Old English beon, beom, bion "be, exist, come to be, become, happen," from Proto-Germanic *biju- "I am, I will be." This "b-root" is from PIE root *bheue- "to be, exist, grow," and in addition to the words in English it yielded the German present first and second person singular (bin, bist, from Old High German bim "I am," bist "thou art"), the Latin perfective tenses of esse (fui "I was," etc.), Old Church Slavonic byti "be," Greek phu- "become," Old Irish bi'u "I am," Lithuanian būti "to be," Russian byt' "to be," etc.
The modern verb to be in its entirety represents the merger of two once-distinct verbs, the "b-root" represented by be and the am/was verb, which was itself a conglomerate. Roger Lass ("Old English") describes the verb as "a collection of semantically related paradigm fragments," while Weekley calls it "an accidental conglomeration from the different Old English dial[ect]s." It is the most irregular verb in Modern English and the most common.
Collective in all Germanic languages, it has eight different forms in Modern English: BE (infinitive, subjunctive, imperative); AM (present 1st person singular); ARE (present 2nd person singular and all plural); IS (present 3rd person singular); WAS (past 1st and 3rd persons singular); WERE (past 2nd person singular, all plural; subjunctive); BEING (progressive & present participle; gerund); BEEN (perfect participle).
The paradigm in Old English was: eom, beo (present 1st person singular); eart, bist (present 2nd person singular); is, bið (present 3rd person singular); sind, sindon, beoð (present plural in all persons); wæs (past 1st and 3rd person singular); wære (past 2nd person singular); wæron (past plural in all persons); wære (singular subjunctive preterit); wæren (plural subjunctive preterit).
The "b-root" had no past tense in Old English, but often served as future tense of am/was. In 13c. it took the place of the infinitive, participle and imperative forms of am/was. Later its plural forms (we beth, ye ben, they be) became standard in Middle English and it made inroads into the singular (I be, thou beest, he beth), but forms of are claimed this turf in the 1500s and replaced be in the plural. For the origin and evolution of the am/was branches of this tangle, see am and was.
That but this blow Might be the be all, and the end all. ["Macbeth" I.vii.5]
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," perhaps from PIE *(s)peis- "to blow" (source also of Old Church Slavonic pisto "to play on the flute"). But de Vaan says "Possibly an onomatopoeic formation imitating the sound of breathing. There are no direct cognates."
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.
1756, "special vocabulary of tramps or thieves" or any set of persons of low character, 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”).
The association of the word with thieves and low life faded in the 19c.
[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.]
"of a bright, warm color resembling that of blood or of the highest part of the primery rainbow" [Century Dictionary], Middle English rēd, redde, read, reid, from Old English rēad, used of various shades of purple, crimson, scarlet, pink, etc.; also red clothes, dye, ink, wine, or paint, also "having a ruddy or reddish complexion; red-haired, red-bearded;" from Proto-Germanic *rauthan (source also of Old Norse rauðr, Danish rød, Old Saxon rod, Old Frisian rad, Middle Dutch root, Dutch rood, German rot, Gothic rauþs).
This is reconstructed to be from a PIE root *reudh- "red, ruddy," the only color for which a definite common PIE root word has been found. It also is the root of native ruddy, rust, and, via Latin, ruby, rubric, russet, etc.
Along with dead, bread (n.), lead (n.1), its long vowel shortened in or after Middle English. The surname Read, Reid, Reade, etc. represents the old form of the adjective and retains the original Old English long vowel pronunciation. It corresponds to Brown, Black, White; Red itself being rare as a surname. As the color designation of Native Americans in English from 1580s.
In fixed comparisons, red as blood (Old English), roses (mid-13c.), cherry (c. 1400). From Old English as the color characteristic of inflammation, blistering, etc. Of the complexion, lips, etc., "ruddy, rosy, red" (c. 1200); also of person with a healthy complexion or skin color; to be red in the face as a result of powerful emotion or agitation is by c. 1200; to see red "get angry" is an American English expression attested by 1898.
Red as the characteristic color of "British possessions" on a map is attested from 1885. Red-white-and-blue in reference to American patriotism, from the colors of the flag, is from 1840; in a British context, in reference to the Union flag, 1852.
Red rover, the children's game, attested from 1891. Red ball signifying "express" in railroad jargon is by 1904, originally (1899) a system of moving and tracking freight cars. Red dog, type of U.S. football pass rush, is recorded from 1959 (earlier "lowest grade of flour produced in a mill," by 1889). Red meat, that which is ordinarily served or preferred undercooked, is from 1808; the food of wild beasts, hence its figurative use for something that satisfies a basic appetite (by 1792; popular from late 20c.).
Red shift in spectography is first recorded 1923. Red carpet "sumptuous welcome" is from 1934, but the custom for dignitaries is described as far back as Aeschylus ("Agamemnon"); it also was the name of a type of English moth. Red ant is from 1660s.
eighteenth letter of the English alphabet, traceable to Phoenician and always representing more or less the same sound, which in many languages is typically so resonant and continuous as to be nearly akin to the vowels, but in English is closer to -l-.
It was aspirated at the start of words (hr-) in Old English, as in Greek, but this was abandoned in English spelling and pronunciation by the end of the Old English period, but the rh- spelling survives in many words borrowed from Greek. In many languages and some dialects (e.g. Scottish) it is pronounced with a distinct trilling vibration of the tongue-tip, which gave it its ancient nickname of "the dog letter;" in other regional dialects (e.g. Boston) it is omitted unless followed by a vowel, while in others it is introduced artificially in pronunciation ("idear," "drawring").
If all our r's that are written are pronounced, the sound is more common than any other in English utterance (over seven per cent.); the instances of occurrence before a vowel, and so of universal pronunciation, are only half as frequent. There are localities where the normal vibration of the tip of the tongue is replaced by one of the uvula, making a guttural trill, which is still more entitled to the name of "dog's letter" than is the ordinary r; such are considerable parts of France and Germany; the sound appears to occur only sporadically in English pronunciation. [Century Dictionary]
Louise Pound ("The Humorous 'R'") notes that in British humorous writing, -ar- "popularly indicates the sound of the vowel in father" and formations like larf (for laugh) "are to be read with the broad vowel but no uttered r."
The moment we encounter the added r's of purp or dorg in our reading we know that we have to do with humor, and so with school-marm. The added consonants are supposed to be spoken, if the words are uttered, but, as a matter of fact, they are less often uttered than seen. The words are, indeed, largely visual forms; the humor is chiefly for the eye. [Louise Pound, "The Humorous 'R,'" American Mercury, October 1924]
She also quotes Henry James on the characteristic prominence of the medial -r- sound (which tends to be dropped in England and New England) in the speech of the U.S. Midwest, "under some strange impulse received toward consonantal recovery of balance, making it present even in words from which it is absent, bringing it in everywhere as with the small vulgar effect of a sort of morose grinding of the back teeth."
In a circle, meaning "registered (trademark)," attested by 1925. R&R "rest and relaxation," is attested by 1953, American English; R&B "rhythm and blues" (type of popular music) is attested by 1949, American English. Form three Rs, see Three Rs.
eleventh Roman letter, from Greek kappa, from Phoenician kaph or a similar Semitic source, said to mean literally "hollow of the hand" and to be so called for its shape.
Little used in classical Latin, which at an early age conformed most of its words (the exceptions had ritual importance) to a spelling using -c- (a character derived from Greek gamma). In Late Latin, pronunciation of -c- shifted (in the direction of "s"). Greek names brought into Latin also were regularized with a -c- spelling, and then underwent the Late Latin sound-shift; hence the modern pronunciation of Cyrus, Circe. To keep their pronunciation clear, the many Greek words (often Church words) that entered Latin after this shift tended to take Latin -k- for Greek kappa.
K- thus became a supplementary letter to -c- in Medieval Latin, used with Greek and foreign words. But most of the languages descended from Latin had little need of it, having evolved other solutions to the sound shifts.
K- also was scarce in Old English. After the Norman conquest, new scribal habits restricted -c- and expanded the use of -k-, which began to be common in English spelling from 13c. This probably was done because the sound value of -c- was evolving in French and the other letter was available to clearly mark the "k" sound for scribes working in English. For more, see C.
In words transliterated from Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, Japanese, Hawaiian, etc., it represents several different sounds lumped. In modern use some of them are now with kh-; in older borrowings they often followed traditional English spelling and were written with a C- (Corea, Caaba, etc.).
As a symbol for potassium, it represents Latin kalium "potash." In CMYK as a color system for commercial printing it means "black" but seems to stand for key in a specialized printing sense. Slang meaning "one thousand dollars" is 1970s, from kilo-. K as a measure of capacity (especially in computer memory) meaning "one thousand" also is an abbreviation of kilo-.
As an indication of "strikeout" in baseball score-keeping it dates from 1874 and is said to represent the last letter of struck. The invention of the scorecard symbols is attributed to English-born U.S. newspaperman Henry Chadwick (1824-1908) principally of the old New York "Clipper," who had been writing baseball since 1858, and who explained it thus:
Smith was the first striker, and went out on three strikes, which is recorded by the figure "1" for the first out, and the letter K to indicate how put out, K being the last letter of the word "struck." The letter K is used in this instance as being easier to remember in connection with the word struck than S, the first letter, would be. [Henry Chadwick, "Chadwick's Base Ball Manual," London, 1874]
Old English tima "limited space of time," from Proto-Germanic *timon- "time" (source also of Old Norse timi "time, proper time," Swedish timme "an hour"), from PIE *di-mon-, suffixed form of root *da- "to divide."
Abstract sense of "time as an indefinite continuous duration" is recorded from late 14c. Personified at least since 1509 as an aged bald man (but with a forelock) carrying a scythe and an hour-glass. In English, a single word encompasses time as "extent" and "point" (French temps/fois, German zeit/mal) as well as "hour" (as in "what time is it?" compare French heure, German Uhr). Extended senses such as "occasion," "the right time," "leisure," or times (v.) "multiplied by" developed in Old and Middle English, probably as a natural outgrowth of such phrases as "He commends her a hundred times to God" (Old French La comande a Deu cent foiz).
to have a good time ( = a time of enjoyment) was common in Eng. from c 1520 to c 1688; it was app. retained in America, whence readopted in Britain in 19th c. [OED]
Time of day (now mainly preserved in negation, i.e. what someone won't give you if he doesn't like you) was a popular 17c. salutation (as in "Good time of day vnto your Royall Grace," "Richard III," I.iii.18), hence to give (one) the time of day "greet socially" (1590s); earlier was give good day (mid-14c.).
The times "the current age" is from 1590s. Behind the times "old-fashioned" is recorded from 1831. Times as the name of a newspaper dates from 1788. To be ahead of (one's) time is by 1837.
Time warp is attested by 1954; time-traveling in the science fiction sense is by 1895 in H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine." Time capsule is attested from 1938, in reference to the one "deemed capable of resisting the effects of time for five thousand years preserving an account of universal achievements embedded in the grounds of the New York World's fair."
Jones [archaeologist of A.D. 5139] potters about for a while in the region which we have come to regard as New York, finds countless ruins, but little of interest to the historian except a calcified direction sheet to something called a "Time Capsule." Jones finds the capsule but cannot open it, and decides, after considerable prying at the lid, that it is merely evidence of an archaic tribal ceremony called a "publicity gag" of which he has already found many examples. [Princeton Alumni Weekly, April 14, 1939]
To do time "serve a prison sentence" is from 1865. Time frame is attested by 1964; time-limit is from 1880. About time, ironically for "long past due time," is recorded from 1920. To be on time is by 1854 in railroading.
[stone, mass of mineral matter], Middle English rokke, roche "stone as a substance; large rocky formation, rocky height or outcrop, crag," from Old English rocc (as in stanrocc "stone rock or obelisk") and directly from Old North French roque, variant of Old French roche, which is cognate with Medieval Latin rocca (8c.), from Vulgar Latin *rocca, a word of uncertain origin. According to Klein and Century Dictionary, sometimes said to be from Celtic (compare Breton roch). Diez suggests Vulgar Latin *rupica, from Latin rupes "rocks."
In Middle English it seems to have been used principally for large rock formations but occasionally of individual boulders. The extended sense of "a stone of any size" is by 1793, American English colloquial, and long was considered incorrect.
It is an error to use rock for a stone so small that a man can handle it : only a fabulous person or a demi-god can lift a rock. [Century Dictionary]
The meaning "precious stone," especially a diamond, is by 1908, U.S. slang; the sense of "crystallized cocaine" is attested from 1973 in West Coast slang. Also used attributively in names of animals that frequent rocky habitats, as in rockfish, rock badger, rock lobster (the last attested by 1843).
Rock is used figuratively for "a sure foundation, something which gives one protection and security" (especially with reference to Christ), from the 1520s (Tyndale); but it also has been used since the 1520s as "cause or source of peril or destruction," an image from shipwrecks.
Between a rock and a hard place "beset by difficulties with no good alternatives" is attested by 1914 in U.S. Southwest:
to be between a rock and a hard place, vb. ph. To be bankrupt. Common in Arizona in recent panics; sporadic in California. [Dialect Notes, vol. v, part iv, 1921]
As an example of fine distinctions, a party of men were discussing the present situation of the German army, this week. One remarked that the Germans were between the devil and the deep sea; while another corrected him by saying that the Germans were between the upper and nether mill stone. The third man whose name is Pilgreen, and who works in the treasurer's office, simply remarked that the Germans were between a rock and a hard place. [local item in the Pouteau (Oklahoma) Weekly Sun, Oct. 1, 1914]
The rock-scissors-paper game is attested by that name by 1976 (as paper stone and scissors by 1941). Sources agree it is based on Japanese Jan Ken Po or Jan Ken Pon (or Janken for short); the Japanese game is described in English publications by 1879.
late 14c., of language, "German, non-Scandinavian continental Germanic," also as a noun, "a German language;" also in Duche-lond "Germany." By mid-15c. distinguished into Higher and Lower, and used after c. 1600 in the narrower sense "Hollanders, residents of the Netherlands." From Middle Dutch duutsch, from Old High German duitisc, from Proto-Germanic *theudō "popular, national" (source of Modern German Deutsch), from PIE *teuta- "tribe" (compare Teutonic).
It corresponds to the Old English adjective þeodisc "belonging to the people," which was used especially of the common language of Germanic people (as opposed to Latin), a derivative of the Old English noun þeod "people, race, nation." The language name is first attested in Latin as theodice (786 C.E.) in correspondence between Charlemagne's court and the Pope, in reference to a synodical conference in Mercia; thus it refers to Old English. Its first use in reference to a German language (as opposed to a Germanic one) is two years later. The sense was extended from the language to the people who spoke it (in German, Diutisklant, ancestor of Deutschland, was in use by 13c.).
The sense in of the adjective in English narrowed to "of the Netherlands" in 17c., after they became a united, independent state and the focus of English attention and rivalry. In Holland, Duits (formerly duitsch) is used of the people of Germany. The old use of Dutch for "German" continued in America (Irving and Cooper still distinguish High Dutch "German" and Low Dutch "Dutch") and survives in Pennsylvania Dutch for the descendants of religious sects that immigrated from the Rhineland and Switzerland and their language.
Since c. 1600, Dutch (adj.) has been a "pejorative label pinned by English speakers on almost anything they regard as inferior, irregular, or contrary to 'normal' (i.e., their own) practice" [Rawson]. E.g. ironical Dutch treat, of each person paying for himself (1887), Dutch courage "boldness inspired by intoxicating spirits" (1809), nautical Dutch talent "any piece of work not done in shipshape style (1867), etc. — probably exceeded in such usage only by Indian and Irish — reflecting first British commercial and military rivalry and later heavy German immigration to U.S.
Dutch concert, a concert in which each one sings his own song at the same time that his neighbor sings his; or a concert in which each one sings a verse of any song he pleases, some well-known chorus being sung after each verse. [Century Dictionary, 1897]
The Dutch themselves spoke English well enough to understand the unsavory connotations of the label and in 1934 Dutch officials were ordered by their government to stop using the term Dutch. Instead, they were to rewrite their sentences so as to employ the official The Netherlands. [Rawson]
Dutch oven is from 1769; OED lists it among the words describing things from Holland, but perhaps it is here used in the slighting sense. Dutch elm disease (1927) so called because it was first discovered in Holland (caused by fungus Ceratocystis ulmi). A Dutch uncle (1838) is one who is kindly severe and direct.