third letter of the alphabet. Alphabetic writing came to Rome via the southern Etruscan "Caeretan" script, in which gamma was written as a crescent. Early Romans made little use of Greek kappa and used gamma for both the "g" and "k" sounds, the latter more frequently, so that the "k" sound came to be seen as the proper one for gamma. Classical Latin -c-, with only the value "k," passed to Celtic and, via missionary Irish monks, to the Anglo-Saxons. Also see cee.
In some Old English words, before some vowels and in certain positions, -c- had a "ts" sound that was respelled ch- in Middle English by French scribes (chest, cheese, church; see ch). In Old English -k- was known but little used.
Meanwhile, in Old French, many "k" sounds drifted to "ts" and by 13c., "s," but still were written -c-. Thus the 1066 invasion brought to the English language a flood of French and Latin words in which -c- represented "s" (as in cease, ceiling, circle) and a more vigorous use of -k- to distinguish that sound. By 15c. even native English words with -s- were being respelled with -c- for "s" (ice, mice, lice).
In some English words from Italian, the -c- has a "ch" sound (via a sound evolution somewhat like the Old French one). In German, -c- in loanwords was regularized to -k- or -z- (depending on pronunciation) in the international spelling reform of 1901, which was based on the Duden guide of 1880.
As a symbol in the Roman numeral system, "one hundred;" the symbol originally was a Greek theta, but was later reduced in form and understood to stand for centum. In music, it is the name of the keynote of the natural scale, though the exact pitch varied in time and place 18c. and 19c. from 240 vibrations per second to 275; it wasn't entirely regularized (at 261.63) until the adoption of the A440 standard in the 1930s. C-spring as a type of carriage spring is from 1794, so called for its shape.
[circular band] Old English hring "circlet of metal, especially one of a precious metal for wearing on the finger ornamentally, also a part of a mail coat; anything circular," from Proto-Germanic *hringaz "something curved, circle" (source also of Old Norse hringr, Old Frisian hring, Danish, Swedish, Dutch ring, Old High German hring, German Ring), from nasalized form of PIE root *sker- (2) "to turn, bend."
Other Old English senses were "circular group of persons" (birds, actually), also "horizon." In Old and Middle English also "a bracelet, armlet." As a token of marriage, betrothal, chastity, etc., by c. 1200. The sense of "a number of things arranged in a circle" is by 1580s.
The meaning "place for prize fight and wrestling bouts" (early 14c.) is from the space in a circle of bystanders in the midst of which such contests once were held, "... a circle formed for boxers, wrestlers, and cudgel players, by a man styled Vinegar; who, with his hat before his eyes, goes round the circle, striking at random with his whip to prevent the populace from crowding in" [Grose, 1785]. Hence the ring "boxing" (by 1770). The meaning "combination of persons interested in attaining some object" is from 1829, originally commercial or political, latter in reference to espionage or terrorism. Of the annual growth bands in trees, from 1670s.
Fairy ring is from 1620s. Ring finger, "third finger of the left hand" (in anatomy, of either hand) is Old English hringfingr, a compound also attested in other Germanic languages; it is also called ring-man (15c.). To run rings round (someone) "be superior to" is from 1891.
The nursery rhyme ring a ring a rosie is attested in an American form (with a different ending) from c. 1790. "The belief that the rhyme originated with the Great Plague is now almost universal, but has no evidence to support it and is almost certainly nonsense" ["Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore"]. This proposal of connection dates only to the late 1960s.
late 13c., "disordered in intellect, demented, crazy, insane," from Old English gemædde "out of one's mind" (usually implying also violent excitement), also "foolish, extremely stupid," earlier gemæded "rendered insane," past participle of a lost verb *gemædan "to make insane or foolish," from Proto-Germanic *gamaidjan, demonstrative form of *gamaidaz "changed (for the worse), abnormal" (source also of Old Saxon gimed "foolish," Old High German gimeit "foolish, vain, boastful," Gothic gamaiþs "crippled, wounded," Old Norse meiða "to hurt, maim").
This apparently is from the Germanic intensive prefix *ga- + PIE *moito-, past participle of root *mei- (1) "to change, go, move" (source also of Latin mutare "to change," migrare "to change one's place of residence"). In Middle English usurped the place of the more usual Old English word, wod (see wood (adj.)).
The meanings "beside oneself with excitement or enthusiasm, under the influence of uncontrollable emotion" and "enraged, furious, beside oneself with anger" are attested from early 14c., but the latter was deplored by Rev. John Witherspoon (1781) as an Americanism. It now competes in American English with angry for this sense. Of animals, "affected with rabies, furious from disease" from late 13c.
To do something like mad "recklessly, as if mad or crazy" is by 1650s. Phrase mad as a March hare is attested from 1520s, via notion of breeding season; mad as a hatter is from 1829 as "demented," 1837 as "enraged," according to a modern theory supposedly from erratic behavior caused by prolonged exposure to poison mercuric nitrate, used in making felt hats. For mad as a wet hen see hen.
Mad money, which a young woman carries for use in getting home when she and her date have a falling out, is attested by 1922; mad scientist, one so eccentric as to be dangerous or evil, is by 1891. Mad Libs, the word game (based on the idea in consequences, etc.), was first published in 1958
mid-12c., dien, deighen, of sentient beings, "to cease to live," possibly from Old Danish døja or Old Norse deyja "to die, pass away," both from Proto-Germanic *dawjan (source also of Old Frisian deja "to kill," Old Saxon doian, Old High German touwen, Gothic diwans "mortal"), from PIE root *dheu- (3) "to pass away, die, become senseless" (source also of Old Irish dith "end, death," Old Church Slavonic daviti, Russian davit' "to choke, suffer").
It has been speculated that Old English had *diegan, from the same source, but it is not in any of the surviving texts and the preferred words were steorfan (see starve), sweltan (see swelter), wesan dead ("become dead"), also forðgan and other euphemisms.
Languages usually don't borrow words from abroad for central life experiences, but "die" words are an exception; they often are hidden or changed euphemistically out of superstitious dread. A Dutch euphemism translates as "to give the pipe to Maarten."
Regularly spelled dege through 15c., and still pronounced "dee" by some in Lancashire and Scotland. Of plants, "become devitalized, wither," late 14c.; in a general sense of "come to an end" from mid-13c. Meaning "be consumed with a great longing or yearning" (as in dying to go) is colloquial, from 1709. Used figuratively (of sounds, etc.) from 1580s; to die away "diminish gradually" is from 1670s. To die down "subside" is by 1834. Related: Died; dies.
To die out "become extinct" is from 1865. To die game "preserve a bold, resolute, and defiant spirit to the end" (especially of one facing the gallows) is from 1793. Phrase never say die "don't give up or in" is by 1822; the earliest contexts are in sailors' jargon.
"Never look so cloudy about it messmate," the latter continued in an unmoved tone—"Cheer up man, the rope is not twisted for your neck yet. Jack's alive; who's for a row? Never say die while there's a shot in the locker. Whup;" [Gerald Griffin, "Card Drawing," 1842]
c. 1600, as a term in classical history, from Latin Arianus, Ariana, from Greek Aria, Areia, names applied in classical times to the eastern part of ancient Persia and to its inhabitants. Ancient Persians used the name in reference to themselves (Old Persian ariya-), hence Iran. Ultimately from Sanskrit arya- "compatriot;" in later language "noble, of good family."
Also the name Sanskrit-speaking invaders of India gave themselves in the ancient texts. Thus it was the word early 19c. European philologists (Friedrich Schlegel, 1819, who linked it with German Ehre "honor") applied to the ancient people we now call Indo-Europeans, suspecting that this is what they called themselves. This use is attested in English from 1851. In German from 1845 it was specifically contrasted to Semitic (Lassen).
German philologist Max Müller (1823-1900) popularized Aryan in his writings on comparative linguistics, recommending it as the name (replacing Indo-European, Indo-Germanic, Caucasian, Japhetic) for the group of related, inflected languages connected with these peoples, mostly found in Europe but also including Sanskrit and Persian. The spelling Arian was used in this sense from 1839 (and is more philologically correct), but it caused confusion with Arian, the term in ecclesiastical history.
The terms for God, for house, for father, mother, son, daughter, for dog and cow, for heart and tears, for axe and tree, identical in all the Indo-European idioms, are like the watchwords of soldiers. We challenge the seeming stranger; and whether he answer with the lips of a Greek, a German, or an Indian, we recognize him as one of ourselves. [Müller, "History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature," 1859]
Aryan was gradually replaced in comparative linguistics c. 1900 by Indo-European, except when used to distinguish Indo-European languages of India from non-Indo-European ones. From the 1920s Aryan began to be used in Nazi ideology to mean "member of a Caucasian Gentile race of Nordic type." As an ethnic designation, however, it is properly limited to Indo-Iranians (most justly to the latter) and has fallen from general academic use since the Nazis adopted it.
1833, "one who embodies the person or character of another;" 1840 as "one who infuses (something) with a personality;" 1842 as "dramatic actor, one who plays a part on stage," from impersonate with Latinate agent noun suffix. Meaning "one who imitates the manners and speech of another" for entertainment (by 1921) perhaps grew from older theatrical use of female impersonator (1876), male impersonator (1874), both once popular stage acts; the first example of the latter was perhaps Miss Ella Wesner, who had a vogue c. 1870: In Britain, blackface performers were called negro impersonators (1906). As a fem. formation, impersonatrix, as if from Latin, is from 1847; impersonatress, as if from French, is from 1881.
Her [Wesner's] impersonation were a genuine surprise and her success was so pronounced that in a short period a host of imitators made their appearance. Her most successful rivals were Bessie Bonehill, Millie Hilton and Vesta Tilley, all of London. [M.B Leavitt, "Fifty Years in Theatrical Management," New York, 1912]
There is no member of a minstrel company who gets a better salary than a good female impersonator, the line being considered a very delicate one, requiring a high style of art in its way to judge where fun stops and bad taste begins, with decision enough on the part of the performer to stop at the stopping place. ["The Ancestry of Brudder Bones," Harper's New Monthly Magazine, April 1879]
The most fascinating performer I knew in those days was a dame named Metcalfe who was a female female impersonator. To maintain the illusion and keep her job, she had to be a male impersonator when she wasn't on. Onstage she wore a wig, which she would remove at the finish, revealing her mannish haircut. "Fooled you!" she would boom at the audience in her husky baritone. Then she would stride off to her dressing room and change back into men's clothes. She fooled every audience she played to, and most of the managers she worked for, but her secret was hard to keep from the rest of the company. [Harpo Marx, "Harpo Speaks"]
Old English fyr "fire, a fire," from Proto-Germanic *fūr- (source also of Old Saxon fiur, Old Frisian fiur, Old Norse fürr, Middle Dutch and Dutch vuur, Old High German fiur, German Feuer "fire"), from PIE *perjos, from root *paewr- "fire." Current spelling is attested as early as 1200, but did not fully displace Middle English fier (preserved in fiery) until c. 1600.
PIE apparently had two roots for fire: *paewr- and *egni- (source of Latin ignis). The former was "inanimate," referring to fire as a substance, and the latter was "animate," referring to it as a living force (compare water (n.1)).
Brend child fuir fordredeþ ["The Proverbs of Hendyng," c. 1250]
English fire was applied to "ardent, burning" passions or feelings from mid-14c. Meaning "discharge of firearms, action of guns, etc." is from 1580s. To be on fire is from c. 1500 (in fire attested from c. 1400, as is on a flame "on fire"). To play with fire in the figurative sense "risk disaster, meddle carelessly or ignorantly with a dangerous matter" is by 1861, from the common warning to children. Phrase where's the fire?, said to one in an obvious hurry, is by 1917, American English.
Fire-bell is from 1620s; fire-alarm as a self-acting, mechanical device is from 1808 as a theoretical creation; practical versions began to appear in the early 1830s. Fire-escape (n.) is from 1788 (the original so-called was a sort of rope-ladder disguised as a small settee); fire-extinguisher is from 1826. A fire-bucket (1580s) carries water to a fire. Fire-house is from 1899; fire-hall from 1867, fire-station from 1828. Fire company "men for managing a fire-engine" is from 1744, American English. Fire brigade "firefighters organized in a body in a particular place" is from 1838. Fire department, usually a branch of local government, is from 1805. Fire-chief is from 1877; fire-ranger from 1909.
Symbolic fire and the sword is by c. 1600 (translating Latin flamma ferroque absumi); earlier yron and fyre (1560s), with suerd & flawme (mid-15c.), mid fure & mid here ("with fire and armed force"), c. 1200. Fire-breathing is from 1590s. To set the river on fire, "accomplish something surprising or remarkable" (usually with a negative and said of one considered foolish or incompetent) is by 1830, often with the name of a river, varying according to locality, but the original is set the Thames on fire (1796). The hypothetical feat was mentioned as the type of something impossibly difficult by 1720; it circulated as a theoretical possibility under some current models of chemistry c. 1792-95, which may have contributed to the rise of the expression.
[A]mong other fanciful modes of demonstrating the practicability of conducting the gas wherever it might be required, he anchored a small boat in the stream about 50 yards from the shore, to which he conveyed a pipe, having the end turned up so as to rise above the water, and forcing the gas through the pipe, lighted it just above the surface, observing to his friends "that he had now set the river on fire." ["On the Origins and Progress of Gas-lighting," in "Repertory of Patent Inventions," vol. III, London, 1827]
"to have sexual intercourse with" (transitive), until recently a difficult word to trace in usage, in part because it was omitted as taboo by the editors of the original OED when the "F" entries were compiled (1893-97). Johnson also had excluded the word, and fuck wasn't in a single English language dictionary from 1795 to 1965. "The Penguin Dictionary" broke the taboo in the latter year. Houghton Mifflin followed, in 1969, with "The American Heritage Dictionary," but it also published a "Clean Green" edition without the word, to assure itself access to the public high school market.
Written form attested from at least early 16c.; OED 2nd edition cites 1503, in the form fukkit, and the earliest attested appearance of current spelling is 1535 ("Bischops ... may fuck thair fill and be vnmaryit" [Sir David Lyndesay, "Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaits"]). Presumably it is a more ancient word, but one not written in the kind of texts that have survived from Old English and Middle English [September 2015: the verb appears to have been found recently in an English court manuscript from 1310]. Buck cites proper name John le Fucker from 1278, but that surname could have other explanations. The word apparently is hinted at in a scurrilous 15c. poem, titled "Flen flyys" ["Fleas, Flies (and Friars)"], written in bastard Latin and Middle English. The relevant line reads:
Non sunt in celi
quia fuccant uuiuys of heli
"They [the monks] are not in heaven because they fuck the wives of [the town of] Ely." Fuccant is pseudo-Latin, and in the original it is written in cipher. The earliest examples of the word otherwise are from Scottish, which suggests a Scandinavian origin, perhaps from a word akin to Norwegian dialectal fukka "copulate," or Swedish dialectal focka "copulate, strike, push," and fock "penis."
Another theory traces the Modern English verb to Middle English fyke, fike "move restlessly, fidget" (see fike) which also meant "dally, flirt," and probably is from a general North Sea Germanic word (compare Middle Dutch fokken, German ficken "fuck," earlier "make quick movements to and fro, flick," still earlier "itch, scratch;" the vulgar sense attested from 16c.). This would parallel in sense the vulgar Middle English term for "have sexual intercourse," swive, from Old English swifan "to move lightly over, sweep" (see swivel). But OED remarks that these "cannot be shown to be related" to the English word. Liberman has this to say:
Germanic words of similar form (f + vowel + consonant) and meaning 'copulate' are numerous. One of them is G. ficken. They often have additional senses, especially 'cheat,' but their basic meaning is 'move back and forth.' ... Most probably, fuck is a borrowing from Low German and has no cognates outside Germanic.
Chronology and phonology rule out Shipley's attempt to derive it from Middle English firk "to press hard, beat." The unkillable urban legend that this word is an acronym of some sort (a fiction traceable on the internet to 1995 but probably predating that), and the "pluck yew" fable, are results of ingenious trifling (also see here). The Old English verb for "have sexual intercourse with" was hæman, from ham "dwelling, home," with a sense of "take home, co-habit." French foutre and Italian fottere seem to resemble the English word but are unrelated, descending rather from Latin futuere, which perhaps is from PIE root *bhau- "to strike," extended via a figurative use "from the sexual application of violent action" [Shipley; compare the sexual slang use of bang, etc.].
Fuck was outlawed in print in England (by the Obscene Publications Act, 1857) and the U.S. (by the Comstock Act, 1873). The word continued in common speech, however. During World War I:
It became so common that an effective way for the soldier to express this emotion was to omit this word. Thus if a sergeant said, 'Get your ----ing rifles!' it was understood as a matter of routine. But if he said 'Get your rifles!' there was an immediate implication of urgency and danger. [John Brophy, "Songs and Slang of the British Soldier: 1914-1918," pub. 1930]
The legal barriers against use in print broke down in mid-20c. with the "Ulysses" decision (U.S., 1933) and "Lady Chatterley's Lover" (U.S., 1959; U.K., 1960). The major breakthrough in publication was James Jones' "From Here to Eternity" (1950), with 50 fucks (down from 258 in the original manuscript).
The abbreviation F (or eff) probably began as euphemistic, but by 1943 it was regarded as a cuss word in its own right. In 1948, the publishers of "The Naked and the Dead" persuaded Norman Mailer to use the euphemism fug. When Mailer later was introduced to Dorothy Parker, she greeted him with, "So you're the man who can't spell 'fuck' " [The quip sometimes is attributed to Tallulah Bankhead]. As a written euphemism, muck is attested by 1929 (Hemingway used it in "For Whom the Bell Tolls," 1940). Related: Fucked; fucking.
Fuck-all "nothing" first recorded 1960. Verbal phrase fuck up "to ruin, spoil, destroy" is attested from c. 1916. A widespread group of Slavic words (such as Polish pierdolić) can mean both "fornicate" and "make a mistake." Fuck off is attested from 1929; as a command to depart, by 1944. Egyptian legal agreements from the 23rd Dynasty (749-21 B.C.E.) frequently include the phrase, "If you do not obey this decree, may a donkey copulate with you!" [Reinhold Aman, "Maledicta," Summer 1977].