"anything that guides or directs in an intricate case," 1590s, a special use of a revised spelling of clew "a ball of thread or yarn" (q.v.). The word, which is native Germanic, in Middle English was clewe, also cleue; some words borrowed from Old French in -ue, -eu also were spelled -ew in Middle English, such as blew, imbew, but these later were reformed to -ue, and this process was extended to native words (hue, true, clue) which had ended in a vowel and -w. The spelling clue is first attested mid-15c.
The sense shift is originally in reference to the clew of thread given by Ariadne to Theseus to use as a guide out of the Labyrinth in Greek mythology. The purely figurative sense of "that which points the way," without regard to labyrinths, is from 1620s. As something which a bewildered person does not have, by 1948.
Thus hardy Theseus, with intrepid Feet,
Travers'd the dang'rous Labyrinth of Crete;
But still the wandring Passes forc'd his Stay,
Till Ariadne's Clue unwinds the Way
The board game (originally Cluedo) was launched in 1949 in Britain.
a complicated word of uncertain history. First attested late 15c. in the sense "lewd person" (of either sex; since c. 1700 applied exclusively to women); probably [Middle English Compendium] from Old French baud "gay, licentious" (from Frankish *bald "bold" or some such Germanic source; see bold), despite the doubts of OED. The 15c. English word perhaps is a shortening of baude-strote "procurer or procuress of prostitutes" (c. 1300).
For the French sense evolution from "bold" to "lewd," compare Old French baudise "ardor, joy, elation, act of boldness, presumption;" baudie "elation, high spirits," fole baudie "bawdry, shamelessness." The Old French word also is the source of French baudet "donkey," in Picardy dialect "loose woman."
The second element in baude-strote would be trot "one who runs errands," or Germanic *strutt (see strut (v.)). There was an Old French baudestrote, baudetrot of the same meaning (13c.), and this may be the direct source of Middle English baude-strote. The obsolete bronstrops "procuress," frequently found in Middleton's comedies, probably is an alteration of baude-strote.
coined 1958 by San Francisco newspaper columnist Herb Caen during the heyday of -nik suffixes in the wake of Sputnik. From Beat generation (1952), associated with beat (n.) in its meaning "rhythm (especially in jazz)" as well as beat (adj.) "worn out, exhausted," and Century Dictionary (1902) has slang beat (n.) "a worthless, dishonest, shiftless fellow." Originator Jack Kerouac in 1958 connected it with beatitude.
The origins of the word beat are obscure, but the meaning is only too clear to most Americans. More than the feeling of weariness, it implies the feeling of having been used, of being raw. It involves a sort of nakedness of the mind. [New York Times Magazine, Oct. 2, 1952]
"Beat" is old carny slang. According to Beat Movement legend (and it is a movement with a deep inventory of legend), Ginsberg and Kerouac picked it up from a character named Herbert Huncke, a gay street hustler and drug addict from Chicago who began hanging around Times Square in 1939 (and who introduced William Burroughs to heroin, an important cultural moment). The term has nothing to do with music; it names the condition of being beaten down, poor, exhausted, at the bottom of the world. [Louis Menand, New Yorker, Oct. 1, 2007]
Old English ald (Anglian), eald (West Saxon, Kentish) "antique, of ancient origin, belonging to antiquity, primeval; long in existence or use; near the end of the normal span of life; elder, mature, experienced," from Proto-Germanic *althaz "grown up, adult" (source also of Old Frisian ald, Gothic alþeis, Dutch oud, German alt), originally a past-participle stem of a verb meaning "grow, nourish" (compare Gothic alan "to grow up," Old Norse ala "to nourish"), from PIE root *al- (2) "to grow, nourish." The original Old English vowel is preserved in Scots auld, also in alderman. The original comparative and superlative (elder, eldest) are retained in particular uses.
The usual PIE root is *sen- (see senior (adj.)). A few Indo-European languages distinguish words for "old" (vs. young) from words for "old" (vs. new), and some have separate words for aged persons as opposed to old things. Latin senex was used of aged living things, mostly persons, while vetus (literally "having many years") was used of inanimate things. Greek geraios was used mostly of humans; palaios was used mostly of things, of persons only in a derogatory sense. Greek also had arkhaios, literally "belonging to the beginning," which parallels French ancien, used mostly with reference to things "of former times."
Old English also had fyrn "ancient," which is related to Old English feor "far, distant" (see far, and compare Gothic fairneis, Old Norse forn "old, of old, of former times," Old High German firni "old, experienced").
Meaning "of a specified age" (three days old) is from late Old English. Sense of "pertaining to or characteristic of the earlier or earliest of two or more stages of development or periods of time" is from late Old English. As an intensive, "great, high," mid-15c., now only following another adjective (gay old time, good old Charlie Brown). As a noun, "those who are old," 12c. Of old "of old times" is from late 14c.
Old age "period of life of advanced years" is from early 14c. Old Testament is attested from mid-14c. (in late Old English it was old law). Old lady "wife, mother" is attested from c. 1775 (but compare Old English seo ealde hlæfdige "the queen dowager"). Old man "man who has lived long" is from late Old English; the sense of "husband, father, boss" is from 1854, earlier (1830) it was military slang for "commanding officer;" old boy as a familiar form of address is by c. 1600. Old days "former times" is from late Old English; good old days, "former times conceived as better than the present," sometimes ironic, is by 1670s. Old Light (adj.), in religion, "favoring the old faith or principles," is by 1819.