late 13c., from a Scandinavian source, probably Old Norse leggr "a leg, bone of the arm or leg," from Proto-Germanic *lagjaz (cognates Danish læg, Swedish läg "the calf of the leg"), a word with no certain ulterior connections. Perhaps from a PIE root meaning "to bend" [Buck]. For Old Norse senses, compare Bein, the German word for "leg," in Old High German "bone, leg" (see bone (n.)). Replaced Old English shank (n.), itself also perhaps from a root meaning "crooked."
Distinguished from an arm, leg, or fin in being used for support. Of triangle sides from 1650s (translating Greek skelos, literally "leg"). Extended to furniture supports from 1670s. Meaning "part of pants which cover the leg" is from 1570s. By 1870s as an adjective it had a salacious suggestion of artistic displays focused on the female form, such as leg-piece in theater jargon, leg-business as slang for "ballet."
The meaning "a part or stage of a journey or race" (1920) is from earlier sailing sense of "a run made by a ship on a single tack when beating to windward" (1867), which was usually qualified as long leg, short leg, etc. Slang phrase shake a leg is attested from 1869 as "dance," 1880 as "hurry up." To be on (one's) last legs "at the end of one's life" is from 1590s, the notion is of something that serves one for support and keeps one moving. To take leg bail was old slang for "run away" (1774). Legs "ability to be an enduring success, staying power" is from 1970s show business slang.
mid-14c., accioun, "cause or grounds for a lawsuit," from Anglo-French accioun, Old French accion, action (12c.) "action; lawsuit, case," from Latin actionem (nominative actio) "a putting in motion; a performing, a doing; public acts, official conduct; lawsuit, legal action" (source also of Spanish accion, Italian azione), noun of action from past-participle stem of agere "to do" (from PIE root *ag- "to drive, draw out or forth, move").
Spelling with the restored Latin -t- begins in 15c. The meaning "active exertion, activity" is from late 14c. The sense of "something done, an act, deed" is late 14c. The meaning "military fighting" is from 1590s. The meaning "way in which (a firearm, etc.) acts" is from 1845. As a film director's command, it is attested from 1923.
The meaning "noteworthy or important activity" in a modern sense by 1933, as in the figurative phrase a piece of the action (by 1965), perhaps from a sense of action in card-playing jargon attested by 1914.
No "action" can be had on a bet until the card bet upon appears. If it does not appear after a turn has been made, the player is at liberty to change his bet, or to remove it altogether. Each bet is made for the turn only, unless the player chooses to leave it until he gets some action on it. [from "Faro" in "Hoyle's Games," A.L. Burt Company, New York: 1914]
But there are uses of action as far back as c. 1600 that seem to mean "noteworthy activity." The meaning "excitement" is recorded from 1968. In action "in a condition of effective operation" is from 1650s. Phrase actions speak louder than words is attested from 1731. Action-packed is attested from 1953, originally of movies.
1530s, "subdivision of an act of a play," also "stage-setting," from French scène (14c.), from Latin scaena, scena "scene, stage of a theater," from Greek skēnē "wooden stage for actors," also "that which is represented on stage," originally "tent or booth," which is related to skia "shadow, shade," via the notion of "something that gives shade" (see Ascians).
According to Beekes' sources, the Greek word "originally denoted any light construction of cloth hung between tree branches in order to provide shadow, under which one could shelter, sleep, celebrate festivities, etc."
A theatrical word; the wider senses come from the notion of the painted drops and hangings on stage as the "setting" for the action. From "stage setting" the sense extended to "material apparatus of a theatrical stage, part of a theater in which the acting is done" (1540s), which led to "setting of any artistic work, place in which the action of a literary work is supposed to occur" and the general (non-literary) sense of "place where anything is done or takes place" (both by 1590s).
Hence the sense in reference to a (specified) activity and its realm or sphere (1931, as in the poetry scene) and U.S. slang sense of "setting or milieu or situation for a specific group or activity," attested from 1951 in Beat jargon.
Meaning "any exhibition, display, or demonstration of strong feeling," especially "stormy encounter between two or more persons," is attested by 1761. By 1650s as "a view presented to the mind or eye."
Behind the scenes "having knowledge of affairs not apparent to the public" (1748) is an image from the theater, "amid actors and stage machinery" (back of the visible stage and out of sight of the audience), which is attested from 1660s. Scene of the crime is attested by 1843. To make a scene "make a noisy or otherwise unpleasant demonstration" is by 1831.
The word was in Middle English in the Latin form, scena, "structure on a stage for dramatic recitations" (late 14c.).
c. 1300, "one at dice," from Old French as "one at dice" (12c.), from Latin as "a unit, one, a whole, unity;" also the name of a small Roman coin (originally a rectangular bronze plaque weighing one pound, it eventually was reduced by depreciation to half an ounce; in imperial times it became a round coin). The Latin word also is the source of Spanish as, Italian asso, German ass, Dutch aas, Danish es. It is perhaps originally Etruscan and related to Greek heis "one" (from PIE root *sem- (1) "one, as one"), or it might have been taken directly into Latin from the Greek word.
In English, it meant the side of the die with only one mark before it meant the playing card with one pip (1530s). Because this was the lowest roll at dice, ace was used metaphorically in Middle English for "bad luck" or "something of no value;" but as the ace often is the highest playing card, the extended senses based on "excellence, good quality" arose 18c. as card-playing became popular. Ace in the hole in the figurative sense of "concealed advantage" is attested from 1904, from crooked stud-poker deals.
The meaning "outstanding pilot" dates from 1917 (technically, in World War I aviators' jargon, one who has brought down 10 enemy planes, though originally in reference to 5 shot down), from French l'ace (1915), which, according to Bruce Robertson (ed.) "Air Aces of the 1914-1918 War" was used in prewar French sporting publications for "top of the deck" boxers, cyclists, etc. The sports meaning "point scored" (1819) led to sense of "unreturnable serve" (by 1889).
1921, in U.S. humorist Frederick J. Allen's piece "The Goon and His Style" (Harper's Monthly Magazine, December 1921), which defines it as "a person with a heavy touch," one who lacks "a playful mind;" perhaps a made-up word, or from gony "simpleton" (1580s), which was applied by sailors to the albatross and similar big, clumsy birds. Goons were contrasted with jiggers, and the columns about them had some currency in U.S. newspapers c. 1921-25.
A goon is a person with a heavy touch as distinguished from a jigger, who has a light touch. ... Most Germans are goons; most French jiggers. ["A 'Goon' and His Style," in Lincoln State Journal, Dec. 9, 1921]
The word turns up in various places early 20c.: As a mythical monster in a children's serialized story in the U.S. from 1904, as the name of a professional wrestler in North Carolina in 1935. The goons were characters in the "Thimble Theater" comic strip (starring Popeye) by U.S. cartoonist E.C. Segar (1894-1938); they appeared in Segar's strips from mid-1930s and, though they reportedly gave children nightmares, enjoyed a burst of popularity when they appeared in animated cartoons in 1938.
The most famous was Alice the Goon, slow-witted and muscular (but gentle-natured) character who began as the Sea Hag's assistant. Segar might have got the word directly from sailors' jargon.
Later 20c. senses of the word all probably stem from this: Sense of "hired thug" is first recorded 1938 (in reference to union "beef squads" used to cow strikers in the Pacific Northwest). She also was the inspiration for British comedian Spike Milligan's "The Goon Show." Also used among American and British POWs in World War II in reference to their German guards. What are now "juvenile delinquents" were in the 1940s sometimes called goonlets.
Middle English holden, earlier halden, from Old English haldan (Anglian), healdan (West Saxon), "to contain; to grasp; to retain (liquid, etc.); to observe, fulfill (a custom, etc.); to have as one's own; to have in mind (of opinions, etc.); to possess, control, rule; to detain, lock up; to foster, cherish, keep watch over; to continue in existence or action; to keep back from action," class VII strong verb (past tense heold, past participle healden), from Proto-Germanic *haldanan (source also of Old Saxon haldan, Old Frisian halda, Old Norse halda, Dutch houden, German halten "to hold," Gothic haldan "to tend").
Based on the Gothic sense (also present as a secondary sense in Old English), the verb is presumed originally in Germanic to have meant "to keep, tend, watch over" (as grazing cattle), later "to have." Ancestral sense is preserved in behold. The original past participle holden was replaced by held beginning 16c., but survives in some legal jargon and in beholden.
The modern use in the sense "lock up, keep in custody" is from 1903. Hold back in the figurative senses is from 1530s (transitive); 1570s (intransitive). To hold off is early 15c. (transitive), c. 1600 (intransitive). Hold on is early 13c. as "to maintain one's course," 1830 as "to keep one's grip on something," 1846 as an order to wait or stop.
To hold (one's) tongue "be silent" is from c. 1300. To hold (one's) own is from early 14c. To hold (someone's) hand in the figurative sense of "give moral support" is from 1935. To hold (one's) horses "be patient" is from 1842, American English; the notion is of keeping a tight grip on the reins. To have and to hold have been paired alliteratively at least since c. 1200, originally of marriage but also of real estate. To hold water in the figurative sense "be sound or consistent throughout" is from 1620s.
"finished, worn out, dead," 1895 as a German word in English, from German kaputt "destroyed, ruined, lost" (1640s), which in this sense probably is a misunderstanding of an expression from card-playing, capot machen, a partial translation into German of French faire capot, a phrase which meant "to win all the tricks (from the other player) in piquet," an obsolete card game.
The French phrase means "to make a bonnet," and perhaps the notion is throwing a hood over the other player, but faire capot also meant in French marine jargon "to overset in a squall when under sail." The German word was popularized in English during World War I.
"Kaput" — a slang word in common use which corresponds roughly to the English "done in," the French "fichu." Everything enemy was "kaput" in the early days of German victories. [F. Britten Austin, "According to Orders," New York, 1919]
French capot is literally "cover, bonnet," also the name of a type of greatcloak worn by sailors and soldiers (see capote).
The card-playing sense is attested in German only from 1690s, but capot in the (presumably) transferred sense of "destroyed, ruined, lost" is attested from 1640s [see William Jervis Jones, "A Lexicon of French Borrowings in the German Vocabulary (1575-1648)," Berlin, de Gruyter, 1976]. In Hoyle and other English gaming sources, faire capot is "to win all the tricks," and a different phrase, être capot, literally "to be a bonnet," is sometimes cited as the term for losing them. The sense reversal in German might have come about because if someone wins all the tricks the other player has to lose them, and the same word capot, when it entered English from French in the mid-17c. meant "to score a capot against; to win all the tricks from," with figurative extensions, e.g.:
"There are others, says a third, that have played with my Lady Lurewell at picquet besides my lord; I have capotted her myself two or three times in an evening." [George Farquhar (1677-1707), "Sir Harry Wildair"]
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]
1756, "special vocabulary of tramps or thieves," later "jargon of a particular profession" (1801). The sense of "very informal language characterized by vividness and novelty" is by 1818.
Anatoly Liberman writes here an extensive account of the established origin of the word from the Northern England noun slang "a narrow piece of land running up between other and larger divisions of ground" and the verb slanger "linger, go slowly," which is of Scandinavian origin (compare Norwegian slenge "hang loose, sling, sway, dangle," Danish slænge "to throw, sling"). "Their common denominator seems to be 'to move freely in any direction' " [Liberman]. Noun derivatives of these (Danish slænget, Norwegian slenget) mean "a gang, a band," and Liberman compares Old Norse slangi "tramp" and slangr "going astray" (used of sheep). He writes:
It is not uncommon to associate the place designated for a certain group and those who live there with that group’s language. John Fielding and the early writers who knew the noun slang used the phrase slang patter, as though that patter were a kind of talk belonging to some territory.
So the sense evolution would be from slang "a piece of delimited territory" to "the territory used by tramps for their wandering," to "their camping ground," and finally to "the language used there." The sense shift then passes through itinerant merchants:
Hawkers use a special vocabulary and a special intonation when advertising their wares (think of modern auctioneers), and many disparaging, derisive names characterize their speech; charlatan and quack are among them.
[Slang] is a dialectal word that reached London from the north and for a long time retained the traces of its low origin. The route was from "territory; turf" to "those who advertise and sell their wares on such a territory," to "the patter used in advertising the wares," and to "vulgar language" (later to “any colorful, informal way of expression”).
[S]lang is a conscious offence against some conventional standard of propriety. A mere vulgarism is not slang, except when it is purposely adopted, and acquires an artificial currency, among some class of persons to whom it is not native. The other distinctive feature of slang is that it is neither part of the ordinary language, nor an attempt to supply its deficiencies. The slang word is a deliberate substitute for a word of the vernacular, just as the characters of a cipher are substitutes for the letters of the alphabet, or as a nickname is a substitute for a personal name. [Henry Bradley, from "Slang," in Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed.]
A word that ought to have survived is slangwhanger (1807, American English) "noisy or abusive talker or writer."
Old English lufu "feeling of love; romantic sexual attraction; affection; friendliness; the love of God; Love as an abstraction or personification," from Proto-Germanic *lubo (source also of Old High German liubi "joy," German Liebe "love;" Old Norse, Old Frisian, Dutch lof; German Lob "praise;" Old Saxon liof, Old Frisian liaf, Dutch lief, Old High German liob, German lieb, Gothic liufs "dear, beloved"). The Germanic words are from PIE root *leubh- "to care, desire, love."
The weakened sense "liking, fondness" was in Old English. Meaning "a beloved person" is from early 13c. The sense "no score" (in tennis, etc.) is 1742, from the notion of playing for love (1670s), that is, for no stakes. Phrase for love or money "for anything" is attested from 1580s. The phrase no love lost (between two people) is ambiguous and was used 17c. in reference to two who love each other well (c. 1640) as well as two who have no liking for each other (1620s, the usual modern sense).
To fall in love is attested from early 15c.; to be in love with (someone) is from c. 1500. To make love is from 1570s in the sense "pay amorous attention to;" as a euphemism for "have sex," it is attested from c. 1950. Love affair "a particular experience of love" is from 1590s. Love life "one's collective amorous activities" is from 1919, originally a term in psychological jargon. Love beads is from 1968. Love bug, imaginary insect, is from 1883. Love-handles "the fat on one's sides" is by 1967.
"Even now," she thought, "almost no one remembers Esteban and Pepita but myself. Camilla alone remembers her Uncle Pio and her son; this woman, her mother. But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning." [Thornton Wilder, "Bridge of San Luis Rey," 1927]