c. 1200, pointe, "minute amount, single item in a whole; sharp end of a sword, etc.," a merger of two words, both ultimately from Latin pungere "to prick, pierce," from a nasalized form of PIE root *peuk- "to prick."
The Latin neuter past participle punctum was used as a noun, meaning "small hole made by pricking," subsequently extended to anything that looked like one, hence, "dot, particle," etc. This yielded Old French point "dot; smallest amount," which was borrowed in Middle English in the "smallest amount" sense by c. 1300. The meaning "small mark, dot" (mark made by the end of a pointed instrument) in English is from mid-14c.
Meanwhile the Latin fem. past participle of pungere was puncta, which was used in Medieval Latin to mean "sharp tip," and became Old French pointe "point of a weapon, vanguard of an army," which also passed into English (early 14c.). The senses have merged in English, but remain distinct in French.
The sense of "peak or promontory from a land or coast" is from 1550s. The extended senses often are from the notion of "minute, single, or separate items in an extended whole." The sense of "brief period of time, instant" is from late 14c. Meaning "distinguishing feature" (especially a good one) is recorded from late 15c. Meaning "a unit of score in a game" is recorded from 1746.
The meaning "recognized unit of fluctuation of price per share on an exchange" is by 1814. As a typeface unit (in Britain and U.S., one twelfth of a pica), it went into use in U.S. 1883. As a measure of weight for precious stones (one one-hundredth of a carat) it is recorded from 1931. Meaning "diacritical mark indicating a vowel or other modification of sound" is from 1610s.
The point "the matter being discussed" is attested from late 14c.; meaning "sense, purpose, end, aim, advantage" (usually in the negative, as in what's the point?) is recorded by 1903. Point of honor (1610s) translates French point d'honneur. Point of no return (1941) is originally aviators' term for the point in a flight "before which any engine failure requires an immediate turn around and return to the point of departure, and beyond which such return is no longer practical" [Young America's Aviation Annual]. To make a point of "be resolved to do something and do it accordingly" is from 1778.
"of the nature of blood, pertaining to blood, bleeding, covered in blood," Old English blodig, adjective from blod (see blood). Common Germanic, compare Old Frisian blodich, Old Saxon blôdag, Dutch bloedig, Old High German bluotag, German blutig. From late 14c. as "involving bloodshed;" 1560s as "bloodthirsty, cruel, tainted with blood-crimes."
It has been a British intensive swear word at least since 1676. Weekley relates it to the purely intensive use of the cognate Dutch bloed, German Blut. But perhaps it ultimately is connected with bloods in the slang sense of "rowdy young aristocrats" (see blood (n.)) via expressions such as bloody drunk "as drunk as a blood."
Partridge reports that it was "respectable" before c. 1750, and it was used by Fielding and Swift, but heavily tabooed c. 1750-c. 1920, perhaps from imagined association with menstruation; Johnson calls it "very vulgar," and OED writes of it, "now constantly in the mouths of the lowest classes, but by respectable people considered 'a horrid word', on par with obscene or profane language."
The onset of the taboo against bloody coincides with the increase in linguistic prudery that presaged the Victorian Era but it is hard to say what the precise cause was in the case of this specific word. Attempts have been made to explain the term's extraordinary shock power by invoking etymology. Theories that derive it from such oaths as "By our Lady" or "God's blood" seem farfetched, however. More likely, the taboo stemmed from the fear that many people have of blood and, in the minds of some, from an association with menstrual bleeding. Whatever, the term was debarred from polite society during the whole of the nineteenth century. [Rawson]
Shaw shocked theatergoers when he put it in the mouth of Eliza Doolittle in "Pygmalion" (1913), and for a time the word was known euphemistically as "the Shavian adjective." It was avoided in print as late as 1936. Bloody Sunday, Jan. 30, 1972, was when 13 civilians were killed by British troops at protest in Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
"heavenly body which revolves about the earth monthly," Middle English mone, from Old English mona, from Proto-Germanic *menon- (source also of Old Saxon and Old High German mano, Old Frisian mona, Old Norse mani, Danish maane, Dutch maan, German Mond, Gothic mena "moon"), from PIE *me(n)ses- "moon, month" (source also of Sanskrit masah "moon, month;" Avestan ma, Persian mah, Armenian mis "month;" Greek mene "moon," men "month;" Latin mensis "month;" Old Church Slavonic meseci, Lithuanian mėnesis "moon, month;" Old Irish mi, Welsh mis, Breton miz "month"), from root *me- (2) "to measure" in reference to the moon's phases as an ancient and universal measure of time.
A masculine noun in Old English. In Greek, Italic, Celtic, and Armenian the cognate words now mean only "month." Greek selēnē (Lesbian selanna) is from selas "light, brightness (of heavenly bodies)." Old Norse also had tungl "moon," ("replacing mani in prose" - Buck), evidently an older Germanic word for "heavenly body," cognate with Gothic tuggl, Old English tungol "heavenly body, constellation," of unknown origin or connection. Hence Old Norse tunglfylling "lunation," tunglœrr "lunatic" (adj.).
Extended 1665 to satellites of other planets. Typical of a place impossible to reach or a thing impossible to obtain, by 1590s. Meaning "a month, the period of the revolution of the moon about the earth" is from late 14c.
To shoot the moon "leave without paying rent" is British slang from c. 1823 (see shoot (v.)); the card-playing sense perhaps was influenced by gambler's shoot the works (1922) "go for broke" in shooting dice. The moon race and the U.S. space program of the 1960s inspired a number of coinages, including, from those skeptical of the benefits to be gained, moondoggle (based on boondoggle). The man in the moon "fancied semblance of a man seen in the disk of the full moon" is mentioned since early 14c.; he carries a bundle of thorn-twigs and is accompanied by a dog. Some Japanese, however, see a rice-cake-making rabbit in the moon. The old moon in the new moon's arms (1727) is the appearance of the moon in the first quarter, in which the whole orb is faintly visible by earthshine.
c. 1600, "shield louse (Coccus ilicis) that yields a red dye" (1590s of the tree on which the insects live), from Medieval Latin cremesinus (also source of French kermès, Italian chermes, Spanish carmes), from Arabic qirmiz "kermes," from Sanskrit krmi-ja a compound meaning "(red dye) produced by a worm."
The Sanskrit compound is krmih "worm" (from PIE root *kwrmi- "worm," source also of Lithuanian kirmis, Old Irish cruim, Albanian krimp "worm") + -ja- "produced" (from PIE root *gene- "give birth, beget"). The insect lives in the Levant and southern Europe on a species of small evergreen oak (kermes oak) and in ancient Europe were the main source of red and scarlet dye. The dye is prepared from the dried bodies of pregnant females, which alive resemble small roundish grains about the size of peas and cling immobile to the tree on which they live. From this fact kermes dye was, for a long time, mistaken as being from a seed or excrescence of the tree, and the word for it in Greek was kokkos, literally "a grain, seed" (see cocco-). This was passed to Latin as coccum, coccus "berry [sic] yielding scarlet dye," in late use "scarlet color, scarlet garment."
So important was kermes (coccus) as a commercial source of scarlet dye that derivatives of the name for it have displaced the original word for "red" in many languages, such as Welsh coch (from Latin), Modern Greek kokkinos. Also compare Russian čcermnyj "purple-red," Old Church Slavonic čruminu. Compare also crimson (n.).
Kermes dyes have been found in burial wrappings in Anglo-Scandinavian York, but the use of kermes dyes seems to have been lost in Europe from the Dark Ages until early 15c. It fell out of use again with the introduction of cochineal (the word for which itself might be from coccus) from the New World.
Cloths dyed with kermes are of a deep red colour; and though much inferior in brilliancy to the scarlet cloths dyed with real Mexican cochineal, they retain the colour better and are less liable to stain. The tapestries of Brussels and other parts of Flanders, which have scarcely lost any thing of their original brilliancy, even after a lapse of 200 years, were all dyed with kermes. [W.T. Brande, "Dictionary of Science, Literature, & Art," London, 1842]
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.
general common name of birds of the genus Corvus (the larger sort being sometimes called ravens), Old English crawe, which is held to be imitative of the bird's cry. Compare Old Saxon kraia, Dutch kraai, Old High German chraja, German Kräke.
Noted for sagacity and sociability. The British and North American species are very similar. Phrase as the crow flies "in a straight line" is from 1810; the image is attested in different form from 1800.
American English figurative phrase eat crow "do or accept what one vehemently dislikes and has opposed defiantly, accept things which, though not unbearable, are yet scarcely to be wished for," is attested by 1870 (originally often eat boiled crow), and seems to be based on the notion that the bird is edible when boiled but hardly agreeable.
There was an oft-reprinted mid-19c. joke about a man who, to settle a bet that he could eat anything, agrees to eat a boiled crow. As he with great difficulty swallows the first to mouthfuls, he says to the onlookers, "I can eat crow, but I don't hanker arter it." The joke is attested by 1854 (Walter Etecroue turns up 1361 in the Calendar of Letter Books of the City of London).
I tried my best to eat crow, but it was too tough for me. "How do you like it?" said the old man, as, with a desperate effort, he wrenched off a mouthful from a leg. "I am like the man," said I, "who was once placed in the same position: 'I ken eat crow, but hang me if I hanker arter it.'" "Well," says the captain, "it is somewhat hard; but try some of the soup and dumplings and don t condemn crow-meat from this trial, for you shot the grandfather and grandmother of the flock: no wonder they are tough; shoot a young one next time." "No more crow-meat for me, thank you," said I. [James G. Swan, "The Northwest Coast, or Three Years' Residence in Washington Territory," New York, 1857]
The image of a crow's foot for the wrinkles appearing with age at the corner of the eye is from late 14c. ("So longe mote ye lyve Til crowes feet be growen under youre ye." [Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde, c. 1385]).
Old English deofol "a devil, a subordinate evil spirit afflicting humans;" also, in Christian theology, "the Devil, a powerful spirit of evil otherwise known as Satan," from Late Latin diabolus (also the source of Italian diavolo, French diable, Spanish diablo; German Teufel is Old High German tiufal, from Latin via Gothic diabaulus).
The Late Latin word is from Ecclesiastical Greek diabolos, which in Jewish and Christian use was "the Devil, Satan," and which in general use meant "accuser, slanderer" (thus it was a scriptural loan-translation of Hebrew satan; see Satan). It is an agent noun from Greek diaballein "to slander, attack," literally "to throw across," from dia "across, through" (see dia-) + ballein "to throw" (from PIE root *gwele- "to throw, reach").
Jerome re-introduced Satan in Latin bibles, and English translators have used both words in different measures. In Vulgate, as in Greek, diabolus and dæmon (see demon) were distinct, but they have merged in English and other Germanic languages.
Meaning "false god, heathen god" is from c. 1200. Sense of "diabolical person, person resembling a devil or demon in character" is from late 12c. Playful use for "clever rogue" is from c. 1600. As an expletive and in expletive phrases from c. 1200.
Meaning "sand spout, dust storm" is from 1835 (dust devil is attested by 1867). In U.S. place names, the word often represents a native word such as Algonquian manito, more properly "spirit, god." Phrase a devil way (c. 1300) was originally "Hell-ward, to Hell," but by late 14c. it was a mere expression of irritation. Meaning "errand-boy in a printing office" is from 1680s, perhaps because they were often blackened by the ink (devils then being popularly supposed to be black).
Devil's books "playing cards" is from 1729, but the cited quote says they've been called that "time out of mind" (the four of clubs is the devil's bedposts); devil's coach-horse is from 1840, the large rove-beetle, which is defiant when disturbed. Devil's food cake (1895; three different recipes in the cookbook "compiled by the Ladies' Aid Society of the Friends' Church, Wilmington, Ohio"), rich and chocolate, probably is in deliberate contrast to angel food cake. Conventional phrase talk (or speak)of the Devil, and he's presently at your elbow is by 1660s.
Old English freo "exempt from; not in bondage, acting of one's own will," also "noble; joyful," from Proto-Germanic *friaz "beloved; not in bondage" (source also of Old Frisian fri, Old Saxon vri, Old High German vri, German frei, Dutch vrij, Gothic freis "free"), from PIE *priy-a- "dear, beloved," from root *pri- "to love."
The sense evolution from "to love" to "free" is perhaps from the terms "beloved" or "friend" being applied to the free members of one's clan (as opposed to slaves; compare Latin liberi, meaning both "free persons" and "children of a family"). For the older sense in Germanic, compare Gothic frijon "to love;" Old English freod "affection, friendship, peace," friga "love," friðu "peace;" Old Norse friðr "peace, personal security; love, friendship," German Friede "peace;" Old English freo "wife;" Old Norse Frigg, name of the wife of Odin, literally "beloved" or "loving;" Middle Low German vrien "to take to wife," Dutch vrijen, German freien "to woo."
Meaning "clear of obstruction" is from mid-13c.; sense of "unrestrained in movement" is from c. 1300; of animals, "loose, at liberty, wild," late 14c. Meaning "liberal, not parsimonious" is from c. 1300. Sense of "characterized by liberty of action or expression" is from 1630s; of art, etc., "not holding strictly to rule or form," from 1813. Of nations, "not subject to foreign rule or to despotism," recorded in English from late 14c. (Free world "non-communist nations" attested from 1950 on notion of "based on principles of civil liberty.") Sense of "given without cost" is 1580s, from notion of "free of cost."
Free even to the definition of freedom, "without any hindrance that does not arise out of his own constitution." [Emerson, "The American Scholar," 1837]
Free lunch, originally offered in bars to draw in customers, by 1850, American English. Free pass on railways, etc., attested by 1850. Free speech in Britain was used of a privilege in Parliament since the time of Henry VIII. In U.S., in reference to a civil right to expression, it became a prominent phrase in the debates over the Gag Rule (1836). Free enterprise recorded from 1832; free trade is from 1823; free market from 1630s. Free will is from early 13c. Free school is from late 15c. Free association in psychology is from 1899. Free love "sexual liberation" attested from 1822 (the doctrine itself is much older), American English. Free and easy "unrestrained" is from 1690s.
The first element probably is cognate with Old English haga "enclosure, portion of woodland marked off for cutting" (see hedge (n.)). Old Norse had tunriða and Old High German zunritha, both literally "hedge-rider," used of witches and ghosts. The second element in the prehistoric compound may be connected with Norwegian tysja "fairy; crippled woman," Gaulish dusius "demon," Lithuanian dvasia "spirit," from PIE *dhewes- "to fly about, smoke, be scattered, vanish."
One of the magic words for which there is no male form, suggesting its original meaning was close to "diviner, soothsayer," which were always female in northern European paganism, and hægtesse seem at one time to have meant "woman of prophetic and oracular powers" (Ælfric uses it to render the Greek "pythoness," the voice of the Delphic oracle), a figure greatly feared and respected. Later, the word was used of village wise women.
Haga is also the haw- in hawthorn, which is an important tree in northern European pagan religion. There may be several layers of folk etymology here. Confusion or blending with heathenish is suggested by Middle English hæhtis, hægtis "hag, witch, fury, etc.," and haetnesse "goddess," used of Minerva and Diana.
If the hægtesse once was a powerful supernatural woman (in Norse it is an alternative word for Norn, any of the three weird sisters, the equivalent of the Fates), it might originally have carried the hawthorn sense. Later, when the pagan magic was reduced to local scatterings, it might have had the sense of "hedge-rider," or "she who straddles the hedge," because the hedge was the boundary between the civilized world of the village and the wild world beyond. The hægtesse would have a foot in each reality. Even later, when it meant the local healer and root collector, living in the open and moving from village to village, it may have had the mildly pejorative Middle English sense of hedge- (hedge-priest, etc.), suggesting an itinerant sleeping under bushes. The same word could have contained all three senses before being reduced to its modern one.
1756, "special vocabulary of tramps or thieves," later "jargon of a particular profession" (1801). The sense of "very informal language characterized by vividness and novelty" is by 1818.
Anatoly Liberman writes here an extensive account of the established origin of the word from the Northern England noun slang "a narrow piece of land running up between other and larger divisions of ground" and the verb slanger "linger, go slowly," which is of Scandinavian origin (compare Norwegian slenge "hang loose, sling, sway, dangle," Danish slænge "to throw, sling"). "Their common denominator seems to be 'to move freely in any direction' " [Liberman]. Noun derivatives of these (Danish slænget, Norwegian slenget) mean "a gang, a band," and Liberman compares Old Norse slangi "tramp" and slangr "going astray" (used of sheep). He writes:
It is not uncommon to associate the place designated for a certain group and those who live there with that group’s language. John Fielding and the early writers who knew the noun slang used the phrase slang patter, as though that patter were a kind of talk belonging to some territory.
So the sense evolution would be from slang "a piece of delimited territory" to "the territory used by tramps for their wandering," to "their camping ground," and finally to "the language used there." The sense shift then passes through itinerant merchants:
Hawkers use a special vocabulary and a special intonation when advertising their wares (think of modern auctioneers), and many disparaging, derisive names characterize their speech; charlatan and quack are among them.
[Slang] is a dialectal word that reached London from the north and for a long time retained the traces of its low origin. The route was from "territory; turf" to "those who advertise and sell their wares on such a territory," to "the patter used in advertising the wares," and to "vulgar language" (later to “any colorful, informal way of expression”).
[S]lang is a conscious offence against some conventional standard of propriety. A mere vulgarism is not slang, except when it is purposely adopted, and acquires an artificial currency, among some class of persons to whom it is not native. The other distinctive feature of slang is that it is neither part of the ordinary language, nor an attempt to supply its deficiencies. The slang word is a deliberate substitute for a word of the vernacular, just as the characters of a cipher are substitutes for the letters of the alphabet, or as a nickname is a substitute for a personal name. [Henry Bradley, from "Slang," in Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed.]
A word that ought to have survived is slangwhanger (1807, American English) "noisy or abusive talker or writer."