1756, "special vocabulary of tramps or thieves" or any set of persons of low character, 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”).
The association of the word with thieves and low life faded in the 19c.
[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.]
Old English lagu (plural laga, combining form lah-) "ordinance, rule prescribed by authority, regulation; district governed by the same laws;" also sometimes "right, legal privilege," from Old Norse *lagu "law," collective plural of lag "layer, measure, stroke," literally "something laid down, that which is fixed or set."
Rare in Old English, it ousted the more usual ae and also gesetnes, which also were etymologically "something placed or set."
In physics, "a proposition which expresses the regular order of things," from 1660s. Law and order have been coupled since 1796. To lay down the law (1752) is pleonastic (the "law" in the figure is biblical law, laid down from the pulpit). Poor laws provided for the support of paupers at public expense; sumptuary laws restrained excesses in apparel, food, or luxuries.
It is more common for Indo-European languages to use different words for "a specific law" and for "law" in the general sense of "institution or body of laws," for example Latin lex "a law," ius "a right," especially "legal right, law."
Indo-European words for "a law" are most commonly from verbs for "to put, place, set, lay," such as Greek thesmos (from tithemi "to put, place"), Old English dom (from PIE *dhe- "to put, place, set"), Lithuanian įstatymas (from statyti "cause to stand, set up, establish"), Polish ustawa (from stać "stand"). Also compare Old English gesetnes (above), statute, from Latin statuere; German Gesetz "a law, statute," from Old High German gisatzida "a fixing, determination, assessment," with sezzen (modern German setzen) "to make sit, set, put."
Words for "law" in the general sense mostly mean etymologically "what is right" and often are connected with adjectives for "right" (themselves often figurative uses of words for "straight," "upright," "true," "fitting," or "usage, custom." Such are Greek nomos (as in numismatic); French droit, Spanish derecho, from Latin directus; Polish prawo, Russian pravo (from Old Church Slavonic pravŭ "straight," in the daughter languages "right"); also Old Norse rettr, Old English riht, Dutch recht, German Recht (see right (adj.1)).
[L]earn to obey good laws before you seek to alter bad ones [Ruskin, "Fors Clavigera"]
Old English gōd (with a long "o") "excellent, fine; valuable; desirable, favorable, beneficial; full, entire, complete;" of abstractions, actions, etc., "beneficial, effective; righteous, pious;" of persons or souls, "righteous, pious, virtuous;" probably originally "having the right or desirable quality," from Proto-Germanic *gōda- "fitting, suitable" (source also of Old Frisian god, Old Saxon gōd, Old Norse goðr, Middle Dutch goed, Dutch goed, Old High German guot, German gut, Gothic goþs). A word of uncertain etymology, perhaps originally "fit, adequate, belonging together," from PIE root *ghedh- "to unite, be associated, suitable" (source also of Sanskrit gadh- "seize (booty)," Old Church Slavonic godu "favorable time," Russian godnyi "fit, suitable," Lithuanian goda "honor," Old English gædrian "to gather, to take up together").
Sense of "kind, benevolent" is from late Old English in reference to persons or God, from mid-14c. of actions. Middle English sense of "holy" is preserved in Good Friday. That of "friendly, gracious" is from c. 1200. Meaning "fortunate, prosperous, favorable" was in late Old English. As an expression of satisfaction, from early 15c. Of persons, "skilled (at a profession or occupation), expert," in late Old English, now typically with at; in Middle English with of or to. Of children, "well-behaved," by 1690s. Of money, "not debased, standard as to value," from late 14c. From c. 1200 of numbers or quantities, "large, great," of time or distance, "long;" good while "a considerable time" is from c. 1300; good way "a great distance" is mid-15c.
Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing. ["As You Like It"]
As good as "practically, virtually" is from mid-14c.; to be good for "beneficial to" is from late 14c. To make good "repay (costs, expenses), atone for (a sin or an offense)" is from late 14c. To have a good mind "have an earnest desire" (to do something) is from c. 1500. Good deed, good works were in Old English as "an act of piety;" good deed specifically as "act of service to others" was reinforced early 20c. by Boy Scouting. Good turn is from c. 1400. Good sport, of persons, is from 1906. The good book "the Bible" attested from 1801, originally in missionary literature describing the language of conversion efforts in American Indian tribes. Good to go is attested from 1989.
"agricultural implement drawn by animals, used to cut ground and turn it up to prepare it for sowing or planting," late Old English ploʒ, ploh "plow; plowland" (a measure of land equal to what a yoke of oxen could plow in a day); in reference to the implement perhaps from a Scandinavian cognate (such as Old Norse plogr "plow;" compare Swedish and Danish plog; Middle English Compendium notes that, "As an element in names, plough is most freq. in the area of the Danelaw"); from Proto-Germanic *plōga- (source also of Old Saxon plog, Old Frisian ploch "plow," Middle Low German ploch, Middle Dutch ploech, Dutch ploeg, Old High German pfluog, German Pflug), a late word in Germanic, of uncertain origin.
Rare as a word alone in Old English, where the usual word for "plow" (n.) was sulh (later sull), which is cognate with Latin sulcus "furrow" (see sulcus).
Old Church Slavonic plugu, Lithuanian plūgas "plow" are Germanic loan-words, as probably is Latin plovus, plovum "plow," a word said by Pliny to be of Rhaetian origin. Boutkan argues against that and points out that, "A priori, the initial p- [in a Germanic word] points to a probable non-IE origin." He also notes the unclear etymological connection with Albanian plúar "plow," which "may have the same, apparently Central-European origin as the Gmc. etymon. On the other hand, the word may represent a North-European innovation which would also be found in OIr. dlongid 'split' < *tlong-." For the usual IE "plow" word, see arable.
The plow and the use of it would have been familiar to most people in England (and later America) from remote antiquity to fairly recent times, and it thus figures largely in image and metaphor; Middle English had (modernized) govern the plow of battles "command an army, wage war;" drive (or hold) the plow "bear burdens; gain the authority;" have weak oxen in the plow "not have energy for the undertaking;" put (one) in pain's plow "force to suffer;" and slightly later plow the sand "labor fruitlessly."
As a name for the star pattern also known as the Big Dipper or Charles's Wain, it is attested by early 15c., perhaps early 14c., also Arthouris Plowe. The three "handle" stars (in the Dipper configuration) generally are seen as the team of oxen pulling the plow, though sometimes they are the plow's handle.
fourteenth letter of the English alphabet; in chemistry, the symbol for nitrogen.
In late Middle English a and an commonly were joined to the following noun, if that word began with a vowel, which caused confusion over how such words ought to be divided when written separately. In nickname, newt, and British dialectal naunt, the -n- belongs to a preceding indefinite article an or possessive pronoun mine.
Other examples of this from Middle English manuscripts include a neilond ("an island," early 13c.), a narawe ("an arrow," c. 1400), a nox ("an ox," c. 1400), a noke ("an oak," early 15c.), a nappyle ("an apple," early 15c.), a negge ("an egg," 15c.), a nynche ("an inch," c. 1400), a nostryche ("an ostrich," c. 1500). My naunt for mine aunt is recorded from 13c.-17c. None other could be no noder (mid-15c.). My nown (for mine own) was frequent 15c.-18c. In 16c., an idiot sometimes became a nidiot (1530s), which, with still-common casual pronunciation, became nidget (1570s), now, alas, no longer whinnying with us.
It is "of constant recurrence" in the 15c. vocabularies, according to Thomas Wright, their modern editor. One has, among many others, Hoc alphabetum ... a nabse, from misdivision of an ABC (and pronouncing it as a word), and Hic culus ... a ners. Also compare nonce, pigsney. Even in 19c. provincial English and U.S., noration (from an oration) was "a speech; a rumor."
The process also worked in surnames, from oblique cases of Old English at "by, near," as in Nock/Nokes/Noaks from atten Oke "by the oak;" Nye from atten ye "near the lowland;" and see Nashville. (Elision of the vowel of the definite article also took place and was standard in Chancery English of the 15c.: þarchebisshop for "the archbishop," thorient for "the orient.")
But it is more common for an English word to lose an -n- to a preceding a: apron, auger, adder, umpire, humble pie, etc. By a related error in Elizabethan English, natomy or atomy was common for anatomy, noyance (annoyance) and noying (adj.) turn up 14c.-17c., and Marlowe (1590) has Natolian for Anatolian. The tendency is not limited to English: compare Luxor, jade (n.1), lute, omelet, and Modern Greek mera for hēmera, the first syllable being confused with the article.
The mathematical use of n for "an indefinite number" is attested by 1717 in phrases such as to the nth power (see nth). In Middle English n. was written in form documents to indicate an unspecified name of a person to be supplied by the speaker or reader.
"terminal part of the leg of a vertebrate animal," Old English fot "foot," from Proto-Germanic *fōts (source also of Old Frisian fot, Old Saxon fot, Old Norse fotr, Danish fod, Swedish fot, Dutch voet, Old High German fuoz, German Fuß, Gothic fotus "foot"), from PIE root *ped- "foot." Plural form feet is an instance of i-mutation.
The linear measure was in Old English (the exact length has varied over time), this being considered the length of a man's foot; a unit of measure used widely and anciently. In this sense the plural is often foot. The current inch and foot are implied from measurements in 12c. English churches (Flinders Petrie, "Inductive Metrology"), but the most usual length of a "foot" in medieval England was the foot of 13.2 inches common throughout the ancient Mediterranean. The Anglo-Saxon foot apparently was between the two. All three correspond to units used by the Romans, and possibly all three lengths were picked up by the Anglo-Saxons from the Romano-Britons. "That the Saxon units should descend to mediæval times is most probable, as the Normans were a ruling, and not a working, class." [Flinders Petrie, 1877]. The medieval Paul's Foot (late 14c.) was a measuring standard cut into the base of a column at the old St. Paul's cathedral in London. The metrical foot (late Old English, translating Latin pes, Greek pous in the same sense) is commonly taken to represent one rise and one fall of a foot: keeping time according to some, dancing according to others.
In Middle English also "a person" (c. 1200), hence non-foot "nobody." Meaning "bottom or lowest part of anything eminent or upright" is from c. 1200. Of a bed, grave, etc., from c. 1300. On foot "by walking" is from c. 1300. To get off on the wrong foot is from 1905 (the right foot is by 1907); to put one's best foot foremost first recorded 1849 (Shakespeare has the better foot before, 1596); Middle English had evil-foot (adv.) "through mischance, unluckily." To put one's foot in (one's) mouth "say something stupid" is attested by 1942; the expression put (one's) foot in something "make a mess of it" is from 1823. To have one foot in the grave "be near death" is from 1844. Colloquial exclamation my foot! expressing "contemptuous contradiction" [OED] is attested by 1923, probably euphemistic for my ass in the same sense, which dates to 1796 (also see eyewash).
Middle English sheten "hasten from place to place; move swiftly; thrust forward; discharge a missile, send an arrow from a bow," from Old English sceotan (class II strong verb; past tense sceat, past participle scoten), "dart forth, go swiftly and suddenly," also "discharge (a missile or weapon);" also, of a person, "go suddenly from place to place;" also transitive "send out or forth with sudden or violent motion; put forth or extend in any direction; strike with anything shot."
This is from Proto-Germanic *skeutanan (source also of Old Saxon skiotan, Old Norse skjota "to shoot with (a weapon); shoot, launch, push, shove quickly," Old Frisian skiata, Middle Dutch skieten, Dutch schieten, Old High German skiozan, German schießen), often said to be from PIE root *skeud- "to shoot, chase, throw," but Boutkan gives it no IE etymology.
The sense of "dart along" (as pain through the nerves or a meteor in the sky) is by late 13c.; that of "come forth" (as a plant) is by late 15c. As "increase rapidly, grow quickly" by 1530s (often with up (adv.)). By 1690s as "be emitted in rays or flashes" (as light is); by 1530s in weaving, "variegate by interspersing colors."
The general sports sense of "kick, hit, throw etc. toward the goal" is by 1874. In reference to pool playing, by 1926. The meaning "strive (for)" is by 1967, American English. The sense of "descend (a river) quickly" is from 1610s. The slang meaning "to inject by means of a hypodermic needle" is attested by 1914 among addicts. The meaning "to photograph" (especially a movie) is from 1890.
As an interjection, an arbitrary euphemistic alteration of shit, it is recorded by 1934.
Shoot the breeze "chat" is attested by 1938 (as shooting the breeze), perhaps originally U.S. military slang. Shoot to kill is attested from 1867. Slang shoot the cat "vomit" is from 1785.
To shoot the moon formerly meant "depart by night with ones goods to escape back rent" (c. 1823).
O, 'tis cash makes such crowds to the gin shops roam,
And 'tis cash often causes a rumpus at home ;
'Tis when short of cash people oft shoot the moon ;
And 'tis cash always keeps our pipes in tune.
Cash! cash! &c.
["The Melodist and Mirthful Olio, An Elegant Collection of the Most Popular Songs," vol. IV, London, 1829]
Shoot against the moon was used by Massinger (1634) as a figure of an impossible attempt.
Old English macian "to give being to, give form or character to, bring into existence; construct, do, be the author of, produce; prepare, arrange, cause; behave, fare, transform," from West Germanic *makōjanan "to fashion, fit" (source also of Old Saxon makon, Old Frisian makia "to build, make," Middle Dutch and Dutch maken, Old High German mahhon "to construct, make," German machen "to make"), from PIE root *mag- "to knead, fashion, fit." If so, sense evolution perhaps is via prehistoric houses built of mud. It gradually replaced the main Old English word, gewyrcan (see work (v.)).
Meaning "to arrive at" (a place), first attested 1620s, originally was nautical. Formerly used in many places where specific verbs now are used, such as to make Latin (c. 1500) "to write Latin compositions." This broader usage survives in some phrases, such as make water "to urinate" (c. 1400), make a book "arrange a series of bets" (1828), make hay "to turn over mown grass to expose it to sun." Make the grade is 1912, perhaps from the notion of railway engines going up an incline.
Read the valuable suggestions in Dr. C.V. Mosby's book — be prepared to surmount obstacles before you encounter them — equipped with the power to "make the grade" in life's climb. [advertisement for "Making the Grade," December 1916]
But the phrase also was in use in a schoolwork context at the time.
To make friends is from late 14c.; to make good "make right" is from early 15c. To make do "manage with what is available" is attested by 1867; to make for "direct one's course to, proceed toward" is from 1580s, but "Not frequent before the 19th c." [OED]. To make of "think, judge" is from c. 1300. To make off "run away, depart suddenly" is from 1709; to make off with "run away with (something) in one's possession" is by 1820. To make way is from c. 1200 as "cut a path," early 14c. as "proceed, go."
Make time "go fast" is 1849; make tracks in this sense is from 1834. To make a federal case out of (something) was popularized in 1959 movie "Anatomy of a Murder;" to make an offer (one) can't refuse is from Mario Puzo's 1969 novel "The Godfather." To make (one's) day is by 1909; menacing make my day is from 1971, popularized by Clint Eastwood in film "Sudden Impact" (1983). Related: Made; making.
also gas-light, "light, or a provision for light, produced by combustion of coal gas; a gas-jet," 1808, from (illuminating) gas (n.1) + light (n.). Used through the 19th and into the early 20th century as street and domestic lighting. Related: Gas-lighted; gas-lighting; gaslighting.
As a verb meaning "to deliberately make a person believe that they are insane," by 1961, perhaps 1956. This sense is from the 1944 film Gaslight, in which a 19th century woman (played by Ingrid Bergman, who won an Academy Award) appears to be going mad. It is later revealed that her criminal husband has been convincing her that she is insane in order to discredit her observations of his activities. Among the observable clues has been the dimming of their home's gaslighting whenever (as she later learns) the husband goes secretly into the attic: he has convinced her that she is imagining this, until a family friend sees it, too, which confirms the clue that uncovers the crime.
Brian: Tell me. Is there anyone else in the house now, except us and Elizabeth?
Paula: No. Why?
Brian: The gas just went down.
Paula: You saw that too!
Brian: Why, yes.
Paula: Oh, then it really happens! I thought I imagined it!
Brian: But all it means is someone else has turned it on.
Paula: Oh, no, no. I thought that too. But every night, I’ve been all over the house, there’s never been another light turned on. At last I can tell this to someone! Every night when my husband goes out…
Brian: …The light goes down?
Brian: And then what?
Paula: Well, then, I think I hear things. I watch and wait. Later on, the gas goes up again.
Brian: And he comes back?
Paula: Yes. Quite soon after. Always quite soon after.
The word seems to have received a boost in feminist literature in late 1970s.
… I had been told that my tonsillectomy was “not that bad” or that the dentist whose hands were between my legs was “fixing my teeth,” … My own favorite embodiment of this horror, still enjoyed by late-show insomniacs, is the 1944 film Gaslight, a tale which so impressed the public imagination that even today the word “gaslight” is used to describe an attempt to destroy another’s perceptions of reality and, ultimately, sanity itself. [Florence Rush, "The Best Kept Secret: Sexual Abuse of Children," 1980]
The sense evolved by 2016 to also mean "dismiss or discredit someone's viewpoint."