mid-14c., "state or fact of knowing; what is known, knowledge (of something) acquired by study; information;" also "assurance of knowledge, certitude, certainty," from Old French science "knowledge, learning, application; corpus of human knowledge" (12c.), from Latin scientia "knowledge, a knowing; expertness," from sciens (genitive scientis) "intelligent, skilled," present participle of scire "to know."
The original notion in the Latin verb probably is "to separate one thing from another, to distinguish," or else "to incise." This is related to scindere "to cut, divide" (from PIE root *skei- "to cut, split;" source also of Greek skhizein "to split, rend, cleave," Gothic skaidan, Old English sceadan "to divide, separate").
OED writes that the oldest English sense of the word now is restricted to theology and philosophy. From late 14c. in English as "book-learning," also "a particular branch of knowledge or of learning, systematized knowledge regarding a particular group of objects;" also "skillfulness, cleverness; craftiness." From c. 1400 as "experiential knowledge;" also "a skill resulting from training, handicraft; a trade."
From late 14c. in the more specific sense of "collective human knowledge," especially that gained by systematic observation, experiment, and reasoning. The modern (restricted) sense of "body of regular or methodical observations or propositions concerning a particular subject or speculation" is attested by 1725; in 17c.-18c. this commonly was philosophy.
The sense of "non-arts studies" is attested from 1670s. The distinction is commonly understood as between theoretical truth (Greek epistemē) and methods for effecting practical results (tekhnē), but science sometimes is used for practical applications and art for applications of skill.
The predominant modern use, "natural and physical science," generally restricted to study of the phenomena of the material universe and its laws, is by mid-19c.
Science, since people must do it, is a socially embedded activity. It progresses by hunch, vision, and intuition. Much of its change through time does not record a closer approach to absolute truth, but the alteration of cultural contexts that influence it so strongly. Facts are not pure and unsullied bits of information; culture also influences what we see and how we see it. Theories, moreover, are not inexorable inductions from facts. The most creative theories are often imaginative visions imposed upon facts; the source of imagination is also strongly cultural. [Stephen Jay Gould, introduction to "The Mismeasure of Man," 1981]
In science you must not talk before you know. In art you must not talk before you do. In literature you must not talk before you think. [John Ruskin, "The Eagle's Nest," 1872]
To blind (someone) with science "confuse by the use of big words or complex explanations" is attested from 1937, originally noted as a phrase from Australia and New Zealand.
c. 1300, "inadequate, unsatisfactory, worthless; unfortunate;" late 14c., "wicked, evil, vicious; counterfeit;" from 13c. in surnames (William Badde, Petri Badde, Asketinus Baddecheese, Rads Badinteheved). Rare before 1400, and evil was more common until c. 1700 as the ordinary antithesis of good. It has no apparent relatives in other languages.* Possibly from Old English derogatory term bæddel and its diminutive bædling "effeminate man, hermaphrodite, pederast," which probably are related to bædan "to defile."
The orig. word, AS. bæddel, ME. baddel, on account of its sinister import, is scarcely found in literature, but, like other words of similar sense, it prob. flourished in vulgar speech as an indefinite term of abuse, and at length, divested of its original meaning, emerged in literary use as a mere adj., badde, equiv. to the older evil. [Century Dictionary, 1897]
Comparable words in the other Indo-European languages tend to have grown from descriptions of specific qualities, such as "ugly," "defective," "weak," "faithless," "impudent," "crooked," "filthy" (such as Greek kakos, probably from the word for "excrement;" Russian plochoj, related to Old Church Slavonic plachu "wavering, timid;" Persian gast, Old Persian gasta-, related to gand "stench;" German schlecht, originally "level, straight, smooth," whence "simple, ordinary," then "bad").
Comparative and superlative forms badder, baddest were common 14c.-18c. and used as recently as Defoe (but not by Shakespeare), but yielded to comparative worse and superlative worst (which had belonged to evil and ill).
Meaning "uncomfortable, sorry" is 1839, American English colloquial. To go bad "putrefy" is from 1884. Not bad "fairly good" is by 1771. Ironic use as a word of approval is said to be at least since 1890s orally, originally in African-American vernacular, emerging in print 1928 in a jazz context. It might have emerged from the ambivalence of expressions like bad nigger, used as a term of reproach by whites, but among blacks sometimes representing one who stood up to injustice, but in the U.S. West bad man also had a certain ambivalence:
These are the men who do most of the killing in frontier communities, yet it is a noteworthy fact that the men who are killed generally deserve their fate. [Farmer and Henley, "Slang and Its Analogues"]
*Persian has bad in more or less the same sense as the English word, but this is regarded by linguists as a coincidence. The forms of the words diverge as they are traced back in time (Persian bad comes from Middle Persian vat), and such accidental convergences exist across many languages, given the vast number of words in each and the limited range of sounds humans can make to signify them. Among other coincidental matches with English are Korean mani "many," Chinese pei "pay," Nahuatl (Aztecan) huel "well," Maya hol "hole."
"female intercrural foramen," or, as some 18c. writers refer to it, "the monosyllable," Middle English cunte "female genitalia," by early 14c. (in Hendyng's "Proverbs" — ʒeve þi cunte to cunni[n]g, And crave affetir wedding), akin to Old Norse kunta, Old Frisian, Middle Dutch, and Middle Low German kunte, from Proto-Germanic *kunton, which is of uncertain origin. Some suggest a link with Latin cuneus "wedge" (which is of unknown origin), others to PIE root *geu- "hollow place," still others to PIE root *gwen- "woman."
The form is similar to Latin cunnus "female pudenda" (also, vulgarly, "a woman"), which is likewise of disputed origin, perhaps literally "gash, slit" (from PIE *sker- "to cut") or "sheath" (Watkins, from PIE *(s)keu- "to conceal, hide"). De Vaan rejects this, however, and traces it to "a root *kut-meaning 'bag', 'scrotum', and metaphorically also 'female pudenda,' " source also of Greek kysthos "vagina; buttocks; pouch, small bag" (but Beekes suspects this is a Pre-Greek word), Lithuanian kutys "(money) bag," Old High German hodo "testicles."
Hec vulva: a cunt. Hic cunnus: idem est. [from Londesborough Illustrated Nominale, c. 1500, in "Anglo-Saxon and Old English Vocabularies," eds. Wright and Wülcker, vol. 1, 1884]
First known reference in English apparently is in a compound, Oxford street name Gropecuntlane cited from c. 1230 (and attested through late 14c.) in "Place-Names of Oxfordshire" (Gelling & Stenton, 1953), presumably a haunt of prostitutes. Used in medical writing c. 1400, but avoided in public speech since 15c.; considered obscene since 17c.
in Middle English also conte, counte, and sometimes queinte, queynte (for this, see Q). Chaucer used quaint and queynte in "Canterbury Tales" (late 14c.), and Andrew Marvell might be punning on quaint in "To His Coy Mistress" (1650).
"What eyleth yow to grucche thus and grone? Is it for ye wolde haue my queynte allone?" [Wife of Bath's Tale]
Under "MONOSYLLABLE" Farmer lists 552 synonyms from English slang and literature before launching into another 5 pages of them in French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. [A sampling: Botany Bay, chum, coffee-shop, cookie, End of the Sentimental Journey, fancy bit, Fumbler's Hall, funniment, goatmilker, heaven, hell, Itching Jenny, jelly-bag, Low Countries, nature's tufted treasure, penwiper, prick-skinner, seminary, tickle-toby, undeniable, wonderful lamp, and aphrodisaical tennis court, and, in a separate listing, Naggie.] Dutch cognate de kont means "a bottom, an arse," but Dutch also has attractive poetic slang ways of expressing this part, such as liefdesgrot, literally "cave of love," and vleesroos "rose of flesh."
Alternative form cunny is attested from c. 1720 but is certainly much earlier and forced a change in the pronunciation of coney (q.v.), but it was good for a pun while coney was still the common word for "rabbit": "A pox upon your Christian cockatrices! They cry, like poulterers' wives, 'No money, no coney.' " [Philip Massinger: "The Virgin-Martyr," Act I, Scene 1, 1622]
1530s spelling alteration (see wh-) of Middle English hore, from Old English hore "prostitute, harlot," from Proto-Germanic *hōran-, fem. *hōrā- (source also of Old Frisian hor "fornication," Old Norse hora "adulteress," Danish hore, Swedish hora, Dutch hoer, Old High German huora "prostitute;" in Gothic only in the masc. hors "adulterer, fornicator," also as a verb, horinon "commit adultery"), probably etymologically "one who desires," from PIE root *ka- "to like, desire," which in other languages has produced words for "lover; friend."
Whore itself is perhaps a Germanic euphemism for a word that has not survived. The Old English vowel naturally would have yielded *hoor, which is the pronunciation in some dialects; it might have shifted by influence of Middle English homonym hore "physical filth, slime," also "moral corruption, sin," from Old English horh. The wh- form became current 16c. A general term of abuse for an unchaste or lewd woman (without regard to money) from at least c. 1200. Of male prostitutes from 1630s. Whore of Babylon is from Revelation xvii.1, 5, etc. In Middle English with occasional plural forms horen, heoranna.
The word, with its derivatives, is now avoided polite speech; its survival in literature, so as it survives, is due to the fact that it is a favorite word with Shakspere (who uses it, with its derivatives, 99 times) and is common in the authorized English version of the Bible ... though the American revisers recommended the substitution of harlot as less gross .... [Century Dictionary]
Some equivalent words in other languages also derive from sources not originally pejorative, such as Bohemian nevestka, diminutive of nevesta "bride;" Dutch deern, German dirne originally "girl, lass, wench;" also perhaps Old French pute, perhaps literally "girl," fem. of Vulgar Latin *puttus (but perhaps rather from Latin putidus "stinking;" see poontang). Welsh putain "whore" is from French, probably via Middle English. Among other languages, Greek porne "prostitute" is related to pernemi "sell," with an original notion probably of a female slave sold for prostitution; Latin meretrix is literally "one who earns wages" (source of Irish mertrech, Old English miltestre "whore, prostitute").
The vulgar Roman word was scortum, literally "skin, hide." Another term was lupa, literally "she-wolf" (preserved in Spanish loba, Italian lupa, French louve; see wolf (n.)). And of course there was prostituta, literally "placed in front," thus "publicly exposed," from the fem. past participle of prostituere (see prostitute (n.)). Another Old Norse term was skækja, which yielded Danish skøge, Swedish sköka; probably from Middle Low German schoke, which is perhaps from schode "foreskin of a horse's penis," perhaps with the sense of "skin" (compare Latin scortum) or perhaps via an intermediary sense of "vagina." Spanish ramera, Portuguese rameira are from fem. form of ramero "young bird of prey," literally "little branch," from ramo "branch." Breton gast is cognate with Welsh gast "bitch," of uncertain origin. Compare also strumpet, harlot.
Old Church Slavonic ljubodejica is from ljuby dejati "fornicate," a compound from ljuby "love" + dejati "put, perform." Russian bljad "whore" derives from Old Church Slavonic bladinica, from bladu "fornication." Polish nierządnica is literally "disorderly woman." Sanskrit vecya is a derivation of veca- "house, dwelling," especially "house of ill-repute, brothel." Another term, pumccali, means literally "one who runs after men." Avestan jahika is literally "woman," but only of evil creatures; another term is kunairi, from pejorative prefix ku- + nairi "woman."