- weasel (n.)
- Old English weosule, wesle "weasel," from Proto-Germanic *wisulon (source also of Old Norse visla, Middle Dutch wesel, Dutch wezel, Old High German wisula, German Wiesel), probably related to Proto-Germanic *wisand- "bison" (see bison), with a base sense of "stinking animal," because both animals have a foul, musky smell (compare Latin vissio "stench"). A John Wesilheued ("John Weaselhead") turns up on the Lincolnshire Assize Rolls for 1384, but the name seems not to have endured, for some reason. Related: Weaselly.
- weasel (v.)
- "to deprive (a word or phrase) of its meaning," 1900, from weasel (n.); so used because the weasel sucks out the contents of eggs, leaving the shell intact. Both this and weasel-word are first attested in "The Stained-Glass Political Platform," a short story by Stewart Chaplin, first printed in "Century Magazine," June 1900:
"Why, weasel words are words that suck all the life out of the words next to them, just as a weasel sucks an egg and leaves the shell. If you heft the egg afterward it's as light as a feather, and not very filling when you're hungry; but a basketful of them would make quite a show, and would bamboozle the unwary."
They were picked up at once in American political slang. The sense of "extricate oneself (from a difficult place) like a weasel" is first recorded 1925; that of "to evade and equivocate" is from 1956. Related: Weasled; weasling.
- weather (v.)
- "come through safely," 1650s, from weather (n.). The notion is of a ship riding out a storm. Sense of "wear away by exposure" is from 1757. Related: Weathered; weathering. Old English verb wederian meant "exhibit a change of weather."
- weather (n.)
- Old English weder "air, sky; breeze, storm, tempest," from Proto-Germanic *wedram "wind, weather" (source also of Old Saxon wedar, Old Norse veðr, Old Frisian, Middle Dutch, Dutch weder, Old High German wetar, German Wetter "storm, wind, weather"), from PIE *we-dhro-, "weather" (source also of Lithuanian vetra "storm," Old Church Slavonic vedro "good weather"), from root *we- "to blow" (see wind (n.1)). Alteration of -d- to -th- begins late 15c., though such pronunciation may be older (see father (n.)).
In nautical use, as an adjective, "toward the wind" (opposed to lee). Greek had words for "good weather" (aithria, eudia) and words for "storm" and "winter," but no generic word for "weather" until kairos (literally "time") began to be used as such in Byzantine times. Latin tempestas "weather" (see tempest) also originally meant "time;" and words for "time" also came to mean weather in Irish (aimsir), Serbo-Croatian (vrijeme), Polish (czas), etc. Weather-report is from 1863. Weather-breeder "fine, serene day which precedes and seems to prepare a storm" is from 1650s.
Surnames Fairweather, Merriweather probably reflect disposition; medieval lists and rolls also include Foulweder, Wetweder, Strangweder.
- weather-beaten (adj.)
- 1520s, from weather (n.) + beaten.
- weather-cast (n.)
- also weathercast, 1866, from weather (n.) + ending from forecast (n.).
- weather-vane (n.)
- also weathervane, mid-15c., wederfane; see weather (n.) + vane. Weathercock also is mid-15c. (wedurkoke).
- weatherize (v.)
- 1946, from weather (n.) + -ize. Related: Weatherized; weatherizing.
- weatherman (n.)
- "one who observes the weather," 1869, from weather (n.) + man (n.). Weather-prophet is from 1784 as "barometer;" 1827 as "person who predicts the weather."
Clerk of the Weather, I deplore
That all thy greatness is no more,
As should a gentle bard;
That Nature, or that Nature's law
When you politely called for thaw,
Gave frost was rather hard.
[from "Consolatory Address to Mr. Murphy, the Weather Prophet," Colburn's New Monthly Magazine, 1838]
- weave (v.1)
- Old English wefan "to weave, form by interlacing yarn," figuratively "devise, contrive, arrange" (class V strong verb; past tense wæf, past participle wefen), from Proto-Germanic *weban (source also of Old Norse vefa, Middle Low German, Middle Dutch, Dutch weven, Old High German weban, German weben "to weave"), from PIE *webh- "to weave;" also "to move quickly" (source also of Sanskrit ubhnati "he laces together," Persian baftan "to weave," Greek hyphe, hyphos "web," Old English webb "web").
The form of the past tense altered in Middle English from wave to wove. Extended sense of "combine into a whole" is from late 14c.; meaning "go by twisting and turning" is from 1640s. Related: Wove; woven; weaving.
- weave (n.)
- 1580s, "something woven," from weave (v.). Meaning "method or pattern of weaving" is from 1888.
- weave (v.2)
- c. 1200, "to move from one place to another," of uncertain origin, perhaps from weave (v.1). From early 14c. as "move to and fro;" 1590s as "move side to side." Use in boxing is from 1818. Related: Weaved; weaving.
- weaver (n.)
- mid-14c. (mid-13c. as a surname), agent noun from weave (v.). The weaver-bird (1826) so called from the ingenuity of its nests.
- web (n.)
- Old English webb "woven fabric, woven work, tapestry," from Proto-Germanic *wabjam "fabric, web" (source also of Old Saxon webbi, Old Norse vefr, Dutch webbe, Old High German weppi, German gewebe "web"), from PIE *webh- "to weave" (see weave (v.)).
Meaning "spider's web" is first recorded early 13c. Applied to the membranes between the toes of ducks and other aquatic birds from 1570s. Internet sense is from 1992, shortened from World Wide Web (1990). Web browser, web page both also attested 1990.
- webbed (adj.)
- 1660s, from web.
- surname attested from 1255; literally "weaver" (see web).
- weblog (n.)
- by 1994; see blog.
- webmaster (n.)
- 1993, from web in the internet sense + master (n.).
- website (n.)
- also web site, 1994, from web in the internet sense + site.
- webster (n.)
- "a weaver," Old English webbestre "a female weaver," from web (q.v.) + fem. suffix -ster. Noah Webster's dictionary first published 1828.
- wed (v.)
- Old English weddian "to pledge oneself, covenant to do something, vow; betroth, marry," also "unite (two other people) in a marriage, conduct the marriage ceremony," from Proto-Germanic *wadi- (source also of Old Norse veðja, Danish vedde "to bet, wager," Old Frisian weddia "to promise," Gothic ga-wadjon "to betroth"), from PIE root *wadh- (1) "to pledge, to redeem a pledge" (source also of Latin vas, genitive vadis "bail, security," Lithuanian vaduoti "to redeem a pledge").
The sense has remained closer to "pledge" in other Germanic languages (such as German Wette "a bet, wager"); development to "marry" is unique to English. "Originally 'make a woman one's wife by giving a pledge or earnest money', then used of either party" [Buck]. Passively, of two people, "to be joined as husband and wife," from c. 1200. Related: Wedded; wedding.
- wedding (n.)
- Old English weddung "state of being wed; pledge, betrothal; action of marrying," verbal noun from wed (v.). Meaning "nuptials, ceremony of marriage" is recorded from early 13c.; the usual Old English word for the ceremony was bridelope, literally "bridal run," in reference to conducting the bride to her new home. Wedding ring is from late 14c.; wedding cake is recorded from 1640s, as a style of architecture from 1879. Wedding-dress attested from 1779; wedding-reception from 1856.
- wedge (n.)
- Old English wecg "a wedge," from Proto-Germanic *wagjaz (source also of Old Norse veggr, Middle Dutch wegge, Dutch wig, Old High German weggi "wedge," dialectal German Weck "wedge-shaped bread roll"), of uncertain origin; perhaps related to Latin vomer "plowshare." From 1610s in reference to other things shaped like a wedge. Of women's shoes or shoe-heels, from 1939. Wedge issue is attested from 1999.
- wedge (v.)
- early 15c., "jam in place with a wedge; tighten with a wedge," from wedge (n.). Figurative sense "drive or pack (into)" is from 1720. Meaning "split (something) apart with a wedge" attested by 1853. Related: Wedged; wedging.
- wedgie (n.)
- 1940, "wedge-heeled shoe," from wedge (n.) + -ie. The underwear prank so called by 1970s, from the effect it gives the victim.
- wedgwood (n.)
- type of English pottery, 1787, from Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795), English potter.
- wedlock (n.)
- Old English wedlac "pledge-giving, marriage vow," from wed + -lac, noun suffix meaning "actions or proceedings, practice," attested in about a dozen Old English compounds (feohtlac "warfare"), but this is the only surviving example. Suffix altered by folk etymology through association with lock (n.1). Meaning "condition of being married" is recorded from early 13c.
- Wednesday (n.)
- fourth day of the week, Old English wodnesdæg "Woden's day," a Germanic loan-translation of Latin dies Mercurii "day of Mercury" (compare Old Norse Oðinsdagr, Swedish Onsdag, Old Frisian Wonsdei, Middle Dutch Wudensdach). For Woden, see Odin.
Contracted pronunciation is recorded from 15c. The Odin-based name is missing in German (mittwoch, from Old High German mittwocha, literally "mid-week"), probably by influence of Gothic, which seems to have adopted a pure ecclesiastical (i.e. non-astrological) week from Greek missionaries. The Gothic model also seems to be the source of Polish środa, Russian sreda "Wednesday," literally "middle."
- wee (adj.)
- "extremely small," mid-15c., from earlier noun use in sense of "quantity, amount" (such as a littel wei "a little thing or amount," c. 1300), from Old English wæge "weight, unit of weight," from Proto-Germanic *wego, from PIE root *wegh- "to go, move, transport in a vehicle." The original sense was of motion, which led to that of lifting, then to that of "measure the weight of" (compare weigh, from the same source).
Adjectival use wee bit apparently developed as parallel to such forms as a bit thing "a little thing." Wee hours "hours after midnight" is attested by 1891, from Scottish phrase wee sma' hours (1819); so called for their low numbers. Wee folk "faeries" is recorded from 1819. Weeny "tiny, small" is from 1790.
- weed (n.)
- "plant not valued for use or beauty," Old English weod, uueod "grass, herb, weed," from Proto-Germanic *weud- (source also of Old Saxon wiod, East Frisian wiud), of unknown origin. Also applied to trees that grow abundantly. Meaning "tobacco" is from c. 1600; that of "marijuana" is from 1920s. The chemical weed-killer is attested by 1885.
- weed (v.)
- "to clear the ground of weeds," late Old English weodian "to weed," from the source of weed (n.). Figurative use by c. 1400. Related: Weeded; weeding; weeder.
- weeds (n.)
- "garments" (now surviving, if at all, in widow's weeds), plural of archaic weed, from Old English wæd, wæde "robe, dress, apparel, garment, clothing," from Proto-Germanic *wedo (source also of Old Saxon wadi, Old Frisian wede "garment," Old Norse vað "cloth, texture," Old High German wat "garment"), probably from PIE *wedh-, extended form of root *au- (3) "to weave." Archaic since early 19c.
- weedy (adj.)
- early 15c., from weed + -y (2). In old slang, in reference to horses, "not of good blood or strength, scraggy, worthless for breeding or racing," from 1800; hence, of persons, "thin and weakly" (1852).
- week (n.)
- Old English wucu, wice, etc., from Proto-Germanic *wikon (source also of Old Norse vika, Old Frisian wike, Middle Dutch weke, Old High German wecha, German woche), probably originally with the sense of "a turning" or "succession" (compare Gothic wikon "in the course of," Old Norse vika "sea-mile," originally "change of oar," Old English wican "yield, give way"), from PIE root *weik- (4) "to bend, wind" (see vicarious). The vowel sound seems to have been uncertain in Old and Middle English and -e-, -i-, -o-, -u-, -y-, and various diphthongs are attested for it.
"Meaning primarily 'change, alteration,' the word may once have denoted some earlier time division, such as the 'change of moon, half month,' ... but there is no positive evidence of this" [Buck]. No evidence of a native Germanic week before contact with the Romans. The seven-day week is ancient, probably originating from the 28-day lunar cycle, divisible into four periods of seven day, at the end of each of which the moon enters a new phase. Reinforced during the spread of Christianity by the ancient Jewish seven-day week.
As a Roman astrological convention it was borrowed by other European peoples; the Germanic tribes substituting their own deities for those of the Romans, without regard to planets. The Coligny calendar suggests a Celtic division of the month into halves; the regular Greek division of the month was into three decades; and the Romans also had a market week of nine days.
Greek planetary names [for the days of the week] ... are attested for the early centuries of our era, but their use was apparently restricted to certain circles; at any rate they never became popular. In Rome, on the other hand, the planetary names became the established popular terms, too strongly intrenched to be displaced by the eccl[esiastical] names, and spreading through most of western Europe. [Carl Darling Buck, "A Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages," 1949]
Phrase a week, as in eight days a week recorded by 1540s; see a- (1).
- weekday (n.)
- Old English wicudæge, wucudæge "day of the week" (similar formation in Old High German wehhatag, Old Norse vikudagr). See week + day. In Middle English, any day other than Sunday.
- weekend (n.)
- also week-end, 1630s, from week + end (n.). Originally a northern word (referring to the period from Saturday noon to Monday morning); it became general after 1878. As an adjective, "only on weekends," it is recorded from 1935. Long weekend attested from 1900; in reference to Great Britain in the period between the world wars, 1944.
- mid-15c. (adv.); late 15c. (adj.), from week + -ly (2). As a noun meaning "weekly newspaper" it is recorded from 1833.
- weel (n.)
- "deep pool," Old English wæl "whirlpool, eddy; pool; sea," cognate with West Frisian wiel, Old Low Frankish wal, Middle Dutch wael, German wehl, wehle.
- ween (v.)
- "be of the opinion, have the notion" (archaic), Old English wenan "to fancy, imagine, believe; expect, hope," from Proto-Germanic *wenjan "to hope" (source also of Old Saxon wanian, Old Norse væna, Old Frisian wena, Old High German wanen, German wähnen, Gothic wenjan "to expect, suppose, think"), from *woeniz "expectation," from PIE root *wen- (1) "to wish, desire, strive for" (see Venus). Archaic since 17c.
- weenie (n.)
- "frankfurter," 1906, with slang sense of "penis" following soon after, from German wienerwurst "Vienna sausage" (see wiener). Meaning "ineffectual person, effeminate young man" is slang from 1963; pejorative sense via penis shape, or perhaps from weenie in the sense of "small" (see wee).
- weep (v.)
- Old English wepan "shed tears, cry; bewail, mourn over; complain" (class VII strong verb; past tense weop, past participle wopen), from Proto-Germanic *wopjan (source also of Old Norse op, Old High German wuof "shout, shouting, crying," Old Saxon wopian, Gothic wopjan "to shout, cry out, weep"), from PIE *wab- "to cry, scream" (source also of Latin vapulare "to be flogged;" Old Church Slavonic vupiti "to call," vypu "gull"). Of water naturally forming on stones, walls, etc., from c. 1400. Related: Wept; weeping; weeper.
- weeping (adj.)
- late Old English, present participle adjective from weep (v.). Used of various trees whose branches arch downward and suggest drooping, such as weeping elm (c. 1600); weeping cherry (1824). Weeping willow (French saule pleureur, German trauerweide) is recorded from 1731. The tree is native to Asia; the first brought to England were imported 1748, from the Euphrates. It replaced the cypress as a funerary emblem.
- weepy (adj.)
- 1825, from weep + -y (2). Related: Weepily; weepiness. Weepie (n.) "sentimental film" is from 1928.
- weet (v.)
- "to know" (archaic), 1540s, from Middle English weten, variant of witen "to know" (see wit (v.)).
- weevil (n.)
- Old English wifel "small beetle," from Proto-Germanic *webilaz (source also of Old Saxon wibil, Old High German wibil, German Wiebel "beetle, chafer," Old Norse tordyfill "dung beetle"), cognate with Lithuanian vabalas "beetle," from PIE root *webh- "to weave," also "to move quickly" (see weave (v.)). The sense gradually narrowed by 15c. to a particular kind of beetle that, in larval or adult stages, bores into plants, often destroying them.
- weft (n.)
- "threads which run across the web from side to side," Old English weft, wefta "weft," related to wefan "to weave," from Proto-Germanic *weftaz (see weave (v.)).
- wegotism (n.)
- 1797, from we + egotism; "an obtrusive and too frequent use of the first person plural by a speaker or writer" [OED].
- Wehrmacht (n.)
- "the armed forces of Germany," 1935, from German Wehrmacht (name of the armed forces 1921-1945), from Wehr "defense" (from PIE root *wer- (5) "to cover") + Macht "might" (see might (n.)).
- Weigela (n.)
- shrub genus, 1846, from the name of German physician and botanist C.E. Weigel (1748-1831).
- weigh (v.)
- Old English wegan (class V strong verb, past tense wæg, past participle wægon) "find the weight of, measure; have weight; lift, carry, support, sustain, bear; move," from Proto-Germanic *wegan (source also of Old Saxon wegan, Old Frisian wega, Dutch wegen "to weigh;" Old Norse vega, Old High German wegan "to move, carry, weigh;" German wiegen "to weigh," bewegen "to move, stir"), from PIE root *wegh- "to go, move, transport in a vehicle."
The original sense was of motion, which led to that of lifting, then to that of "measure the weight of." The older sense of "lift, carry" survives in the nautical phrase weigh anchor. Figurative sense of "to consider, ponder" (in reference to words, etc.) is recorded from mid-14c. To weigh in in the literal sense is from 1868, originally of jockeys; figurative meaning "bring one's influence to bear" is from 1909.