Sunday, 28 November 2021

That's not what I meant (P)

Paraphernalia is not only one of my favourite words, it also ranks highly on my list of favourite etymologies.

Pamper today means 'to treat to excess', but in the sixteenth century was used to mean 'to cram with food'.

Pandemonium is from the Greek and translates as 'all devils', which doesn't seem to be linked to the current meaning of 'uproar, chaos' at all.

Pander is a verb meaning 'to accommodate for those less able', but originally referred to one who ran messages or arranged meetings between those involved in a secret love affair. I wonder if these panders also fed on bamboo?

Pane, as in pane of glass, is rather different from the original sense of 'piece of cloth or garment'.

Paraphernalia is an excellent word and describes the seemingly pointless items a person has amassed. In the seventeenth century it described those items which a wife would bring with her to the marriage but, unlike everything else the groom was given, these items were always the property of the wife and could never become her husband's or her family's.

Parks are nice places to relax, great areas of neatly mown lawns, flowers, even statues and perhaps water features. You wouldn't want to lounge around in a thirteenth century park, for it was an area designated for hunting.

Passengers today are carried on a vehicle, but this is only since the nineteenth century. Prior to that a passenger was simply one who was travelling, and most likely on foot.

Pasty, and who doesn't like a pasty? Well you wouldn't recognise a pasty prior to the nineteenth century, for this popular food item only contained one ingredient. Early pasties contained venison, later this was extended to fish, and only then did other meats find their way into pasties.

Pay is something we're hoping we don't have to do today, because it means parting with money. From its earliest use in the twelfth century, it was used to mean 'pacify' or even 'please'.

Penknife, today a small pocket knife, originally exactly what is says it was - a knife used to turn feathers into quills.

Peruse is to read today, but in the sixteenth century was used either to mean 'to use up' or 'to examine and revise'.

Petticoat is today an undergarment worn exclusively by females. French speakers will still see the original sense of 'little coat'.

Philander, is one who is seen as one of questionable morals today. Originating from the Greek, it came to English in its original sense of 'man lover'.

Pickets today are those who form a barrier to prevent strike breakers from entering their place of work. That is relevant, because the original sense, used from the seventeenth century, described a pointed stake.

Piety is a devotion to religious duty or belief today. But the word originated in English in the thirteenth century when it was used to mean 'pity'.

Pilgrim is another with religious connections today, but the original pilgrims were not necessarily on a religious trek, they were merely wanderers or travellers in general.

Piquant suggests a pleasant or tempting aroma or flavour. In the sixteenth century it could be used to mean 'piercing, cutting, severe, bitter' depending on the context.

Plaintive is used to mean 'mournful, melancholy' today, but began in English in the sense of 'complaining'.

Plasma is the colourless liquid part of the blood that carries the red and white corpuscles, but was once used to mean 'image, mould'.

Pluck as in 'courage' and also in to pluck feathers, was also used to refer to the removal of the internal organs of an animal - heart, lungs, liver, etc - which is why we speak of having 'the guts' when it comes to bravery.

Poison is something deadly today, but when it first came to English it was interchangeable with 'potion' and not used to refer to anything deadly.

Pole as in 'one from Poland', was used in the sixteenth century as the name of the country.

Police may refer to law and order today, but in the sixteenth century was used in the sense of 'policy'.

Polite is to be courteous in the present era, but from its earliest days in the sixteenth century was used to mean 'polish, burnished'.

Poll as in a voting sense, began in the seventeenth century meaning 'head'.

Pornography comes from the Greek and literally means 'writing on prostitutes' - and by this I mean writing about them, not inking their skin.

Portly is used today to mean 'stout', but up to the nineteenth century referred to one who was 'of dignified bearing'.

Preposterous or 'ridiculous' first came to English in the sixteenth century in the sense of 'putting the hindside in front' or more simply 'reverse'.

Prestige may refer to 'a higher standing' today, but in the seventeenth century was used to mean 'illusion, conjuring trick'.

Pretty is 'atteactive' today, but originally meant 'crafty, wily'.

Programme as in the sense 'a list of events' began in the seventeenth century meaning 'public notice'.

Promiscuous may have sexual links today, but originally simply described a group or number of people from mixed backgrounds, social standings, or cultures.

Proper, as in appropriate, came from the French propre and used to mean 'own' or 'belong to oneself' when it first came to English before the sixteenth century.

Pudding dates from the thirteenth century when, unlike the modern dessert, referred to something akin to the haggis.

Pug is today a breed of dog, but historically it has been many things. In the seventeenth century it was a demon or sprite; in the sixteenth century a bargeman; and in the sixteenth century was both a term of endearment and a term for a prostitute.

Punk, the youth movement of the latter 1970s and early 1980s, has had no less than six earlier meanings: in the early twentieth century it was a youngsterworking in the circus; in the late nineteenth century one who travelled with a tramp; in the late eighteenth century it was 'nonsense' or 'rubbish'; and in the sixteenth century a term for a prostitute.

Puny is a synonym of 'feeble' today, but in the original sixteenth century sense referred to one who was 'junior' to the speaker.

Purple is that colour which we all learned is a mix of blue and red. But in the fourteenth century referred to what we would call 'crimson'.

Pyjamas, for English speakers, refers to the two-piece night attire. But for the original Hindi word pajama it referred to the baggy silk or cotton trousers worn as a single garment. Indeed the Hindi pa 'leg' and jama 'garment' tells us exactly what it was named for.

Sunday, 21 November 2021

That's not what I meant (O)

Having spent many hours talking to those convinced their jobs are more important than anything, I wished we still used 'officious' in the original sense.

Occult came to English in the sixteenth century, but only since the eighteenth century has it been used to refer to the supernatural, prior to that it simply meant 'hidden, secret'.

Officious is an excellent word which today describes that irritating individual who thinks their job is the most important thing in the universe. Originally it was used to mean 'dutiful' or 'eager to please'. If only that were true today.

Orchards are areas where fruit trees grow, but from the fourteenth century it simply meant 'garden'.

Orientate is to adjust a position or bearing. Originally it meant simply 'to turn to face east', quite literally 'to the orient'.

Outings today are pleasant excursions, a trip out. In the fourteenth century it was used to mean 'expulsion', much as 'ousting' does today.

Owe is one of those weird words which has changed meaning completely. Today to 'owe' is to be in debt, yet in the fourteenth century it was used to mean 'own, possess'.

Sunday, 14 November 2021

That's Not What I Meant (N)

Interesting to see naughty children were not always naughty.

Naughty is not that had to see as meaning 'having nothing', especially if we tweak the spelling to 'noughty'. The change from 'poor' to the present 'mischievous' came about when a later use was as 'bad' or 'inferior quality'.

Net, in the sense of after deductions or additions, came to English in the fourteenth century from the Old French net meaning 'neat'. This was not only the original meaning but is also a tidy way of describing the financial sense. In later years 'net' was also used in English as synonyms for 'smart, clean, bright'.

Newfangled is to be seemingly modern, but in an overly complex way. Back in the fifteenth century it was only used to describe someone fond of things new.

News, something I personally loathe as it isn't informative it's gossip, is a word which came to English in the fourteenth century and was used to mean 'novelties'. Ah, now if the BBC had a 24-hour channel devoted to novelties - I still wouldn't watch it.

Nice, that is as in the rhyme with 'rice' and not the French city, came to English from Old French in the thirteenth century and was originally used in the same sense as the French word, that is to mean 'silly, simple' and is derived from the Latin nescius 'ignorant'. Incidentally the French city was named by the Greeks after the goddess Nike, and her name is thought to come from the Proto-Indo-European neik 'to attack', which also fits nicely with Nike being the goddess of victory. And if you that is confusing, read on …….

Niece is first seen in English in the early seventeenth century, when it was used to mean 'granddaughter' or simple 'female descendant' and not the very specific 'daughter of a sibling' as it does today.

Nightmare is not considered politically correct today, the modern term seems to be night terrors, but when it first came to English it referred to the evil female spirits held responsible for the for bad dreams, which they created by pressing down on the sleeper. Note this earlier use is still the only sense until the middle of the nineteenth century, meaning 'nightmare' fell out of favour inside 150 years. Imagine if every word in the English language changed its meaning and was then kicked out of the dictionary in just 150 years? What a nightmare!

Noon is that time in the middle of the day when cuckoo clocks push their luck. Until the thirteenth century, 'noon' was a term only used in religious conversations where it was referred to as nona hora, which is Latin for 'the ninth hour'. As the day began at sunrise (for the sake of argument six o'clock on average), the ninth hour would be three o'clock in the afternoon. Interesting to note only English and Dutch use 'noon', every other European language uses a word related to 'midday'.

Nostalgia isn't what it used to be. No, really it isn't for in the eighteenth century it would only be used by Englishmen abroad who were pining for the old country. Earlier nostalgia referred to 'home sickness'.

Nuzzle is one of those modern words used to refer to close contact with another's face. It's also used to describe the actions of a pet rubbing its muzzle against its human/owner/keeper (never will understand that). Originally it was used to mean 'grovel' (that I understand), where the idea is to see someone with their nose to the ground.

Sunday, 7 November 2021

That was not what I meant (M)

Minion certainly has gone through some changes in meaning.

Machine may refer to a mechanical device today, but before the seventeenth century was used in the sense of 'structure, fabric'.

Main was once used to mean 'of greatest size' rather than 'chief, leading' as it does today.

Manipulation is used to mean 'to control to one's own advantage', which is a much more general sense than the original eighteenth century meaning of handling chemical apparatus.

Manufacture today is accepted as a mechanical process, when the original sixteenth century use was 'made by hand'.

Martyr is, as we all know, one who dies for a cause, particularly a religious cause. But originally it was a person who chose to die, be it at their own hands or that of another.

Medley is a 'mix' today, but in the fourteenth century this word, releated to melee, meant 'combat, conflict'.

Menial is, today, a very negative word meaning 'lowly' or even 'degrading'. But when first seen in English in the fourteenth century it simply meant 'domestic'.

Mere as in 'in its simplest form', began in the fifteenth century as 'done alone'.

Merry began in Old English as myrge and was used to mean 'pleasant, agreeable' and is most famously used in antiquity as in Merry England, where the early use is much easier to understand.

Meticulous or 'very careful', is derived from a Latin root meaning 'fear' and came into use in English in the sense of 'timid'.

Mildew began in English as a word with the same meaning as 'honeydew', a substance excreted by aphids (or a quite delicious organic ale brewed by Fullers and most certainly my favourite tipple).

Minion, forget the little yellow things, the real definition is 'a servant, a petty official', but when it came to English from the French mignon, a word still meaning 'darling', it was used in the sense of 'lover' and particularly 'lady love'.

Minister has a similar complete reversal to 'minion', albeit the opposite bad to good. Today the church official, in the thirteenth century 'a servant'.

Misericord is that part of the seat in the choirstall on which the occupant may stand, but in the fourteenth century meant 'pitiful heart', by the eighteenth century spoke of 'mercy on us', and later eighteenth century 'mercy seat'.

Mistake today is any error, originally it was used in the very literal sense of 'to take wrongly'.

Mode means 'fashion, manner' today, but in the fourteenth century referred specifically to music in the 'tune or 'melody'.

Moist or 'damp' today, but in the fourteenth century could be used to mean 'new' or 'liquid' depending upon context.

Mortuary is where the deceased are stored, but in the fourteenth century it referred to the gift claimed by the clergyman from the estate of the dead person.

Muddle may mean 'confuse' today, but the fourteenth century use as 'wallow in mud' is still easily seen.

Must in Old English meant 'was able to' or 'permitted to', rather than the 'compulsory' sense today.