"insufficiency, want, dearth," c. 1300, scarsete, from a shortening of Anglo-French and Old North French escarcete (Old French escharsete), from eschars "scanty, scarce" (see scarce).
c. 1300, derthe "scarcity of food," of other situations of scarcity by mid-14c., abstract noun from root of Old English deore "precious, costly" (see dear) + abstract noun suffix -th (2). A common Germanic formation, though not always with the same sense (Old Saxon diurtha "splendor, glory, love," Middle Dutch dierte, Dutch duurte, Old High German tiurida "glory"). Presumably the connecting sense in English is that, in famines, food is costly because scarce.
"extreme poverty, indigence, destitution," c. 1400, penurie, from Latin penuria "want, need; scarcity," related to pæne "nearly, almost, practically," which is of uncertain origin.
late 14c., paucite, "smallness of quantity, scantiness;" early 15c., "smallness of number, fewness," from Old French paucité (14c.) and directly from Latin paucitatem (nominative paucitas) "fewness, scarcity, a small number," from paucus "few, little," from PIE *pau-ko-, suffixed form of root *pau- (1) "few, little" (source also of few (adj.)).
early 15c., rarite, "thinness, porosity, condition of being not dence;" 1550s, "fewness, state of being uncommon," from French rarité and directly from Latin raritas "thinness, looseness of texture; fewness," from rarus (see rare (adj.1)). Sense of "a rare thing or event, thing valued for its scarcity or unusual excellence" is from 1590s.
mid-14c., "short or insufficient in quantity, rather less than is wanted for the purpose," from a Scandinavian source such as Old Norse skamt, neuter of skammr "short, brief," from Proto-Germanic *skamma- (source also of Old English scamm "short," Old High German skemmen "to shorten"), perhaps ultimately "hornless" (from PIE *kem- (1) "hornless;" see hind (n.)).
Also in Middle English as a noun, "dearth, scant supply, scarcity," from Old Norse.
Old English hunger, hungor "unease or pain caused by lack of food, debility from lack of food, craving appetite," also "famine, scarcity of food in a place," from Proto-Germanic *hungraz (source also of Old Frisian hunger, Old Saxon hungar, Old High German hungar, Old Norse hungr, German hunger, Dutch honger, Gothic huhrus), probably from PIE root *kenk- (2) "to suffer hunger or thirst" (source also of Sanskrit kakate "to thirst;" Lithuanian kanka "pain, ache; torment, affliction;" Greek kagkanos "dry," polykagkes "drying"). From c. 1200 as "a strong or eager desire" (originally spiritual). Hunger strike attested from 1885; earliest references are to prisoners in Russia.
Old English deore (Anglian diore, West Saxon dyre), "precious, valuable; costly, expensive; glorious, noble; loved, beloved, regarded with affection" from Proto-Germanic *deurja- (source also of Old Saxon diuri "precious, dear, expensive," Old Norse dyrr, Old Frisian diore "expensive, costly," Middle Dutch diere "precious, expensive, scarce, important," Dutch duur, Old High German tiuri, German teuer), a word of unknown etymology. Finnish tiuris, tyyris is from Germanic.
The old sense of "precious, valuable" has become obsolete, but that of "characterized by a high price in consideration of scarcity, absolutely or relatively costly" lingers, though it is perhaps archaic. Used interjectorily (oh, dear; dear me, etc.) indicating pity, surprise, or some other emotion since 1690s, but the intended sense is not clear. As an affectionate address (my dear, father dear), mid-13c. As a polite introductory word to letters, it is attested from mid-15c. The military man's dreaded Dear John letter is attested from 1945. As a noun, from late 14c., perhaps short for dear one, etc.