Printable Version
Pronunciation: dêrth Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: 1. Lack, deficiency, scarce supply, shortage. 2. Specifically, a shortage of food, implying famine.

Notes: This Good Word is the noun from dear, semantically gone astray (see Word History). As a result, there is, if you will pardon the expression, a dearth of this word's relatives. Dearthful was tried in the 18th century, when the word still meant "dearness, costliness". Dearther "someone who causes a dearth" was tried about the same time but, mercifully, was allowed to slip harmlessly into oblivion.

In Play: As Larry Brady once put it (I think it was in the Agora), "I wouldn't say Helen Beddoes was a gold-digger, but I thought I heard her say 'Until dearth us do part' at the altar." In fact, we might even say, "There is no dearth of good ideas about Good Words in the Alpha Agora."

Word History: Today's Good Word came down from Old English (OE) deorthu "expensiveness", the noun from the adjective deore "expensive", which went on to become dear. Dear is used in this same sense (expensive) outside the US, e.g. "The hat was too dear for me." As Adam Smith taught us, the way to keep prices up is to keep supply down, hence the current meaning of the word. The OE word came from the same root as German teuer, Russian dorogoi, and Serbian drag, all meaning "dear, expensive". (Speaking of which, Katy Brezger was a dear for suggesting today's Good Word in the Alpha Agora.)

Dr. Goodword,

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