Academic journal article Scottish Language

A Gaelic Etymology for Dyvour 'Debtor'

Academic journal article Scottish Language

A Gaelic Etymology for Dyvour 'Debtor'

Article excerpt

Dyvour makes its entry into Scots in line 410 of Dunbar's Tretis of the Twa Mariit Wemen and the Wedo, where the last exalts in the death of an unloved spouse:

   Deid is now that dyvour and dollin in erd:
   With him deit all my dule and my drery thoghtis. (1)

With husband buried in earth, farewell sorrow! Dyvour survived into Scots at least into the early twentieth century with its older sense 'debtor, bankrupt'. It is still used to mean 'rogue, good-for-nothing'. Yet its origin has been obscure. Dictionaries in print and on line, noting merely that it appears in Scots and nowhere else, give its etymology as 'obscure'. (2)

But there seems a simple solution here. Dyvour is surely a loan from Gaelic, where daidbir 'poor, indigent; a poor person' figures in early Irish texts as the opposite of saidbir 'rich'. Saibhir [sevir], still standard Irish for 'rich, opulent', is ultimately from the particle so- 'good, superior' + adbar 'cause; matter'. Daidbir, in contrast, has the negative particle do-'bad'. (3)

Modern Irish daibhir 'poor, indigent; a poor person' is not now a common form, though dictionaries still record the phrase chomh daibhir le daol dubh 'as poor as a beetle' (= poor as a church mouse). …

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