…and the gimmick and the scam and the sucker and the geezer, where you “cry uncle,” have a knack for malarkey and the mug of a slob.
I had no idea how many of my favorite American slang words, the old ones, apparently come from Ireland, according to author Daniel Cassidy, interviewed this week in the NY Times.
“The whole project started with a hunch — hunch, from the Irish word ‘aithint,’ meaning recognition or perception,” the verbose Mr. Cassidy said in an interview on Monday at O’Lunney’s, a bar and restaurant on West 45th Street. He has worked as a merchant seaman, a labor organizer and a screenwriter, and he lives in San Francisco, where he teaches Irish studies at the New College of California.
He pulled out his pocket Irish dictionary and began pointing out words that he said had been Americanized by the millions of Irish immigrants who turned New York into an extension of the Ghaeltacht, or Irish-speaking regions of Ireland.
“Even growing up around it, little shards of the language stayed alive in our mouths and came out as slang,” he said, spouting a string of words that sounded straight out of a James Cagney movie.
“Snazzy” comes from “snasach,” which means polished, glossy or elegant. The word “scram” comes from “scaraim,” meaning “I get away.” The word “swell” comes from “sóúil,” meaning luxurious, rich and prosperous, and “sucker” comes from “sách úr,” or, loosely, fat cat.
Out here in California, I do my bit to keep a lot of these words alive. I say “gee whiz” and get looks as if I’ve just stepped out of an episode of “Leave to Beaver.” But that’s from the Gaelic. It’s not (as many assume) a sanitized way to avoid taking the Lord’s name in vain.
Of course, living near the beach, I couldn’t help but pick up a little surfer talk. I’ve been known to call someone a “dude.” So, what a surprise to learn this:
“Even the word ‘dude’ comes from the Irish word ‘dúid,’ or a foolish-looking fellow, a dolt,” Mr. Cassidy said. “They called the guys dudes who came down to the Five Points section of Manhattan to chase the colleens.”
He showed a passage in his book that notes that the Feb. 25, 1883, edition of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported the coining of the word “dude,” referring to, among other things, a man who “wears trousers of extreme tightness.”
“You dig?” he said. “‘Dig,’ as in ‘tuig,’ or understand.”