Tuesday 15 August 2017

Cant possibly be wrong

It was delightful to have Dau.II and then Dau.I come home for visits recently. Not least because they did some serious decluttering at the family home. Last November, Dau.I came home from a four year sojourn with the Hebrew slaves in Egypt in England. In exile she had started to learn the Irish language and has been continuing her studies, helped by duolingo and the fact that some of her pals are fluent. She is also down with popular culture in a way that I, in my mountain fastness [well stocked with baked beans, guns and ammo], am not. She asked if I'd heard about the Rubber Bandits and their opinion on the Irish origin for much of the slang used in America. I had not. I asked for examples. She offered
US Dig it? IR Duigeann tu? UK Do you understand?
The next day, I followed up because even I have heard of The Rubber Bandits. They were a viral [16m views] internet sensation arond Christmas 2010 with their analysis of Irish yob culture in [all kinds of NSFW warnings] Horse Outside.

Funnily enough the RBs linguistic twitter-storm started on 11th August; two days after I - it's all about me - made my revelatory insight into the unwitting use of Traveller cant in Waterford. Twitter is maybe not the best medium to have a deep or extensive discussion on matters that require research, or closely reasoned arguments of issues that are not necessarily black and white. But the RBs start off well by citing Francis Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811) [Full text]. It's a super useful resource and contains entries such as "GAFF. A fair. The drop coves maced the joskins at the gaff; the ring-droppers cheated the countryman at the fair." Gaff as a slang word has shifted its meaning to "home" over the intervening 206 years. Anyway, the Rubber Bandits assert "So many English slang in this is either from Gaelic or Roma Cant." and in response to a comment from across The Pond say "Yank, words that have their etymologies in the first wave of dirt poor Irish speaking immigrants." followed by the (unattributed) list of US slang terms from Ireland which perked up Dau.I's curiosity.

Meanwhile, in another part of the internet, this casual investigation of etymology by two lads from Limerick has been fueling a shit-storm of indignation. That is because the list of supposed Hiberno-Yankee slang seems to be from How The Irish Invented Slang published in 2007 by Daniel Cassidy. There seems to be no sense of de mortuis nil nisi bonum (Cassidy died of pancreatic cancer in 2008) among certain linguists and etymologists. In 2013, an anonymous gaelgeoir started a blog cassidyslangscam.wordpress.com to debunk, eviscerate and pour scorn [an ignorant, narcissistic fraud with no qualifications] on Mr "Deceased" Cassidy and his one book. This chap has been posting several articles a month ever since on this one topic.  That shows commendable stamina in setting things right: "Etymologies from Cassidy's How the Irish Invented Slang are widely duplicated across the internet. However, many of Cassidy's definitions have been shown to be wishful thinking or completely made up". As the blog was started a full five years after Cassidy died, this may seem like bolting the stable door after the horse is gone. But one of his (I presume cassidylangscam is a He, because none of the women I know get so cross about such a small annoyance) points is well taken. If nobody complains when things are wrong, the error will fester away and other people, less careful about evidence, will believe them to be true. By far the highest number of pageviews I've achieved on The Blob was Stilt-Walking Nonsense which debunked a persistent but erroneous meme. I guess I'd rather folk read my skeptical assessments than the original silliness; but nobody seemed [from pageview stats] to hang around to read other examples of my masterly analysis. It must be added that, like Daniel Cassidy misconstruing the etymology of a phrase, nobody died because they got the scale of sub-cellular organelles all wrong. Nevertheless it's better to be nearer truth and further from error.

Coda: The Internet is vast and wonderful but we shouldn't switch off our crap-detector when we access it. Before you accept or propagate something from the internet, ask yourself whether it is a) more or less correct and b) offensive to the recipient c) cruel and oppressive to the dispossessed  . . . including those no longer possessing life?

PS Today via neatorama came across this crap-detector for viral videos at The Verge: “I see these detailed explanations where someone very authoritatively writes step-by-step how some video was faked,” he says. “But what they’re claiming is not correct, and they’re so sure about it.

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