For some time now, some of my on-line friends have advised me to provide a version of CassidySlangScam without the invective aimed at Cassidy and his supporters. In response to that advice, I am working on providing a glossary of the terms in Cassidy’s ludicrous book How The Irish Invented Slang with a short, simple and business-like explanation of why Cassidy’s version is wrong.
Daniel Cassidy, in his work of false etymology, How The Irish Invented Slang, points out that the Irish word daor and the English word dear have very similar meanings and sound almost identical. This is an interesting pair of words, because it demonstrates beautifully the fundamental weakness of Cassidy’s approach. These two words are false cognates. They are words that resemble each other in both meaning and sound, yet there is no etymological connection. The resemblance is purely a matter of coincidence.
This is less rare than you might think. Here’s an article on them: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_cognate
The Irish daor (originally doír) belongs to a set of pairs of words in Irish where one is negative and begins with d, while the other is positive and begins with s. For example, dona means unhappy or unlucky, while sona means lucky or happy. Saoi is a scholar, while daoi is a dunce. Saoirse is freedom, while daoirse is bondage or slavery. Daor means unfree or expensive (and sometimes severe), while saor means free or cheap.
The English word dear is an ancient Germanic word. It comes from Middle English dere, from Old English dēore, from Proto-Germanic *diurijaz. It is cognate with Dutch duur (“costly, precious”), German teuer (“costly, precious”), Icelandic dýr (“expensive”), Norwegian dyr, Swedish dyr (“expensive”). It developed the meaning of loved because of an extension of the notion of precious.
In other words, the facts about these two words are simple, clear and well-established. They have clear histories, the word dear going back into the distant past in Germanic, while daor/doír goes back well over a thousand years in Irish. Neither word comes from the other. Their histories are entirely separate. Cassidy’s treatment of these words is confused and confusing.
Firstly, he claims that the English word dear is of ‘uncertain etymology,’ which is untrue.
Then he claims that:
MacBain takes the Irish daor, costly, severe, daoradh, making dear, from Middle English deere, deore, which the OED traces back to Old English word dēor, “of uncertain etymology.”
This is also nonsense. The word dēor is of impeccable Germanic lineage. Also, MacBain does not claim that Irish daor, costly, severe, comes from Middle English. There are two entries for daor in MacBain’s dictionary. One is the Irish word meaning enslaved or unfree, of impeccable Irish lineage. In the seventeenth century, the English word dear was also borrowed into Irish with the meaning of dear (as in beloved). The two words are given on two separate lines (see below). Yet Cassidy mixes them up and treats them as the same. Here are the relevant two entries from MacBain’s dictionary:
daor, enslaved, so Ir., 0. Ir doír ; opposite of saor (with negative do-, *du-), which see for root.
daor, dear, Ir. daor, daoradh, making dear (Four Masters) ; from M. Eng. deere, deore, dear (Stokes).