Etymology
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wife (n.)
Origin and meaning of wife

Middle English wif, wyf, from Old English wif (neuter) "woman, female, lady," also, but not especially, "wife," from Proto-Germanic *wīfa- (source also of Old Saxon, Old Frisian wif, Old Norse vif, Danish and Swedish viv, Middle Dutch, Dutch wijf, Old High German wib, German Weib), of uncertain origin and disputed etymology, not found in Gothic.

Apparently felt as inadequate in its basic sense, leading to the more distinctive formation wifman (source of woman). Dutch wijf now means, in slang, "girl, babe," having softened somewhat from earlier sense of "bitch." The Modern German cognate (Weib) also tends to be slighting or derogatory; Middle High German wip in early medieval times was "woman, female person," vrouwe (Frau) being retained for "woman of gentle birth, lady;" but from c. 1200 wip "took on a common, almost vulgar tone that restricted its usage in certain circles" and largely has been displaced by Frau.

The more usual Indo-European word is represented in English by queen/quean. Words for "woman" also double for "wife" in some languages. Some proposed PIE roots for wife include *weip- "to twist, turn, wrap," perhaps with sense of "veiled person" (see vibrate); and more recently *ghwibh-, a proposed root meaning "shame," also "pudenda," but the only examples of it would be the Germanic words and Tocharian (a lost IE language of central Asia) kwipe, kip "female pudenda."

The modern sense of "female spouse" began as a specialized sense in Old English; the general sense of "woman" is preserved in midwife, old wives' tale, etc. Middle English sense of "mistress of a household" survives in housewife; and the later restricted sense of "tradeswoman of humble rank" in fishwife. By 1883 as "passive partner in a homosexual couple." Wife-swapping is attested from 1954.

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Saxon (n.)

c. 1200, Sexun, Saxun, "member of a people or tribe formerly living in northern Germania who invaded and settled in Britain 5c.-6c.," from Late Latin Saxonem (nominative Saxo; also source of Old French saisoigne, French Saxon, Spanish Sajon, Italian Sassone), usually found in plural Saxones, probably from a West Germanic tribal name (represented by Old English Seaxe, Old High German Sahsun, German Sachse "Saxon").

This is traditionally regarded as meaning "warrior with knives" (compare Middle English sax, Old English seax, Old Frisian, Old Norse sax "knife, short sword, dagger," Old High German Saxnot, name of a war-god), from Proto-Germanic *sahsa- "knife," from PIE root *sek- "to cut." But Watkins considers this doubtful.

The word figures in the oft-told tale, related by Geoffrey of Monmouth, who got it from Nennius, of the treacherous slaughter by the Anglo-Saxons of their British hosts:

Accordingly they all met at the time and place appointed, and began to treat of peace; and when a fit opportunity offered for executing his villany, Hengist cried out, "Nemet oure Saxas," and the same instant seized Vortigern, and held him by his cloak. The Saxons, upon the signal given, drew their daggers, and falling upon the princes, who little suspected any such design, assassinated them to the number of four hundred and sixty barons and consuls ....

The OED editors helpfully point out that the murderous shout in correct Old English (with an uninflected plural) would be nimað eowre seax. For other Germanic national names that may have derived from characteristic tribal weapons, see Frank, Lombard. Celtic languages used their form of the word to mean "an Englishman, one of the English race" or English-speaking person in Celtic lands (for example Welsh Sais, plural Seison "an Englishman;" Seisoneg "English;" compare Sassenach).

As an adjective from late 14c. (earlier was Saxish, c. 1200); in reference to the later German state of Saxony (German Sachsen, French Saxe) in central Germany it is attested by mid-14c. Bede distinguished the Anglo-Saxons, who conquered much of southern Britain, from the Ealdesaxe "Old Saxons," who stayed in Germany.

Saxon is the source of the -sex in Essex, Sussex, etc. (compare Middlesex, from Old English Middel-Seaxe "Middle Saxons").

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fairy (n.)

c. 1300, fairie, "the country or home of supernatural or legendary creatures; fairyland," also "something incredible or fictitious," from Old French faerie "land of fairies, meeting of fairies; enchantment, magic, witchcraft, sorcery" (12c.), from fae "fay," from Latin fata "the Fates," plural of fatum "that which is ordained; destiny, fate," from PIE root *bha- (2) "to speak, tell, say." Also compare fate (n.), also fay.

In ordinary use an elf differs from a fairy only in generally seeming young, and being more often mischievous. [Century Dictionary]

But that was before Tolkien. As a type of supernatural being from late 14c. [contra Tolkien; for example "This maketh that ther been no fairyes" in "Wife of Bath's Tale"], perhaps via intermediate forms such as fairie knight "supernatural or legendary knight" (c. 1300), as in Spenser, where faeries are heroic and human-sized. As a name for the diminutive winged beings in children's stories from early 17c.

Yet I suspect that this flower-and-butterfly minuteness was also a product of "rationalization," which transformed the glamour of Elfland into mere finesse, and invisibility into a fragility that could hide in a cowslip or shrink behind a blade of grass. It seems to become fashionable soon after the great voyages had begun to make the world seem too narrow to hold both men and elves; when the magic land of Hy Breasail in the West had become the mere Brazils, the land of red-dye-wood. [J.R.R. Tolkien, "On Fairy-Stories," 1947]

Hence, figurative adjective use in reference to lightness, fineness, delicacy. Slang meaning "effeminate male homosexual" is recorded by 1895. Fairy ring, of certain fungi in grass fields (as we would explain it now), is from 1590s. Fairy godmother attested from 1820. Fossil Cretaceous sea urchins found on the English downlands were called fairy loaves, and a book from 1787 reports that "country people" in England called the stones of the old Roman roads fairy pavements.

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dildo (n.)

"artificial penis used for female gratification," 1590s, a word of unknown origin. Traditional guesses include a corruption of Italian deletto "delight" (from Latin dilectio, noun of action from diligere "to esteem highly, to love;" see diligence) or a corruption of English diddle. None of these seems very convincing (Florio's dictionary glosses many words with dildo, but diletto is not one of them.) Century Dictionary perhaps gets closer to the mark:

A term of obscure cant or slang origin, used in old ballads and plays as a mere refrain or nonsense-word; also used, from its vagueness, as a substitute for various obscene terms and in various obscene meanings. [1895]

The earliest use of the word in this sense, and probably the start of its popularity, seems to be via Nashe:

"Curse Eunuke dilldo, senceless counterfet" ["Choise of Valentines or the Merie Ballad of Nash his Dildo," T. Nashe, c. 1593]

Other early forms include dildoides (1675), dildidoes (1607). Middle English had dillidoun (n.) "a darling, a pet" (mid-15c.), from Old Norse dilla "to lull" (hence dillindo "lullaby"). That sense probably survived into Elizabethan times, if it is the word in Jonson's "Cynthia's Revels":

Chorus: Good Mercury defend vs.
Phan.: From perfum'd Dogs, Monkeys, Sparrowes, Dildos, and Parachitos.

And dildin seems to be a term for "sweetheart" in a 1675 play:

Mir.: Here comes a lusty Wooer, my dildin, my darling.
Here comes a lusty Wooer Lady bright and shining.

The thing itself is older. A classical Latin word for one was fascinum (see fascinate). In later English sometimes a French word, godemiché, was used (1879). Also used in 18c. of things that resemble dildoes, e.g. dildo pear (1756), dildo cactus (1792). 

Shakespeare plays on the double sense, sexual toy and ballad refrain, in "A Winter's Tale."

SERVANT: He hath songs for man or woman, of all sizes; no
milliner can so fit his customers with gloves: he
has the prettiest love-songs for maids; so without
bawdry, which is strange; with such delicate
burthens of dildos and fadings, 'jump her and thump
her;' and where some stretch-mouthed rascal would,
as it were, mean mischief and break a foul gap into
the matter, he makes the maid to answer 'Whoop, do me
no harm, good man;' puts him off, slights him, with
'Whoop, do me no harm, good man.'
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cunt (n.)

"female intercrural foramen," or, as some 18c. writers refer to it, "the monosyllable," Middle English cunte "female genitalia," by early 14c. (in Hendyng's "Proverbs" — ʒeve þi cunte to cunni[n]g, And crave affetir wedding), akin to Old Norse kunta, Old Frisian, Middle Dutch, and Middle Low German kunte, from Proto-Germanic *kunton, which is of uncertain origin. Some suggest a link with Latin cuneus "wedge" (which is of unknown origin), others to PIE root *geu- "hollow place," still others to PIE root *gwen- "woman."

The form is similar to Latin cunnus "female pudenda" (also, vulgarly, "a woman"), which is likewise of disputed origin, perhaps literally "gash, slit" (from PIE *sker- "to cut") or "sheath" (Watkins, from PIE *(s)keu- "to conceal, hide"). De Vaan rejects this, however, and traces it to "a root *kut-meaning 'bag', 'scrotum', and metaphorically also 'female pudenda,' " source also of Greek kysthos "vagina; buttocks; pouch, small bag" (but Beekes suspects this is a Pre-Greek word), Lithuanian kutys "(money) bag," Old High German hodo "testicles."

Hec vulva: a cunt. Hic cunnus: idem est. [from Londesborough Illustrated Nominale, c. 1500, in "Anglo-Saxon and Old English Vocabularies," eds. Wright and Wülcker, vol. 1, 1884]

First known reference in English apparently is in a compound, Oxford street name Gropecuntlane cited from c. 1230 (and attested through late 14c.) in "Place-Names of Oxfordshire" (Gelling & Stenton, 1953), presumably a haunt of prostitutes. Used in medical writing c. 1400, but avoided in public speech since 15c.; considered obscene since 17c.

in Middle English also conte, counte, and sometimes queinte, queynte (for this, see Q). Chaucer used quaint and queynte in "Canterbury Tales" (late 14c.), and Andrew Marvell might be punning on quaint in "To His Coy Mistress" (1650).

"What eyleth yow to grucche thus and grone? Is it for ye wolde haue my queynte allone?" [Wife of Bath's Tale]

Under "MONOSYLLABLE" Farmer lists 552 synonyms from English slang and literature before launching into another 5 pages of them in French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. [A sampling: Botany Bay, chum, coffee-shop, cookie, End of the Sentimental Journey, fancy bit, Fumbler's Hall, funniment, goatmilker, heaven, hell, Itching Jenny, jelly-bag, Low Countries, nature's tufted treasure, penwiper, prick-skinner, seminary, tickle-toby, undeniable, wonderful lamp, and aphrodisaical tennis court, and, in a separate listing, Naggie.] Dutch cognate de kont means "a bottom, an arse," but Dutch also has attractive poetic slang ways of expressing this part, such as liefdesgrot, literally "cave of love," and vleesroos "rose of flesh."

Alternative form cunny is attested from c. 1720 but is certainly much earlier and forced a change in the pronunciation of coney (q.v.), but it was good for a pun while coney was still the common word for "rabbit": "A pox upon your Christian cockatrices! They cry, like poulterers' wives, 'No money, no coney.' " [Philip Massinger: "The Virgin-Martyr," Act I, Scene 1, 1622]

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man (n.)
Origin and meaning of man

"a featherless plantigrade biped mammal of the genus Homo" [Century Dictionary], Old English man, mann "human being, person (male or female); brave man, hero;" also "servant, vassal, adult male considered as under the control of another person," from Proto-Germanic *mann- (source also of Old Saxon, Swedish, Dutch, Old High German man, Old Frisian mon, German Mann, Old Norse maðr, Danish mand, Gothic manna "man"), from PIE root *man- (1) "man." For the plural, see men.

Sometimes connected to root *men- (1) "to think," which would make the ground sense of man "one who has intelligence," but not all linguists accept this. Liberman, for instance, writes, "Most probably man 'human being' is a secularized divine name" from Mannus [Tacitus, "Germania," chap. 2], "believed to be the progenitor of the human race."

Specific sense of "adult male of the human race" (distinguished from a woman or boy) is by late Old English (c. 1000); Old English used wer and wif to distinguish the sexes, but wer began to disappear late 13c. and was replaced by man. Universal sense of the word remains in mankind and manslaughter. Similarly, Latin had homo "human being" and vir "adult male human being," but they merged in Vulgar Latin, with homo extended to both senses. A like evolution took place in Slavic languages, and in some of them the word has narrowed to mean "husband." PIE had two other "man" roots: *uiHro "freeman" (source of Sanskrit vira-, Lithuanian vyras, Latin vir, Old Irish fer, Gothic wair; see *wi-ro-) and *hner "man," a title more of honor than *uiHro (source of Sanskrit nar-, Armenian ayr, Welsh ner, Greek anēr; see *ner- (2)).

Man also was in Old English as an indefinite pronoun, "one, people, they." It was used generically for "the human race, mankind" by c. 1200. As a word of familiar address, originally often implying impatience, c.1400; hence probably its use as an interjection of surprise or emphasis, since Middle English but especially popular from early 20c.

As "a woman's lover," by mid-14c. As "adult male possessing manly qualities in an eminent degree," from 14c. Man's man, one whose qualities are appreciated by other men, is by 1873. Colloquial use of the Man for "the boss" is by 1918. To be man or mouse "be brave or be timid" is from 1540s. Meaning "piece with which a game (especially chess) is played" is from c. 1400.

Man-about-town "man of the leisure class who frequents clubs, theaters, and other social resorts" is from 1734. Man of the world is from mid-14c. as "secular man, layman;" by early 15c. as "man experienced in the ways of the world, one able to take things in stride." To do something as one man "unanimously" is from late 14c.

So I am as he that seythe, 'Come hyddr John, my man.' [1473]
MANTRAP, a woman's commodity. [Grose, "Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue," London, 1785]
At the kinges court, my brother, Ech man for himself. [Chaucer, "Knight's Tale," c. 1386]
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