The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 32
III.—Dael, Deal, Dealings
III.—Dael, Deal, Dealings.
The Saxon word for a part is dael, which is also a share; and daelan is to divide or distribute—(In modern German, theil—thielen.) In English, the word deal is no longer used for a part or portion; we use the word part, which we obtain from the Latin, through the French. But still we have the word deal in many senses in which its primary meaning, although veiled and often lost sight of, is nevertheless implied. The nearest approach which we have to the original meaning is in the expressions "a great deal" and "a good deal;" these really mean a large or page 21 considerable portion, but to most persons who use them they merely suggest the idea of quantity, absolutely, and not a part of some whole; for, "a little deal" would not now be understood as a small part. The uneducated say, "I'd a deal rather," &c., for "I would much rather," in which the conception of a part is either quite lost or reduced to the faintest trace. In Chaucer's time it was otherwise. In his prologue to the Canterbury Tales he describes the Wife of Bath as "some del deaf;" and he has also halvendele for the half part; and the author of Piers Plowman, who wrote about twenty years earlier, has tithe-dele for the tenth part. As dael is part, the verb to partition, divide, or distribute is daelan. The verbal form we retain in the special sense of dealing cards—to deal cards is to distribute them to the several players. He who deals blows imparts blows. Piers Plowman has "whan ye dele doles." Here dole, a portion of food given out to the poor, is the same word, with the letter change. Again, Piers Plowman says:—"Thelke that God giveth most, leest good they deeleth." Those to whom God hath given most deal out the least good to others. Here, by the way, is a grammatical form now lost. The plural in eth, which is the Saxon plural in ath. At the present day eth is exclusively the termination of the third person singular—he loveth, he hateth. But plurals in eth were common in Chaucer's time, and especially just before his time. In the English Prayer Book, which retains many old forms, we have "those evils which the craft and subtilty of the devil or man work eth against us."
To return to our word dael. In the North of Europe, in Canada, and in other timber-producing countries, pine and spruce logs are cut into parts, generally twelve feet long, nine inches wide, and three inches thick. These are called deals, that is parts of the log. By a not unusual process, the word deal has been transferred from the form to the substance, and has become synonymous with pine. But this is a secondary sense quite unknown to the word originally. Thus we speak of a deal board or a deal packing-case, to indicate that it is made of pine or fir. In the same way we speak of wainscot as a name for the straight-grained white oak, from its use in constructing the wainscot of rooms.
To deal with a tradesman, and the dealings of merchants, have the same origin. The idea of a partition or distribution lurks in both cases. The buyer parts with his money, the seller parts with his goods, and the dealing is the distribution which takes place between the two. I cannot help thinking that those who have not as yet turned their attention to the subject, will, after reading these explanations, have a much clearer appreciation of the English words which we have just been considering, page 22 now that this primary sense of deal, as a part, will be ever present to their minds, when they hear them, or make use of them. It is quite possible that I may have overlooked some compound in which deal lies embedded, though I do not now recollect any.