Etymology
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hard (adj.)

Old English heard "solid and firm, not soft," also, "difficult to endure, carried on with great exertion," also, of persons, "severe, rigorous, harsh, cruel," from Proto-Germanic *hardu- (source also of Old Saxon hard, Old Frisian herd, Dutch hard, Old Norse harðr "hard," Old High German harto "extremely, very," German hart, Gothic hardus "hard"), from PIE *kortu-, suffixed form of root *kar- "hard."

Meaning "difficult to do" is from c. 1200. Of water, in reference to the presence of mineral salts, 1650s; of consonants, 1775. Hard of hearing preserves obsolete Middle English sense of "having difficulty in doing something." In the sense "strong, spiritous, fermented" from 1789 (as in hard cider, etc.), and this use probably is the origin of that in hard drugs (1955). Hard facts is from 1853; hard news in journalism is from 1918. Hard copy (as opposed to computer record) is from 1964; hard disk is from 1978; the computer hard drive is from 1983. Hard times "period of poverty" is from 1705. Hard money (1706) is specie, silver or gold coin, as opposed to paper. Hence 19c. U.S. hard (n.) "one who advocates the use of metallic money as the national currency" (1844). To play hard to get is from 1945. Hard rock as a pop music style recorded from 1967. To do something the hard way is from 1907.

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space (n.)

c. 1300, "extent or area; room" (to do something), a shortening of Old French espace "period of time, distance, interval" (12c.), from Latin spatium "room, area, distance, stretch of time," a word of unknown origin (also source of Spanish espacio, Italian spazio).

From early 14c. as "a place," also "amount or extent of time." From mid-14c. as "distance, interval of space;" from late 14c. as "ground, land, territory; extension in three dimensions; distance between two or more points." From early 15c. as "size, bulk," also "an assigned position." Typographical sense is attested from 1670s (typewriter space-bar is from 1876, earlier space-key, 1860).

Astronomical sense of "stellar depths, immense emptiness between the worlds" is by 1723, perhaps as early as "Paradise Lost" (1667), common from 1890s. Space age is attested from 1946. Many compounds first appeared in science fiction and speculative writing, such as spaceship (1894, "A Journey in Other Worlds," John Jacob Astor); spacecraft (1928, Popular Science); space travel (1931); space station (1936, "Rockets Through Space"); spaceman (1942, Thrilling Wonder Stories). Space race attested from 1959. Space shuttle attested by 1970.

Space isn't remote at all. It's only an hour's drive away if your car could go straight upwards. [Sir Fred Hoyle, London Observer, 1979]
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nail (n.)

Old English negel "tapering metal pin," nægl "fingernail (handnægl), toenail," from Proto-Germanic *naglaz (source also of Old Norse nagl "fingernail," nagli "metal nail;" Old Saxon and Old High German nagel, Old Frisian neil, Middle Dutch naghel, Dutch nagel, German Nagel "fingernail; small metal spike"), from PIE root *(o)nogh "nail of the finger or toe" (source also of Greek onyx "claw, fingernail;" Latin unguis "fingernail, claw;" Old Church Slavonic noga "foot," noguti "fingernail, claw;" Lithuanian naga "hoof," nagutis "fingernail;" Old Irish ingen, Old Welsh eguin "fingernail, claw").

The "fingernail" sense seems to be the original one, but many figurative uses are from the "small metal spike" sense: hard as nails is from 1828. To hit the nail on the head "say or do just the right thing" is by 1520s; in Middle English driven in the nail (c. 1400) was "to drive home one's point, clinch an argument," and smiten the nail on the hed was "tell the exact truth" (mid-15c.). Phrase on the nail "on the spot, exactly" is from 1590s, of obscure origin; OED says it is not certain it belongs to this sense of nail.

As a unit of English cloth measure (about 2 1/4 inches) from late 14c.; perhaps from a nail being used to mark that length on the end of a yardstick.

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punch (v.)

"to thrust, push; jostle;" also, "to prod, drive (cattle, etc.) by poking and prodding," late 14c., from Old French ponchonner "to punch, prick, stamp," from ponchon "pointed tool, piercing weapon" (see punch (n.1)).

Meaning "to pierce, make a hole or holes in with a punch, emboss with a tool" is from early 15c.; meaning "to stab, puncture" is from mid-15c. Related: Punched; punching.

Specialized sense "to hit with the fist, give a blow, beat with blows of the fist" is recorded by 1520s. Compare Latin pugnare "to fight with the fists," from a root meaning "to pierce, sting." In English this sense-shift evolved also probably by influence of punish: Punch or punsch for punish is found in documents from 14c.-15c.:

punchyth me, Lorde, and spare my blyssyd wyff Anne. [Coventry Mystery Plays, late 15c.]

To punch (someone) out "beat (someone) up" is from 1971. To punch a ticket, etc., "make a hole in" to indicate use of it is from mid-15c. To punch the clock "record one's arrival at or departure from the workplace using an automated timing device" is from 1900.

There are time recorders for checking the minute of arrival and departure of each office employee—machines that operate with clock attachment and which in response to worker's punch print on tabular sheets of paper his promptnesses and delinquencies. [Richard Lord, "Running an Office by Machinery," in System, September 1909]
Perhaps you are some great big chief, who has a lot to say.
Who lords it o'er the common herd who chance to come your way;
Well, here is where your arrogance gets a dreadful shock,
When you march up, like a private, salute, and PUNCH THE CLOCK.
[from "Punch the Clock," by "The Skipper," The Commercial Telegraphers' Journal, May 1912]
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action (n.)

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.

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conspiracy (n.)

mid-14c., "a plotting of evil, unlawful design; a combination of persons for an evil purpose," from Anglo-French conspiracie, Old French conspiracie "conspiracy, plot," from Latin conspirationem (nominative conspiratio) "agreement, union, unanimity," noun of action from past-participle stem of conspirare "to agree, unite, plot," literally "to breathe together" (see conspire).

Earlier in same sense was conspiration (early 14c.), from French conspiration (13c.), from Latin conspirationem. An Old English word for it was facengecwis.

Conspiracy theory "explanation of an event or situation involving unwarranted belief that it is caused by a conspiracy among powerful forces" emerged in mid-20c. (by 1937) and figures in the writings of, or about, Charles Beard, Hofstadter, Veblen, etc., but the degree of paranoia and unreasonableness implied in each use is not always easy to discern. The phrase was used from 19c. in a non-pejorative sense "the theory that a (certain) conspiracy exists," especially in court cases. Its use in general reference to theories of hidden cabals pulling wires behind the scenes of national or global events is by 1871.

We shall better understand the ensuing civil war if we study the movements in the four most important of these States, in relation to a theory which asserts that the secession was a conspiracy whose central cabal, composed of Southern senators and representatives in Washington, dictated through its ramifications in the States the inception and the course of the revolution. [James Ford Rhodes, page headed "The Conspiracy Theory" in "History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850," New York, 1893]
To the Jingo Imperialist "the South African Conspiracy" is the alleged Dutch conspiracy to drive the British into the sea. But, to the man accustomed to weigh evidence and to base his opinions on ascertained facts, it is clear that this conspiracy theory is absolutely untenable, for whatever "evidence" has been adduced in support of the theory is nebulous and shadowy in the extreme. ["The South African Conspiracy," in The Westminster Review, January 1902]
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plow (n.)

"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.

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