type of tall tree native to western Asia, southern Europe, and eastern U.S., also the large "nut" that it produces, 1560s, from chesten nut (1510s), with superfluous nut (n.) + Middle English chasteine, from Old French chastain (12c., Modern French châtaigne), from Latin castanea "chestnut, chestnut tree," from Greek kastaneia, which the Greeks explained as either "nut from Castanea" in Pontus, or "nut from Castana" in Thessaly, but probably both places are named for the trees, not the other way around, and the word is borrowed from a language of Asia Minor (compare Armenian kask "chestnut," kaskeni "chestnut tree"). In reference to the dark reddish-brown color, 1650s. Applied to the horse-chestnut by 1832.
Slang sense of "venerable joke or story" is from 1885, explained by U.S. actor Joseph Jefferson ("Lippincott's Monthly Magazine," January 1888) as probably abstracted from the 1816 melodrama "The Broken Sword" by William Dimond where an oft-repeated story involving a chestnut tree figures in an exchange between the characters "Captain Zavior" and "Pablo":
Zav. Let me see—aye! it is exactly six years since, that peace being restored to Spain, and my ship paid off, my kind brother offer'd me a snug hammock in the dwelling of my forefathers;—I mounted a mule at Barcelona, and trotted away for my native mountains. At the dawn of the fourth day's journey, I entered the wood of Collares, when, suddenly from the thick boughs of a cork-tree—
Pab. [Jumping up.] A chesnut, Captain, a chesnut!
Zav. Bah! you booby, I say, a cork.
Pab. And I swear, a chesnut—Captain! this is the twenty-seventh time I have heard you relate this story, and you invariably said, a chesnut, till now.
Zav. Did I? Well, a chesnut be it then. But, take your seat again.
Jefferson traced the connection through William Warren (1812-1888), "the veteran comedian of Boston" (and Jefferson's cousin) who often played Pablo in the melodrama.
c. 1400, "a dirty, slovenly, or untidy woman," according to OED "Of doubtful origin," but probably cognate with dialectal German Schlutt "slovenly woman," dialectal Swedish slata "idle woman, slut," and Dutch slodde "slut," slodder "a careless man," but the exact relationship of all these is obscure. Chaucer uses sluttish (late 14c.) in reference to the appearance of an untidy man. Also "a kitchen maid, a drudge" (mid-15c.; hard pieces in a bread loaf from imperfect kneading were called slut's pennies, 18c.).
Specific modern sense of "woman who enjoys sex in a degree considered shamefully excessive" is by 1966. Meaning "woman of loose character, bold hussy" is attested from mid-15c., but the primary association through 18c. was untidiness. Johnson has it (second definition) as "A word of slight contempt to a woman" but sexual activity does not seem to figure into his examples. Playful use of the word, without implication of messiness or loose morals, is attested by 1660s:
My wife called up the people to washing by four o'clock in the morning; and our little girl Susan is a most admirable slut, and pleases us mightily, doing more service than both the others, and deserves wages better. [Pepys, diary, Feb. 21, 1664]
Compare playful use of scamp, etc., for boys. Sometimes used 19c. as a euphemism for bitch to describe a female dog.
There is a group of North Sea Germanic words in sl- that mean "sloppy," and also "slovenly woman" and, less often, "slovenly man," and that tend to evolve toward "woman of loose morals." Compare slattern, also English dialectal slummock "a dirty, untidy, or slovenly person" (1861), variant of slammacks "slatternly woman," said to be from slam "ill-shaped, shambling fellow." Also slammakin (from 1756 as a type of loose gown; 1785 as "slovenly female," 1727 as a character name in Gay's "Beggar's Opera"), with variants slamkin, slammerkin. Also possibly related are Middle Dutch slore "a sluttish woman," Dutch slomp, German schlampe "a slattern."
also Hell, Old English hel, helle, "nether world, abode of the dead, infernal regions, place of torment for the wicked after death," from Proto-Germanic *haljō "the underworld" (source also of Old Frisian helle, Old Saxon hellia, Dutch hel, Old Norse hel, German Hölle, Gothic halja "hell"). Literally "concealed place" (compare Old Norse hellir "cave, cavern"), from PIE root *kel- (1) "to cover, conceal, save."
The English word may be in part from Old Norse mythological Hel (from Proto-Germanic *halija "one who covers up or hides something"), in Norse mythology the name of Loki's daughter who rules over the evil dead in Niflheim, the lowest of all worlds (nifl "mist"). A pagan concept and word fitted to a Christian idiom. In Middle English, also of the Limbus Patrum, place where the Patriarchs, Prophets, etc. awaited the Atonement. Used in the KJV for Old Testament Hebrew Sheol and New Testament Greek Hades, Gehenna. Used figuratively for "state of misery, any bad experience" at least since late 14c. As an expression of disgust, etc., first recorded 1670s.
To have hell break loose is from c. 1600. Expression hell in a handbasket is attested by 1867, in a context implying use from a few years before, and the notion of going to Heaven in a handbasket is from 1853, implying "easy passage" to the destination. Hell or high water (1874) apparently is a variation of between the devil and the deep blue sea. To wish someone would go to hell is in Shakespeare ("Merchant of Venice"). Snowball's chance in hell "no chance" is from 1931; till hell freezes over "never" is from 1832.
To do something for the hell of it "just for fun" is from 1921. To ride hell for leather is from 1889, originally with reference to riding on horseback. Hell on wheels is from 1843 as the name of a steamboat; its general popularity dates from 1869 in reference to the temporary workers' vice-ridden towns along the U.S. transcontinental railroad. Scottish had hell-wain (1580s) "a phantom wagon seen in the sky at night."
"feathered, warm-blooded vertebrate animal of the class Aves," Old English bird, rare collateral form of bridd, originally "young bird, nestling" (the usual Old English for "bird" being fugol, for which see fowl (n.)), which is of uncertain origin with no cognates in any other Germanic language. The suggestion that it is related by umlaut to brood and breed is rejected by OED as "quite inadmissible." Metathesis of -r- and -i- was complete 15c. (compare wright).
Despite its early attestation, bridd is not necessarily the oldest form of bird. It is usually assumed that -ir- from -ri- arose by metathesis, but here, too, the Middle English form may go back to an ancient period. [Liberman]
Still up to c. 1400 it was often used in the specific sense "the young of a bird, fledgling, nestling, chick," and of the young of other animals (bees, fish, snakes) and human children. Compare the usual Balto-Slavic words for "bird" (Lithuanian paukštis, Old Church Slavonic pŭtica, Polish ptak, Russian ptica, etc.), said to be ultimately from the same root as Latin pullus "young of an animal."
The proper designation of the feathered creation is in E. fowl, which in course of time was specially applied to the gallinaceous tribe as the most important kind of bird for domestic use, and it was perhaps this appropriation of the word which led to the adoption of the name of the young animal as the general designation of the race. [Hensleigh Wedgwood, "A Dictionary of English Etymology," 1859]
Figurative sense of "secret source of information" is from 1540s. Meaning "man, fellow, person" is from 1799. Bird-watching attested from 1897. Bird's-eye view "the view as seen from above, as if by a bird in flight," is from 1762. For the birds recorded from 1944, supposedly in allusion to birds eating from droppings of horses and cattle. The bird-spider (1800) of the American tropics is a large sort of tarantula that can capture and kill small birds.
A byrde yn honde ys better than three yn the wode. [c. 1530]
The form with bush is attested by 1630s.
10th letter of the English alphabet, pronounced "jay," as in "kay" for -k-, but formerly written out as jy, rhyming with -i- and corresponding to French ji.
One of the most stable English letters (it has almost always the same sound), it is a latecomer to the alphabet and originally had no sound value. The letter itself began as a scribal modification of Roman -i- in continental Medieval Latin. The scribes added a "hook" to small -i-, especially in the final position in a word or roman numeral, to distinguish it from the strokes of other letters. The dot on the -i- (and thus the -j-) and the capitalization of the pronoun I are other solutions to the same problems.
In English, -j- was used as a roman numeral throughout Middle English, but the letter -y- was used to spell words ending an "i" sound, so -j- was not needed to represent a sound. Instead, it was introduced into English c. 1600-1640 to take up the consonantal sound that had evolved from the Roman i- since Late Latin times. In Italian, g- was used to represent this, but in other languages j- took the job. This usage is attested earliest in Spanish, where it was in place before 1600.
No word beginning with J is of Old English derivation. [OED]
English dictionaries did not distinguish words beginning in -i- and -j- until 19c., and -j- formerly was skipped when letters were used to express serial order.
In Latin texts printed in modern times, -j- often is used to represent Latin -i- before -a-, -e-, -o-, -u- in the same syllable, which in Latin was sounded as the consonant in Modern English you, yam, etc., but the custom has been controversial among Latinists:
The character J, j, which represents the letter sound in some school-books, is an invention of the seventeenth century, and is not found in MSS., nor in the best texts of the Latin authors. [Lewis]
In English words from Hebrew, -j- represents yodh, which was equivalent to English consonantal y (hence hallelujah) but many of the Hebrew names later were conformed in sound to the modern -j- (compare Jesus).
word-forming element making nouns of quality, state, or condition, from Middle English -our, from Old French -our (Modern French -eur), from Latin -orem (nominative -or), a suffix added to past participle verbal stems. Also in some cases from Latin -atorem (nominative -ator).
In U.S., via Noah Webster, -or is nearly universal (but not in glamour), while in Britain -our is used in most cases (but with many exceptions: author, error, tenor, senator, ancestor, horror etc.). The -our form predominated after c. 1300, but Mencken reports that the first three folios of Shakespeare's plays used both spellings indiscriminately and with equal frequency; only in the Fourth Folio of 1685 does -our become consistent.
A partial revival of -or on the Latin model took place from 16c. (governour began to lose its -u- 16c. and it was gone by 19c.), and also among phonetic spellers in both England and America (John Wesley wrote that -or was "a fashionable impropriety" in England in 1791).
Webster criticized the habit of deleting -u- in -our words in his first speller ("A Grammatical Institute of the English Language," commonly called the Blue-Black Speller) in 1783. His own deletion of the -u- began with the revision of 1804, and was enshrined in the influential "Comprehensive Dictionary of the English Language" (1806), which also established in the U.S. -ic for British -ick and -er for -re, along with many other attempts at reformed spelling which never caught on (such as masheen for machine). His attempt to justify them on the grounds of etymology and the custom of great writers does not hold up.
Fowler notes the British drop the -u- when forming adjectives ending in -orous (humorous) and derivatives in -ation and -ize, in which cases the Latin origin is respected (such as vaporize). When the Americans began to consistently spell it one way, however, the British reflexively hardened their insistence on the other. "The American abolition of -our in such words as honour and favour has probably retarded rather than quickened English progress in the same direction." [Fowler]
Middle English pleien, from Old English plegan, plegian "move lightly and quickly, occupy or busy oneself, amuse oneself; engage in active exercise; frolic; engage in children's play; make sport of, mock; perform music," from Proto-West Germanic *plegōjanan "occupy oneself about" (source also of Old Saxon plegan "vouch for, take charge of," Old Frisian plega "tend to," Middle Dutch pleyen "to rejoice, be glad," German pflegen "take care of, cultivate"), which is apparently connected to the root of plight (v.), but the ultimate etymology is uncertain and the phonetic development is difficult to explain.
Meaning "to take part in" a martial or athletic game is from c. 1200. It has been opposed to work (v.) since late 14c. Meaning "perform or act on the stage" (transitive) is by late 14c., as are the senses of "take the role of" and "make a pretense of, make believe" and "act thoughtlessly or wantonly." Sense of "put forward, move, throw, lay on the table, etc." in the course of a game or contest is by 1560s of chess pieces, 1670s of playing cards. Sense of "operate or cause to operate with continuous or repeated action" is from 1590s. Meaning "to cause (a recording) to reproduce what is on it" is by 1903, probably from the "make music" sense. Related: Played; playing.
Many expressions are from the stage, sports and games, or music, and it is not always easy to say which is from which. To play up "emphasize" is from 1909 (perhaps originally "play music more vigorously"); to play down "minimize" is from 1930; to play along "pretend to agree or cooperate" is from 1929. To play fair "be nice" is from mid-15c. To play house as a children's activity is from 1958.
To play for keeps is from 1861, originally of marbles or other children's games with tokens. To play (something) safe is from 1911; to play favorites is attested from 1902. To play second fiddle in the figurative sense is from 1809 ("Gil Blas"). To play into the hands (of someone) "act in such a way as to give the advantage to one's opponent or a third party" is from 1705. For play the _______ card see card (n.1). For play the field see field (n.). To play with oneself "masturbate" is from 1896 (to play with "have sexual intercourse with" is from mid-13c.). Playing-card "one of a pack of cards used for playing games" is from 1540s.
1520s, also monkie, munkie, munkye, etc., not found in Middle English (where ape was the usual word); of uncertain origin, but likely from an unrecorded Middle Low German *moneke or Middle Dutch *monnekijn, a colloquial word for "monkey," originally a diminutive of some Romanic word, compare French monne (16c.); Middle Italian monnicchio, from Old Italian monna; Spanish mona "ape, monkey." In a 1498 Low German version of the popular medieval beast story Roman de Renart ("Reynard the Fox"), Moneke is the name given to the son of Martin the Ape; transmission of the word to English might have been via itinerant entertainers from the German states.
The Old French form of the name is Monequin (recorded as Monnekin in a 14c. version from Hainault), which could be a diminutive of some personal name, or it could be from the general Romanic word, which may be ultimately from Arabic maimun "monkey," literally "auspicious," a euphemistic usage because the sight of apes was held by the Arabs to be unlucky [Klein]. The word would have been influenced in Italian by folk etymology from monna "woman," a contraction of ma donna "my lady."
In general, any one of the primates except man and lemurs; in more restricted use, "an anthropoid ape or baboon;" but popularly used especially of the long-tailed species often kept as pets. Monkey has been used affectionately or in pretended disapproval of a child since c. 1600. As the name of a type of modern popular dance, it is attested from 1964.
Monkey suit is from 1876 as a type of child's suit; by 1918 as slang for "fancy dress clothes or uniform." To make a monkey of "make a fool of" is attested from 1851. To have a monkey on one's back "be addicted" is 1930s narcotics slang, though the same phrase in the 1860s meant "to be angry." There is a story in the Sinbad cycle about a tormenting ape-like creature that mounts a man's shoulders and won't get off, which may be the root of the term. In 1890s British slang, to have a monkey up the chimney meant "to have a mortgage on one's house." The Japanese three wise monkeys ("see no evil," etc.) are attested in English by 1891.
"fine, minute, loose, uncompacted particles," c. 1300, poudre, "ash, cinders; dust of the earth;" early 14c. of any pulverized substance; from Old French poudre "dust, powder; ashes; powdered substance" (13c.), earlier pouldre (11c.), from Latin pulverem (nominative pulvis) "dust, powder" (source also of Spanish polvo, Italian polve; see pulverize).
The insertion of the unetymological -d- was common in French (compare meddle, tender (adj.), remainder). German has it as a doublet; Puder via French and Pulver from Latin. From mid-14c. specifically as "medicinal powder;" specialized sense of "gunpowder" is from late 14c. In the sense "powdered cosmetic," it is recorded from 1570s.
Powder keg "small barrel for holding gunpowder" is by 1820; the figurative sense ("something likely to explode easily") is by 1895. Powder room, euphemistic for "women's lavatory," is attested from 1936. Earlier it meant "place where gunpowder is stored on a warship" (1620s). Powder monkey "boy employed on ships to carry powder from the magazines to the guns" is from 1680s. Powder blue (1650s) was smalt used in laundering; as a color name from 1894.
The phrase take a powder "scram, vanish," is from 1920; it was a common phrase as a doctor's instruction, so perhaps the notion is of taking a laxative medicine or a sleeping powder, with the result that one has to leave in a hurry (or, on another guess, from a magician's magical powder, which makes things disappear).
Avis dropped an exhausted little heap onto her aunt's bed. She put her hand over her heart and said piteously, "Oh, Aunt Joyce, I mustn't ever do that again. My heart's going awful fast. I shall have to take a powder. Wasn't it fun though-" Avis' dark eyes flashed. [from "The Evolution of Avis" in The Connecticut School Journal, Jan. 9, 1902]
When the wife of your breast has confessed she has drest
On just triple the sum you allowed her,
And has run up long bills for her frocks and her frills—
Take a powder, my friend, take a powder.
[from "The Panacaea," in Punch, Dec. 14, 1901]
Powder in the wind (c. 1300, meaning powdered spices) was a Middle English image of something highly valued but flawed in some way that renders it impermanent or doomed to loss (of virtues without humility, etc.).
late Old English wyrre, werre "large-scale military conflict," from Old North French werre "war" (Old French guerre "difficulty, dispute; hostility; fight, combat, war;" Modern French guerre), from Frankish *werra, from Proto-Germanic *werz-a- (source also of Old Saxon werran, Old High German werran, German verwirren "to confuse, perplex"), from PIE *wers- (1) "to confuse, mix up". Cognates suggest the original sense was "to bring into confusion."
Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian guerra also are from Germanic; Romanic peoples turned to Germanic for a "war" word possibly to avoid Latin bellum (see bellicose) because its form tended to merge with bello- "beautiful." There was no common Germanic word for "war" at the dawn of historical times. Old English had many poetic words for "war" (wig, guð, heaðo, hild, all common in personal names), but the usual one to translate Latin bellum was gewin "struggle, strife" (related to win (v.)).
First record of war-time is late 14c. Warpath (1775) originally is in reference to North American Indians, as are war-whoop (1761), war-paint (1826), and war-dance (1757). War crime is attested from 1906 (in Oppenheim's "International Law"). War chest is attested from 1901; now usually figurative. War games translates German Kriegspiel (see kriegspiel).
The causes of war are always falsely represented ; its honour is dishonest and its glory meretricious, but the challenge to spiritual endurance, the intense sharpening of all the senses, the vitalising consciousness of common peril for a common end, remain to allure those boys and girls who have just reached the age when love and friendship and adventure call more persistently than at any later time. The glamour may be the mere delirium of fever, which as soon as war is over dies out and shows itself for the will-o'-the-wisp that it is, but while it lasts no emotion known to man seems as yet to have quite the compelling power of this enlarged vitality. [Vera Brittain, "Testament of Youth"]
The world will never have lasting peace so long as men reserve for war the finest human qualities. [John Foster Dulles, Speech on the Marshall Plan, 1948]