Etymology
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fray (n.)

mid-14c., "feeling of alarm," shortening of affray (q.v.; see also afraid). Meaning "a brawl, a fight" is from early 15c. (late 14c. in Anglo-Latin). Fraymaker "fighter, brawler" is found in a 1530s statute recorded by Prynne ("Soveraigne Power of Parliaments and Kingdomes," 1643). Nares' "Glossary" has frayment (1540s).

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fray (v.)

"wear off by rubbing," c. 1400, from Old French fraiier, froiier "to rub against, scrape; thrust against" (also in reference to copulation), from Latin fricare "to rub, rub down" (see friction). Intransitive sense "to ravel out" (of fabric, etc.) is from 1721. The noun meaning "a frayed place in a garment" is from 1620s. Related: Frayed; fraying.

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frayed (adj.)

"worn by rubbing," 1814, past-participle adjective from fray (v.).

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frazzle (v.)

c. 1825, "to unravel" (of clothing), from East Anglian variant of 17c. fasel "to unravel, fray" (as the end of a rope), from Middle English facelyn "to fray" (mid-15c.), from fasylle "fringe, frayed edge," diminutive of Old English fæs "fringe, border." Related: Frazzled, frazzling. Compare German Faser "thread, fiber, filament," Middle Dutch vese "fringe, fiber, chaff." Probably influenced in form by fray (v.).

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ravel (v.)

1580s, "to entangle, become entwined confusedly," also "to untangle, disentangle, unwind" (originally with out), from Dutch ravelen "to tangle, fray," rafelen "to unweave," from rafel "frayed thread," which is of uncertain origin. The seemingly contradictory senses of this word (ravel and unravel are both synonyms and antonyms) might be reconciled by its roots in weaving and sewing: as threads become unwoven, they get tangled. The "entangling" meaning is the "more original" sense according to OED. From 1590s in the figurative sense of "make plain or clear;" 1610s as "make a minute and careful investigation." The intransitive sense, of fabric, "become untwisted or disjointed thread from thread" is by 1610s.

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scarecrow (n.)

1550s, from scare (v.) + crow (n.). Earliest reference is to a person employed to scare birds. Meaning "figure of straw and old clothes made to resemble a person and set in a grain field or garden" to frighten crows and other birds from the crop is implied by 1580s; hence "gaunt, ridiculous person" (1590s). For the formation, compare daredevil.

An older name for such a thing was shewel. Shoy-hoy apparently is another old word for a straw-stuffed scarecrow (Cobbett began using it as a political insult in 1819 and others picked it up; OED defines it as "one who scares away birds from a sown field," and says it is imitative of their cry). Also fray-boggard (1530s). Middle English had skerel, apparently in the same sense, from skerren "scare."

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