Etymology
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hen (n.)

"the female of the domestic fowl," Old English henn "hen," from West Germanic *hannjo (source also of Old Frisian henn, Middle Dutch henne, Old High German henna), fem. of *hanan- "male fowl, cock" (source of Old English hana "cock"), literally "bird who sings (for sunrise)," from PIE root *kan- "to sing."

The original masculine word survives in German (Hahn "cock"), Swedish, Danish, etc. German also has a generic form, Huhn, for either gender of the bird. Extension to "female of any bird species" is early 14c. in English.

Hen as slang for "woman" dates from 1620s; hence hen party "gathering of women," first recorded 1887. To be mad as a wet hen is from 1823, but the figure was used to indicate other states: As wanton as a wet hen is in "Scots Proverbs" (1813). Among Middle English proverbial expressions was nice as a nonne hen "over-refined, fastidiously wanton" (c. 1500); to singen so hen in snowe "sing miserably," literally "sing like a hen in snow" (c. 1200). The figure of the hen with one chick dates to 1590s. Hen's teeth as a figure of scarceness is attested by 1838.

Some, on the contrary, are viciously opposite to these, who act so tamely and so coldly, that when they ought to be angry, to thunder and lighten, as one may say, they are no fuller of Heat, than a wet Hen, as the Saying is; .... ["Life of Mr. Thomas Betterton," London, 1710]
Orth. Out upon you for a dastardly Fellow; you han't the Courage of a wet Hen. ["A Sermon Preached at St. Mary-le-Bow, March 27, 1704"]
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coffee (n.)

"drink made from the ground and roasted seeds of a tree originally native to Arabia and Abyssinia," c. 1600, from Dutch koffie, from Turkish kahveh, from Arabic qahwah "coffee," which Arab etymologists connected with a word meaning "wine," but it is perhaps rather from the Kaffa region of Ethiopia, a home of the plant (coffee in Kaffa is called būno, which itself was borrowed into Arabic as bunn "raw coffee").

The early forms of the word in English indicate a derivation from Arabic or Turkish: chaoua (1598), cahve, kahui, etc. French café, German Kaffe are via Italian caffè.

The first coffee-house in Mecca dates to the 1510s; the beverage was in Turkey by the 1530s. It appeared in Europe c. 1515-1519 and was introduced to England by 1650. By 1675 the country had more than 3,000 coffee houses and coffee had replaced beer as a breakfast drink, but its use there declined 18c. with the introduction of cheaper tea. In the American colonies, however, the tax on tea kept coffee popular.

Meaning "a light meal at which coffee is served" is from 1774. As a shade or color resembling coffee, 1815. Coffee-bean is from 1680s. Coffee-mill is from 1690s; coffee-spoon is from 1703; coffee-pot is from 1705; coffee-cup is from 1762. Coffee-shop is from 1838. Coffee-cake is from 1850 as "cake in which coffee is an ingredient." Coffee break attested from 1952, at first often in glossy magazine advertisements by the Pan-American Coffee Bureau.

Did you drink a cup of coffee on company time this morning? Chances are that you did—for the midmorning coffee break is rapidly becoming a standard fixture in American offices and factories. [The Kiplinger Magazine, March 1952]
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punch (v.)

"to thrust, push; jostle;" also, "to prod, drive (cattle, etc.) by poking and prodding," late 14c., from Old French ponchonner "to punch, prick, stamp," from ponchon "pointed tool, piercing weapon" (see punch (n.1)).

Meaning "to pierce, make a hole or holes in with a punch, emboss with a tool" is from early 15c.; meaning "to stab, puncture" is from mid-15c. Related: Punched; punching.

Specialized sense "to hit with the fist, give a blow, beat with blows of the fist" is recorded by 1520s. Compare Latin pugnare "to fight with the fists," from a root meaning "to pierce, sting." In English this sense-shift evolved also probably by influence of punish: Punch or punsch for punish is found in documents from 14c.-15c.:

punchyth me, Lorde, and spare my blyssyd wyff Anne. [Coventry Mystery Plays, late 15c.]

To punch (someone) out "beat (someone) up" is from 1971. To punch a ticket, etc., "make a hole in" to indicate use of it is from mid-15c. To punch the clock "record one's arrival at or departure from the workplace using an automated timing device" is from 1900.

There are time recorders for checking the minute of arrival and departure of each office employee—machines that operate with clock attachment and which in response to worker's punch print on tabular sheets of paper his promptnesses and delinquencies. [Richard Lord, "Running an Office by Machinery," in System, September 1909]
Perhaps you are some great big chief, who has a lot to say.
Who lords it o'er the common herd who chance to come your way;
Well, here is where your arrogance gets a dreadful shock,
When you march up, like a private, salute, and PUNCH THE CLOCK.
[from "Punch the Clock," by "The Skipper," The Commercial Telegraphers' Journal, May 1912]
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pony (n.)

1650s, powny, "a very small horse" (less than 13 hands in height), from Scottish, apparently from obsolete French poulenet "little foal" (mid-15c.), diminutive of Old French poulain "foal," from Late Latin pullanus "young of an animal," from Latin pullus "young of a horse, fowl, etc." (from PIE root *pau- (1) "few, little") [Skeat's suggestion, still accepted]. Compare, from the same source, foal, filly, Sanskrit potah "a young animal," Greek pōlos "foal," secondarily also of other young animals; Latin pullus "young animal," Lithuanian putytis "young animal, young bird."

A small horse, especially one of a small breed, as opposed to a colt or filly, words which indicate merely young horses. German, sensibly, indicates this animal by attaching a diminutive suffix to its word for "horse," which might yield Modern English *horslet. Modern French poney is a 19c. borrowing from English.

The Shetland breed of ponies are stoutly built, active and hardy, with very full mane and tail, and of gentle, docile disposition. In western parts of the United States all the small hardy horses (mustangs or broncos) used by the Indians are called ponies. [Century Dictionary, 1897] 

Meaning "crib of a text as a cheating aid," especially a translation of a Greek or Latin author used unfairly in the preparation of lessons (1827) and "small liquor glass" (1849) both are from notion of "smallness" (the former also "something one rides," a translation being something that enables a student to "get along fast").

As the name of a popular dance, it dates from 1963. The U.S. Pony Express began 1860 (and operated about 18 months before being superseded by the transcontinental telegraph). The figurative one-trick pony is 1897, American English, in reference to circus acts.

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hour (n.)

c. 1200, "divine office prescribed for each of the seven canonical hours; the daily service at the canonical hours;" c. 1300, "time of day appointed for prayer, one of the seven canonical hours," from Old French ore, hore "canonical hour; one-twelfth of a day" (sunrise to sunset), from Latin hora "an hour;" poetically "time of year, season," from Greek hōra a word used to indicate any limited time within a year, month, or day (from PIE *yor-a-, from root *yer- "year, season;" see year).

Church sense is oldest in English. Meaning "one of the 24 equal parts of a natural solar day (time from one sunrise to the next), equal hour; definite time of day or night reckoned in equal hours," and that of "one of the 12 equal parts of an artificial day (sunrise to sunset) or night, varying in duration according to the season; definite time of day or night reckoned in unequal hours" are from late 14c. In the Middle Ages the planets were held to rule over the unequal hours. As late as 16c. distinction sometimes was made in English between temporary (unequal) hours and sidereal (equal) ones. Meaning "time of a particular happening; the time for a given activity" (as in hour of death) is mid-14c.

The h- has persisted in this word despite not being pronounced since Roman times. Replaced Old English tid, literally "time" (see tide (n.)) and stund "period of time, point of time, hour," from Proto-Germanic *stundo (compare German Stunde "hour"), which is of uncertain origin. German Uhr likewise is from French.

Greek hora could mean "a season; 'the season' (spring or summer)." In classical times it sometimes meant "a part of the day," such as morning, evening, noon, night. The Greek astronomers apparently borrowed the notion of dividing the day into twelve parts (mentioned in Herodotus) from the Babylonians. Night continued to be divided into four watches (see watch (n.)); but because the amount of daylight changed throughout the year, the hours were not fixed or of equal length.

As a measure of distance ("the distance that can be covered in an hour") it is recorded from 1785. At all hours "at all times" is from early 15c. For small hours (those with low numbers) see wee (adj.).

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N 

fourteenth letter of the English alphabet; in chemistry, the symbol for nitrogen.

In late Middle English a and an commonly were joined to the following noun, if that word began with a vowel, which caused confusion over how such words ought to be divided when written separately. In nickname, newt, and British dialectal naunt, the -n- belongs to a preceding indefinite article an or possessive pronoun mine.

Other examples of this from Middle English manuscripts include a neilond ("an island," early 13c.), a narawe ("an arrow," c. 1400), a nox ("an ox," c. 1400), a noke ("an oak," early 15c.), a nappyle ("an apple," early 15c.), a negge ("an egg," 15c.), a nynche ("an inch," c. 1400), a nostryche ("an ostrich," c. 1500). My naunt for mine aunt is recorded from 13c.-17c. None other could be no noder (mid-15c.). My nown (for mine own) was frequent 15c.-18c. In 16c., an idiot sometimes became a nidiot (1530s), which, with still-common casual pronunciation, became nidget (1570s), now, alas, no longer whinnying with us.

It is "of constant recurrence" in the 15c. vocabularies, according to Thomas Wright, their modern editor. One has, among many others, Hoc alphabetum ... a nabse, from misdivision of an ABC (and pronouncing it as a word), and Hic culus ... a ners. Also compare nonce, pigsney. Even in 19c. provincial English and U.S., noration (from an oration) was "a speech; a rumor."

The process also worked in surnames, from oblique cases of Old English at "by, near," as in Nock/Nokes/Noaks from atten Oke "by the oak;" Nye from atten ye "near the lowland;" and see Nashville. (Elision of the vowel of the definite article also took place and was standard in Chancery English of the 15c.: þarchebisshop for "the archbishop," thorient for "the orient.")

But it is more common for an English word to lose an -n- to a preceding a: apron, auger, adder, umpire, humble pie, etc. By a related error in Elizabethan English, natomy or atomy was common for anatomy, noyance (annoyance) and noying (adj.) turn up 14c.-17c., and Marlowe (1590) has Natolian for Anatolian.  The tendency is not limited to English: compare Luxor, jade (n.1), lute, omelet, and Modern Greek mera for hēmera, the first syllable being confused with the article.

The mathematical use of n for "an indefinite number" is attested by 1717 in phrases such as to the nth power (see nth). In Middle English n. was written in form documents to indicate an unspecified name of a person to be supplied by the speaker or reader.

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K 

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]
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