Freak

Another idiotic claim from Daniel Cassidy’s moronic waste of paper, How The Irish Invented Slang, is that the word ‘freak’ comes from the Irish fraoch. Freak is first recorded in English in the 1560s, when it meant ‘a sudden turn of mind’ or ‘a capricious notion’. It only started to get its current meaning of ‘a weird person’ in the 18th century, when it was used for ‘a freak of nature’.  Nobody knows where it comes from, though one suggestion is that it is linked to an Old English word frecian, meaning ‘to dance’.

Cassidy claims that the word freak comes from the Irish fraoch, which means heather and also fury. Some Irish scholars have suggested that the two senses are connected (i.e. because heather is something thorny and vicious), though nobody knows for sure. The problem is that there is no evidence at all for a connection between fraoch and freak. The word fraoch is pronounced freeh or freekh (kh as in the ch of Scottish loch) or frookh in some parts of Ulster. It doesn’t have any connection with capriciousness or changeability. It means fury, not uncertainty.

Cassidy characteristically tries to blether his way round this problem and the result is characteristically crappy. Having spelled the poet Edmund Spenser’s name wrong twice, he gushes that:

The “fickle freakes of fortune” saw the noble fraoch (pron. fraec, fury) of the tempest ehumerized into the grotesque freak in a carnival sideshow. 

Incidentally, if you are wondering about the word ehumerized, it doesn’t exist. It is really euhemerized, a term derived from the name of the Greek philosopher Euhemerus who claimed that the gods were merely exaggerated accounts of real heroes of the past. So even if it were spelled correctly, I don’t think it would be the right word here anyway. It is also worth noting that if freak does derive from Irish fraoch then Irish speakers must have forgotten the fact when they borrowed the word into Irish as praeic, as in the phrase Chaith mé an lá ar mo phraeic, I spent the day just as I pleased.

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