Etymology
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mystery (n.1)

early 14c., misterie, in a theological sense, "religious truth via divine revelation, hidden spiritual significance, mystical truth," from Anglo-French *misterie, Old French mistere "secret, mystery, hidden meaning" (Modern French mystère) and directly from Latin mysterium "secret rite, secret worship; a sacrament, a secret thing."

This is from Greek mystērion (usually in plural mysteria) "secret rite or doctrine (known and practiced by certain initiated persons only), consisting of purifications, sacrificial offerings, processions, songs, etc.," from mystēs "one who has been initiated," from myein "to close, shut" (see mute (adj.)); perhaps referring to the lips (in secrecy) or to the eyes (only initiates were allowed to see the sacred rites).

The Greek word was used in Septuagint for "secret counsel of God," translated in Vulgate as sacramentum. Non-theological use in English, "a hidden or secret thing; a fact, matter, etc., of which the meaning explanation, or cause is unknown," is from late 14c. In reference to the ancient rites of Greece, Egypt, etc. it is attested from 1640s. Meaning "detective story" is recorded by 1908. Mystery meat, slang for "unidentifiable meat served in a military mess, student dining hall, etc." is by 1949, probably from World War II armed services.

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clean (adj.)

Old English clæne "free from dirt or filth, unmixed with foreign or extraneous matter; morally pure, chaste, innocent; open, in the open," of beasts, "not forbidden by ceremonial law to eat," from West Germanic *klainja- "clear, pure" (source also of Old Saxon kleni "dainty, delicate," Old Frisian klene "small," Old High German kleini "delicate, fine, small," German klein "small;" English preserves the original Germanic sense), perhaps from PIE root *gel- "bright, gleaming" (source also of Greek glene "eyeball," Old Irish gel "bright"). But Boutkan doubts the IE etymology and that the "clean" word and the "small" word are the same.

"Largely replaced by clear, pure in the higher senses" [Weekley], but as a verb (mid-15c.) it has largely usurped what once belonged to cleanse. Meaning "whole, entire" is from c. 1300 (clean sweep in the figurative sense is from 1821). Sense of "not lewd" (as in good, clean fun) is from 1867; that of "not carrying anything forbidden" is from 1938; that of "free of drug addiction" is from 1950s. To come clean "confess" is from 1919, American English.

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dung (n.)

late Old English dung "manure, decayed matter used to fertilize soil," from Proto-Germanic *dungō (source also of Old Frisian and Old Saxon dung "manure;" Old High German tunga "manuring," tung "underground room covered with manure;" German Dung; Old Norse dyngja "heap of manure, women's apartment;" Swedish dynga "dung, muck;" Danish dynge "heap, mass, pile"), perhaps from a PIE *dhengh- "covering" (source also of Lithuanian dengti "to cover," Old Irish dingim "I press").

The word recalls the ancient Germanic custom (reported by Tacitus) of covering underground shelters with manure to keep in warmth in winter. The meaning "animal excrement," whether used as fertilizer or not, is from late 13c.

It appears that the whole body of journeymen tailors is divided into two classes, denominated Flints and Dungs: the former work by the day and receive all equal wages; the latter work generally by the piece ["The Annual Register for the Year 1824," London, 1825].

Dung beetle, common name of the beetles which roll up balls of dung," is attested by 1630s. In colloquial American English, tumble-bug. An Old English word for it was tordwifel "turd weevil."

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brass (adj.)

"made of brass," c. 1400, from brass (n.). Compare brazen (adj.). Slang brass balls "toughness, courage" (emphatically combining two words that serve as metaphors for the same thing) is attested by 1960s. Brass-band is from 1827.

The figurative brass tacks "essentials of a matter" that you get down to (1897, popular from c. 1910) perhaps are the ones said to have been nailed to the counters of a dry goods stores and used to measure cloth, suggesting precision, but the metaphor was unclear from the start, and brass tacks or nails in late 19c. were commonly noted as being used in upholstering. A 1911 advertisement begins " 'Getting down to brass tacks' is a characteristic American slang phrase, full of suggestion but of obscure origin."

The figurative brass monkey that suffers anatomical loss in freezing weather is attested by 1843:

Old Knites was as cool as a cucumber, and would have been so, independent of the weather, which, as he expressed it, was cold enough to freeze the nose off a brass monkey. ["An Incident of the Canadian Rebellion," in The Worcester Magazine, June, 1843]

Melville  ("Omoo," 1847) has a twist on the image in "hot enough to melt the nose h'off a brass monkey."

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mafia (n.)

1875, from Italian Mafia "Sicilian secret society of criminals" (the prevailing sense outside Sicily), earlier, "spirit of hostility to the law and its ministers." A member is a mafioso (1870), fem. mafiosa, plural mafiosi, and this may be the older word in this sense. Arabic is often cited as the ultimate source (the Arabs ruled Sicily for more than two centuries in the Middle Ages), but which Arabic word is a matter of disagreement.

The most likely origin of the actual meaning of mafioso and its derivative mafia — as suggested by the nineteenth-century Sicilian ethnographer Giuseppe Pitrè — is a play by Placido Rizzoto, I Mafiusi della Vicaria, first performed in 1863. ... The play concerns a group of prisoners in the Palermo jail who command particular respect: although individualistic and quarrelsome, they are members of an association with distinct patterns of behavior (including an initiation ritual) and a hierarchy, which claims it can influence the political and administrative system of the island. [Diego Gambetta, "The Sicilian Mafia," Harvard, 1993]

The immediate source of mafioso, then, would be 19c. Sicilian mafiusu, "signifying a bully, arrogant but also fearless, enterprising, and proud" [Gambetta], who favors as the Arabic source an adjective from marfud "rejected."

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bohemian (n.)

"a gypsy of society; person (especially an artist) who lives a free and somewhat dissipated life, despising conventionalities and having little regard for social standards," 1848, from a transferred sense of French bohemién "a Bohemian; a Gypsy," from the country name (see Bohemia). The Middle English word for "a resident or native of Bohemia" was Bemener.

The French used bohemién since 15c. to also mean "Gypsy." The Roma were wrongly believed to have come from there, perhaps because their first appearance in Western Europe may have been immediately from Bohemia, or because they were confused with the 15c. Bohemian Hussite heretics, who were driven from their country about that time.

The transferred sense, in reference to unconventional living, is attested in French by 1834 and was popularized by Henri Murger's stories from the late 1840s later collected as "Scenes de la Vie de Boheme" (the basis of Puccini's "La Bohème"). It appears in English 1848 in Thackary's "Vanity Fair."

The term 'Bohemian' has come to be very commonly accepted in our day as the description of a certain kind of literary gipsey, no matter in what language he speaks, or what city he inhabits .... A Bohemian is simply an artist or littérateur who, consciously or unconsciously, secedes from conventionality in life and in art. [Westminster Review, 1862]

Hence also the adjective, "unconventional, free from social restraints" (1848).

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scavenger (n.)

1540s, originally "person hired to remove refuse from streets," a modification of Middle English scavager, scawageour (late 14c.), the title of a London official who originally was charged with collecting tax on goods sold by foreign merchants.

This is from Middle English scavage, scauage (Anglo-French scawage) "toll or duty exacted by a local official on goods offered for sale in one's precinct" (c. 1400), from Old North French escauwage "inspection," from a Germanic source (compare Old High German scouwon, Old English sceawian "to look at, inspect;" see show (v.)).

The scavenger later was charged with inspection and maintenance of streets: Blount's description ("Glossographia," 1656) is "an Officer well known in London, that makes clean the streets, by scraping up and carrying away the dust and durt." The modern general sense of the word "one who collects and consumes or puts to use what has been discarded" evolved through the notion of "collect and dispose of rubbish."

The word came to be regarded as an agent noun in -er, but the verb scavenge (q.v.) is a late back-formation from the noun. For the unetymological -n- (c. 1500), compare harbinger, passenger, messenger, etc. Extended 1590s to animals that feed on decaying matter. Scavenger hunt is attested from 1937. Mayhew (1851) has scavagery "street-cleaning, removal of filth from streets."

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clay (n.)

Old English clæg "stiff, sticky earth; clay," from Proto-Germanic *klaijaz (source also of Old High German kliwa "bran," German Kleie, Old Frisian klai, Old Saxon klei, Middle Dutch clei, Danish klæg "clay;" also Old English clæman, Old Norse kleima, Old High German kleiman "to cover with clay").

Some sources see these as being from a common PIE root meaning "slime; glue" also forming words for "clay" and verbs for "stick together." Compared words include Latin gluten "glue, beeswax;" Greek gloios "sticky matter;" Lithuanian glitus "sticky," glitas "mucus;" Old Church Slavonic glina "clay," glenu "slime, mucus;" Old Irish glenim "I cleave, adhere;" Old English cliða "plaster." But Beekes writes that "Not all comparisons are convincing," and notes that most words cited are from Balto-Slavic or Germanic, "which suggests European substrate origin."

In Scripture, the stuff from which the body of the first man was formed; hence "human body" (especially when dead). As an adjective, "formed of clay," 1520s. Clay-pigeon "saucer of baked clay used as a flying target in trap-shooting," in place of live birds, is from 1881. Feet of clay "fundamental weakness" is from Daniel ii.33.

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opinion (n.)

early 14c., opinioun, "a judgment formed or a conclusion reached, especially one based on evidence that does not produce knowledge or certainty," from Old French opinion "opinion, view, judgements founded upon probabilities" (12c.), from Latin opinionem (nominative opinio) "opinion, conjecture, fancy, belief, what one thinks; appreciation, esteem," from stem of opinari "think, judge, suppose, opine," from PIE *op- (2) "to choose" (see option).

Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making. [Milton, "Areopagitica"]

The word always has tended toward "a judgment or view regarded as influenced more by sentiment or feeling than reason." The meaning "formal statement by a judge or other professional" is from late 15c. The specific sense of "the estimate one forms of the character or qualities of persons or things" is by c. 1500. Public opinion, "the prevailing view in a given community on any matter of general interest or concern," is by 1735.

Middle English, perhaps reflecting the era's concern for obtaining knowledge through learned disputation, had opinional "characterized by likelihood rather than certainty" and opinial "based on probable but not certain evidence" (both mid-15c.).

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debunk (v.)

"expose false or nonsensical claims or sentiments," 1923, from de- + bunk (n.2); apparently first used by U.S. novelist William Woodward (1874-1950), in his best-seller "Bunk;" the notion being "to take the bunk out of things." It got a boost from Harold U. Faulkner's "Colonial History Debunked" [Harper's Magazine, December 1925], which article itself quickly was debunked, and the word was in vogue in America in the mid-1920s. Related: Debunked; debunking.

Wets and Drys, Fundamentalists and Modernists, are busily engaged in debunking one another to the delight and edification of a public which divides its time between automobiling and listening-in. Is it art, or education, or religion that you prefer? You have only to get the right station and what you last heard about the matter will be cleverly debunked while you wait. [Carl Vernon Tower, "Genealogy 'Debunked," in Annual Reports of the Tower Genealogical Society, 1925]

It was, naturally, execrated in England.

The origin of to debunk is doubtless the same as that of American jargon in general — the inability of an ill-educated and unintelligent democracy to assimilate long words. Its intrusion in our own tongue is due partly to the odious novelty of the word itself, and partly to the prevailing fear that to write exact English nowadays is to be put down as a pedant and a prig. [letter to the editor, London Daily Telegraph, March 2, 1935, cited in Mencken, "The American Language"]
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