late 14c., ethimolegia "facts of the origin and development of a word," from Old French etimologie, ethimologie (14c., Modern French étymologie), from Latin etymologia, from Greek etymologia "analysis of a word to find its true origin," properly "study of the true sense (of a word)," with -logia "study of, a speaking of" (see -logy) + etymon "true sense, original meaning," neuter of etymos "true, real, actual," related to eteos "true," which perhaps is cognate with Sanskrit satyah, Gothic sunjis, Old English soð "true," from a PIE *set- "be stable." Latinized by Cicero as veriloquium.
In classical times, with reference to meanings; later, to histories. Classical etymologists, Christian and pagan, based their explanations on allegory and guesswork, lacking historical records as well as the scientific method to analyze them, and the discipline fell into disrepute that lasted a millennium. Flaubert ["Dictionary of Received Ideas"] wrote that the general view was that etymology was "the easiest thing in the world with the help of Latin and a little ingenuity."
As a modern branch of linguistic science treating of the origin and evolution of words, from 1640s. As "an account of the particular history of a word" from mid-15c. Related: Etymological; etymologically.
As practised by Socrates in the Cratylus, etymology involves a claim about the underlying semantic content of the name, what it really means or indicates. This content is taken to have been put there by the ancient namegivers: giving an etymology is thus a matter of unwrapping or decoding a name to find the message the namegivers have placed inside. [Rachel Barney, "Socrates Agonistes: The Case of the Cratylus Etymologies," in "Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy," vol. xvi, 1998]
Old English smæl "thin, slender, narrow; fine," from Proto-Germanic *smal- "small animal; small" (source also of Old Saxon, Danish, Swedish, Middle Dutch, Dutch, Old High German smal, Old Frisian smel, German schmal "narrow, slender," Gothic smalista "smallest," Old Norse smali "small cattle, sheep"), perhaps from a PIE root *(s)melo- "smaller animal" (source also of Greek melon, Old Irish mil "a small animal;" Old Church Slavonic malu "bad"). Original sense of "narrow" now almost obsolete, except in reference to waistline and intestines.
My sister ... is as white as a lilly, and as small as a wand. [Shakespeare, "Two Gentlemen of Verona," 1591]
Sense of "not large, of little size" developed in Old English. Of children, "young," from mid-13c. Meaning "inferior in degree or amount" is from late 13c. Meaning "trivial, unimportant" is from mid-14c. Sense of "having little property or trade" is from 1746. That of "characterized by littleness of mind or spirit, base, low, mean" is from 1824. As an adverb by late 14c.
Small fry, first recorded 1690s of little fish, 1885 of insignificant people. Small potatoes "no great matter, something petty or insignificant" is attested by 1924; small change "something of little value" is from 1902; small talk "chit-chat, trifling conversation" (1751) first recorded in Chesterfield's "Letters." Small world as a comment upon an unexpected meeting of acquaintances is recorded from 1895. Small-arms, indicating those capable of being carried in the hand (contrasted to ordnance) is recorded from 1710.
"a conceited, narrow-minded pragmatical person; a dull, precise person; one who cultivates or affects propriety and offends or bores others," 1753, originally in reference to theological scruples (1704), a word of unknown origin.
It could be related to earlier appearances of the same word meaning "a dandy, coxcomb, fop" (1670s), "thief" (c. 1600; in forms prigger, prigman recorded from 1560s). Century Dictionary speculates the modern word is "perhaps a later application (of the "thief" sense) in the general sense, among "the profession," of 'a smart fellow.' " Also compare thieves' cant prig "a tinker" (1560s). In Middle English a prig was a kind of small nail used in roofing or tiling (14c.), perhaps from prick.
A p[rig] is wise beyond his years in all the things that do not matter. A p. cracks nuts with a steam hammer: that is, calls in the first principles of morality to decide whether he may, or must, do something of as little importance as drinking a glass of beer. On the whole, one may, perhaps, say that all his different characteristics come from the combination, in varying proportions, of three things—the desire to do his duty, the belief that he knows better than other people, & blindness to the difference in value between different things. [quoted in Fowler, 1926, who writes that it can be found in "an anonymous volume of essays"]
"in a state of decline or decay (from a former condition of excellence)," 1837 (Carlyle), from French décadent, back-formation from décadence (see decadence). In reference to literary (later, other artistic) schools that believed, or affected to believe, they lived in an age of artistic decadence, 1885 in French, 1888 in English. Usually in a bad sense:
Bread, supposedly the staff of life, has become one of our most decadent foods — doughy, gummy, and without the aroma, flavor, texture, taste and appearance that is typical of good bread. ["College and University Business" 1960]
Beckoning sense of "desirable and satisfying to self-indulgence" begins c. 1970 in commercial publications in reference to desserts.
As a noun, "one whose artistic or literary work is supposed to show marks of decadence," 1889 (from 1887 as a French word in English), originally in a French context.
On the subject of poetry I am bound to signalize one of those grotesque, unexpected apparitions which would appear to be constitutional to our country [i.e. France] .... I refer to the recent appearance of a literary clique of madmen or idlers, the self-named décadents. I own I am almost ashamed to occupy your time with this unworthy subject, which I should not have thought fit to introduce had not our newspapers and even our reviews taken the décadents to task, and were it not that they have furnished chroniqueurs short of copy with matter for articles, and that the serious Temps itself has taken up their trashy nonsense. [The Athenaeum, Jan. 1, 1887]
Middle English quik, from Old English cwic "living, alive, animate, characterized by the presence of life" (now archaic), and figuratively, of mental qualities, "rapid, ready," from Proto-Germanic *kwikwaz (source also of Old Saxon and Old Frisian quik, Old Norse kvikr "living, alive," Dutch kwik "lively, bright, sprightly," Old High German quec "lively," German keck "bold"), from PIE root *gwei- "to live." Sense of "lively, active, swift, speedy, hasty," developed by c. 1300, on notion of "full of life."
NE swift or the now more common fast may apply to rapid motion of any duration, while in quick (in accordance with its original sense of 'live, lively') there is a notion of 'sudden' or 'soon over.' We speak of a fast horse or runner in a race, a quick starter but not a quick horse. A somewhat similar feeling may distinguish NHG schnell and rasch or it may be more a matter of local preference. [Carl Darling Buck, "A Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages," 1949]
Of persons, "mentally active, prompt to perceive or respond to impressions" from late 15c. Of an action, process, etc., "done in little time," 1540s. Also in Middle English used of soft soils, gravel pits, etc. where the ground is shifting and yielding (mid-14c., compare quicksand). Also in Middle English "with child, in an advanced state of pregnancy" (when the woman can feel the child move within). Also formerly of bright flowers or colors (c. 1200).
As an adverb, "quickly, in a quick manner," from c. 1300. To be quick about something is from 1937. Quick buck is from 1946, American English. Quick-change artist (1886) originally was an actor expert in playing different roles in the same performance of a show. Quick-witted is from 1520s.
"stick for striking fire." Late 14c., macche, "wick of a candle or lamp," a sense now obsolete, from Old French meiche "wick of a candle," from Vulgar Latin *micca/*miccia (source also of Catalan metxa, Spanish mecha, Italian miccia), which is of uncertain origin, probably ultimately from Latin myxa, from Greek myxa "lamp wick," originally "mucus," based on notion of wick dangling from the spout of a lamp like snot from a nostril, from PIE root *meug- "slimy, slippery" (see mucus). English snot also had a secondary sense from late 14c. of "snuff of a candle, burnt part of a wick," surviving at least to late 19c. in northern dialects.
The modern spelling is from mid-15c. The meaning "piece of cord or tow soaked in sulfur, used for lighting fires, lamps, candles, etc." is from 1530. It was used by 1830 for the modern type of sulfur-tipped wooden friction match, which were perfected about that time, and competed with lucifer for much of 19c. as the name for this invention. An earlier version consisted of a thin strip of wood tipped with combustible matter that required contact with phosphorous carried separately in a box or vial.
In the manufacture of matches much trouble has been occasioned by the use of phosphorous .... In some of the small and poorly-managed factories the men and children are never free from the fumes; their clothes and breath are luminous in the dark, and in the daytime white fumes may be seen escaping from them whenever they are seated by the fire. ... The danger arising from the use of matches was magnified, because they could sometimes be seen in the dark, were liable to ignite on a warm shelf, and were poisonous to such an extent that children had been killed by using them as playthings. [John A. Garver, "Matches," in The Popular Science Monthly, August 1877]
Old English brecan "to divide solid matter violently into parts or fragments; to injure, violate (a promise, etc.), destroy, curtail; to break into, rush into; to burst forth, spring out; to subdue, tame" (class IV strong verb; past tense bræc, past participle brocen), from Proto-Germanic *brekanan (source also of Old Frisian breka, Dutch breken, Old High German brehhan, German brechen, Gothic brikan), from PIE root *bhreg- "to break."
Closely related to breach (n.), brake (n.1), brick (n.). The old past tense brake is obsolete or archaic; the past participle is broken, but shortened form broke is attested from 14c. and was "exceedingly common" [OED] 17c.-18c.
Of bones in Old English. Formerly also of cloth, paper, etc. The meaning "escape by breaking an enclosure" is from late 14c. The intransitive sense of "be or become separated into fragments or parts under action of some force" is from late 12c. The meaning "lessen, impair" is from late 15c. That of "make a first and partial disclosure" is from early 13c. The sense of "destroy continuity or completeness" in any way is from 1741. Of coins or bills, "to convert to smaller units of currency," by 1882.
In reference to the heart from early 13c. (intransitive); to break (someone's) heart is late 14c. Break bread "share food" (with) is from late 14c. To break ground is from 1670s as "to dig, plow," from 1709 in the figurative sense of "begin to execute a plan." To break the ice "overcome the feeling of restraint in a new acquaintanceship" is from c. 1600, in reference to the "coldness" of encounters of strangers. Break wind is attested from 1550s. To break (something) out (1890s) probably is an image from dock work, of freeing cargo before unloading it.
The ironic theatrical good luck formula break a leg (by 1948, said to be from at least 1920s) has parallels in German Hals- und Beinbruch "break your neck and leg," and Italian in bocca al lupo. Evidence of a highly superstitious craft (see Macbeth). According to Farmer & Henley, in 17c. the expression was used euphemistically, of a woman, "to have a bastard."
late 14c., "to give up (something) absolutely, relinquish control, give over utterly;" also reflexively, "surrender (oneself), yield (oneself) utterly" (to religion, fornication, etc.), from Old French abandonner "surrender, release; give freely, permit," also reflexive, "devote (oneself)" (12c.).
The Old French word was formed from the adverbial phrase à bandon "at will, at discretion," from à "at, to" (from Latin ad; see ad-) + bandon "power, jurisdiction," from Latin bannum, "proclamation," which is from a Frankish or other Germanic word, from Proto-Germanic *bannan- "proclaim, summon, outlaw" (things all done by proclamation); see ban (v.).
Mettre sa forest à bandon was a feudal law phrase in the 13th cent. = mettre sa forêt à permission, i.e. to open it freely to any one for pasture or to cut wood in; hence the later sense of giving up one's rights for a time, letting go, leaving, abandoning. [Auguste Brachet, "An Etymological Dictionary of the French Language," transl. G.W. Kitchin, Oxford, 1878]
Meaning "to leave, desert, forsake (someone or something) in need" is from late 15c. Related: Abandoned; abandoning.
Etymologically, the word carries a sense of "put (something) under someone else's control," and the earliest appearance of the word in English is as an adverb (mid-13c.) with the sense "under (one's) control," hence also "unrestricted."
Again, as that which is placed at the absolute command of one party must by the same act be entirely given up by the original possessor, it was an easy step from the sense of conferring the command of a thing upon some particular person to that of renouncing all claim to authority over the subject matter, without particular reference to the party into whose hands it might come ; and thus in modern times the word has come to be used almost exclusively in the sense renunciation or desertion. [Hensleigh Wedgwood, "A Dictionary of English Etymology," 1859]
"small sack," c. 1200, bagge, probably from Old Norse baggi "pack, bundle," or a similar Scandinavian source. OED rejects connection to other Germanic words for "bellows, belly" as without evidence and finds a Celtic origin untenable. In some senses perhaps from Old French bague, which is also from Germanic.
As disparaging slang for "woman" it dates from 1924 in modern use (but various specialized senses of this are much older, and compare baggage). The meaning "person's area of interest or expertise" is by 1964, from African-American vernacular, from jazz sense of "category," probably via notion of putting something in a bag. The meaning "fold of loose skin under the eye" is by 1867. Related: bags.
To be left holding the bag (and presumably nothing else), "cheated, swindled" is attested by 1793. Many figurative senses, such as the verb meaning "to kill game" (1814) and its colloquial extension to "catch, seize, steal" (1818) are from the notion of the game bag (late 15c.) into which the product of the hunt was placed. This also probably explains modern slang in the bag "assured, certain" (1922, American English).
To let the cat out of the bag "reveal the secret" is from 1760. The source is probably the French expression Acheter chat en poche "buy a cat in a bag," which is attested in 18c. French and explained in Bailey's "Universal Etymological English Dictionary" (1736), under the entry for To buy a pig in a poke as "to buy a Thing without looking at it, or enquiring into the Value of it." (Similar expressions are found in Italian and German; and in English, Wyclif (late 14c.) has To bye a catte in þo sakke is bot litel charge). Thus to let the cat out of the bag would be to inadvertently reveal the hidden truth of a matter one is attempting to pass off as something better or different, which is in line with the earliest uses in English.
Sir Joseph letteth the cat out of the bag, and sheweth principles inimical to the cause of true philosophy, by wishing to make great men Fellows, instead of wise men ["Peter Pindar," "Peter's Prophecy," 1788]