Etymology
Advertisement
Charles's Wain (n.)

Old English Carles wægn, a star-group associated in medieval times with Charlemagne, but originally with the nearby bright star Arcturus, which is linked by folk etymology to Latin Arturus "Arthur." Which places the seven-star asterism at the crux of the legendary association (or confusion) of Arthur and Charlemagne. Evidence from Dutch (cited in Grimm, "Teutonic Mythology") suggests that it might originally have been Woden's wagon. More recent names for it are the Plough (by 15c., chiefly British) and the Dipper (1833, chiefly American).

It is called "the Wagon" in a Mesopotamian text from 1700 B.C.E., and it is mentioned in the Biblical Book of Job. The seven bright stars in the modern constellation Ursa Major have borne a dual identity in Western history at least since Homer's time, being seen as both a wagon and a bear: as in Latin plaustrum "freight-wagon, ox cart" and arctos "bear," both used of the seven-star pattern, as were equivalent Greek amaxa (Attic hamaxa) and arktos.

The identification with a wagon is easy to see, with four stars as the body and three as the pole. The identification with a bear is more difficult, as the figure has a tail longer than its body. As Allen writes, "The conformation of the seven stars in no way resembles the animal,--indeed the contrary ...." But he suggests the identification "may have arisen from Aristotle's idea that its prototype was the only creature that dared invade the frozen north." The seven stars never were below the horizon in the latitude of the Mediterranean in Homeric and classical times (though not today, due to precession of the equinoxes). See also arctic for the identification of the bear and the north in classical times.

A variety of French and English sources from the early colonial period independently note that many native North American tribes in the northeast had long seen the seven-star group as a bear tracked by three hunters (or a hunter and his two dogs).

Among the Teutonic peoples, it seems to have been only a wagon, not a bear. A 10c. Anglo-Saxon astronomy manual uses the Greek-derived Aretos, but mentions that "unlearned men" call it "Charles's Wain":

Arheton hatte an tungol on norð dæle, se haefð seofon steorran, & is for ði oþrum naman ge-hatan septemtrio, þone hatað læwede meon carles-wæn. ["Anglo-Saxon Manual of Astronomy"] 

[Septemtrio, the seven oxen, was yet another Roman name.] The star picture was not surely identified as a bear in English before late 14c.

The unlearned of today are corrected that the seven stars are not the Great Bear but form only a part of that large constellation. But those who applied the name "Bear" apparently did so originally only to these seven stars, and from Homer's time down to Thales, "the Bear" meant just the seven stars. From Rome to Anglo-Saxon England to Arabia to India, ancient astronomy texts mention a supposed duplicate constellation to the northern bear in the Southern Hemisphere, never visible from the north. This perhaps is based on sailors' tales of the Southern Cross.

Related entries & more 
Advertisement
egg (n.)

"the body formed in the females of all animals (with the exception of a few of the lowest type) in which by impregnation the development of the fetus takes place," mid-14c., egge, mostly in northern England dialect, from Old Norse egg, from Proto-Germanic *ajja(m) (source also of Old Saxon, Middle Dutch, Dutch, Old High German, German ei, Gothic ada), probably from PIE *owyo-/*oyyo- "egg" (source also of Old Church Slavonic aja, Russian jajco, Breton ui, Welsh wy, Greek ōon, Latin ovum); possibly derived from root *awi- "bird."

This Norse-derived northern word vied in Middle English with native cognates eye, eai, from Old English æg, until finally displacing the others after c. 1500. Caxton (15c.) writes of a merchant (probably a north-country man) in a public house on the Thames who asked for eggs:

And the goode wyf answerde, that she coude speke no frenshe. And the marchaunt was angry, for he also coude speke no frenshe, but wolde have hadde egges, and she understode hym not. 

She did, however, recognize another customer's request for "eyren." Used of persons from c. 1600. Bad egg in the figurative sense is from 1855; bad eggs aren't always obvious to outward view (there was an old proverb, "bad bird, bad egg"). To have egg on (one's) face "look foolish" is attested by 1948.

[Young & Rubincam] realize full well that a crew can sometimes make or break a show. It can do little things to ruin a program or else, by giving it its best, can really get that all-important rating. They are mindful of an emcee of a variety show who already has been tabbed "old egg in your face" because the crew has managed to get him in such awkward positions on the TV screen. [Billboard, March 5, 1949] 
We don't have egg on our face. We have omelet all over our suits. [NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, some time past 3 a.m. ET on Nov. 8, 2000, after the U.S. television networks called a winner, then retracted the call, in the Bush-Gore presidential election]

 Eggs Benedict is attested by 1898; various Benedicts are cited as the eponym, and the dish itself is said to have originated in the Waldorf-Astoria or Delmonico's, both in New York. The figure of speech represented in to have (or put) all (one's) eggs in one basket "to venture all one has in one speculation or investment" is attested by 1660s. The conundrum of the chicken (or hen) and the egg is attested from 1875.

Bumble, bramble, which came first, sir,
Eggs or chickens? Who can tell?
I'll never believe that the first egg burst, sir,
Before its mother was out of her shell.
[Mary Mapes Dodge, "Rhymes and Jingles," N.Y., 1875]
Related entries & more 
cut (v.)

c. 1300, "to make, with an edged tool or instrument, an incision in; make incisions for the purpose of dividing into two or more parts; remove by means of a cutting instrument;" of an implement, "have a cutting edge," according to Middle English Compendium from a presumed Old English *cyttan, "since ME has the normal regional variants of the vowel." Others suggest a possible Scandinavian etymology from North Germanic *kut- (source also of Swedish dialectal kuta "to cut," kuta "knife," Old Norse kuti "knife"), or that it is from Old French couteau "knife."

It has largely displaced Old English ceorfan (see carve (v.)), snian, and scieran (see shear). The past participle is also cut, though cutted sometimes has been used since Middle English.

From early 14c. as "to make or fashion by cutting or carving." From c. 1400 as "to intersect or cross." From early 15c. as "abridge or shorten by omitting a part."

Meaning "to wound the sensibilities of" is from 1580s (to cut the heart in the same sense is attested from early 14c.). Sense of "sever connection or relations with" is from 1630s.

Meaning "to be absent without excuse" is British university slang from 1794. Colloquial or slang sense of "move off with directness and rapidity" is from 1580s. Meaning "divide (a deck of cards) at random into parts before the deal" to prevent cheating is from 1530s.

Meaning "to dilute, adulterate" (liquor, etc.) is by 1930. Colloquial sense of "to divide or share" is by 1928, perhaps an image from meat-carving at table. As a director's call to halt recording or performing, by 1931 (in an article about Pete, the bulldog with the black-ringed eye in the Hal Roach studios shorts, who was said to know the word). The sense of "perform, execute" (c. 1600) is in cut capers "frisk about;" cut a dash "make a display."

To cut down is from late 14c. as "to fell;" by 1821 as "to slay" (as with a sword); 1857 as "to curtail." To cut (someone or something) down to size is from 1821 as "reduce to suitable dimensions;" the figurative sense, "reduce to the proper level of importance," is by 1927.

To cut in "enter suddenly and unceremoniously" is from 1610s; sense of "suddenly join in conversation, interrupt" is by 1830. To cut up "cut in pieces" is from 1570s. To cut back is from 1871 as "prune by cutting off shoots," 1913 in cinematography, "return to a previous scene by repeating a part of it," 1943 as "reduce, decrease" (of expenditures, etc.). To cut (something) short "abridge, curtail, interrupt" is from 1540s.

In nautical use to cut a feather (1620s) is to move so fast as to make water foam under the bow. To cut and run (1704) also is originally nautical, "cut cable and set sail immediately," as in an emergency, hence, generally, "to make off suddenly."

To cut the teeth "have the teeth grow through the gums" as an infant is from 1670s. To cut both ways in the figurative sense of "have a good and bad effect" is from c. 1600. To cut loose "set (something) free" is by 1828; intransitive sense "begin to act freely" is by 1909.

Cut it out "remove (something) by or as if by cutting" yielded a figurative use in the command cut it out! "Stop! That's enough!" by 1933. The evolution seems to have begun earlier. A piece attributed to the Chicago Live Stock World that made the rounds in trade publications 1901-02 begins:

When you get 'hot' about something and vow you are going to rip something or somebody up the back—cut it out.
If you feel disposed to try the plan of building yourself up by tearing some one else down—cut it out.

Playing on both senses, it ends with "Should you, after reading this preachy stuff, fear you might forget some of the good advice—cut it out."

Related entries & more 
gay (adj.)
Origin and meaning of gay

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.

Related entries & more 

Page 37