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Author Topic: How words have evolved with modern languages.  (Read 1864 times)

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Offline Eri OniTopic starter

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How words have evolved with modern languages.
« on: January 29, 2015, 12:38:10 AM »
I thought this was rather interesting, over the past few years I have learned how some of the more common words we use now and days have completely different meaning then when they first came about like:

nice (adj.)
    late 13c., "foolish, stupid, senseless," from Old French nice (12c.) "careless, clumsy; weak; poor, needy; simple, stupid, silly, foolish," from Latin nescius "ignorant, unaware," literally "not-knowing," from ne- "not" (see un-) + stem of scire "to know" (see science). "The sense development has been extraordinary, even for an adj." [Weekley] -- from "timid" (pre-1300); to "fussy, fastidious" (late 14c.); to "dainty, delicate" (c.1400); to "precise, careful" (1500s, preserved in such terms as a nice distinction and nice and early); to "agreeable, delightful" (1769); to "kind, thoughtful" (1830).


So is there any other words that have different meaning then how we use them in Modern Language?


Offline DarknessBorne

Re: How words have evolved with modern languages.
« Reply #1 on: January 29, 2015, 12:54:08 AM »
I would say a perfect example of this is the word "gay."  I'm old enough to remember the tail end of it meaning "happy, carefree." By the time I was in my teens, the segue into the term referring to sexual orientation was well underway; in middle school, no one would call another kid "gay" to mean anything except "a boy who is into other boys."  I'd say by the 1990s, the sexual meaning pretty much displaced the original term.  Most people under 25 or so don't realize the word ever had another meaning. 

Offline Oniya

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Re: How words have evolved with modern languages.
« Reply #2 on: January 29, 2015, 01:00:46 AM »
The word 'weird' was originally the Old English noun 'wyrd', meaning destiny.  By Shakespeare's time (the 'weird sisters') it had become an adjective meaning 'able to control destiny'.  Nowadays, it just means 'strange'.

Offline Inkidu

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Re: How words have evolved with modern languages.
« Reply #3 on: January 29, 2015, 04:47:43 PM »
Awful used to mean full of aw, but now it just means terrible. Now we use awesome.

Offline Valthazar

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Re: How words have evolved with modern languages.
« Reply #4 on: January 30, 2015, 06:50:35 PM »
"Literally" has evolved to have contradictory meanings in today's use.

Original Definition: in a literal sense or manner :  actually <took the remark literally> <was literally insane>

Newer Definition:  in effect :  virtually <will literally turn the world upside down to combat cruelty or injustice — Norman Cousins>

This comment is included on the page:

“Since some people take sense 2 to be the opposition of sense 1, it has been frequently criticized as a misuse. Instead, the use is pure hyperbole intended to gain emphasis, but it often appears in contexts where no additional emphasis is necessary.”

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: How words have evolved with modern languages.
« Reply #5 on: January 31, 2015, 03:37:23 AM »
Girl used to mean "young /adolescent?/ man" if you go really far back - a very interesting reversal.

The way wicked has changed to mean "impressive, bad" is cool too. In my native tongue, Swedish, the change was borrowed but landed on "grym -t" which means cruel(-ly) and used to be pretty much restricted to sadistic, heartless or deliberately rough treatment, but people are now talking about a "cruel monologue", "cruel bassline", "cruel rapper" and so on.  ;)

By the way, I used to think the word leotard came from leopard entwined with some other word, much the same way that liger is lion+tiger - after all, not a few leotards have some kind of feline skin-looking spots and colouring.  :D
« Last Edit: January 31, 2015, 03:58:47 AM by gaggedLouise »

Offline Sir Percival the Gallant

Re: How words have evolved with modern languages.
« Reply #6 on: January 31, 2015, 10:34:05 PM »
Oh, this will be a fun thread!

I see nice has already been mentioned; that's a good one.

I'll naturally mention knight. English is rather uncommon amongst European languages in that the word is not connected to a word for horse or riding, as is the case elsewhere. Moreover, the institution of knighthood only appeared in the wake of the Norman Conquest, and yet the word comes from Old English cniht, which had a meaning closer to 'squire' or otherwise 'serving boy', as its Modern German cognate Knecht still does. Middle English originally borrowed chevaler (spellings vary) from Old French (compare Modern French chevalier) to mean what we call a knight, but the Old English word persisted, originally meaning a man-at-arms. By Chaucer's time, however, knyght (of variant spellings, of course) was coming to mean the same thing as chevaler, and ultimately displaced it, perhaps because after the Battle of Bannockburn (1314), English knights increasingly fought on foot and in the process may have appeared less distinct from common men-at-arms.

The word knave has a similar origin, in Old English cnafa 'boy' (again, compare Modern German Knabe, with the same meaning). By Chaucer's time, the word was coming to mean a boisterous fellow, a lad, and by the sixteenth century it had come to mean someone disreputable, a criminal.

Offline Caehlim

Re: How words have evolved with modern languages.
« Reply #7 on: February 03, 2015, 03:58:54 PM »
I'll naturally mention knight. English is rather uncommon amongst European languages in that the word is not connected to a word for horse or riding, as is the case elsewhere. Moreover, the institution of knighthood only appeared in the wake of the Norman Conquest, and yet the word comes from Old English cniht, which had a meaning closer to 'squire' or otherwise 'serving boy', as its Modern German cognate Knecht still does. Middle English originally borrowed chevaler (spellings vary) from Old French (compare Modern French chevalier) to mean what we call a knight, but the Old English word persisted, originally meaning a man-at-arms. By Chaucer's time, however, knyght (of variant spellings, of course) was coming to mean the same thing as chevaler, and ultimately displaced it, perhaps because after the Battle of Bannockburn (1314), English knights increasingly fought on foot and in the process may have appeared less distinct from common men-at-arms.

Meanwhile the Latin origins of Chevalier, from which we get English worlds like Chivalry also show some interesting changes. These come not from the proper Latin Equus for horse, but instead from the vulgar latin Cabbalus for an old useless horse.

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: How words have evolved with modern languages.
« Reply #8 on: February 03, 2015, 10:12:16 PM »
Meanwhile the Latin origins of Chevalier, from which we get English worlds like Chivalry also show some interesting changes. These come not from the proper Latin Equus for horse, but instead from the vulgar latin Cabbalus for an old useless horse.

(italics mine)

Interestingly, the zoological name for the domesticated horse is Equus caballus - or Equus ferus caballus if it's seen as a subspecies of the genuinely wild variety (ferus meaning wild) ;)

Offline consortium11

Re: How words have evolved with modern languages.
« Reply #9 on: February 04, 2015, 04:29:29 AM »
Idiot is originally taken from the classical Greek idiōtēs, where it essentially meant a selfish person who was more interested in personal rather than public benefit. It then largely fell out of use to the early 1900's where it was a medical term for those suffering with a severe mental impairment which impacted on their mental age; idiot was used for those with a mental age of under 3, imbecile for those between 3 and 7 and moron for those between 3 and 10. Now it's a general term for someone who makes poor decisions and/or lacks knowledge in an area but unlike terms like "retard" and "spaz/spastic" (at least in the UK) strangely isn't seen as being ablist.

Imbecile and moron also have a similar history; imbecile comes from the Latin for "weak minded" (which also included being easily led as opposed to just being about mental ability) and moron from the classical Greek for dull (with oxy meaning sharp... hence oxymoron).

The word faggot also has an interesting history. Prior to its modern, pejorative usage the term generally applied to two distinct things; collecting a bundle of firewood for burning and to a dish made out of offcuts and traditionally served with gravy (you can still find this usage around, predominately in the UK... and faggots are delicious) although there is also at least one reference to soldiers who were hired just to appear at muster and not actually do any soldiering as "faggots".

How it came to be a slur is still a matter for debate. One theory is that the the term "faggot gatherer" was an insult used towards old women who made a living gathering firewood and, as is the way with such things, many homosexual insults are based around accusing someone of being feminine or a woman. There's little evidence to suggest that as a bundle of wood was used for burning at the stake and the historical punishment for homosexuality was to be burnt at the stake that it comes from there... but the theory persists. Another takes the view that rather than "fag" being a shortened version of the original "faggot", "faggot" is actually an extended version of the original "fag"... to be a "fag" in British public school was to be the servant in the "fagging" system where a younger boy was assigned to an older boy where the older boy was meant to take responsibility for them and the younger to act as their man-servant; this unfortunately frequently included sexual abuse. That said the term "faggot" was never traditionally used here... it was "fag" or "fagging".

To go with an obvious political one; liberal originally meant someone in favour of a (very) small government and is basically interchangeable with what would now be considered libertarian. This definition has fallen out of use (hence the term "classical liberal" when describing it) in favour of liberal (especially in the US) now meaning someone on the left of the political spectrum who generally favours more government. The split can largely be attributed to differing views on JS Mill's harm principle (based on what we define as "harm") and whether one should favour positive or negative freedom; negative freedom is the freedom from inteference while positive freedom is the freedom to do something. To illustrate; an invisible tramp with no money, no papers and no record of their existence is free from virtually all types of outside human inteference and so has almost absolutely negative freedom... but their situation means they have almost no positive freedom.

Offline Inkidu

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Re: How words have evolved with modern languages.
« Reply #10 on: February 04, 2015, 06:35:22 AM »
Meanwhile the Latin origins of Chevalier, from which we get English worlds like Chivalry also show some interesting changes. These come not from the proper Latin Equus for horse, but instead from the vulgar latin Cabbalus for an old useless horse.
Not only chivalry but cavalry as well.

(On another note, I have defended the hyperbolic intent of literally against other Grammar Nazis before. ;3)

An interesting one to look at is names.

Shirley, Lesley, and Ashley all used to be common and proud men's names, but there was a shift sometime around the late 19th Century. Though Shirley Temple probably put the nail in that particular coffin.

Oh and pea used to the be the only way to describe both the pod and the little orbs.

That's why it's peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot, nine days old.

Peas in that since is referring to multiple pods, where as today we would say pea porridge (like you wouldn't say barlies or oatmeals) because language is funny. It's called a back-formation and it's sort why burglar can burgal things. Thanks Tolkien.

To clarify the back-formation

Peas used to be the pod and orb, at some point pea became popular for describing the little orbs and pea one whole thing. So they plural got applied at some point in time, shifting the whole language.
« Last Edit: February 04, 2015, 06:45:59 AM by Inkidu »

Offline Valerian

Re: How words have evolved with modern languages.
« Reply #11 on: February 04, 2015, 11:45:26 AM »
'Silly' has an interesting history as well -- it's evolved in almost exactly the opposite way 'nice' has.  It originally meant happy, fortuitous and prosperous, then gradually took on the meaning of blessed, and by about 1200 had started to mean something more along the lines of innocent.  Then it morphed into meaning harmless, then pitiable, then weak, until by the 1570's it was firmly established as meaning foolish or lacking in reason.

Offline Beguile's Mistress

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Re: How words have evolved with modern languages.
« Reply #12 on: February 04, 2015, 03:01:22 PM »
I would say a perfect example of this is the word "gay."  I'm old enough to remember the tail end of it meaning "happy, carefree." By the time I was in my teens, the segue into the term referring to sexual orientation was well underway; in middle school, no one would call another kid "gay" to mean anything except "a boy who is into other boys."  I'd say by the 1990s, the sexual meaning pretty much displaced the original term.  Most people under 25 or so don't realize the word ever had another meaning. 

After an evolution of the definition from meaning joyous and/or carefree through a promiscuous trend in the definition we reached the early 1900s and use of the work to describe homosexual men.  A movie released in 1938 starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn titled "Bringing up Baby" uses the word in reference to a man dressed in a peignoir.

http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2010/02/how-gay-came-to-mean-homosexual/

Offline mia h

Re: How words have evolved with modern languages.
« Reply #13 on: February 04, 2015, 04:00:16 PM »
The changing definition of 'Nice' was part of the Neil Gaiman\Terry Pratchett book Good Omens, which is sub-titled "The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter", but the word Nice meant precise as opposed to pleasent.

And the changing definition of 'literally' came up in the last season of the Newsroom

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: How words have evolved with modern languages.
« Reply #14 on: February 04, 2015, 06:41:12 PM »
After an evolution of the definition from meaning joyous and/or carefree through a promiscuous trend in the definition we reached the early 1900s and use of the work to describe homosexual men.  A movie released in 1938 starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn titled "Bringing up Baby" uses the word in reference to a man dressed in a peignoir.

http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2010/02/how-gay-came-to-mean-homosexual/

Marvin Gaye was actually called Gay (like his father, the reverend) but wisely added an -e to the name.

The changing definition of 'Nice' was part of the Neil Gaiman\Terry Pratchett book Good Omens, which is sub-titled "The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter", but the word Nice meant precise as opposed to pleasent.

And the changing definition of 'literally' came up in the last season of the Newsroom


One of my favourite examples. "President Megawati is literally getting sawed off at ankle height by a unanimous band of foreign correspondents"  (from a newspaper around here a dozen years ago: the "sawed off at ankle height" bit is an idiom in Swedish for unyielding, harsh criticism). How did they get all those journalists together to hold the saw?  ;)
« Last Edit: February 04, 2015, 06:49:27 PM by gaggedLouise »

Offline mia h

Re: How words have evolved with modern languages.
« Reply #15 on: February 05, 2015, 01:28:53 AM »
Marvin Gaye was actually called Gay (like his father, the reverend) but wisely added an -e to the name.
If he hadn't he might have had the same problem as Tyson Gay Homosexual

Offline Sir Percival the Gallant

Re: How words have evolved with modern languages.
« Reply #16 on: March 07, 2015, 06:34:19 PM »
Besides knight and knave, here are some other words that have evolved from Old English (OE) and changed in meaning in Middle English (ME) or Modern English (MnE). There are many, many more I could mention:


Bird: OE bridd 'chick, fledgeling'. Displaced OE fūgol (MnE fowl) as the usual term for bird.

Bloom: OE blōma 'lump, mass, lump of metal, metal'. Influenced by Old Norse blomi 'flower'. The older sense survives in bloomer (the profession) and bloomery.

Bread: OE brēad 'piece, morsel, meal'. Influenced by Old Norse brauð 'bread'. Displaced OE hlāf (MnE loaf) as the usual word for bread.

Breath/Breathe: OE breāþ 'scent' and brēaðian 'to smell'. Displaced OE æðm (cf. the German cognate Atem, with the same meaning).

Cheap: OE ċēap 'market' and ċīepan 'to sell, trade, bargain' (cf. the German cognate kaufen 'to buy'). Old sense survives in the expression 'on the cheap', the place names of Cheapside and Eastcheap in London, and the surname Chapman. Modern sense evolved from the verb.

Cloud: OE clūd 'boulder'. Later used to describe boulder-like clouds in the sky, and then became the usual word. Displaced OE wolcen (cf. the German cognate Wolke), which survives as the archaic welkin.

Deer: OE dēor 'animal' (cf. the German cognate Tier, with the same meaning). Later came to mean all hunted animals (game), and then the most sought-after animal. But some of the original sense survived into Shakespeare's time: in King Lear, Edgar disguised as Tom o' Bedlam says, ‘But mice and rats, and such small deer/Have been Tom's food for seven long year.’ (3.4)

Doom: OE dōm 'judgement', related to the verb to deem. Sense lasted into Early Modern English: in Romeo and Juliet, Romeo says, 'What is the prince's doom?' (3.3) Modern sense evolved from Doomsday.

Dream: OE drēam 'joy'. Influenced by Old Norse draumr 'dream'.

Earthling: Despite associations with vintage sci-fi films, this word is ancient, coming from OE ierðling 'farmer, humble person'. Sense evolved into 'inhabitant of the earth' by the sixteenth century.

Ghost: OE gāst 'spirit', usually referring to the insubstantial quality of something rather than the spirit of dead person (a sense surviving in Holy Ghost, much like the German cognate Geist). OE gāstlīċ (MnE ghostly) means 'spiritual'. The h in the spelling is an erroneous addition first appearing in the printed works of William Caxton in the late fifteenth century.

Harvest: OE hærfest 'autumn' (cf. German cognate Herbst, with the same meaning). Displaced OE rīp, a noun closely related to MnE ripe.

Heathen: Being connected with heath, the word (from OE hǣðen) originally meant ‘from the wilderness, uncouth, ignorant’. It came to be an equivalent of Latin paganus ‘of a village’ (whence pagan), from pagus ‘village’, because Christianity was most common in urban areas in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages.

Kin: OE cyn(n) 'race, people, family', as well as 'kind, type'. From the Proto-Indo-European root *genos, which also produced Latin gens ‘people’ and genus (oblique stem: gener-) ‘kind, type’ and Greek γένος (genos, whence gene, geno-, etc), ‘kind, type, race’.

Kind: OE cynd 'race, people, species', also 'nature'. Related to the verb ċennan 'to conceive (a child). There are similar relations between Latin natūra (from nātus, ‘born’) and nascī ‘to be born’ and Greek ϕύσις (physis) ‘nature’ and ϕύειν (phyein) ‘to grow’.

Lent: OE lencten 'spring' (the season) as well as 'Lent'. Spring developed in Middle English from the verb, eventually reducing Lent to mean only the period in the church calendar.
« Last Edit: March 08, 2015, 02:04:41 PM by Sir Percival the Gallant »

Offline Caehlim

Re: How words have evolved with modern languages.
« Reply #17 on: March 07, 2015, 07:15:18 PM »
It's a little off-topic, but I hope it will be of interest to people who have been reading this thread.

Some linguists have fun translating things into Anglish, which is using modern English with only its Germanic roots, leaving out any words of Latin origin.

One of the best examples of this is Uncleftish Beholding which is a translation of Poul Anderson "Atomic Theory".

Offline Sir Percival the Gallant

Re: How words have evolved with modern languages.
« Reply #18 on: March 08, 2015, 02:03:11 PM »
It's a little off-topic, but I hope it will be of interest to people who have been reading this thread.

Some linguists have fun translating things into Anglish, which is using modern English with only its Germanic roots, leaving out any words of Latin origin.

One of the best examples of this is Uncleftish Beholding which is a translation of Poul Anderson "Atomic Theory".

Yeah, I'm familiar with that, though personally I'd rather just use Old English as it is. Uncleftish Beholding is a good translation of the Greek roots, though.

Offline mia h

Re: How words have evolved with modern languages.
« Reply #19 on: March 10, 2015, 02:32:31 AM »
Ghost: OE gāst 'spirit', usually referring to the insubstantial quality of something rather than the spirit of dead person (a sense surviving in Holy Ghost, much like the German cognate Geist). OE gāstlīċ (MnE ghostly) means 'spiritual'. The h in the spelling is an erroneous addition first appearing in the printed works of William Caxton in the late fifteenth century.

The h was introduced because William Caxton employed Flemish typesetters and the equivalent Flemish word is Gheest so the h was inserted out of habit.

Plumber: Was spelt without the b as it derives from the French plomier, the b was added in the 18th\19th century so people could show off their classical education and knowledge of the latin plumbum

Offline eBadger

Re: How words have evolved with modern languages.
« Reply #20 on: March 11, 2015, 04:55:57 PM »
Child, Teenager, and Adult had a bit of a hiccup a century ago.  Up through the Victorian era, a child referred to someone living with their parents and not married, so children - especially girls, who were less likely to leave for school or career - could easily be in their late teens or even early twenties (it was one reason many women were referred to as children, which wasn't exactly empowering but wasn't the tone many modern readers read from old books, and was some of the misconception behind 'child brides' of the era, etc). 

Social changes brought a new recognition of a sense of semi-independence and increased responsibility for older 'children', leading to the need for a new term, and Teenagers entered the lingo in the 1920s. 

Offline Sir Percival the Gallant

Re: How words have evolved with modern languages.
« Reply #21 on: April 04, 2015, 06:46:43 PM »
Here's a bunch more from Old English:



Lich: OE līċ ‘body, corpse’ (cf. German cognate Leiche ‘corpse’), a sense that survives in lychgate and a few other words. The suffix -ly is from the same word. The imagery of lychgates was in turn apparently the inspiration for the lich of fantasy literature and games.

Loft: OE lyft ‘air’ (cf. the German cognate Luft, with the same meaning). Aloft is from OE on lyfte ‘in [the] air’. Sense quickly extended to ‘sky’, which then fed into modern meaning—first ‘ceiling’, and then the space between the ceiling and the roof.

Loom: OE (ġe)lōma 'tool, instrument'. Acquired the sense of a weaving device in Middle English. Long used as vulgar slang for the penis in Middle English, but the sense died out in Early Modern English.

Maiden: OE mæġden. Could refer to a virgin of either sex, but usually was used to refer to females. Adjectival usages of the word associated with male virginity are found as late as the sixteenth century, however.

Meat: OE mete ‘food, dish’, surviving faintly in the expression ‘meat and drink’. Slowly displaced flæsċ as the term for flesh as food in early centuries of Modern English.

Mildew: OE mildēaw 'nectar', a compound of *mil- ‘sweet’ + dēaw ‘dew’. The first element, from a Germanic root meaning ‘honey’ from the Indo-European root meaning the same thing (cognate with Latin mel, is obsolete as an independent word in OE, but exists in the adjective milisċ ‘sweet’. Sense of ‘mould’ evolved in Middle English perhaps because of its similar appearance to pollen, or because of the presence of mould on plants.

Mind: OE mynd 'memory, intellect’, which faintly survives in expressions like ‘bear in mind’. Ultimately displaced a number of other words used to refer to the mind: sēfa, hygd, ferþ, mōd. Old Norse munin (also the name of one of Odin’s ravens in Norse Mythology) is the cognate. Sense had shifted to ‘mental faculty’ in the fourteenth century.

Mood: OE mōd 'courage, confidence' (cf. the German cognate Mut), as well as 'mind'. Sense of motivation gradually narrowed to ‘emotional condition’ in Middle English. Grammatical sense is from the acquisition of the sense of the unrelated French mode and Latin modus ‘way, manner’.

Noon: OE nōn, 'the canonical hour of ‘nones' (approximately 3 pm), ultimately from Latin nona (hora) ‘ninth (hour)’. Sense steadily shifted to midday between 1200 and 1400 due a change in liturgical practices that moved more prayers to this time, called canonically sext (Latin sexta hora, ‘sixth hour’).

Pintle: OE pintel 'penis'. Retained the sense in Middle English, and occasionally found in Modern English. The word is in the script of Robert Zemeckis’ film Beowulf, when one of the Geatish warriors hacks at Grendel’s crotch with a sword, shouting, ‘This bastard has no pintle!’ Usual modern sense evolved in Middle English, because the pin somewhat phallically fits into a slot called a gudgeon (whose etymology, disappointingly, does not mean ‘vagina’).

Pretty: OE prættiġ ‘cunning, subtle’, from prætt ‘trick, guile’. Unclear how the sense had become ‘gallant, manly’ by 1400, then ‘fine’ and ‘beautiful in a slight way’ in the fifteenth century. The adverbial sense of ‘considerably’ also appeared during this time, but it did not become common for several centuries.

Queen: From Proto-Germanic *kwœniz 'woman, female', whence Danish kvind, with the same meaning. Sense evolved in OE cwēn to mean first a noblewoman and then later the wife of the king (English is uncommon in having a word for queen not derived from the word for king). However, the word retained its origin sense somewhat throughout the period (e.g. cwēnfūgol 'female bird'), eventually splitting off into the word quean. Ultimately from the Indo-European root *gwen- ‘woman, female’, which also produced Greek γυνή (gynē, whence gyno-/gynaeco-), Gaelic bean and many other cognates with the same meaning.

Quick: OE cwīċ ‘alive, animate’, which survived into Early Modern English and still survives in the expression ‘the quick and the dead’. General sense evolved into ‘lively, vivacious’, and then modern sense by 1200.

Rather: OE hrāðor ‘quicker’, comparative of hrǣþ ‘quick, prompt, immediate’. Meaning ‘more willingly’ had developed by 1300 and ‘more truly’ by 1400, eventually displacing the OE expression habban līefre (archaic to have liever).

Read: There are two OE verbs rǣdan, one weak (meaning ‘to read’) and one strong (meaning ‘to advise’, like its German cognate raten). They merged in Middle English and retained both meanings, but the former ultimately won out.  The neopagan Wiccan Rede is a revival of the latter sense.

Sad: OE sædd ‘full (of food), satisfied’ (cf. the German cognate satt). Unclear how sense evolved into miserable, but the change was complete by Chaucer’s time (1340-1400).

Sale/Sell: OE sellan 'to give, exchange' and sāla 'donation, gift, bequeathing'. Words began to have transactional sense in Later OE, and had changed to their modern sense by Chaucer’s time.

Shape: OE sċieppan means 'to create' (cf the German cognate schaffen, with the same meaning). Displaced OE hīw (MnE hue) as the usual word for shape, form.

Shop: OE sċoppa originally meant 'market stall'. Acquired the sense of workshop by 1300, and then a building for selling merchandise from around 1350. The verb and gerund shopping developed in the late seventeenth century, originally meaning ‘to bring something to a shop to sell’, and then its modern sense by the mid-eighteenth century, probably reflecting the beginning of mass consumer culture in London during this period.

Smart: OE smeart ‘pain’ (cf. the German cognate Schmerz, with the same meaning) and the verb smiertan ‘to sting with pain’, which still survives. Evolved into an adjective in Middle English first meaning ‘done with force’, and then ‘clever, quick’, which fed into the modern North American sense of ‘intelligent’. The British sense of ‘fashionable’ first appears in the early eighteenth century.

Smite: OE smītan 'to daub, stain, blot’, slowly beginning to acquire sense of ‘hit’ in Late Old English. See also Smut (below). The usual word for striking until the eighteenth century, but due to frequency in the King James Bible and poetry, the word’s obsolescence began. Frequently used with sudden emotions, too, a sense preserved in smitten (originally ‘smitten with love’, one of the most common uses of the word).

Smut: OE smut ‘stain, blot’ (cf. the German cognate Schmutz, ‘filth’). Quickly acquired a sense of defilement and developed its own verb, smutten, in Middle English. Sense of obscenity from 1660, specifically pornography from the 1950s.

Sodden: OE (ġe)soden ‘boiled’, from OE sēoðan ‘to boil’ (MnE seethe, whose original sense survived as late as the early nineteenth century). Sense of water-logged also developed in the early nineteenth-century, originally meaning something looking like it had been boiled for a long time.

Speed: OE spēd 'success' and spēdan 'to succeed (be successful)'; godspeed preserves the original sense. Sense of rapidity of motion from Late OE, sense of degree of progress of motion from about 1200. Mechanical sense is from the mid-nineteenth century. Applied to the drug methamphetamine in the 1960s.

Spell: OE spell ‘story, fable, parable’ (the German cognates are Spiel ‘game’ and spielen ‘to play’), as well as ‘doctrine’. Old sense survives in gospel, from OE gōdspell, that is, ‘good story’, a loan translation of Biblical Greek εὐαγγελίον (euangelion) ‘good message’ via Latin evangelium. By 1200 sense had become ‘utterance’, which then evolved into a magical incantation by the late sixteenth century. The phrase ‘for a spell’ is from a different OE word, spela ‘substitute, representative’.

Spurn: OE speornan ‘to kick’. Sense of rejection appears in OE as a metaphor and slowly came to be the regular sense of the word, but the original sense of kicking lasted as late as the seventeenth century.

Starve: OE steorfan 'to die' (cf. the German cognate sterben, with the same meaning). Compound words like hungorsteorfan (‘hunger-starve’) eventually shifted the meaning of the verb to its modern sense, as the Norse-derived die took its place as the general term.

Team: OE tēam 'line, descent', and 'family, generation' and ‘team (of draught animals). OE verb tīeman means 'to propagate, generate’, whence the verb to team (with life). The modern sense of a group people working together evolved in the sixteenth century from the agricultural use of the word.

Thong: OE þwang ‘leather strip’; the loss of w may be due to the same process that made the w of two, answer and sword silent. Applied to the kind of sandals around 1965 because of the leather straps, then women’s underwear/swim bottoms around 1990.

Throw: OE þrawan ‘to twist, distort, mangle’. Seemingly switched meanings with OE weorpan ‘to throw’ during the Early Middle English period perhaps because of turning an arm when throwing.

True/Truth: OE trēow 'honest, faithful', trīewþ 'trust, faith, honesty'. Eventually displaced OE sōþ (archaic sooth) in referring to factual truth over the course of Late Middle English and Early Modern English.

Town: OE tūn '(pastoral) enclosure, farm, homestead’, later the settlements built within such enclosures (cf. the German cognate Zaun 'fence’), which grew larger and became fortified as England became a unified kingdom.

Warlock: Nothing to do with war or lock, but from OE wǣrloga 'traitor, reprobate', from wǣr 'vow' + loga 'liar'. Then used poetically to mean the devil, and then one in league with the devil in Middle English. Use as the male equivalent of a witch began in the sixteenth century.

Warp: The verb is from OE weorpan ‘to throw’ (cf. the German cognate werfen, with the same meaning). Seemingly switched meanings with OE þrawan ‘to twist, distort’ during the Early Middle English period, perhaps because of the bending of an arm to throw something.

Weed: OE wēod just means ‘plant, grass’, though in some cases means an unwanted, invasive plant. The weed of the phrase ‘widow’s weeds’ is from a different OE word, wǣd ‘garment, costume’. Originally also applied to tobacco around 1600, this sense shifted to cannabis around 1920.

Wield: OE wealdan 'to rule, control’ (cf. the German cognate Gewalt 'power’). The word could mean the modern sense of using a weapon, but did not become usual until Middle English.

Wit: OE wit 'knowledge (in general), ‘intellect and witan ‘to know, understand’. Modern sense of literary cleverness first appears in the sixteenth century, but did not become the principal meaning until the eighteenth at the earliest.

Wife: OE wīf 'woman' (regardless of marital status), but could be used to refer to a wife when used with a possessive pronoun. Similarly, OE wer 'man (adult male)' could be used the same way to mean 'husband' (the word survives only in werewolf and wergild). The term slowly came to mean a married women over the course of Middle English. Older sense of wife survives into Middle English with Chaucer’s Wife of Bath and even now in midwife (‘with-woman’). MnE woman is from OE wīfman(n) ‘human woman’.

Witch: OE wiċċa (masc.) or wiċċe (fem.): applied to both sexes who practise wiċċancræft. MnE Wicca is a modern revival of the OE, but pronounced modernly with hard c’s. The word may have become gendered exclusively feminine due to specifics about certain kinds of magic practised by women, as suggested in some sources.

Wrench: OE wrenċ ‘device, twisting, turning’, and by extension ‘machination, guile’. Sense of specific tool (spanner) from c. 1700.

Yield: OE ġieldan 'to pay' and ġeld 'payment' (cf German cognate Geld 'money').
« Last Edit: April 04, 2015, 06:55:57 PM by Sir Percival the Gallant »