"overacting inferior performer," 1882, American English, apparently a shortening of hamfatter (1880) "actor of low grade," which is said (at least since 1889) to be from the old minstrel show song, "The Ham-fat Man" (attested by 1856). The song, a comical black-face number, has nothing to do with acting, but the connection might be with the quality of acting in minstrel shows, where the song was popular (compare the definition of hambone in the 1942 "American Thesaurus of Slang," "unconvincing blackface dialectician"). Its most popular aspect was the chorus and the performance of the line "Hoochee, kouchee, kouchee, says the ham fat man."
Ham also had a sports slang sense of "incompetent pugilist" (1888), perhaps from the notion in ham-fisted. The notion of "amateurish" led to the sense of "amateur radio operator" (1919).
late 14c., "not in conformity with Church rules," from Old French irreguler "irregular, incapable, incompetent" (13c., Modern French irrégulier), from Medieval Latin irregularis "not regular," from assimilated form of in- "not, opposite of" (see in- (1)) + Latin regularis "having rules" (see regular (adj.)). General sense of "not conforming to regular rules or principles" is from late 15c. "It expresses the fact of being out of conformity with rule, but implies nothing more with certainty. Yet the word is sometimes used in a sinister sense, as though it were a euphemism for something worse." [Century Dictionary] Meaning "unsymmetrical" is from 1580s. In reference to variable stars, from 1797.
1670s, nicompoop; the modern form is attested by 1713. Despite the similarity [noted by Johnson] to the Latin legal phrase non compos mentis "insane, mentally incompetent" (c. 1600), the connection is denied by the OED's etymologists because the earliest forms lack the second -n-. Weekley thinks first element may be a proper name, and cites Nicodemus, which he says was used in French for "a fool," or Nicholas. Klein says it is probably an invented word. Century Dictionary has no objection to the non compos mentis theory.
"And dost thou bid me good morrow ? Why, you Ninny, you Nicompoop, you Noun Adjective, for thou canst not stand by thy self, I am sure;" etc. [Thomas D'Urfey, "A Fool's Preferment," 1688]
"a person's mouth or face," 1708, possibly an extended sense of mug (n.1), based on the old drinking mugs shaped like grotesque faces, popular in England from 17c. Sense of "portrait or photograph in police records" had emerged by 1873.
When the notorious "Shaver Good" and his accomplices were arrested, and the robbery of several houses and stores fastened upon them, Good said, with all apparent sincerity, "I have travelled every city in the United States for the last seventeen years, and was never collared before, and I would not have been now, but for that 'mug' of mine that sticks in your gallery. ["Annual Report of the Chief of Police for 1873," Boston, Mass.]
Hence mug-shot (by 1950). Meaning "stupid or incompetent person, dupe, fool, sucker" is by 1851 in thieves' slang; hence "a person" generally (especially "a criminal"), by 1890. Mug's game "foolish, thankless, or unprofitable activity" is by 1890.
formerly critick, 1580s, "one who passes judgment, person skilled in judging merit in some particular class of things," from French critique (14c.), from Latin criticus "a judge, a censor, an estimator," also "grammarian who detects spurious passages in literary work," from Greek kritikos "able to make judgments," from krinein "to separate, decide" (from PIE root *krei- "to sieve," thus "discriminate, distinguish"). The meaning "one who judges merits of books, plays, etc." is from c. 1600. The English word always has had overtones of "censurer, faultfinder, one who judges severely."
To understand how the artist felt, however, is not criticism; criticism is an investigation of what the work is good for. ... Criticism ... is a serious and public function; it shows the race assimilating the individual, dividing the immortal from the mortal part of a soul. [George Santayana, "The Life of Reason," 1906]
A perfect judge will read each work of wit
With the same spirit that its author writ;
[Pope, "An Essay on Criticism," 1709]
For "inferior or incompetent critic" 17c. had criticaster; later generations used criticling, critikin, criticule.
"medical charlatan, impudent and fraudulent pretender to medical skill," 1630s, short for quacksalver (1570s), from obsolete Dutch quacksalver (modern kwakzalver), literally "hawker of salve," from Middle Dutch quacken "to brag, boast," literally "to croak" (see quack (v.)) + salf "salve," salven "to rub with ointment" (see salve (n.)). As an adjective from 1650s.
The oldest attested form of this quack in English is as a verb, "to play the quack" (1620s). The Dutch word also is the source of German Quacksalber, Danish kvaksalver, Swedish kvacksalvare.
A quack is, by derivation, one who talks much without wisdom, and, specifically, talks of his own power to heal ; hence, any ignorant pretender to medical knowledge or skill. Empiric is a more elevated term for one who goes by mere experience in the trial of remedies, and is without knowledge of the medical sciences or of the clinical observations and opinions of others; hence, an incompetent, self-confident practitioner. A mountebank is generally a quack, but may be a pretender in any line. Charlatan (literally 'chatterer') is primarily applied, not to a person belonging to any particular profession or occupation, but to a pretentious cheat of any sort. [Century Dictionary, 1897]
Also "one who pretends to knowledge of any kind" (1630s).
c. 1300 (early 13c. as a surname), "spherical in shape; circular in outline," of persons or animals, "well-fed;" from Anglo-French rounde, Old French roont (12c., Modern French rond), probably originally *redond, from Vulgar Latin *retundus (source also of Provençal redon, Spanish redondo, Old Italian ritondo), from Latin rotundus "like a wheel, circular, round," related to rota "wheel" (see rotary). The French word is the source of Middle Dutch ront (Dutch rond), Middle High German runt (German rund) and similar words in the Germanic languages.
As an adverb from c. 1300. As a preposition from c. 1600, "so as to make a complete circuit" (as in round the world); 1715 as "throughout, all through" (as in round the clock); by 1743 as "so as to make a turn or partial circuit about" (as in round the corner). In many cases it is a shortened form of around (adv.).
Of numbers from mid-14c., "entire, full, complete, brought to completion," with the notion of symmetry extended to that of completeness. Round number for one only approximately correct, usually expressed in 10s, 100s, etc., is by 1640s. Compare round (v.). Round trip "an outward and return journey" is by 1844, originally of railways. A round-dance (1520s) is one in which the dancers move in a circle or ring. Round heels attested from 1926, in reference to incompetent boxers, 1927 in reference to loose women, implying in either case a tendency to end up flat on one's back.
early 14c., bernak; earlier in Anglo-Latin, bernekke, early 13c., "species of northern European wild goose." The meaning "type of 'shellfish' found in clusters on submerged wood" is attested by 1580s. It is of unknown origin despite intense speculation.
The earliest form looks like "bare neck," and one of the Middle English synonyms for the bird was balled cote, but this resemblance might be folk etymology. The word is often said to be from a Celtic source (compare Breton bernik, a kind of shellfish), but the application to the goose predates that to the shellfish, and the word seems to have arisen in English.
The goose nests in the Arctic in summer and returns to Europe in the winter, hence the mystery surrounding its reproduction. It was believed in ancient superstition (and as recently as late 17c.) to hatch or develop from the barnacle's shell, possibly because the crustacean's feathery stalks resemble goose down. Some versions of the fable had the barnacles growing on trees and dropping into the sea to become geese. Compare German Entenmuschel "barnacle," literally "duck-mussel."
For I tolde hem, that in oure Countree weren Trees, that beren a Fruyt, that becomen Briddes fleeynge; and tho that fellen in the Water, lyven; and thei that fallen on the Erthe, dyen anon: and thei ben right gode to Mannes mete. And here of had thei als gret marvaylle, that sume of hem trowed it were an impossible thing to be. [Sir John Mandeville, "Voiage and Travaile," mid-14c.]
The scientific name of the crustacean, Cirripedes, is from Greek cirri "curls of hair" + pedes "feet." The meaning "person holding tenaciously to an office or position, useless or incompetent jobholder" is from c. 1600.
c. 1400, perhaps mid-14c., "person of non-Christian or non-Jewish faith," from Late Latin paganus "pagan," in classical Latin "villager, rustic; civilian, non-combatant" noun use of adjective meaning "of the country, of a village," from pagus "country people; province, rural district," originally "district limited by markers," thus related to pangere "to fix, fasten," from PIE root *pag- "to fasten." As an adjective from early 15c.
The religious sense often was said in 19c. [e.g. Trench] to derive from conservative rural adherence to the old gods after the Christianization of Roman towns and cities; but the Latin word in this sense predates that period in Church history, and it is more likely derived from the use of paganus in Roman military jargon for "civilian, incompetent soldier," which Christians (Tertullian, c. 202; Augustine) picked up with the military imagery of the early Church (such as milites "soldier of Christ," etc.).
The English word was used later in a narrower sense of "one not a Christian, Jew, or Muslim." As "person of heathenish character or habits," by 1841. Applied to modern pantheists and nature-worshippers from 1908.
Pagan and heathen are primarily the same in meaning; but pagan is sometimes distinctively applied to those nations that, although worshiping false gods, are more cultivated, as the Greeks and Romans, and heathen to uncivilized idolaters, as the tribes of Africa. A Mohammedan is not counted a pagan much less a heathen. [Century Dictionary, 1897]
The English surname Paine, Payne, etc., appears by old records to be from Latin paganus, but whether in the sense "villager," "rustic," or "heathen" is disputed. It also was a common Christian name in 13c., "and was, no doubt, given without any thought of its meaning" ["Dictionary of English Surnames"].
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 1887.
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]