy
2007 The American Book Award Winner
Recognizes outstanding literary achievement by contemporary
American authors, and acknowledge the excellence and
multicultural diversity of American writing.
How the Irish Invented Slang
Subtitle: The Secret Language of the Crossroads
by Professor Dan Cassidy RIP 2008
IRISH AMERICAN VERNACULAR ENGLISH DICTIONARYReclaiming the knowledge back from a time long forgotten: Irish Claim The Word Jazz. Daniel Cassidy flings down the gauntlet to all those compilers of dictionaries who fled to the safe haven of origin unknown when confronted with the challenge of American slang. The originality and importance of the argument makes this an exciting contribution to both American and Irish Studies. This is a landmark book, at once learned and lively and quite enthralling as to how American English acquired so vibrant a popular vocabulary.Permanent link
~ Professor J. Joseph Lee, Director, Glucksman Ireland House, Professor of History and Irish Studies, New York University; Professor of History, University College Cork.
- AUDIO INTERVIEW - Listen to Cassidy Book Interview - IRISH - THE FIRST LITERATE LANGUAGE IN EUROPE AFTER LATIN AND GREEK
- AUDIO INTERVIEW - Listen
Dan Cassidy - 11th August 2007
He may be born and bred Brooklyn but Irish-American Dan Cassidy has made California his home since the 60s. Once a professional musician, he was lured to the West Coast by the music and the counter-culture that was radiating from San Francisco.
- Irish Americans especially will be delighted to know, they have
speaking Irish all along in their slang and American English, while believing and bemoaning that they
lost their native tongue many years ago. With imagination and scholarship, Cassidy has restored this
hidden treasure to us in a book that is filled with revelations, wit and humor.
- Among artists, scribes, and scholars who have probed the Irish-American
past, only Daniel Cassidy has delved into the essence of Irish American culture and
our inherited gift of language. Cassidy has explored and explained the origins and endurance of the
evocative, sordid and exquisite Irish words and phrases that have given verve to American
- "Some say the Irish language is dead as a Marley Grange
doornail. But Cassidy detects it alive and, well, squirting cider in the eyes of
unseeing beholders. He's traced the first-ever tootle of jazz, and it wasn't two hippies on a
roll: you take some skins, jazz begins. It was taken from the Irish, within the imminence of St.
Patrick's Day, 1913." ~ Éamonn
- Imagine old, sunken roads re-surfaced on our maps. Imagine an x-ray
of the American language, its sinews and its muscles. This is what Dan Cassidy gives us in his thrilling
investigation. Here are the words, fresh off the boat, and heres what happened to those words and the
people who spoke them. He lays out what the Irish in their revels, their loves and their hates, their
exuberant, often desperate battle with the New World, have given America in the way we all speak and
- What Cassidy has done is nothing short of miraculous: he has brought back to life that which was considered dead and settled. Roll over, Webster and Murray!
- “Professor and author Daniel Cassidy can say this for sure: He's huge in Ireland...By plucking words such as "scam" and "snazzy" out of old English dictionaries and comparing them with phonetic twins in Irish dictionaries, Cassidy shows how Irish words were absorbed into American English while the Irish themselves were assimilating.”
Gee Whiz Daddy-o! Irish slang is baloney
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. And with other ethnic groups leaving an indelible mark on English - from the chutzpah of Yiddish spoken by Jews to the zeitgeist of German immigrants, the lack of an Irish verbal footprint is regarded as an anomaly.
Now, in good news for Gaelgoiri everywhere, 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 theCrossroads, Irish American academic Daniel Cassidy demonstrates that the influence of Irish emigrants on American existence went beyond pubs and politics.
Mr Cassidy, who has an interest in all things Irish and founded an Irish studies course at the New College of California, nonetheless balked at taking up the language himself. That changed when a student, who died at 37, bequeathed him a battered, dog-eared Irish dictionary.
Mr Cassidy contemplating binning the book but instead, decided to absorb a word or two of Irish very night. A Eureka moment came not long afterwards: "Was it possible that some of the slang words and phrases that I learned as a kid in New York in the 1940s and 1950s - like 'in dutch' (duais, pron. dush, trouble); 'snazz' (snas, polish, gloss, lustre) and 'dude' (dudach, dud, pron dood, a foolish-looking person, a dolt) - were derived from the Irish language?" he writes. "Americans speak Irish every day, but they do not dig (tuig, understand, comprehend) it. "The words and phrases of Ireland are as woven into the clamour (glammor, 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.
(Information vs. Propaganda) Instead, Mr Cassidy, who is taking part in the Feile an Phobail in west Belfast next month, reasserts the Irishness of artistic figures like playwright Eugene O'Neill and the Brooklyn Irish actress and writer Mae West. 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.
If you ever need to tell a nosey parker to "mind your own bee's wax", you could be referencing the Irish saying beasmhaireacht, meaning morality and manners, Mr Cassidy contends. So the idea that the Irish have contributed zilch (word meaning nothing or zero, origin unknown) to American English could be beal onna, after all.
Giving America cpla focal
A new book claims the Irish language gave America such slang words as dude, dork and jazz, writes Kate Holmquist, Irish Times, July, 28, 2007
How the Irish language became American slanguage has become a passion for Daniel Cassidy, who grew up in Brooklyn, New York speaking "Irish" without even realising it. It all began with a pocket Irish dictionary, Foclir Pca, left to him by a friend, Kevin O'Dowd, who died at the age of 37.
Cassidy, who thought he was too old to learn Irish, was about to toss the dictionary into the rubbish, when his wife, Clare, told him he couldn't do that to a book left by a dead friend. She suggested he keep it on his night stand and learn a word a night.
So that's what he did and before long, he had an epiphany. The words and phrases he'd learned as a kid in New York in the 1940s and 1950s - such as "in dutch", "say uncle", "dukin", "snazzy" and "dude" - were lighting up in his mind as he learned Irish words. Was it possible that "in dutch" came from "duais" (Irish for trouble) and that "say uncle" was related to "anacal" (Irish for mercy)? The more Irish words he learned, the more connections he found. "Snazzy" was actually Irish ("snasah") for polished, glossy and elegant. "Dukin" seemed to come from the Irish "tuargain", meaning hammering, thumping, pounding.
Yet while this made sense, the connections Cassidy was making went against the academic grain. It was well-known, Cassidy says, that unlike Italians, Jews, Hispanics, French, Dutch, Germans, Scandinavians, Native Americans and Asians, the Irish had contributed no words or phrases to the English language. Dictionary editors such as Noah Webster and James Murray believed that the Irish had lost their language "utterly, without a whisper or a trace".
Irish speakers had been absorbed so rapidly into the melting pot that their language was lost. But when Cassidy read his pocket Irish dictionary and heard phrases from his childhood, he began to ask "Did Irish-Americans remember the Irish language without knowing it?" He was reminded of a statement by Ren Descartes: "There is nothing . . . so hidden that we cannot discover it, provided only we abstain from accepting the false for the true."
ONCE CASSIDY DARED to question the "truth" that the Irish had contributed nothing to American English, he began to find hundreds of everyday "American" words that were actually Irish. Cassidy's grandfather, who was born in "Irishtown" in Brooklyn, was always called Boliver by Cassidy's grandmother and aunts. For Cassidy, the name "Boliver" sounded like some Park Avenue swell (from "sil", meaning luxurious, rich and prosperous).
In his dictionary, Cassidy found the word "balbhn", meaning a silent or mute person. He realised that this word fit his grandfather to a T. Boliver was a contrast to his brothers, who talked a lot of baloney (from "bal nna", meaning foolish, humorous talk.) "And in that moment," Cassidy writes in his book, How the Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads, " I remembered something that I had never known. The slang and accent of five generations and 100 years in tenements, working-class neighbourhoods and old breac-Ghaeltacht East River slums of Brooklyn and New York City had within it the hard-edged spiel (from 'speal', meaning cutting satiric words) and vivid cant ('caint', meaning speech) of 100 generations and of 1,000 years in Ireland: Gaeilge, the Irish language."
The early Irish-American settlers in New York, as portrayed in Herbert Asbury's 1927 book Gangs of New
York and the 2002 Martin Scorcese movie of the same name, left a rich linguistic legacy. In studying those
words, Cassidy found his "roots", something everyone needs to be psychologically healthy, he
believes. Now living in San Francisco, Cassidy sees drug and alcohol abuse and the lack of direction among
youth as being directly related to a lack of roots. He says that Jewish-Irish, Afro-American-Irish and every
other combination of Irish-American have a longing to understand their Irish origins. "When you lose
roots, you lose your soul," Cassidy says.
Cassidy graduated from Cornell in 1965 and went on to work as a reporter for the New York Times. He became involved in the anti-Vietnam war movement 10 years later and was arrested for demonstrating. He left New York and in the 1970s found himself working as a full-time musician, and then worked as a writer in Hollywood, with Francis Ford Coppola, among others.
Eventually, he found himself in academia, and he became co-founder of the Irish studies programme at the New College of California.
OF ALL THE hundreds of American slang words that he has traced back to the Irish language, his favourite is jazz. Ironically, the name is associated with African-American music, though the earliest performers of "jazz" didn't like the word. Jazz comes from "teas", a noun for heat, passion and excitement.
"Not a single musician in New Orleans - black, white, or Creole - used the word 'jazz' for hot music," says Cassidy, "until the Original Dixieland Jass Band (ODJB), a motley crew of Irish, Sicilian, and working-class white boys from the back streets of the Big Easy, hit the music-biz jackpot in March 1917, when they recorded the first "Jass" record in history in New York City: Dixieland Jass One Step and Livery Stable Blues.
"In the red-light districts of San Francisco's Barbary Coast, Chicago's First Ward, New York's Tenderloin, and New Orleans' Storyville, where the hot new music had been born, that old Irish word 'teas' also meant sexual 'heat, passion, excitement'."
One of the hottest sex words of the 20th century was jazz, he argues. He's traced the use of
"jazz" as a synonym for sex as far back as 1899. Musician Richard Holbrooke wrote in 1974:
shall be glad to swear on oath before a notary public that 'jazz' as a sex word was not only used
San Francisco before the earthquake and fire, but that it was of such common use that it was a localism.
During those days I played at Luna's Mexican restaurant on Geary Street with Miguel Luna and Harry
Warren. They played nights at a house on Stockton Street and I heard the word jazz
Another musician, Clay Smith, said in 1924: "Thirty-five years ago [ca 1890] I played the trombone . . . I made tours of the big mining centres when the west was really wild . . . I was piloted to dance resorts - honky tonks. The vulgar word jazz was in general currency in those dance halls 30 years or more ago."
ACCORDING TO CASSIDY, "Jazz was so full of jasm and gism ('teas ioma' - an abundance of heat and passion; figuratively semen) that no one could, or would, write it down. In 1913, it was a word you learned by ear - like jazz music."
"In James T Farrell's novel, Gas House McGinty, written during the Jazz Age and set in Chicago in 1914, the word 'jazz' has absolutely nothing to do with hot music. It is the jazz of sex," says Cassidy.
One hundred years later, there are 80,000 Irish speakers in the US. At the college where he teaches, Cassidy has students from all ethnic groups, all of them claiming enough Irish blood to make them want to know the language.
"To understand the Irish language is to understand hybridity," says Cassidy. "If you know Irish, you've got the jazz. Irish is the hippest language on the planet."
An Irishman's Diary - by Frank McNally, Aug. 2, 2007, 2ú Lúnasa
The Irish Times
It's not every dictionary you can describe as a thrilling read. But when I picked up Daniel Cassidy's How the Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads the other day, I soon found myself reluctant to put it down. Compared with the OED, certainly, this is a page-turner.
Then again, as the title implies, the book is not just a dictionary. It is also an argument - a response to the historic refusal of mainstream lexicographers to acknowledge Irish influence on English. And in setting out its case so robustly, the title echoes the humorous hyperbole of another Hiberno-American, Thomas Cahill, whose How the Irish Saved Civilisation was a big seller a few years back.
Cassidy concludes his opening statement for the prosecution by page 73 and thereafter proceeds to a straightforward glossary of American slang words and phrases he believes to be derived from Irish. These include babe, baloney, bee's knees, cop, dig, doozy, dude, gee whiz, hokum, Holy Mackerel!, Hot Diggity!, humdinger, jazz, jerk, punk, razzmatazz, scam, swanky, top banana, twerp, yacking, and yellow. By the end of which list you may have concluded that, if the author is even half right, his title is a model of restraint.
Self-aggrandisement seems to come with the territory, anyway. As the book reminds us, the Scots, Scots-Irish, and Irish of the American south once prided themselves on the nickname 'cracker': another word in Cassidy's glossary, meaning a poor, white southerner.
The author notes that in Irish, 'cracaire' means 'a boaster, a jester', and cites the following explanation of the Americanised term, from a letter written in 1766: 'I should explain to your Lordship what is meant by crackers; a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascalls on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas and Georgia, who often change their places of abode.' That a people famous - then and now - for talking (and for talking themselves up) had given so few words to standard English has long been a puzzle. That they had apparently given even fewer to non-standard English was an even bigger mystery.
H.L. Mencken's classic The American Language, published in 1921, trod some of the ground that Cassidy is on here. In one chapter, he even rewrote the declaration of independence in 'vulgate American', replete with the double negatives he considered the vernacular's defining feature. But in acknowledging the influence of emigrants on the vocabulary, Mencken was struck by the lack of an Irish contribution. 'Perhaps shillelah, colleen, spalpeen, smithereens and poteen exhaust the unmistakably Gaelic list,' he suggested.
In fairness, Mencken went on to credit Ireland's much greater influence on US pronunciation and speech patterns, such as "a use of intensifying suffixes, often set down as characteristically American, which was probably borrowed from the Irish. Examples are no-siree and yes-indeedy, and the later kiddo and skidoo. . .The Irishman is almost incapable of saying plain yes or no; he must always add some extra and gratuitous asseveration. The American is in like case. His speech bristles with intensives; bet your life, not on your life, well I guess, and no mistake, and so on. The Irish extravagance of speech struck a responsive chord in the American heart."
Cassidy takes the case on from there, though his book fairly bristles with intensives too - a reflection of its subject matter. It is the nature of slang that it fills in the gaps left in the language by respectable society. And the grafters, grifters, finks, and phoneys that populate the glossary paint a picture of Irish emigrants' misspent but colourful lives in the backstreets and alleyways of big-city America.
The book's single most dramatic claim, probably, concerns that quintessential American word 'jazz'. Even Father Dineen, whose 1927 dictionary was lampooned by Myles na Gopaleen for the multidudinous layers of meaning it attributed to the humblest Irish terms, might be embarrassed to find himself called as a witness for the Hibernian origins of a word once so disreputable that it was in spoken use long before it was in print.
But he has been. Cassidy plausibly cites Dineen and other in support of 'teas', Irish for 'heat, passion, excitement', as the root of a term that meant sex before it came to be applied to the music form. If we can accept this, it comes as less of shock to learn that the classic jive-talking word "dig" - as in 'you dig?' - may be derived from the Irish 'tuig'. And, explaining how two such disparate cultures might have cross-pollinated, the book has the great jazz musician Dizzy Gillespie recalling how black people near his home in Alabama 'had once spoken exclusively in Scots Gaelic'.
The 'buddy' who might spare you a dime comes from 'bodach' ('a strong lusty youth'), suggests Cassidy. And then there is 'baloney'. The author rejects the traditional explanation, relating to the dubious content of certain Italian meat products, as 'a canard and an insult to the sausage makers of Bologna'. The word's more plausible derivation is 'bal nna', meaning 'foolish talk' or 'blather', he insists.
Many of the words included in the glossary have hitherto been branded 'origin unknown' by the mainstream dictionaries. In defining them as Irish, Cassidy is like an intrepid frontiersman, staking out his claim to a piece of the wilderness. There may be counter-claims in due course, and things may get ugly. But with his trusty De Bhaldraithe's English-Irish Dictionary, and back-up from Dineen and Dnaill, the author is ready for a fight.
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- CHAPTER 2: THE CON
- CHAPTER 3: THE VATICAN--CENTRAL TO THE ORIGINS OF MONEY & POWER
- CHAPTER 4: LONDON:THE CORPORATION--ORIGINS OF OPIUM DRUG SMUGGLING
- CHAPTER 5: U.S. OPIUM DRUG SMUGGLING PIRATES--THE BOSTON BRAHMINS
- CHAPTER 6: THE SHADY ORIGINS OF THE FEDERAL RESERVE
- CHAPTER 7: HOW THE RICH PROTECT THEIR MONEY
- CHAPTER 8: HOW TO PROTECT YOUR MONEY FROM THE 1% PREDATORS
- CHAPTER 9: FINAL THOUGHTS
"Rich As Hell" also includes the Online Companion Reference Material of the book