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.
Where does the English word freak come from? You can get a full account of the known facts from sources like Douglas Harper’s excellent Online Etymological Dictionary (https://www.etymonline.com/word/freak) and Wiktionary: (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/freak)
To give a brief account of its development, by the 1560s, freak meant a sudden whim. This could come from Middle English friken ‘to move briskly’ or from an Old English word frician meaning ‘to dance’. A word freking is found in the middle of the 1400s with the meaning of whims, capricious behaviour. ”
The sense of capricious notion and fancy were found for hundreds of years before the meaning of “abnormally developed person or thing” which is first recorded in 1839. This comes from the idea of a freak of nature (i.e. a whim or caprice of nature). This is the freak of the freak show. This also gave us terms like ‘a freak storm’. In the 20th century, freak became a word for a drug addict, which is probably where we get ‘freak out’.
Cassidy claims that the word freak comes from the Irish fraoch, which means heather and also fury. (These two meanings may be related, according to some Irish scholars.)
Cassidy chooses to distort the history of the English word freak in order to emphasise meanings like fury and anger, which are plainly only a marginal and late aspect of the word’s history:
“Freak, n., v., a freak of nature, a freak in a sideshow, a freak storm; sudden passion or fury; to become angry, furious, passionate, ferocious, wild, crazy. Freaking, n., a fit of passion, fury, anger, madness.”
This is because fraoch has only ever had the meaning of anger or fury in Irish, not caprice.
The word fraoch is pronounced freeh or freekh (kh as in the ch of Scottish loch) or frookh in some parts of Ulster. Also note the mistakes in Cassidy’s padding. 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.
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!
Cassidy also quotes Amhlaoibh Ó Súilleabháin’s diary of 1827, but his transcription of the Irish in the dual language Irish Texts Society edition is missing a line and makes no sense! (Not that Cassidy would have known the difference.)
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 English word into Irish as praeic, as in the phrase Chaith mé an lá ar mo phraeic, I spent the day just as I pleased.