Old English great "big, tall, thick, stout, massive; coarse," from West Germanic *grauta- "coarse, thick" (source also of Old Saxon grot, Old Frisian grat, Dutch groot, German groß "great"). If the original sense was "coarse," it is perhaps from PIE root *ghreu- "to rub, grind," via the notion of "coarse grain," then "coarse," then "great;" but "the connextion is not free from difficulty" [OED].
It took over much of the sense of Middle English mickle, and itself now is largely superseded by big and large except in reference to non-material things. In the sense of "excellent, wonderful" great is attested from 1848.
Great White Way "Broadway in New York City" is from 1901, in reference to brilliant street illumination. The Great Lakes of North America so called by 1726, perhaps 1690s. Great Spirit "high deity of the North American Indians," 1703, originally translates Ojibwa kitchi manitou. The Great War originally (1887) referred to the Napoleonic Wars, later (1914) to what we now call World War I (see world).
"The Great War" — as, until the fall of France, the British continued to call the First World War in order to avoid admitting to themselves that they were now again engaged in a war of the same magnitude. [Arnold Toynbee, "Experiences," 1969]
Also formerly with a verb form, Old English greatian "to become enlarged," Middle English greaten "to become larger, increase, grow; become visibly pregnant," which became archaic after 17c.
British political party, 1657, in part perhaps a disparaging use of whigg "a country bumpkin" (1640s); but mainly a shortened form of Whiggamore (1649) "one of the adherents of the Presbyterian cause in western Scotland who marched on Edinburgh in 1648 to oppose Charles I." Perhaps originally "a horse drover," from dialectal verb whig "to urge forward" + mare. In 1689 the name was first used in reference to members of the British political party that opposed the Tories. American Revolution sense of "colonist who opposes Crown policies" is from 1768. Later it was applied to opponents of Andrew Jackson (as early as 1825), and taken as the name of a political party (1834) that merged into the Republican Party in 1854-56.
[I]n the spring of 1834 Jackson's opponents adopted the name Whig, traditional term for critics of executive usurpations. James Watson Webb, editor of the New York Courier and Enquirer, encouraged use of the name. [Henry] Clay gave it national currency in a speech on April 14, 1834, likening "the whigs of the present day" to those who had resisted George III, and by summer it was official. [Daniel Walker Howe, "What Hath God Wrought," 2007, p.390]
Whig historian is recorded from 1924. Whig history is "the tendency in many historians ... to emphasise certain principles of progress in the past and to produce a story which is the ratification if not the glorification of the present." [Herbert Butterfield, "The Whig Interpretation of History," 1931]
Old English þing "meeting, assembly, council, discussion," later "entity, being, matter" (subject of deliberation in an assembly), also "act, deed, event, material object, body, being, creature," from Proto-Germanic *thinga- "assembly" (source also of Old Frisian thing "assembly, council, suit, matter, thing," Middle Dutch dinc "court-day, suit, plea, concern, affair, thing," Dutch ding "thing," Old High German ding "public assembly for judgment and business, lawsuit," German Ding "affair, matter, thing," Old Norse þing "public assembly"). The Germanic word is perhaps literally "appointed time," from a PIE *tenk- (1), from root *ten- "stretch," perhaps on notion of "stretch of time for a meeting or assembly."
The sense "meeting, assembly" did not survive Old English. For sense evolution, compare French chose, Spanish cosa "thing," from Latin causa "judicial process, lawsuit, case;" Latin res "affair, thing," also "case at law, cause." Old sense is preserved in second element of hustings and in Icelandic Althing, the nation's general assembly.
Of persons, often pityingly, from late 13c. Used colloquially since c. 1600 to indicate things the speaker can't name at the moment, often with various meaningless suffixes (see thingamajig).
Things "personal possessions" is from c. 1300. The thing "what's stylish or fashionable" is recorded from 1762. Phrase do your thing "follow your particular predilection," though associated with hippie-speak of 1960s is attested from 1841.
Old English mara "greater, relatively greater, more, stronger, mightier," used as a comparative of micel "great" (see mickle), from Proto-Germanic *maiz (source also of Old Saxon mera, Old Norse meiri, Old Frisian mara, Middle Dutch mere, Old High German meriro, German mehr, Gothic maiza), from PIE *meis- (source also of Avestan mazja "greater," Old Irish mor "great," Welsh mawr "great," Greek -moros "great," Oscan mais "more"), perhaps from a root *me- "big."
Sometimes used as an adverb in Old English ("in addition"), but Old English generally used related ma "more" as adverb and noun. This became Middle English mo, but more in this sense began to predominate in later Middle English.
"Take some more tea," the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
"I've had nothing yet," Alice replied in an offended tone, "so I can't take more."
"You mean you can't take less," said the Hatter: "it's very easy to take more than nothing."
As a noun, "a greater quantity, amount, or number," in Old English. More and more "larger and larger amounts" is from 12c. More or less "in a greater or lesser degree" is from early 13c.; appended to a statement to indicate nearness but not precision, from 1580s. The more the merrier "the larger the company the greater the enjoyment" is from late 14c. (þe mo þe myryer).
early 15c., trophe, "an overwhelming victory;" 1510s, "a spoil or prize of war," from Old French trophée (15c.) from Latin trophaeum "a sign of victory, monument," originally tropaeum, from Greek tropaion "monument of an enemy's defeat," noun use of neuter of adjective tropaios "of defeat, causing a rout," from trope "a rout," originally "a turning" (of the enemy); from PIE root *trep- "to turn."
In ancient Greece, spoils or arms taken in battle and set up on the field and dedicated to a god. Figurative extension to any token or memorial of victory is first recorded 1560s. As "a symbolic representation of a classical trophy" from 1630s.
Trophy wife "a second, attractive and generally younger, wife of a successful man who acquires her as a status symbol" was a trending phrase in media from 1988 ("Fortune" magazine did a cover story on it in 1989), but is older in isolated instances.
Variations on this theme ['convenience-wife'] include the HOSTESS-WIFE of a businessman who entertains extensively and seeks a higher-level, home-branch version of his secretary; the TROPHY-WIFE — the woman who was hard to get because of birth or wealth or beauty — to be kept on exhibition like a mammoth tusk or prime Picasso ... [Phyllis I. Rosenteur, excerpt from "The Single Women," published in Philadelphia Daily News, Dec. 12, 1961]
The excerpt distinguishes the trophy wife from the "showcase wife," "chosen for her pulchritude and constantly displayed in public places, dripping mink and dangling diamonds," which seems more to suit the later use of trophy wife.
"edged instrument for hewing timber and chopping wood," also a battle weapon, Old English ces (Northumbrian acas) "axe, pickaxe, hatchet," later x, from Proto-Germanic *akusjo (source also of Old Saxon accus, Old Norse ex, Old Frisian axe, German Axt, Gothic aqizi), from PIE *agw(e)si- "axe" (source also of Greek axine, Latin ascia).
The spelling ax is better on every ground, of etymology, phonology, and analogy, than axe, which became prevalent during the 19th century; but it is now disused in Britain. [OED]
The spelling ax, though "better on every ground, of etymology, phonology, & analogy" (OED), is so strange to 20th-c. eyes that it suggests pedantry & is unlikely to be restored. [Fowler]
Meaning "musical instrument" is 1955, originally jazz slang for the saxophone; rock slang for "guitar" dates to 1967. To have an axe to grind is from a Sept. 7, 1810, essay in the Luzerne (Pennsylvania) "Gleaner" by U.S. editor and politician Charles Miner (1780-1865) in which a man flatters a boy and gets him to do the chore of axe-grinding for him, then leaves without offering thanks or recompense. It was published in a collection in 1815 titled "Essays From the Desk of Poor Robert the Scribe." The story ("Who'll Turn the Grindstone?") has been misattributed since late 19c. to Benjamin Franklin, a mistake continued in Weekley, OED print edition, "Century Dictionary," and many other sources (Bartlett's "Familiar Quotations" has gotten it right since 1870).
Old English swat "perspiration, moisture exuded from the skin," also "labor, that which causes sweat," from Proto-Germanic *swaitaz "sweat" (source also of Old Saxon, Old Frisian swet, Old Norse sveiti, Danish sved "sweat," Swedish svett, Middle Dutch sweet, Dutch zweet, Old High German sweiz, German Schweiß), from PIE *sweid- (2) "to sweat" (source also of Sanskrit svedah "sweat," Avestan xvaeda- "sweat," Greek hidros "sweat, perspiration," Latin sudor, Lettish swiedri, Welsh chwys "sweat").
A widespread set of Slavic words (Polish, Russian pot "sweat") is from Old Church Slavonic potu, related to peku "heat," cognate with Latin coquere.
The Old English noun became Middle English swote, but later altered to the current form under the influence of the verb. Sweat of (one's) brow as a symbol of toil is from Genesis iii.19. Sweat equity is from 1968. Colloquial no sweat "no problem" is attested by 1953, said to be originally U.S. military jargon from the Korean War.
The universal and all-inclusive word today is "sweat." It covers just about everything: "no sweat" means no trouble, no cause for worry, nothing fouled up, don't fret. "It's a sweat" means a patrol looks tough, or an order to dig some more trench is an outrage, or simply that everything is messed up as usual. ["A Frontline Picture No Camera Could Get," Life magazine, March 16, 1953]
early 14c., savete, "freedom or immunity from harm or danger; an unharmed or uninjured state or condition," from Old French sauvete, salvete "safety, safeguard; salvation; security, surety," earlier salvetet (11c., Modern French sauveté), from Medieval Latin salvitatem (nominative salvitas) "safety," from Latin salvus "uninjured, in good health, safe" (from PIE root *sol- "whole, well-kept"). From late 14c. as "means or instrument of safety, a safeguard."
The meaning "trigger-lock on a gun" is attested by 1881, perhaps short for safety-lock (1877), etc. As a North American football position, by 1931; as a type of score against one's own team, 1881.
Safety-valve, which diminishes the risk of explosion, is from 1797; figurative sense recorded from 1818. Safety-net in literal sense (in machinery) is by 1916, later of aerial circus performances (1920s); figurative use is by 1950. Safety-bicycle as a name for the modern type, with low, equal-sized wheels and a driving mechanism, is by 1866. Safety-razor is by 1877. A safety-belt (1840) was at first for window washers and firefighters; it was used of restraining straps for airplane pilots by 1911, extended to automobiles by 1948. Safety first as an accident-prevention slogan first recorded 1873.
Safety first, and saving of fuel second, should be the rule in steam engineering. [Scientific American, June 15, 1861]
"brightness, radiant energy, that which makes things visible," Old English leht (Anglian), leoht (West Saxon), "light, daylight; spiritual illumination," from Proto-Germanic *leukhtam (source also of Old Saxon lioht, Old Frisian liacht, Middle Dutch lucht, Dutch licht, Old High German lioht, German Licht, Gothic liuhaþ "light"), from PIE root *leuk- "light, brightness."
The -gh- was an Anglo-French scribal attempt to render the Germanic hard -h- sound, which has since disappeared from this word. The figurative spiritual sense was in Old English; the sense of "mental illumination" is first recorded mid-15c. Meaning "something used for igniting" is from 1680s. Meaning "a consideration which puts something in a certain view" (as in in light of) is from 1680s. Short for traffic light from 1938. Quaker use is by 1650s; New Light/Old Light in church doctrine also is from 1650s. Meaning "person eminent or conspicuous" is from 1590s. A source of joy or delight has been the light of (someone's) eyes since Old English:
Ðu eart dohtor min, minra eagna leoht [Juliana].
Phrases such as according to (one's) lights "to the best of one's natural or acquired capacities" preserve an older sense attested from 1520s. To figuratively stand in (someone's) light is from late 14c. To see the light "come into the world" is from 1680s; later as "come to full realization" (1812). The rock concert light-show is from 1966. To be out like a light "suddenly or completely unconscious" is from 1934.
Old English grene, Northumbrian groene "green, of the color of living plants," in reference to plants, "growing, living, vigorous," also figurative, of a plant, "freshly cut," of wood, "unseasoned" earlier groeni, from Proto-Germanic *grōni- (source also of Old Saxon grani, Old Frisian grene, Old Norse grænn, Danish grøn, Dutch groen, Old High German gruoni, German grün), from PIE root *ghre- "grow" (see grass), through sense of "color of growing plants."
From c. 1200 as "covered with grass or foliage." From early 14c. of fruit or vegetables, "unripe, immature;" and of persons, "of tender age, youthful, immature, inexperienced;" hence "gullible, immature with regard to judgment" (c. 1600). From mid-13c. in reference to the skin or complexion of one sick.
Green cheese originally was that which is new or fresh (late 14c.), later with reference to coloring; for the story told to children that the moon is made of it, see cheese (n.1). Green light in figurative sense of "permission" is from 1937 (green and red as signals on railways first attested 1883, as nighttime substitutes for semaphore flags). Green thumb for "natural for gardening" is by 1938. Green beret originally "British commando" is from 1949. Greenroom (also green room) "room for actors when not on stage" is from 1701; presumably a once-well-known one was painted green. The color of environmentalism since 1971.