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.
1590s, "pertaining to the island of Lesbos," from Latin Lesbius, from Greek lesbios "of Lesbos," Greek island in northeastern Aegean Sea (the name originally may have meant "wooded"), home of Sappho, great lyric poet whose erotic and romantic verse embraced women as well as men, hence meaning "relating to homosexual relations between women, characterized by erotic interest in other women" (in continuous use from 1890; the noun lesbianism from this sense is attested from 1870) and the noun, which is first recorded 1925.
Sappho's particular association with erotic love between women (with or without concurrent relations with men) dates to at least 1732 in writing in English, though the continuous use of lesbian and the modern words formed from it are from late 19c. The use of lesbian as a noun and an adjective in this sense seems to follow the same pattern.
In another Place the same commentator conjectures, that Myra is a Corruption of Myrrhina а famous Courtesan of Athens, who first practis'd and taught in that City Sappho's Manner and the Lesbian Gambols. ["Peregrine O Donald" (William King), "The Toast," 1732]
Before this, the principal figurative use of Lesbian was lesbian rule (c. 1600 and especially common in 17c.) a mason's rule of lead, of a type used in ancient times on Lesbos, which could be bent to fit the curves of a molding; hence, figuratively, "pliant morality or judgment."
And this is the nature of the equitable, a correction of law where it is defective owing to its universality. ... For when the thing is indefinite the rule also is indefinite, like the leaden rule used in making the Lesbian moulding; the rule adapts itself to the shape of the stone and is not rigid, and so too the decree is adapted to the facts. [Aristotle, "Nicomachean Ethics"]
It also was used in English from 1775 in reference to wines from Lesbos. Though the specific "pertaining to female homosexuality" is recent, Lesbian had long before that a suggestion of "amatory, erotic," "From the reputed character of the inhabitants and the tone of their poetry" [Century Dictionary]. The island's erotic reputation was ancient; Greek had a verb lesbiazein "to imitate the Lesbians," which implied "sexual initiative and shamelessness" among women (especially fellatio), but not necessarily female homosexuality, and they did not differentiate such things the way we have.
Middle English pleien, from Old English plegan, plegian "move lightly and quickly, occupy or busy oneself, amuse oneself; engage in active exercise; frolic; engage in children's play; make sport of, mock; perform music," from Proto-West Germanic *plegōjanan "occupy oneself about" (source also of Old Saxon plegan "vouch for, take charge of," Old Frisian plega "tend to," Middle Dutch pleyen "to rejoice, be glad," German pflegen "take care of, cultivate"), which is apparently connected to the root of plight (v.), but the ultimate etymology is uncertain and the phonetic development is difficult to explain.
Meaning "to take part in" a martial or athletic game is from c. 1200. It has been opposed to work (v.) since late 14c. Meaning "perform or act on the stage" (transitive) is by late 14c., as are the senses of "take the role of" and "make a pretense of, make believe" and "act thoughtlessly or wantonly." Sense of "put forward, move, throw, lay on the table, etc." in the course of a game or contest is by 1560s of chess pieces, 1670s of playing cards. Sense of "operate or cause to operate with continuous or repeated action" is from 1590s. Meaning "to cause (a recording) to reproduce what is on it" is by 1903, probably from the "make music" sense. Related: Played; playing.
Many expressions are from the stage, sports and games, or music, and it is not always easy to say which is from which. To play up "emphasize" is from 1909 (perhaps originally "play music more vigorously"); to play down "minimize" is from 1930; to play along "pretend to agree or cooperate" is from 1929. To play fair "be nice" is from mid-15c. To play house as a children's activity is from 1958.
To play for keeps is from 1861, originally of marbles or other children's games with tokens. To play (something) safe is from 1911; to play favorites is attested from 1902. To play second fiddle in the figurative sense is from 1809 ("Gil Blas"). To play into the hands (of someone) "act in such a way as to give the advantage to one's opponent or a third party" is from 1705. For play the _______ card see card (n.1). For play the field see field (n.). To play with oneself "masturbate" is from 1896 (to play with "have sexual intercourse with" is from mid-13c.). Playing-card "one of a pack of cards used for playing games" is from 1540s.
Old English lufu "feeling of love; romantic sexual attraction; affection; friendliness; the love of God; Love as an abstraction or personification," from Proto-Germanic *lubo (source also of Old High German liubi "joy," German Liebe "love;" Old Norse, Old Frisian, Dutch lof; German Lob "praise;" Old Saxon liof, Old Frisian liaf, Dutch lief, Old High German liob, German lieb, Gothic liufs "dear, beloved"). The Germanic words are from PIE root *leubh- "to care, desire, love."
The weakened sense "liking, fondness" was in Old English. Meaning "a beloved person" is from early 13c. The sense "no score" (in tennis, etc.) is 1742, from the notion of playing for love (1670s), that is, for no stakes. Phrase for love or money "for anything" is attested from 1580s. The phrase no love lost (between two people) is ambiguous and was used 17c. in reference to two who love each other well (c. 1640) as well as two who have no liking for each other (1620s, the usual modern sense).
To fall in love is attested from early 15c.; to be in love with (someone) is from c. 1500. To make love is from 1570s in the sense "pay amorous attention to;" as a euphemism for "have sex," it is attested from c. 1950. Love affair "a particular experience of love" is from 1590s. Love life "one's collective amorous activities" is from 1919, originally a term in psychological jargon. Love beads is from 1968. Love bug, imaginary insect, is from 1883. Love-handles "the fat on one's sides" is by 1967.
"Even now," she thought, "almost no one remembers Esteban and Pepita but myself. Camilla alone remembers her Uncle Pio and her son; this woman, her mother. But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning." [Thornton Wilder, "Bridge of San Luis Rey," 1927]
Old English freo "exempt from; not in bondage, acting of one's own will," also "noble; joyful," from Proto-Germanic *friaz "beloved; not in bondage" (source also of Old Frisian fri, Old Saxon vri, Old High German vri, German frei, Dutch vrij, Gothic freis "free"), from PIE *priy-a- "dear, beloved," from root *pri- "to love."
The sense evolution from "to love" to "free" is perhaps from the terms "beloved" or "friend" being applied to the free members of one's clan (as opposed to slaves; compare Latin liberi, meaning both "free persons" and "children of a family"). For the older sense in Germanic, compare Gothic frijon "to love;" Old English freod "affection, friendship, peace," friga "love," friðu "peace;" Old Norse friðr "peace, personal security; love, friendship," German Friede "peace;" Old English freo "wife;" Old Norse Frigg, name of the wife of Odin, literally "beloved" or "loving;" Middle Low German vrien "to take to wife," Dutch vrijen, German freien "to woo."
Meaning "clear of obstruction" is from mid-13c.; sense of "unrestrained in movement" is from c. 1300; of animals, "loose, at liberty, wild," late 14c. Meaning "liberal, not parsimonious" is from c. 1300. Sense of "characterized by liberty of action or expression" is from 1630s; of art, etc., "not holding strictly to rule or form," from 1813. Of nations, "not subject to foreign rule or to despotism," recorded in English from late 14c. (Free world "non-communist nations" attested from 1950 on notion of "based on principles of civil liberty.") Sense of "given without cost" is 1580s, from notion of "free of cost."
Free even to the definition of freedom, "without any hindrance that does not arise out of his own constitution." [Emerson, "The American Scholar," 1837]
Free lunch, originally offered in bars to draw in customers, by 1850, American English. Free pass on railways, etc., attested by 1850. Free speech in Britain was used of a privilege in Parliament since the time of Henry VIII. In U.S., in reference to a civil right to expression, it became a prominent phrase in the debates over the Gag Rule (1836). Free enterprise recorded from 1832; free trade is from 1823; free market from 1630s. Free will is from early 13c. Free school is from late 15c. Free association in psychology is from 1899. Free love "sexual liberation" attested from 1822 (the doctrine itself is much older), American English. Free and easy "unrestrained" is from 1690s.
famous seven-star figure of the northern sky, Old English Carles wægn, a star-group associated in medieval times with Charlemagne, but earlier with the nearby bright star Arcturus. Arcturus 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 (not so 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. A 10c. Anglo-Saxon astronomy manual uses the Greek-derived Aretos, but mentions that the unlearned 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 only a part of that large constellation. But the name "Bear" belongs to the seven stars, and from Homer's time down to Thales, "the Bear" meant just that, but modern astronomers drew it bigger in parceling out the sky for their convenience.
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.
1530s, "action, a thing performed, anything done, a deed," good or evil but in 16c.-17c. commonly "evil deed, crime;" from Latin factum "an event, occurrence, deed, achievement," in Medieval Latin also "state, condition, circumstance" (source also of Old French fait, Spanish hecho, Italian fatto), etymologically "a thing done," noun use of neuter of factus, past participle of facere "to do" (from PIE root *dhe- "to set, put").
An earlier adaptation of the Old French word that also became feat. The older senses are mostly obsolete but somewhat preserved in such phrases as after the fact, originally legal, "after the crime." Also compare matter-of-fact.
The modern, empirical, sense of "thing known to be true, a real state of things, what has really occurred or is actually the case," as distinguished from statement or belief, is from 1630s, from the notion of "something that has actually occurred." The particular concept of the scientific, empirical fact ("a truth known by observation or authentic testimony") emerged in English 1660s, via Hooke, Boyle, etc., in The Royal Society, as part of the creation of the modern vocabulary of knowledge (along with theory, hypothesis, etc.); in early 18c. it was associated with the philosophical writings of Hume. Middle English thus lacked the noun and the idea of it; the closest expression being perhaps thing proved (c.1500).
Hence facts "real state of things;" in fact "in reality" (1707). By 1729, fact was being used of "something presented as a fact but which might be or is false."
By fact is also often meant a true statement, a truth, or truth in general ; but this seems to be a mere inexactness of language .... Fact, as being special, is sometimes opposed to truth, as being universal ; and in such cases there is an implication that facts are minute matters ascertained by research, and often inferior in their importance for the formation of general opinions, or for the general description of phenomena, to other matters which are of familiar experience. [Century Dictionary]
Facts of life is by 1854 as "the stark realities of existence;" by 1913 it had also acquired a more specific sense of "knowledge of human sexual functions." The alliterative pairing of facts and figures for "precise information" is by 1727.
Facts and Figures are the most stubborn Evidences; they neither yield to the most persuasive Eloquence, nor bend to the most imperious Authority. [Abel Boyer, "The Political State of Great Britain," 1727]
Facts are stubborn things is in an 1822 translation of the popular novel "Gil Blas" (earlier English translations have facts speak for themselves).
also gas-light, "light, or a provision for light, produced by combustion of coal gas; a gas-jet," 1808, from (illuminating) gas (n.1) + light (n.). Used through the 19th and into the early 20th century as street and domestic lighting. Related: Gas-lighted; gas-lighting; gaslighting.
As a verb meaning "to deliberately make a person believe that they are insane," by 1961, perhaps 1956. This sense is from the 1944 film Gaslight, in which a 19th century woman (played by Ingrid Bergman, who won an Academy Award) appears to be going mad. It is later revealed that her criminal husband has been convincing her that she is insane in order to discredit her observations of his activities. Among the observable clues has been the dimming of their home's gaslighting whenever (as she later learns) the husband goes secretly into the attic: he has convinced her that she is imagining this, until a family friend sees it, too, which confirms the clue that uncovers the crime.
Brian: Tell me. Is there anyone else in the house now, except us and Elizabeth?
Paula: No. Why?
Brian: The gas just went down.
Paula: You saw that too!
Brian: Why, yes.
Paula: Oh, then it really happens! I thought I imagined it!
Brian: But all it means is someone else has turned it on.
Paula: Oh, no, no. I thought that too. But every night, I’ve been all over the house, there’s never been another light turned on. At last I can tell this to someone! Every night when my husband goes out…
Brian: …The light goes down?
Brian: And then what?
Paula: Well, then, I think I hear things. I watch and wait. Later on, the gas goes up again.
Brian: And he comes back?
Paula: Yes. Quite soon after. Always quite soon after.
The word seems to have received a boost in feminist literature in late 1970s.
… I had been told that my tonsillectomy was “not that bad” or that the dentist whose hands were between my legs was “fixing my teeth,” … My own favorite embodiment of this horror, still enjoyed by late-show insomniacs, is the 1944 film Gaslight, a tale which so impressed the public imagination that even today the word “gaslight” is used to describe an attempt to destroy another’s perceptions of reality and, ultimately, sanity itself. [Florence Rush, "The Best Kept Secret: Sexual Abuse of Children," 1980]
The sense evolved by 2016 to also mean "dismiss or discredit someone's viewpoint."