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.
The term scrag dates back to the 16th century in English. Its original meaning was apparently a thin or scrawny person. From that, the less fatty neck-end of an animal came to be known as the scrag end and from this, scrag was associated with the neck. Thus to be scragged came to mean hanged.
Cassidy’s claim in relation to the word scrag is typically lacking in rigour:
In Ireland in the late-18th century, the Irish word scrog, meaning “a long, thin neck, or a rubberneck,” was transformed into a slang word scrag, meaning “to stretch a neck on the gallows.”
This is entirely untrue. Cassidy’s definition of the Irish scrog is also fanciful, to say the least:
Scrog al. scroig, n., a neck; especially a small thin neck; a long stretched neck; fig. a neck that has been stretched on the gallows; al. a mean person. (Dineen, 901)
In reality, while there is an Irish word scrog (and a more common derivative) meaning neck or throat, and this is recorded from the 17th century, this is probably either a borrowing from English or derived in some way from the same Norse root as scrag. There is no evidence that the English term scrag comes from Irish.