airily (adv.) Look up airily at
1766, "pretentiously jaunty," from airy "with ostentatious air" + -ly (2).
airing (n.) Look up airing at
"action of exposing to air," c. 1600, verbal noun from air (v.). Meaning "display, public exposure" is from 1870.
airlift (n.) Look up airlift at
also air-lift, 1893 as a type of pumping device; 1945 in the sense "transportation of supplies by aircraft," from air (n.1) + lift (n.). As a verb by 1949; popularized in reference to the U.S.-British response to the Soviet blockade of West Berlin. Related: Air-lifted; air-lifting.
airline (n.) Look up airline at
also air-line, 1813, "beeline, straight line between two points on the earth's surface" (as through the air, rather than over terrain), from air (n.1) + line (n.). From 1853 and in later 19c. especially in reference to railways that ran directly between big cities in the U.S. instead of meandering from town to town in search of stock subscriptions as early railways typically did. Meaning "public aircraft transportation company" is from 1914.
airman (n.) Look up airman at
also air-man, 1873, of balloons; 1910, of airplanes, from air (n.1) + man (n.).
airplane (n.) Look up airplane at
1907, air-plane, from air (n.1) + plane (n.1); though the earliest uses are British, the word caught on in American English, where it largely superseded earlier aeroplane (1873 in this sense and still common in British English). Aircraft as "airplane" also is from 1907. Lord Byron, speculating on future travel, used air-vessel (1822); and in 1865 aeromotive (based on locomotive) was used, also air-boat (1870).
airplay (n.) Look up airplay at
1950 in radio sense, from air (n.1) + play.
airport (n.1) Look up airport at
1919, air port, from air (n.1) meaning "aircraft" + port (n.1). First reference is to Bader Field, outside Atlantic City, New Jersey, U.S., which opened in 1910. An older word for such a thing was aerodrome.
airs (n.) Look up airs at
"affected manner, assumed haughtiness," 1702, from air (n.2).
airship (n.) Look up airship at
also air-ship, 1819, from air (n.1) + ship (n.). From 1888 as a translation of German Luftschiff "motor-driver dirigible."
airstrip (n.) Look up airstrip at
also air-strip, 1942, from air (n.1) meaning "aircraft" + strip (n.).
airtight (adj.) Look up airtight at
also air-tight, "impermeable to air," 1760, from air (n.1) + tight. Figurative sense of "incontrovertible" (of arguments, alibis, etc.) is from 1929.
airy (adj.) Look up airy at
late 14c., "of the air, containing air, made of air," from air (n.1) + -y (2). Meanings "breezy, exposed to the air, open to currents of air; lofty, high; light, buoyant; flimsy; flippant, jaunty, affectedly lofty; vain; unreal" all are attested by late 16c. From 1620s as "done in the air;" 1640s as "sprightly, light in movement;" 1660s as "visionary, speculative." Disparaging airy-fairy "unrealistic, fanciful" is attested from 1920 (earlier in a sense of "delicate or light as a fairy," which is how Tennyson used it in 1830).
aisle (n.) Look up aisle at
late 14c., ele, "lateral division of a church" (usually separated from the nave or transept by a row of pillars), from Old French ele "wing (of a bird or an army), side of a ship" (12c., Modern French aile), from Latin ala, related to or contracted from axilla "wing, upper arm, armpit; wing of an army," from PIE *aks-la-, suffixed form of root *aks- "axis" (see axis). The notion is of "turning," which also connects it with axle.

Confused from 15c. with unrelated Middle English ile "island" (perhaps from notion of a "detached" part of a church), and so it took an unetymological -s- c. 1700 when isle did; by 1750 it had acquired an a-, on the model of French cognate aile. English aisle perhaps also was confused with alley, which helped give it the sense of "passage between rows of pews or seats" (1731), which subsequently was extended to railway cars, theaters, Congress, etc.
aitch (n.) Look up aitch at
"the letter H," representing the pronunciation of the letter-name, by 1887, originally especially in reference to dropping it in colloquial speech.
aitchbone (n.) Look up aitchbone at
"rump-bone in cattle," also the cut of beef which includes this, late 15c., a misdivision of Middle English nache-bone (see N), from nache "buttocks" (c. 1300), from Old French nache, nage "the buttocks," from Medieval Latin *natica, from Latin natis "buttock," from PIE *not- "buttock, back."
ajar (adv.) Look up ajar at
"slightly open, neither open nor shut," 1718, also on a jar, on the jar, perhaps from Scottish dialectal a char "turned a little way," earlier on char (mid-15c.) "on the turn (of a door or gate)," from Middle English char "a turn," from Old English cier "a turn" (see chore). For first element see a- (1). For unusual change of ch- to j-, compare jowl.
Ajax Look up Ajax at
name of two Greek heroes in the Trojan War (Great Ajax, son of Telamon, and Little Ajax, son of Oileus), Latin, from Greek Aias, perhaps originally the name of an earth-god, from aia "earth." The Elizabethans punned on the name as a jakes "a privy."
Akan Look up Akan at
people and language of West Africa (Ghana and surrounding regions), 1690s, a native name.
Akela Look up Akela at
name of the wolf-pack leader in Kipling's "Jungle Book" (1894), from Hindi, literally "solitary, lone."
akimbo (adv., adj.) Look up akimbo at
"with the hands on the hips and the elbows bent outward at sharp angles," c. 1400, in kenebowe, of unknown origin, perhaps from Middle English phrase in keen bow "at a sharp angle" (with keen in its Middle English sense of "sharp" + bow "arch"), or from a Scandinavian word akin to Icelandic kengboginn "bow-bent," but this seems not to have been used in this exact sense. Middle English Dictionary compares Old French chane/kane/quenne "can, pot, jug." Many languages use a teapot metaphor for this, such as Modern French faire le pot a deux anses "to play the pot with two handles."
akin (adj.) Look up akin at
1550s, "related by blood," contraction of of kin; see a- (1) + kin (n.). Figuratively, "allied by nature," from 1630s.
Akita Look up Akita at
type of dog, named for a prefecture in northern Japan. The place name is said to mean literally "field of ripe rice," from aki "autumn, fall" + ta "field of rice."
Akkadian Look up Akkadian at
1855 (Accadian), from Akkad (Sumerian Agde, Biblical Acca), name of city founded by Sargon I in northern Babylonia (the name is of unknown origin); applied by modern scholars to the East Semitic language spoken there (c. 2300-2100 B.C.E.) and preserved in cuneiform inscriptions.
akly (n.) Look up akly at
also alchy, 1844 as a slang shortening of alcoholic liquor; from 1960 in the sense of "a drunkard," short for alcoholic (n.).
Akron Look up Akron at
city in Ohio, founded 1825, from Greek akron "extremity, highest point, mountain peak, headland," neuter of akros "at the furthest point" (from PIE root *ak- "be sharp, rise (out) to a point, pierce"). So called for its position on high ground at the confluence of two rivers.
al dente (adv.) Look up al dente at
1935, Italian, literally "to the tooth," from Latin dentem (nominative dens) "tooth" (from PIE root *dent- "tooth"). Italian al represents a contraction of words from Latin ad "to" (see ad-) + ille "that" (see le).
al fresco (adv.) Look up al fresco at
also alfresco, 1753, Italian, literally "in the fresh (air)." Italian al represents a contraction of words from Latin ad "to" (see ad-) + ille "that" (see le). Alfresco also meant "painted on plaster that was still fresh or moist" (1764; see fresco).
al Qaeda Look up al Qaeda at
alternative Latin alphabet transliteration of Arabic al Qaida (q.v.).
al Qaida Look up al Qaida at
also Al-Qaeda; name of a loosely structured jihadist movement founded c. 1989 by Osama bin Laden; from Arabic, literally "the base." A common Arabic term among Muslim radicals from the wider Islamic world who came to Afghanistan in 1980s and fought alongside local rebels against the Soviets, and who regarded themselves and their struggle not merely in Afghan terms but as the "base" or foundation of a wider jihad and revival in Islam. Used by Bin Laden's mentor, Abdallah Azzam (1941-1989), who referred to the "vanguard" which "constitutes the strong foundation [al-qaida al-sulbah] for the expected society." In U.S., the term first turns up in a CIA report in 1996.
Every Muslim, from the moment they realise the distinction in their hearts, hates Americans, hates Jews, and hates Christians. This is a part of our belief and our religion. For as long as I can remember, I have felt tormented and at war, and have felt hatred and animosity for Americans. [Osama bin Laden, interview aired on Al-Jazeera, December 1998]
al- Look up al- at
in words from Arabic (or assumed to be), it is the definite article "the." Sometimes rendered in English as el-. Often assimilated to following consonants (as-, az-, ar-, am-, an-, etc.). Examples include almanac, alchemy, alcohol, algebra.
Alabama Look up Alabama at
created and named as a U.S. territory 1817 by a division of Mississippi Territory; ultimately named for one of the native peoples who lived there, who speak Muskogean. Their name probably is from a Choctaw term meaning "plant-cutters." Related: Alabamian.
alabaster (n.) Look up alabaster at
"translucent, whitish, marble-like mineral used for vases, ornaments, and busts," late 14c., from Old French alabastre (12c., Modern French albâtre), from Latin alabaster "colored rock used to make boxes and vessels for unguents," from later Greek alabastros (earlier albastos) "vase for perfumes," probably a foreign word, perhaps from Egyptian 'a-labaste "vessel of the goddess Bast." Used figuratively for whiteness and smoothness from 1570s. "The spelling in 16-17th c. is almost always alablaster ..." [OED].
alabastrine (adj.) Look up alabastrine at
"of or resembling alabaster," 1590s, from Medieval Latin alabastrinus, from alabaster (see alabaster).
alack (interj.) Look up alack at
expression of sorrow or dismay, mid-15c. contraction of ah, lack, which according to Skeat is from lack (n.) in its secondary Middle English sense of "loss, failure, fault, reproach, shame." According to OED, originally an expression of dissatisfaction, later of regret or unpleasant surprise. Sometimes extended as alackaday ("alack the day").
alacrity (n.) Look up alacrity at
"liveliness, briskness," mid-15c., from Latin alacritatem (nominative alacritas) "liveliness, ardor, eagerness," from alacer (genitive alacris) "cheerful, brisk, lively;" a word of uncertain origin. Perhaps cognate with Gothic aljan "zeal," Old English ellen "courage, zeal, strength," Old High German ellian. But de Vaan suggests the root sense is "to wander, roam" and a possible connection with ambulare.
Aladdin Look up Aladdin at
name of a hero in stories from the "Arabian Nights," from Arabic Ala' al Din, literally "height (or nobility) of the faith," from a'la "height" + din "faith, creed." Figurative use often in reference to his magic lamp, by which difficulties are overcome, or his cave full of riches.
Alamo Look up Alamo at
nickname of Franciscan Mission San Antonio de Valeroin (begun 1718, dissolved 1793) in San Antonio, Texas; American Spanish, literally "poplar" (in New Spain, also "cottonwood"), from alno "the black poplar," from Latin alnus "alder" (see alder).

Perhaps so called in reference to trees growing nearby (compare Alamogordo, New Mexico, literally "big poplar," and Spanish alameda "a shaded public walk with a row of trees on each side"); but the popular name seems to date from the period 1803-13, when the old mission building was the base for a Spanish cavalry company from the Mexican town of Alamo de Parras in Nueva Vizcaya.
Alan Look up Alan at
masc. proper name, 1066, from Old Breton Alan, name of a popular Welsh and Breton saint; brought to England by the large contingent of Bretons who fought alongside William the Conqueror.
alar (adj.) Look up alar at
"wing-like," 1839; "of or pertaining to wings," 1847, from Latin alaris, from ala "wing, armpit, wing of an army" (source of Spanish ala, French aile), from *axla, originally "joint of the wing or arm;" from PIE *aks- "axis" (see axis).
Alaric Look up Alaric at
Visigothic masc. proper name, literally "all-ruler," from Proto-Germanic *ala- "all" (see all) + *rikja "rule," from PIE root *reg- "move in a straight line," with derivatives meaning "to direct in a straight line," thus "to lead, rule."
alarm (v.) Look up alarm at
1580s, "call to arms for defense," from alarm (n.) or from Middle French alarmer (16c.), from the noun in French. Meaning "surprise with apprehension of danger" is from 1650s. Related: Alarmed; alarming.
alarm (n.) Look up alarm at
late 14c., "a call to arms in the face of danger or an enemy," from Old French alarme (14c.), from Italian all'arme "to arms!" (literally "to the arms"); a contraction of phrase alle arme. Alle is itself a contraction of a "to" (from Latin ad; see ad-) + le, from Latin illas, fem. accusative plural of ille "the" (see le); with arme, from Latin arma "weapons" (including armor), literally "tools, implements (of war)," from PIE root *ar- "to fit together."

The interjection came to be used as the word for the call or warning (compare alert). Extended 16c. to "any sound to warn of danger or to arouse," and to the device that gives it. From mid-15c. as "a state of fearful surprise;" weakened sense of "apprehension, unease" is from 1833. Variant alarum (mid-15c.) is due to the rolling -r- in the vocalized form. Sometimes in early years Englished as all-arm. Alarm clock is attested from 1690s (as A Larum clock).
alarmed (adj.) Look up alarmed at
"disturbed by prospects of peril," 1640s, past participle adjective from alarm (v.).
alarmingly (adv.) Look up alarmingly at
1787, from alarming, present participle adjective from alarm (v.), + -ly (2).
alarmist (n.) Look up alarmist at
"one addicted to sounding alarms," 1793, from alarm (n.) + -ist.
alarum (n.) Look up alarum at
obsolete and poetic spelling of alarm (n.).
alas (interj.) Look up alas at
mid-13c., from Old French ha, las (later French hélas), from ha "ah" + las "unfortunate," originally "tired, weary," from Latin lassus "weary" (see late). At first an expression of weariness rather than woe.
Alaska Look up Alaska at
large peninsula in northwestern North America; purchased by U.S. from Russia, 1867; a state since 1959; the name first was applied 18c. by Russian explorers, from Aleut alaxsxaq, literally "the object toward which the action of the sea is directed" [Bright]. Related: Alaskan. Baked Alaska attested by 1896, so called either for its whiteness or for being cold inside.
alastor (n.) Look up alastor at
"In early Greek mythology, the spirit of revenge, that prompts the members of a family to commit fresh crimes to obtain satisfaction" [Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1941]. The name also was used of the evil genius which drives a man to sin and of a man so driven. A Greek word of uncertain origin. The traditional guess is that it is literally "the unforgetting," from a- "not" (see a- (3)) + root of lathein "to forget," aorist of lanthanein "to lie hidden, escape notice," from PIE root *ladh- "to be hidden" (see latent). Or else it might be connected with alaomai "to wander, roam," figuratively "to be distraught." As a proper name, in Greek tradition a son of Neleus and Chloris; brother of Nestor, he was slain by Herakles.