- spider (n.)
- late 14c., spydyr, from earlier spiþre, spiþur, spiþer (14c.), from Old English spiðra, from Proto-Germanic *spin-thron- (cognate with Danish spinder), literally "the spinner," from *spen-wo- "to spin" (see spin (v.)) + formative or agential *-thro. The connection with the root is more transparent in other Germanic cognates (such as Middle Low German, Middle Dutch, Middle High German, German spinne, Dutch spin "spider").
The male is commonly much smaller than the female, and in impregnating the female runs great risk of being devoured. The difference in sizes is as if the human female should be some 60 or 70 feet tall. [Century Dictionary]
Not the common word in Old English, which identified the creatures as loppe, lobbe, also atorcoppe, and, from Latin, renge. Another Old English word was gangewifre "a weaver as he goes," and Middle English had araine "spider" (14c.-15c., from French). In literature, often a figure of cunning, skill, and industry as well as poisonous predation; in 17c. English used figuratively for poisonousness and thread-spinning but also sensitivity (to vibrations), lurking, independence. As the name for a type of two-pack solitaire, it is attested from 1890. Spider crab is from 1710, used of various species; spider monkey is from 1764, so called for its long limbs.
- spider-plant (n.)
- 1823, said to have been discovered on the coast of the Pacific northwest of North America during Cook's third expedition and so-named by the sailors, "from its striking resemblance to a large spider when it first appears above the surface, before the stem begins to rise from the spherical arrangement of the leaves, or the flagellae begin to creep to any distance from among them to the soil around" [Peter Sutherland, "Journal of a Voyage in Baffin's Bay," 1852]; from spider + plant (n.).
- spider-web (n.)
- 1640s, earlier spider's web (1530s), from spider + web (n.).
- spidery (adj.)
- 1823, "long and thin," from spider + -y (2).
- spiel (n.)
- "glib speech, pitch," 1896, probably from verb (1894) meaning "to speak in a glib manner," earlier "to play circus music" (1870, in a German-American context), from German spielen "to play," from Old High German spilon (cognate with Old English spilian "to play"). The noun also perhaps from German Spiel "play, game."
- spiff (v.)
- "make neat or spruce," 1877 (with up or out), probably from spiffy (q.v.). Spiffing "excellent" was very popular in 1870s slang.
- spiffy (adj.)
- 1853, of uncertain origin, probably related to spiff "well-dressed man." Uncertain relationship to spiff (n.) "percentage allowed by drapers to their young men when they effect sale of old fashioned or undesirable stock" (1859), or to spiflicate "confound, overcome completely," a cant word from 1749 that was "common in the 19th century" [OED], preserved in American English and yielded slang spiflicated "drunk," first recorded in that sense 1902.
- spigot (n.)
- late 14c., "plug used to stop the hole of a cask," according to Barnhart probably from Old French *espigot (compare Gascony dialect espigot "core of a fruit, small ear of grain"), diminutive of Old Provençal espiga "ear of grain," from Latin spica "ear of grain" (see spike (n.2)). Meaning "valve for controlling the flow of a liquid" is from 1520s; the connecting notion is "that which controls or restrains."
- spike (v.)
- 1620s, "to fasten with spikes," from spike (n.1). Meaning "to rise in a spike" is from 1958. Military sense (1680s) means "to disable guns by driving a large nail into the touch-hole." Figurative use of this sense is from 1823. Meaning "to lace (a drink) with liquor" is from 1889. Journalism sense of "to kill a story before publication" (1908) is from the metal spindle in which old-time editors filed hard copy of stories after they were set in type, or especially when rejected for publication. Related: Spiked; spiking.
- spike (n.1)
- "large nail," mid-14c., perhaps from or related to a Scandinavian word, such as Old Norse spik "splinter," Middle Swedish spijk "nail," from Proto-Germanic *spikaz (cognates: Middle Dutch spicher, Dutch spijker "nail," Old English spicing "large nail," Old English spaca, Old High German speihha "spoke"), from PIE root *spei- "sharp point" (cognates: Latin spica "ear of corn," spina "thorn, prickle, backbone," and perhaps pinna "pin" (see pin (n.)); Greek spilas "rock, cliff;" Lettish spile "wooden fork;" Lithuanian speigliai "thorns," spitna "tongue of a buckle," Old English spitu "spit").
The English word also might be influenced by and partly a borrowing of Latin spica (see spike (n.2)), from the same root. Slang meaning "needle" is from 1923. Meaning "pointed stud in athletic shoes" is from 1832. Electrical sense of "pulse of short duration" is from 1935.
- spike (n.2)
- "ear of grain," c.1300, from Latin spica "ear of grain," from PIE *spei-ko-, from suffixed form of root *spei- "sharp point" (see spine).
- spiked (adj.)
- "laced with alcohol," 1909, past participle adjective spike (v.).
- spikenard (n.)
- mid-14c., "aromatic substance from an Indian plant, famous perfumed unguent of the ancients," from Medieval Latin spica nardi (see spike (n.2)), rendering Greek nardou stakhys, in which the other element probably ultimately from Sanskrit nalada-, the name of the plant.
- spiky (adj.)
- 1720, from spike (n.1) + -y (2). Related: Spikiness.
- spile (n.)
- tap or spout for drawing maple sugar, 1844, from Northern English dialect spile "splinter" (1510s), from Middle Dutch or Middle Low German spile "splinter, skewer, bar, spindle," German Speiler "skewer;" perhaps related to spike (n.1).
- spill (v.)
- Old English spillan "destroy, mutilate, kill," also in late Old English "to waste," variant of spildan "destroy," from Proto-Germanic *spilthjan (cognates: Old High German spildan "to spill," Old Saxon spildian "destroy, kill," Old Norse spilla "to destroy," Danish spilde "lose, spill, waste," Middle Dutch spillen "to waste, spend"), from PIE *spel- (1) "to split, break off" (cognates: Middle Dutch spalden, Old High German spaltan "to split;" Greek aspalon "skin, hide," spolas "flayed skin;" Lithuanian spaliai "shives of flax;" Old Church Slavonic rasplatiti "to cleave, split;" Middle Low German spalden, Old High German spaltan "to split;" Sanskrit sphatayati "splits").
Sense of "let (liquid) fall or run out" developed mid-14c. from use of the word in reference to shedding blood (early 14c.). Intransitive sense "to run out and become wasted" is from 1650s. Spill the beans recorded by 1910 in a sense of "spoil the situation;" 1919 as "reveal a secret." To cry for spilt milk (usually with negative) is attested from 1738. Related: Spilled; spilt; spilling.
- spill (n.)
- 1845, originally "a throw or fall from a horse," from spill (v.). Meaning "the spilling of a liquid, amount of spilled stuff" is from 1848.
- spillage (n.)
- 1838, from spill (v.) + -age. Shakespeare used spilth "that which has spilled, act of spilling" ("Timon," 1607), which was picked up by Browning, etc.
- spillover (n.)
- 1940, from verbal phrase, from spill (v.) + over (adv.). From 1953 as an adjective.
- spillway (n.)
- 1889, from spill + way (n.).
- spilth (n.)
- "that which is spilled," c.1600, from spill (v.) + -th (2). Used, once, by Shakespeare.
- spin (v.)
- Old English spinnan (transitive) "draw out and twist fibers into thread," strong verb (past tense spann, past participle spunnen), from Proto-Germanic *spenwan (cognates: Old Norse and Old Frisian spinna, Danish spinde, Dutch spinnen, Old High German spinnan, German spinnen, Gothic spinnan), from PIE *spen-wo-, from root *(s)pen- "to draw, stretch, spin" (cognates: Armenian henum "I weave;" Greek patos "garment," literally "that which is spun;" Lithuanian pinu "I plait, braid," spandau "I spin;" Middle Welsh cy-ffiniden "spider;" see span (v.)).
Intransitive senses of "to form threads from fibrous stuff; to twist, writhe" developed in late Old English. Transitive sense of "cause to turn rapidly" is from 1610s; intransitive meaning "revolve, turn around rapidly" first recorded 1660s. Meaning "attempt to influence reporters' minds after an event has taken place but before they have written about it" seems to have risen to popularity in the 1984 U.S. presidential campaign; as in spin doctor, first attested 1984.
- spin (n.)
- 1831, "a rapid revolving motion," from spin (v.). Meaning "fairly rapid ride" is from 1856. Sense of "a twisting delivery in throwing or striking a ball" is from 1851. Sense in physics is from 1926. Meaning "act of playing a phonograph record" is from 1977. Meaning "influence imparted by a media source" is from 1984.
- spinach (n.)
- c.1400 (late 13c. as a surname), from Anglo-French spinache, Old French espinache (14c., Modern French épinard, from a form with a different suffix), from Old Provençal espinarc, which perhaps is via Catalan espinac, from Andalusian Arabic isbinakh, from Arabic isbanakh, from Persian aspanakh "spinach." But OED is not convinced the Middle Eastern words are native, and based on the plethora of Romanic forms pronounces the origin "doubtful."
Popeye, the spinach-eating superman, debuted in 1929. Old folk etymology connected the word with Latin spina (see spine) or with Medieval Latin Hispanicum olus. For pronunciation, see cabbage. In 1930s colloquial American English, it had a sense of "nonsense, rubbish," based on a famous "New Yorker" cartoon of Dec. 8, 1928. Related: spinaceous.
- spinal (adj.)
- 1570s, from Late Latin spinalis "of or pertaining to a thorn or the spine," from Latin spina (see spine). Spinal tap recorded from 1960.
- spindle (n.)
- early 13c., with intrusive -d-, from Old English spinel "small wooden bar used in hand-spinning," properly "an instrument for spinning," from stem of spinnan (see spin (v.)) + instrumental suffix -el (1). Compare handle, thimble, etc.
Related to Old Saxon spinnila, Old Frisian spindel, Old High German spinnila, German Spindel. As a type of something slender, it is attested from 1570s. As with distaff, sometimes formerly used as a metonym for "the female sex," as in Old English spinelhealf "female line of descent," distinguished from sperehealf "male line of descent."
- spindly (adj.)
- 1650s, from spindle + -y (2). Related: Spindliness.
- spindrift (n.)
- spray of salt water blown along the surf of the sea in heavy winds, c.1600, Scottish formation from verb spene, alteration of spoon "to sail before the wind" (1570s, of uncertain origin) + drift (n.). "Common in English writers from c 1880, probably at first under the influence of W. Black's novels" [OED].
- spine (n.)
- c.1400, "backbone," later "thornlike part" (early 15c.), from Old French espine "thorn, prickle; backbone, spine" (12c., Modern French épine), from Latin spina "backbone," originally "thorn, prickle" (figuratively, in plural, "difficulties, perplexities"), from PIE *spe-ina-, from root *spei- "sharp point" (see spike (n.1)). Meaning "the back of a book" is first attested 1922.
- spine-chiller (n.)
- "mystery film," 1940, from spine + agent noun from chill (v.). Spine-tingler in same sense is from 1942.
- spineless (adj.)
- 1827 of animals (1805 of plants), from spine + -less. Meaning "lacking moral force" is from 1885. Related: Spinelessly; spinelessness.
- spinet (n.)
- 1660s, spinette, "small harpsichord," from Middle French espinette (16c., Modern French épinette), from Italian spinetta, said by Scaliger to be a diminutive of spina "thorn, spine," from Latin spina "thorn" (see spine), so called because the strings were plucked with thorn-like quills [Barnhart]. The other theory (favored by Klein and assigned "greater probability" by OED) dates to early 17c. and claims the word is from the name of the Venetian inventor, Giovanni Spinetti (fl. c.1503). As "small, upright piano" from 1936.
- spinnaker (n.)
- "large triangular sail," 1866, either a derivative of spin in the sense of "go rapidly" or a corrupt pronunciation of Sphinx, which was the name of the first yacht known to carry this type of sail.
- spinner (n.)
- early 13c., "spider," agent noun from spin (v.). Meaning "person who spins textile thread" is from late 14c.
- spinneret (n.)
- "silk-spinning organ of a silkworm or spider," coined 1826, diminutive of spinner with -et.
- spinney (n.)
- "copse, thicket," 1590s, from Old French espinoi "briar-patch, place full of thorns and brambles" (13c., Modern French épinaie), from espine or from Latin spinetum "thorn hedge, thicket" (see spine).
- spinning (n.)
- late 13c., verbal noun from spin (v.). Spinning wheel attested from c.1400. Spinning-jenny is from 1783 (see jenny); invented by James Hargreaves c.1764-7, patented 1770.
- spinoff (n.)
- also spin-off, 1951 of corporate entities; by 1967 of television shows, from spin + off. As a figurative verbal phrase, by 1957. As an adjective, from 1966.
- spinster (n.)
- mid-14c., "female spinner of thread," from Middle English spinnen (see spin) + -stere, feminine suffix (see -ster). Unmarried women were supposed to occupy themselves with spinning, hence the word came to be "the legal designation in England of all unmarried women from a viscount's daughter downward" [Century Dictionary] in documents from 1600s to early 1900s, and by 1719 the word was being used generically for "woman still unmarried and beyond the usual age for it."
Spinster, a terme, or an addition in our Common Law, onely added in Obligations, Euidences, and Writings, vnto maids vnmarried. [John Minsheu, "Ductor in Linguas," 1617]
Strictly in reference to those who spin, spinster also was used of both sexes (compare webster, baxter, brewster) and so a double-feminine form emerged, spinstress "a female spinner" (1640s), which by 1716 also was being used for "maiden lady." Related: Spinsterhood.
- spiny (adj.)
- 1580s, from spine + -y (2). Related: Spininess.
- spiracle (n.)
- "air hole," 1610s, from Latin spiraculum "breathing hole," from spirare "to breathe" (see spirit (n.)). Related: Spiracular.
- spiral (adj.)
- 1550s, from Middle French spiral (16c.), from Medieval Latin spiralis "winding around a fixed center, coiling" (mid-13c.), from Latin spira "a coil, fold, twist, spiral," from Greek speira "a winding, a coil, twist, wreath, anything wound or coiled," from PIE *sper-ya-, from base *sper- (2) "to turn, twist." Related: Spirally. Spiral galaxy first attested 1913.
- spiral (v.)
- 1726 (implied in spiraled), transitive, from spiral (n.). Intransitive use by 1834. Transferred and figurative sense by 1922. Related: Spiraling.
- spiral (n.)
- 1650s, from spiral (adj.). U.S. football sense is from 1896. Figurative sense of "progressive movement in one direction" is by 1897. Of books, spiral-bound (adj.) is from 1937.
- spirant (n.)
- breathy consonant, 1862, from Latin spirantem (nominative spirans) "breathing," present participle of spirare "to breathe, blow" (see spirit (n.)).
- spire (n.)
- Old English spir "a sprout, shoot, spike, blade, tapering stalk of grass," from Proto-Germanic *spiraz (cognates: Old Norse spira "a stalk, slender tree," Dutch spier "shoot, blade of grass," Middle Low German spir "a small point or top"), from PIE *spei- "sharp point" (see spike (n.1)). Meaning "tapering top of a tower or steeple" first recorded 1590s (a sense attested in Middle Low German since late 14c. and also found in the Scandinavian cognates).
- spire (v.)
- early 14c., "send up shoots," from spire (n.). Related: Spired; spiring.
- spirillum (n.)
- (plural spirilla), 1875, Modern Latin, diminutive of Latin spira (see spiral (adj.)). So called for their structure.
- spirit (n.)
- mid-13c., "animating or vital principle in man and animals," from Anglo-French spirit, Old French espirit "spirit, soul" (12c., Modern French esprit) and directly from Latin spiritus "a breathing (respiration, and of the wind), breath; breath of a god," hence "inspiration; breath of life," hence "life;" also "disposition, character; high spirit, vigor, courage; pride, arrogance," related to spirare "to breathe," from PIE *(s)peis- "to blow" (cognates: Old Church Slavonic pisto "to play on the flute").
Meaning "supernatural immaterial creature; angel, demon; an apparition, invisible corporeal being of an airy nature" is attested from mid-14c.; from late 14c. as "a ghost" (see ghost (n.)). From c.1500 as "a nature, character"; sense of "essential principle of something" (in a non-theological context, as in Spirit of St. Louis) is attested from 1680s, common after 1800; Spirit of '76 in reference to the qualities that sparked and sustained the American Revolution is attested by 1797 in William Cobbett's "Porcupine's Gazette and Daily Advertiser."
From late 14c. in alchemy as "volatile substance; distillate;" from c.1500 as "substance capable of uniting the fixed and the volatile elements of the philosopher's stone." Hence spirits "volatile substance;" sense narrowed to "strong alcoholic liquor" by 1670s. This also is the sense in spirit level (1768). Also from mid-14c. as "character, disposition; way of thinking and feeling, state of mind; source of a human desire;" in Middle English freedom of spirit meant "freedom of choice." From late 14c. as "divine substance, divine mind, God;" also "Christ" or His divine nature; "the Holy Ghost; divine power;" also, "extension of divine power to man; inspiration, a charismatic state; charismatic power, especially of prophecy." Also "essential nature, essential quality." From 1580s in metaphoric sense "animation, vitality."
According to Barnhart and OED, originally in English mainly from passages in Vulgate, where the Latin word translates Greek pneuma and Hebrew ruah. Distinction between "soul" and "spirit" (as "seat of emotions") became current in Christian terminology (such as Greek psykhe vs. pneuma, Latin anima vs. spiritus) but "is without significance for earlier periods" [Buck]. Latin spiritus, usually in classical Latin "breath," replaces animus in the sense "spirit" in the imperial period and appears in Christian writings as the usual equivalent of Greek pneuma. Spirit-rapping is from 1852.
- spirit (v.)
- 1590s, "to make more active or energetic" (of blood, alcohol, etc.), from spirit (n.). The meaning "carry off or away secretly" (as though by supernatural agency) is first recorded 1660s. Related: Spirited; spiriting.