Etymology
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grain (n.)

early 14c., "a small, hard seed," especially of one of the cereal plants, also as a collective singular, "seed of wheat and allied grasses used as food;" also "something resembling grain; a hard particle of other substances" (salt, sand, later gunpowder, etc.), from Old French grain, grein (12c.) "seed, grain; particle, drop; berry; grain as a unit of weight," from Latin granum "seed, a grain, small kernel," from PIE root *gre-no- "grain." From late 14c. as "a species of cereal plant." In the U.S., where corn has a specialized sense, it is the general word (used of wheat, rye, oats, barley, etc.).

Figuratively, "the smallest possible quantity," from late 14c. From early 15c. in English as the smallest unit of weight (originally the weight of a plump, dry grain of wheat or barley from the middle of the ear). From late 14c as "roughness of surface; a roughness as of grains." In reference to wood, "quality due to the character or arrangement of its fibers," 1560s; hence, against the grain (1650), a metaphor from carpentry: cutting across the fibers of the wood is more difficult than cutting along them.

Earliest sense of the word in English was "scarlet dye made from insects" (early 13c.), a sense also in the Old French collateral form graine; see kermes for the evolution of this sense, which was frequent in Middle English; also compare engrain. In Middle English grain also could mean "seed of flowers; pip of an apple, grape, etc.; a berry, legume, nut." Grain alcohol attested by 1854.

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can (n.)

generally, "a small cylindrical sheet-metal vessel used to contain liquids, preserves, etc.," Old English canne "a cup, container," from Proto-Germanic *kanna (source also of Old Saxon, Old Norse, Swedish kanna "a can, tankard, mug," also a unit of measure, Middle Dutch kanne, Dutch kan, Old High German channa, German Kanne). Probably it is an early borrowing from Late Latin canna "container, vessel," from Latin canna "reed," also "reed pipe, small boat;" but the sense evolution is difficult.

The modern sense of "air-tight vessel of tinned iron" is from 1867. The slang meaning "toilet" is c. 1900, said to be a shortening of piss-can; the meaning "buttocks" is from c. 1910, perhaps extended from this.

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quincunx (n.)

1640s, originally astrological, of planetary alignments at a distance of five signs from one another, from Latin, literally "five twelfths" (especially "five unciae," that is, "five-twelfths of an as," the basic unit of Roman currency), from quinque "five" (from PIE root *penkwe- "five") + uncia "ounce; a twelfth part (of anything)," related to unus "one" (from PIE root *oi-no- "one, unique").

From 1650s as "arrangement of five objects in a square, one at each corner and one in the middle" (like the five pips on a playing card or spots on dice). Also applied, especially in garden design, to arrangements in two sets of oblique rows at right angles to one another (1660s), a sense also in the Latin word. Related: Quincuncial; quincuncially.

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wee (adj.)

"extremely small," mid-15c., from earlier noun use in sense of "quantity, amount" (such as a littel wei "a little thing or amount," c. 1300), from Old English wæge "weight, unit of weight," from Proto-Germanic *wego, from PIE root *wegh- "to go, move, transport in a vehicle." The original sense was of motion, which led to that of lifting, then to that of "measure the weight of" (compare weigh, from the same source).

Adjectival use wee bit apparently developed as parallel to such forms as a bit thing "a little thing." Wee hours "hours after midnight" is attested by 1891, from Scottish phrase wee sma' hours (1819); so called for their low numbers. Wee folk "faeries" is recorded from 1819. Weeny "tiny, small" is from 1790.

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scruple (n.)

"moral misgiving, pang of conscience," late 14c., scrupul, from Old French scrupule (14c.), from Latin scrupulus "uneasiness, anxiety, pricking of conscience," also, literally, "small sharp stone," a diminutive of scrupus "sharp stone or pebble," used figuratively by Cicero for a cause of uneasiness or anxiety, a word of unknown etymology.

Probably the notion in the image is of a pebble in one's shoe. The word in the classical Latin sense of "smallest unit of weight or measurement" also is attested in English from late 14c., and was given various extensions: "one minute of arc, one minute of an hour," etc. The Latin words commonly are regarded as identical, with sense development of the latter from "small pebble" to "small weight."

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shock (n.2)

"sheaves of grain placed on-end and leaning against one another in a field, arranged so as to shed rain and allow the grain to dry," early 14c., shok, perhaps from an unrecorded Old English word or from Middle Low German schok "shock of corn," originally "group of sixty," from Proto-Germanic *skukka- (source also of Old Saxon skok, Dutch schok "sixty pieces; shock of corn;" German schock "sixty," Hocke "heap of sheaves"). The original sense of this is uncertain; perhaps it is connected to the source of shock (n.1) on the notion of being "thrown" together [Century Dictionary]. The English word in 16c.-17c. sometimes was a unit of tale meaning "60-piece lot," from trade with the Dutch.

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*gwere- (1)

gwerə-, Proto-Indo-European root meaning "heavy."

It forms all or part of: aggravate; aggravation; aggrieve; bar (n.4) "unit of pressure;" bariatric; baritone; barium; barometer; blitzkrieg; brig; brigade; brigand; brigantine; brio; brut; brute; charivari; gravamen; grave (adj.); gravid; gravimeter; gravitate; gravity; grief; grieve; kriegspiel; guru; hyperbaric; isobar; quern; sitzkrieg.

It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit guruh "heavy, weighty, venerable;" Greek baros "weight," barys "heavy in weight," often with the notion of "strength, force;" Latin gravis, "heavy, ponderous, burdensome, loaded; pregnant;" Old English cweorn "quern;" Gothic kaurus "heavy;" Lettish gruts "heavy."

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*weik- (1)

Proto-Indo-European root meaning "clan, social unit above the household."

It forms all or part of: antoecian; bailiwick; Brunswick; diocese; ecology; economy; ecumenical; metic; nasty; parish; parochial; vicinage; vicinity; viking; villa; village; villain; villanelle; -ville; villein; Warwickshire; wick (n.2) "dairy farm."

It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit visah "house," vit "dwelling, house, settlement;" Avestan vis "house, village, clan;" Old Persian vitham "house, royal house;" Greek oikos "house;" Latin villa "country house, farm," vicus "village, group of houses;" Lithuanian viešpats "master of the house;" Old Church Slavonic visi "village;" Gothic weihs "village."

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span (n.1)

"distance between two objects," from Old English span "distance between the thumb and little finger of an extended hand" (as a measure of length, roughly nine inches), probably related to Middle Dutch spannen "to join, fasten," from Proto-Germanic *spannan, from PIE root *(s)pen- "to draw, stretch, spin."

The Germanic word was borrowed into Medieval Latin as spannus, hence Italian spanna, Old French espan "hand's width, span as a unit of measure," French empan. As a measure of volume (early 14c.), "what can be held in two cupped hands." Meaning "length of time" first attested 1590s; that of "space between abutments of an arch, etc." is from 1725. Meaning "maximum lateral dimension of an aircraft" is first recorded 1909.

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mile (n.)

unit of linear measure in Great Britain, the U.S., and a few other countries, formerly used in most European countries before the metric system; Old English mil, from West Germanic *milja (source also of Middle Dutch mile, Dutch mijl, Old High German mila, German Meile), from Latin milia "thousands," plural of mille "a thousand" (neuter plural was mistaken in Germanic as a fem. singular), which is of unknown origin.

The Latin word also is the source of French mille, Italian miglio, Spanish milla. The Scandinavian words (Old Norse mila, etc.) are from English. An ancient Roman mile was 1,000 double paces (one step with each foot), for about 4,860 feet, but many local variants developed, in part in an attempt to reconcile the mile with the agricultural system of measurements. Consequently, old European miles were of various lengths. The medieval English mile was 6,610 feet; the old London mile was 5,000 feet. In Germany, Holland, and Scandinavia in the Middle Ages, the Latin word was applied arbitrarily to the ancient Germanic rasta, a measure of from 3.25 to 6 English miles. In England the ordinary mile was set by legal act at 320 perches (5,280 feet) by statute in Elizabeth's reign.

In Middle English the word also was a unit of time, "about 20 minutes," roughly what was required to walk a mile. The word has been used generically since 1580s for "a great distance." Mile-a-minute (adj.) "very fast" is attested from 1957 in railroad publications (automobiles had attained 60 mph by 1903).

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