Faintingviolet is awesome and always on the hunt for research books for me. She sent along “How the Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads” and I was excited to read this since etymology is something I really enjoy. I was not disappointed.
Daniel Cassidy began his interest of the Irish influence on the American language after inheriting a Gaelic dictionary from a deceased relative and realizing how many American words in modern language link back closely to the Gaelic.
The book is split in two parts; the first is an easily accessible and fast read on the etymology of slum talk, gang name origins, traditional musical lyrics, and the vast vocabulary of the gambling world that explains how, why, and when Irish words mispronounced themselves into the American vernacular. The second part is a very detailed dictionary of common Irish American words with origins, pronunciations and definitions. If you’re writing any kind of historical novel, this is a definite research gem! Cassidy explains how Irish words infiltrated all parts of America geographically and socially, and while his claims sometimes seem far-fetched, most of the information in his book is documented.
His own language is anecdotal, funny and interesting. I particularly enjoyed the segment where he rips Martin Scorsese for his lack of research in The Gangs of New York, and the national perpetuation of a ridiculous myth on the “Dead Rabbits” origins. It was wonderful! I won’t quote it here, because you just need to read it on your own.
There are times in this book where I felt like I was in the part of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” where the father challenges anyone to throw him a word and he will tell you how its origin is Greek. Just insert “Irish” here and it’s exactly the same. There’s definitely more than a hint of Cassidy’s Irish pride coming to the surface, and style wise, his prose was sometimes difficult to follow because he uses the Gaelic translations in parenthesizes for every slang term he’s notating, but if you like etymology and you like good stories, then this book is definitely worth your time!