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First attested at least as early as the late 1300s, and appearing in Tyndale’s Pentateuch (1530) as well as the Coverdale Bible (1535). From Middle English derth, derthe, derþe, probably from Old English *dīerþ, *dīerþu, from Proto-West Germanic *diuriþu, from Proto-Germanic *diuriþō (costliness, preciousness, honour); corresponding to dear +‎ -th. Cognate with Old Saxon diuriða (glory, honour; preciousness), West Frisian djoerte (love, dearness, value, worth), Dutch duurte (dearness; scarcity, dearth), Icelandic dýrð (honour, glory).



dearth (countable and uncountable, plural dearths)

  1. A period or condition when food is rare and hence expensive; famine.
  2. (by extension) Scarcity; a lack or short supply.
    • c. 1603–1606, William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of King Lear”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act I, scene ii]:
      I promise you, the effects he writes of succeed unhappily: as of unnaturalness between the child and the parent; death, dearth, dissolutions of ancient amities; divisions in state, menaces and maledictions against king and nobles; needless diffidences, banishment of friends, dissipation of cohorts, nuptial breaches, and I know not what.
    • 1634, John Downame, The christian warfare, page 559:
      And faine would hee, if he could tell how, haue plentie in his own fields, and scarcity in other mens; superfluitie at home, and dearth abroade, that hee might sell his corne at the dearer rate
    • 1855, Robert Browning, Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, section XXV:
      Next a marsh, it would seem, and now mere earth / Desperate and done with; (so a fool finds mirth, / Makes a thing and then mars it, till his mood / Changes and off he goes!) within a rood— / Bog, clay and rubble, sand and stark black dearth.
    • 2020 November 18, Paul Bigland, “New infrastructure and new rolling stock”, in Rail, page 50:
      Similarly, at Cambridge, I observe what I had seen elsewhere - the dearth of tourists. The station would normally be awash with overseas visitors and students. Now it is quiet.
    • 2023 August 16, Erin Griffith, “The Desperate Hunt for the A.I. Boom’s Most Indispensable Prize”, in The New York Times[1], →ISSN:
      The dearth of A.I. chips has been exacerbated because Nvidia, a longtime provider of the chips, has a virtual lock on the market.
  3. (obsolete) Dearness; the quality of being rare or costly.
    • 1614, William Camden, Remaines, concerning Britaine: but especially England, and the …, page 210:
      Whatsoever doth remaine for money, let Money-mongers, supply when they will. And I referre to Politicians to dispute among themselves whether the dearth of all things which most complaine of doeth proceede from plenty of gold and silver since the late discoveries, or from Monopolies, and combinations of Merchants and Craftsmen, or from Transportation of graine, or from pleasure of great personages, which doe most highly rate such things as they most like, or excesse in private persons, or to all these conjointly.
    • 1660, Church of England, “In the time of dearth and famine.”, in The Book of Common Prayer, page 21:
      O God,heavenly Father, whose gift it is that the rain doth fall, the earth is fruitfull, beasts increase, and fishes do multiply: behold, we beseech thee, the afflictions of thy people, and grant that the scarcity and dearth (which we do now most justly suffer for our iniquitie) may through thy goodness be mercifully turned into cheapness and plenty…
    • 1676, Thomas Comber, A Companion to the Temple: The litany, page 309:
      The property of Contraries is, that they become one anothers Cure, whereupon we who have suffered by scarcity and dearth, do pray to be relieved by their contraries, cheapness and plenty
    • 1826, Robert Graham, “Corn and Currency”, in (Please provide the book title or journal name), 2nd, with additions edition:
      In Ireland, distress is greatest when provisions are cheapest; then we see famine without dearth; hunger amidst superabundance of provisions; farmers without a market; labourers without the means of purchase.


Derived terms[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • dearth”, in OneLook Dictionary Search.