early 13c. (late 12c. in surnames), "a considerable body of water flowing with perceptible current in a definite course or channel," from Anglo-French rivere, Old French riviere "river, riverside, river bank" (12c.), from Vulgar Latin *riparia "riverbank, seashore, river" (source also of Spanish ribera, Italian riviera), noun use of fem. of Latin riparius "of a riverbank" (see riparian).
The generalized sense of "a copious flow" of anything is from late 14c., as is figurative use. The Old English word was ea "river," cognate with Gothic ahwa, Latin aqua (see aqua-). Romanic cognate words tend to retain the sense "river bank" as the main one, or else the secondary Latin sense "coast of the sea" (compare Riviera). In printing by 1898: "streaks of white space in text caused by the spaces between words in several lines happening to fall one almost below the other."
U.S. slang phrase up the river "in prison" (1891) is said to be originally in reference to Sing Sing prison, up the Hudson River from New York City. The phrase down the river "done for, finished" (1893) perhaps echoes the sense in sell down the river (1836, American English), originally of slaves sold from the Upper South to the harsher plantations of the Deep South.
"deep, circular vessel," from late Old English pott and Old French pot "pot, container, mortar" (also in erotic senses), both from a general Low Germanic (Old Frisian pott, Middle Dutch pot) and Romanic word from Vulgar Latin *pottus, which is of uncertain origin, said by Barnhart and OED to be unconnected to Late Latin potus "drinking cup." Similar Celtic words are said to be borrowed from English and French.
Specifically as a drinking vessel from Middle English. Slang meaning "large sum of money staked on a bet" is attested from 1823; that of "aggregate stakes in a card game" is from 1847, American English.
Pot roast "meat (generally beef) cooked in a pot with little water and allowed to become brown, as if roasted," is from 1881. Pot-plant is by 1816 as "plant grown in a pot." The phrase go to pot "be ruined or wasted" (16c.) suggests cooking, perhaps meat cut up for the pot. In phrases, the pot calls the kettle black-arse (said of one who blames another for what he himself is also guilty of) is from c. 1700; shit or get off the pot is traced by Partridge to Canadian armed forces in World War II. To keep the pot boiling "provide the necessities of life" is from 1650s.
"hybrid offspring of donkey and horse," from Old English mul, Old French mul "mule, hinny" (12c., fem. mule), both from Latin mulus (fem. mula) "a mule," from Proto-Italic *musklo-, which is probably (along with Greek myklos "pack-mule," Albanian mushk "mule) a loan-word from a language of Asia Minor.
The mule combines the strength of the horse with the endurance and surefootedness of the ass, and is extensively bred for certain employments for which it is more suited than either; it is ordinarily incapable of procreation. With no good grounds, the mule is a proverbial type of obstinacy. [OED]
Properly, the offspring of a he-ass and a mare; that of a she-ass and a stallion is technically a hinny. The males are ordinarily incapable of procreation. Used allusively of hybrids and things of mixed nature. Meaning "obstinate, stupid, or stubborn person" is from 1470s; the sense of "stupid" seems to have been older, that of "stubborn" is by 18c.
As a type of spinning machine, it is attested from 1793 (as mule-jenny, 1788), so called because it is a "hybrid" of Arkwright's drawing-rollers and Hargreaves' jenny. The underworld slang sense of "narcotics smuggler or courier for a drug trafficker" is attested by 1935. The mule-deer of Western U.S. (1805) is so called for its large ears.
early 14c., misterie, in a theological sense, "religious truth via divine revelation, hidden spiritual significance, mystical truth," from Anglo-French *misterie, Old French mistere "secret, mystery, hidden meaning" (Modern French mystère) and directly from Latin mysterium "secret rite, secret worship; a sacrament, a secret thing."
This is from Greek mystērion (usually in plural mysteria) "secret rite or doctrine (known and practiced by certain initiated persons only), consisting of purifications, sacrificial offerings, processions, songs, etc.," from mystēs "one who has been initiated," from myein "to close, shut" (see mute (adj.)); perhaps referring to the lips (in secrecy) or to the eyes (only initiates were allowed to see the sacred rites).
The Greek word was used in Septuagint for "secret counsel of God," translated in Vulgate as sacramentum. Non-theological use in English, "a hidden or secret thing; a fact, matter, etc., of which the meaning explanation, or cause is unknown," is from late 14c. In reference to the ancient rites of Greece, Egypt, etc. it is attested from 1640s. Meaning "detective story" is recorded by 1908. Mystery meat, slang for "unidentifiable meat served in a military mess, student dining hall, etc." is by 1949, probably from World War II armed services.
Old English gesælig "happy, fortuitous, prosperous" (related to sæl "happiness"), from Proto-Germanic *sæligas (source also of Old Norse sæll "happy," Old Saxon salig, Middle Dutch salich, Old High German salig, German selig "blessed, happy, blissful," Gothic sels "good, kindhearted").
This is one of the few instances in which an original long e (ee) has become shortened to i. The same change occurs in breeches, and in the American pronunciation of been, with no change in spelling. [Century Dictionary]
The word's considerable sense development moved from "happy" to "blessed" to "pious," to "innocent" (c. 1200), to "harmless," to "pitiable" (late 13c.), "weak" (c. 1300), to "feeble in mind, lacking in reason, foolish" (1570s). Further tendency toward "stunned, dazed as by a blow" (1886) in knocked silly, etc. Silly season in journalism slang is from 1861 (August and September, when newspapers compensate for a lack of hard news by filling up with trivial stories). Silly Putty trademark claims use from July 1949.
It is a widespread phenomenon that the words for 'innocent', apart from their legal use, develop, through 'harmless, guileless', a disparaging sense 'credulous, naive, simple, foolish.' [Buck]
Old English synn "moral wrongdoing, injury, mischief, enmity, feud, guilt, crime, offense against God, misdeed," from Proto-Germanic *sundiō "sin" (source also of Old Saxon sundia, Old Frisian sende, Middle Dutch sonde, Dutch zonde, German Sünde "sin, transgression, trespass, offense," extended forms), probably ultimately "it is true," i.e. "the sin is real" (compare Gothic sonjis, Old Norse sannr "true"), from PIE *snt-ya-, a collective form from *es-ont- "becoming," present participle of root *es- "to be."
The semantic development is via notion of "to be truly the one (who is guilty)," as in Old Norse phrase verð sannr at "be found guilty of," and the use of the phrase "it is being" in Hittite confessional formula. The same process probably yielded the Latin word sons (genitive sontis) "guilty, criminal" from present participle of sum, esse "to be, that which is." Some etymologists believe the Germanic word was an early borrowing directly from the Latin genitive. Also see sooth.
Sin-eater is attested from 1680s. To live in sin "cohabit without marriage" is from 1838; used earlier in a more general sense. Ice hockey slang sin bin "penalty box" is attested from 1950.
Old English bæcere "baker, one who bakes (especially bread)," agent noun from bacan "to bake" (see bake (v.)). Cognate with Dutch bakker, German Bäcker, Becker. In the Middle Ages, the craft had two divisions, braun-bakeres and whit-bakeres.
White bakers shall bake no hors brede..broune bakers shall bake whete brede as it comyth grounde fro the mylle withoute ony bultyng of the same. Also the seid broune bakers shall bake hors brede of clene benys and pesyn, And also brede that is called housholdersbrede. [Letterbook in the City of London Records Office, Guildhall, 1441]
Baker's dozen "thirteen" is from 1590s.
These dealers [hucksters] ... on purchasing their bread from the bakers, were privileged by law to receive thirteen batches for twelve, and this would seem to have been the extent of their profits. Hence the expression, still in use, "A baker's dozen." [H.T. Riley, "Liber Albus," 1859]
But Brewer says the custom originated when there were heavy penalties for short weight, bakers giving the extra bread to secure themselves.
Baker, to spell, an expression for attempting anything difficult. In old spelling-books, baker was the first word of two syllables, and when a child came to it, he thought he had a hard task before him. [Barrère and Leland, "A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant," 1897].
Old English Grecas, Crecas (plural) "Greeks, inhabitants of Greece," early Germanic borrowing from Latin Graeci "the Hellenes," apparently from Greek Graikoi. The first use of Graikhos as equivalent to Hellenes is found in Aristotle ("Meteorologica" I.xiv).
A modern theory (put forth by German classical historian Georg Busolt, 1850-1920), derives it from Graikhos "inhabitant of Graia" (literally "gray," also "old, withered"), a town on the coast of Boeotia, which was the name given by the Romans to all Greeks, originally to the Greek colonists from Graia who helped found Cumae (9c. B.C.E.), the important city in southern Italy where the Latins first encountered Greeks. Under this theory, it was reborrowed in this general sense by the Greeks.
The Germanic languages originally borrowed the word with an initial "-k-" sound (compare Old High German Chrech, Gothic Kreks), which probably was their initial sound closest to the Latin "-g-" at the time; the word was later refashioned. From late 14c. as "the Greek language." Meaning "unintelligible speech, gibberish, any language of which one is ignorant" is from c. 1600. Meaning "member of a Greek-letter fraternity" is student slang, 1884.
It was subtle of God to learn Greek when he wished to become an author — and not to learn it better. [Nietzsche, "Beyond Good and Evil," 1886]
also pip-squeak, contemptuous name for an insignificant person, 1910, from the trivial noise a young or weak creature makes. In World War I it was the soldier's slang name for a small German shell "which makes both a pip and a squeak when it comes over the trenches" [Farrow, "Dictionary of Military Terms," 1918]. Pip and Squeak (and later Wilfred), the beloved English comic strip animals, debuted May 1919 in the children's section of the Daily Mirror. To squeeze (something) until the pips squeak "exact the maximum from" is attested by 1918, from pip (n.1).
The grossest spectacle was provided by Sir Eric Geddes in the Guildhall at Cambridge. An earlier speech in which, in a moment of injudicious candour, he had cast doubts on the possibility of extracting from Germany the whole cost of the war had been the object of serious suspicion, and he had therefore a reputation to regain. "We will get out of her all you can squeeze out of a lemon and a bit more," the penitent shouted, "I will squeeze her until you can hear the pips squeak" ; his policy was to take every bit of property belonging to Germans in neutral and Allied countries, and all her gold and silver and her jewels, and the contents of her picture-galleries and libraries, to sell the proceeds for the Allies' benefit. [John Maynard Keynes, "The Economic Consequences of Peace," 1919]
"hindmost part of an animal," Old English tægl, tægel "a tail," from Proto-Germanic *tagla- (source also of Old High German zagal, German Zagel "tail," dialectal German Zagel "penis," Old Norse tagl "horse's tail," Gothic tagl "hair"), from PIE *doklos, from suffixed form of root *dek- (2) "something long and thin" (referring to such things as fringe, lock of hair, horsetail; source also of Old Irish dual "lock of hair," Sanskrit dasah "fringe, wick").
According to OED, the primary sense, at least in Germanic, seems to have been "hairy tail," or just "tuft of hair," but already in Old English the word was applied to the hairless "tails" of worms, bees, etc. But Buck writes that the common notion is of "long, slender shape." As an adjective from 1670s.
Meaning "reverse side of a coin" (opposite the side with the head) is from 1680s; that of "backside of a person, buttocks" is recorded from c. 1300; slang sense of "pudenda" is from mid-14c.; that of "woman as sex object" is from 1933, earlier "act of copulation" with a prostitute (1846). Of descending strokes of letters, from 1590s.
Tails "coat with tails" is from 1857. The tail-race (1776) is the part of a mill race below the wheel. To turn tail "take flight" (1580s) originally was a term in falconry. The image of the tail wagging the dog is attested from 1907. Another Old English word for "tail" was steort (see stark).