Middle English prikke, "pointed object, something that punctures or stabs; sting of an insect; a goad; a pin or fastener; a pricking as a bodily pain or torment," from Old English prica (n.) "sharp point, puncture; minute mark made by sticking or piercing; particle, very small portion of space or time," a common Low German word (compare Low German prik "point," Middle Dutch prick, Dutch prik, Swedish prick "point, dot") of unknown etymology (see prick (v.)).
Figurative sense of "a goad" (to the affections, the conscience, etc.) was in Middle English. The meaning "pointed weapon, dagger" is attested from 1550s. From the Old English sense of "dot or small mark made in writing" came the Middle English use, in music, "mark indicating pitch" (compare counterpoint (n.2)); hence prick-song (mid-15c.) "music sung from written notes" instead of from memory or by ear.
It had many entwined extended senses in Middle English and early modern English, such as "a point marking a stage in progression," especially in the prick "the highest point, apex, acme;" and from the notion of "a point in time," especially "the moment of death" (prike of deth).
The use in kick against the pricks (Acts ix.5, first in the translation of 1382) probably is from sense of "a goad for oxen" (mid-14c.), which made it a plausible translation of Latin stimulus: advorsum stimulum calces was proverbial in Latin, and the English phrase also was used literally. The notion in the image is "to balk, be recalcitrant, resist superior force." The noun also was used in the 1384 Wycliffe Bible in 2 Corinthians xii.7, where the Latin is stimulis carnis meæ:
And lest the greetnesse of reuelaciouns enhaunce me in pride, the pricke of my fleisch, an aungel of Sathanas, is ʒouun to me, the which boffatith me.
Earliest recorded slang use for "penis" is 1590s (Shakespeare puns upon it). The verb prick was used in a figurative sense "have sexual intercourse with" (a woman) in Chaucer (late 14c.). My prick was used 16c.-17c. as a term of endearment by "immodest maids" for their boyfriends. As a term of abuse to a man, it is attested by 1929. Prick-teaser is attested from 1958.
"being but a single unit or individual; being a single person, thing, etc. of the class mentioned;" as a pronoun, "a single person or thing, an individual, somebody;" as a noun, "the first or lowest of the cardinal numerals; single in kind, the same; the first whole number, consisting of a single unit; unity; the symbol representing one or unity;" c. 1200, from Old English an (adjective, pronoun, noun) "one," from Proto-Germanic *ainaz (source also of Old Norse einn, Danish een, Old Frisian an, Dutch een, German ein, Gothic ains), from PIE root *oi-no- "one, unique."
Originally pronounced as it still is in only, atone, alone, and in dialectal good 'un, young 'un, etc.; the now-standard pronunciation "wun" began c. 14c. in southwest and west England (Tyndale, a Gloucester man, spells it won in his Bible translation), and it began to be general 18c. Its use as indefinite pronoun was influenced by unrelated French on and Latin homo.
Before the name of a person, indicating "hitherto unknown" or not known to the speaker.
One and only "sweetheart" is from 1906. Slang one-arm bandit for a type of slot machine is recorded by 1938. One-night stand is 1880 in performance sense; 1963 in sexual sense. One of the boys "ordinary amiable fellow" is from 1893. One-track mind "mind capable of only one line of thought or action" is by 1915. Drinking expression one for the road is from 1950 (as a song title). One-man band is by 1909 in a literal sense, 1914 figurative. One of those things "unpredictable occurrence" is from 1934.
The conscience clause is one of the weaknesses of the Bill. It is one of those things which tend to create the bitterness. The conscience clause is one of those things which are inseparable from a Bill like this. It is one of those things which divides the sheep from the goats—members can pick them out for themselves—in the playground, in the school. ["Religious Exercises in School Bills," New Zealand Parliamentary Debates, Aug. 13, 1926]
a word of vague etymology, perhaps a convergence of two or more words, given wide application in late 19c. and settling into its main modern meaning "floozie" from early 1920s, with a revival in 1980s.
Bimbo first appears as the name of an alcoholic punch, mentioned in newspapers from New York state (1837), Boston (1842), and New Orleans (1844, but as having come from Boston). This sense quickly fades, though it occasional is on menus as late as 1895.
From 1860-1910, Bimbo as a proper name is frequent: It is the name or part of the name of several race horses, dogs, and monkeys, a circus elephant (perhaps echoing Jumbo), and a jester character in a play. It is in the title of a three-act musical farce ("Bimbo of Bombay"), and the name of a popular "knockabout clown"/actor in England and several other stage clowns. Also it appears as a genuine surname, and "The Bimbos" were a popular brother-sister comedy acrobatics team in vaudeville.
A separate bimbo seems to have entered American English c. 1900, via immigration, as an Italian word for a little child or a child's doll, evidently a contraction of bambino "baby."
By 1920 it began to be used generally of a stupid or ineffectual man, a usage Damon Runyon in 1919 traced to Philadelphia prize-fight slang. He wrote, that July, in a column printed in several newspapers, of a hotel lobby fist-fight between "Yankee Schwartz, the old Philadelphia boxer," and another man, which Schwartz wins.
"No Bimbo can lick me," he said, breathlessly, at the finish.
"What's a Bimbo?" somebody asked "Tiny" Maxwell, on the assumption that "Tiny" ought to be familiar with the Philadelphia lingo.
A bimbo," said "Tiny," "is t-t-two degrees lower than a coo-coo—cootie."
The word does turn up in Philadelphia papers' accounts of prizefights (e.g. "Fitzsimmons Is No Bimbo," Evening Public Ledger, May 25, 1920).
By 1920 the sense of "floozie" had developed (said to have been popularized by "Variety" staffer Jack Conway), perhaps boosted by "My Little Bimbo Down on Bamboo Isle," a popular 1920 song in which the singer (imploring the audience not to alert his wife) tells of "his shipwreck on a Fiji Isle and the little Bimbo he left down on that Bamboo isle." Its resurrection in this sense during 1980s U.S. political sex scandals led to derivatives including diminutive bimbette (1990) and male form himbo (1988).
late 14c., "full of joy, merry; light-hearted, carefree;" also "wanton, lewd, lascivious" (late 12c. as a surname, Philippus de Gay), from Old French gai "joyful, happy; pleasant, agreeably charming; forward, pert; light-colored" (12c.; compare Old Spanish gayo, Portuguese gaio, Italian gajo, probably French loan-words). Ultimate origin disputed; perhaps from Frankish *gahi (related to Old High German wahi "pretty"), though not all etymologists accept this.
Meaning "stately and beautiful; splendid and showily dressed" is from early 14c. Of things, "sumptuous, showy, rich, ornate," mid-14c. of colors, etc., "shining, glittering, gleaming, bright, vivid," late 14c.; of persons, "dressed up, decked out in finery," late 14c.
In the English of Yorkshire and Scotland formerly it could mean "moderately, rather, considerable" (1796; compare sense development in pretty (adj.)).
The word gay by the 1890s had an overall tinge of promiscuity -- a gay house was a brothel. The suggestion of immorality in the word can be traced back at least to the 1630s, if not to Chaucer:
But in oure bed he was so fressh and gay
Whan that he wolde han my bele chose.
Slang meaning "homosexual" (adj.) begins to appear in psychological writing late 1940s, evidently picked up from gay slang and not always easily distinguished from the older sense:
After discharge A.Z. lived for some time at home. He was not happy at the farm and went to a Western city where he associated with a homosexual crowd, being "gay," and wearing female clothes and makeup. He always wished others would make advances to him. [Rorschach Research Exchange and Journal of Projective Techniques, 1947, p.240]
The association with (male) homosexuality likely got a boost from the term gay cat, used as far back as 1893 in American English for "young hobo," one who is new on the road, also one who sometimes does jobs.
"A Gay Cat," said he, "is a loafing laborer, who works maybe a week, gets his wages and vagabonds about hunting for another 'pick and shovel' job. Do you want to know where they got their monica (nickname) 'Gay Cat'? See, Kid, cats sneak about and scratch immediately after chumming with you and then get gay (fresh). That's why we call them 'Gay Cats'." [Leon Ray Livingston ("America's Most Celebrated Tramp"), "Life and Adventures of A-no. 1," 1910]
Quoting a tramp named Frenchy, who might not have known the origin. Gay cats were severely and cruelly abused by "real" tramps and bums, who considered them "an inferior order of beings who begs of and otherwise preys upon the bum -- as it were a jackal following up the king of beasts" [Prof. John J. McCook, "Tramps," in "The Public Treatment of Pauperism," 1893], but some accounts report certain older tramps would dominate a gay cat and employ him as a sort of slave. In "Sociology and Social Research" (1932-33) a paragraph on the "gay cat" phenomenon notes, "Homosexual practices are more common than rare in this group," and gey cat "homosexual boy" is attested in Noel Erskine's 1933 dictionary of "Underworld & Prison Slang" (gey is a Scottish variant of gay).
The "Dictionary of American Slang" reports that gay (adj.) was used by homosexuals, among themselves, in this sense at least since 1920. Rawson ["Wicked Words"] notes a male prostitute using gay in reference to male homosexuals (but also to female prostitutes) in London's notorious Cleveland Street Scandal of 1889. Ayto ["20th Century Words"] calls attention to the ambiguous use of the word in the 1868 song "The Gay Young Clerk in the Dry Goods Store," by U.S. female impersonator Will S. Hays, but the word evidently was not popularly felt in this sense by wider society until the 1950s at the earliest.
"Gay" (or "gai") is now widely used in French, Dutch, Danish, Japanese, Swedish, and Catalan with the same sense as the English. It is coming into use in Germany and among the English-speaking upper classes of many cosmopolitan areas in other countries. [John Boswell, "Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality," 1980]
As a teen slang word meaning "bad, inferior, undesirable," without reference to sexuality, from 2000.