Monday, January 23, 2017

The Changed Meanings of Some Words


Examples of Words That Do Not Mean What They Used To Mean


Language is an ever-changing process.  As a result, what a word means depends not on its origin, but on how speakers of a language understand it. Over time, words have a way of wandering, and meanings mutate. If you stuck with older meanings of the following words, you could end up in a strange land where “naughty” is the same as “nice” and “awesome” means “terrible.”


                                                                AWFUL
Ever wonder why “awesome” means excellent but “awful” means really bad when they both derive from “awe”? In Old English, awe meant fear, terror or dread. From its use in reference to God the word came to mean reverential or respectful fear. By the mid-1700s, awe came to mean solemn and reverential wonder, tinged with fear, inspired by the sublime in nature - such as thunder or a storm at sea. Originally, awful and awesome were synonymous, but by the early 19th century, awful absorbed the negative aspects of the emotion and the word was used to mean frightful or exceedingly bad. The earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary for awesome meaning  marvelous, great; stunning or mind-boggling” is from the Official Preppy Handbook, 1980

CHEATER
A cheater was originally an officer appointed to look after the king's escheats - the land lapsing to the Crown on the death of the owner intestate without heirs. As William Gurnall wrote in 1662, “[A] Cheater may pick the purses of ignorant people, by shewing them something like the Kings Broad Seal, which was indeed his own forgery.” Mistrust of the king’s cheaters led the word into its current sense: a dishonest gamester or a swindler.

EGREGIOUS
Egregious now describes something outstandingly bad or shocking, but it originally meant remarkably good. It comes from the Latin egregius, meaning "illustrious, select" - literally, "standing out from the flock," from ex-, "out of," and greg-, "flock." Apparently the current meaning arose from ironic use of the original.

FURNITURE
 Furniture originally meant equipment, supplies or provisions, in the literal or figurative sense. For example, in a 1570 translation of Euclid’s Elements of Geometry, there is mention of “Great increase & furniture of knowledge.” Gradually, the meaning narrowed to the current sense: large moveable equipment such as tables and chairs, used to make a house, office, or other space suitable for living or working.

GIRL
 Girl once meant a child or young person of either sex. In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer says of the summoner, “In daunger hadde he at his owene gise/ The yonge girles of the diocise.” In modern English, that’s, “In his own power had he, and at ease/ Young people of the entire diocese.”


MEAT
 Beginning in Old English, meat meant solid food (as opposed to drink) or fodder for animals. In A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775), Samuel Johnson noted, “Our guides told us, that the horses could not travel all day without rest or meat.” Generally, the word’s meaning has narrowed to refer only to the flesh of mammals, and in some regions, only pork or beef, but some Scottish dialects retain the older meaning of any kind of food.

NAUGHTY
In the 1300s, naughty people had naught (nothing); they were poor or needy. By the 1400s, the meaning shifted from having nothing to being worth nothing, being morally bad or wicked. It could refer to a licentious, promiscuous or sexually provocative person, or someone guilty of other improper behavior. ISermons preached upon Several Occasions (1678), Isaac Barrow speaks of “a most vile, flagitious man, a sorry and naughty Governour as could be.” But in the same century, “naughty” also had a gentler meaning, especially as applied to children: mischievous, disobedient, badly behaved.

NICE
A few centuries ago if a gentleman called a lady “nice,” she might not know whether to flutter her fan or slap his face. Nice entered English via Anglo-Norman from classical Latin nescius, meaning ignorant. Then it wandered off every which way. From the 1300s through 1600s it meant silly, foolish, or ignorant. During that same time period, though, it was used with these unrelated or even contradictory meanings:
Showy and ostentatious, or elegant and refined
Particular in matters of reputation or conduct; or wanton, dissolute, lascivious
Cowardly, unmanly, effeminate
Slothful, lazy, sluggish
Not obvious, difficult to decide, intricate.

By the 1500s, “nice” came to mean meticulous, attentive, sharp, making precise distinctions. By the 18th century, it acquired its current (and rather bland) meaning of agreeable and pleasant, but other meanings hung on, just to keep things interesting.

PRETTY
In Old English, “pretty” meant crafty and cunning. Later, it took on a more positive connotation: clever, skillful, or able. It could describe something (for example, a speech) cleverly or elegantly made. Perhaps that is how, by the 1400s, the meaning diverted to its present sense: good-looking, especially in a delicate or diminutive way.

SLY
If you call someone sly now, you mean they’re sneaky and deceitful—not a good thing. But when the word entered English from Old Norse in the 13th century, it also had a positive meaning: skillful, clever, knowing, and wise. It’s related to “sleight,” as in “sleight of hand,” the magician’s skill at trickery.

TERRIBLE
When terrible entered Middle English from Anglo-Norman and Middle French, it meant causing or fit to cause terror, inspiring great fear or dread. It also meant awe-inspiring or awesome, which could be terrifying as well as wonderful. By the 1500s, terrible came to mean very harsh, severe, formidable, and hence, excessive or extreme in a bad way.

EJACULATE
Ejaculate use to mean to utter suddenly and passionately or to exclaim. The unintended double entendres in this sentence of the novel Jane Eyre could make anyone snicker: "The sleepers were all aroused: ejaculations, terrified murmurs sounded in every room; door after door unclosed; one looked out and another looked out; the gallery filled." Still, the old-school and modern definitions are pretty synonymous.

MYRIAD
The word myriad used to men ten thousand (10,000). Before people were debating whether "myriad" is a noun or adjective (it's both), Greek mathematicians gave it the numeral M and were extremely specific about what it meant. Think a myriad is a lot to count? Try the myriad myriad (MM) or 100 million, the largest number in ancient Greece.

BUXOM
The  word buxom used to mean mild and/or obedient. Now it means big breasts.

HEARTBURN
Heartburn used to mean jealousy or hatred. The word heartburn has never actually involved the heart. It once referred to feelings that come from the mind. Now it describes an issue with your stomach or esophagus.

BROTHEL
In Middle English, "brothel" described the kind of person who'd cheat, steal, and possibly frequented a bordello.

CHARISMA
The word charisma used to mean a divinely conferred gift or power. In the past, people with charisma could actually restore sight to the blind and other such miracles. Today, believers in Charismatic Christianity still believe in signs, prophecy, and divine healing. The root of it all: the Greek word kharis, for "god-given favor."

BULLY
The word bully used to mean superb or wonderful, For instance, when Theodore Roosevelt referred to the presidency as a bully pulpit, he was not talking about name-calling, harassment, or beating anyone with a big stick. He was praising the social change he might shape in office.

DEFECATE
The word defecate used to mean to purify something. From the Latin def√¶catus, which translates to "cleanse from dregs," this definition still makes sense. Still, you'd probably decline if someone offered you a glass of defecated water.

DIAPER
The word diaper used to mean a white fabric with small diamond-shaped figures. There was nothing embarrassing about adult diapers back in the day. The Greek root diaspros meant "pure white."

ARTIFICIAL

The word artificial used to mean full of artistic and technical skill. Now it means not real or phony. 

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