Etymology
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pick up (v.)

early 14c. as a verbal phrase, "lift and take with the fingers," from pick (v.) + up (adv.). From 1510s as "take or get casually, obtain or procure as opportunity offers." Meaning "take (a person found or overtaken) into a vehicle or vessel," is from 1690s, also, of persons, "make acquaintance or take along" (especially for sexual purposes). Intransitive meaning "improve gradually, reacquire vigor or strength" is by 1741. Sense of "tidy up" is from 1861; that of "arrest" is from 1871; meaning "gain speed" is from 1922; meaning "to pay" (a check, tab, etc.) is from 1945. Pick-me-up "stimulating alcoholic drink" is attested from 1867.

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despotic (adj.)

"pertaining to or of the nature of a despot or despotism," 1640s, from French despotique (14c.), from Greek despotikos, from despotēs "absolute ruler" (see despot). By 1734, "unlimited, arbitrary, tyrannical." In 18c. also despotick. Related: Despotical; despotically.

Despotic monarchs sincerely anxious to improve mankind are naturally led to endeavour, by acts of legislation, to force society into the paths which they believe to be good, and such men, acting under such motives, have sometimes been the scourges of mankind. Philip II. and Isabella the Catholic inflicted more suffering in obedience to their consciences than Nero or Domitian in obedience to their lusts. [Lecky, "History of European Morals," 1869]
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nitpicker (n.)

also nit-picker, "pedantic critic," by 1951, perhaps 1946, a figurative use, said to be originally military jargon; see nit (n.) + pick (v.).

Two long-time Pentagon stand-bys are fly-speckers and nit-pickers. The first of these nouns refers to people whose sole occupation seems to be studying papers in the hope of finding flaws in the writing, rather than making any effort to improve the thought or meaning; nit-pickers are those who quarrel with trivialities of expression and meaning, but who usually end up without making concrete or justified suggestions for improvement. [Collier's, Nov. 24, 1951]
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polish (v.)

early 14c., polishen "make smooth or glossy" by friction or coating (of the surface of wood, stone, metal, etc.), from Old French poliss-, present participle stem of polir (12c.) "to polish, decorate, see to one's appearance," from Latin polire "to polish, make smooth; decorate, embellish;" figuratively "refine, improve," said by Watkins to be from PIE root *pel- (5) "to thrust, strike, drive," via the notion of fulling cloth, but there are other guesses.

The figurative sense of "free from coarseness, to refine" in English is recorded from mid-14c. Compare polite. Related: Polished; polishing. To polish off "finish" is by 1829 in pugilism slang, probably from the application of a coat of polish as the final step in a piece of work.

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reform (v.)

late 14c., reformen, "to convert into or restore to another and better form" (of strength, health, firmness, etc.), from Old French reformer "rebuild, reconstruct, recreate" (12c.) and directly from Latin reformare "to form again, change, transform, alter," from re- "again" (see re-) + formare "to form" (see form (n.)).

The meaning "change (someone or something) for the better, correct, improve; bring (someone) away from an evil course of life" is recorded from late 14c.; of governments, institutions, etc., from early 15c. Intransitive sense of "abandon wrongdoing or error" is by 1580s. Related: Reformed; reforming. Reformed churches (1580s) on the European continent were usually Calvinist as opposed to Lutheran (in France they were the Huguenots). Reformed Judaism (1843) is a movement initiated in Germany by Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786). Reform school is attested from 1859.

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advance (v.)
mid-13c., avauncen (transitive), "improve (something), further the development of," from Old French avancir, avancier "move forward, go forward, set forward" (12c., Modern French avancer), from Vulgar Latin *abanteare (source of Italian avanzare, Spanish avanzar), from Late Latin abante "from before," composed of ab "from" (see ab-) + ante "before, in front of, against" (from PIE root *ant- "front, forehead"). Compare avant.

The unetymological -d- was inserted 16c. on mistaken notion that initial syllable was from Latin ad-. From c. 1300 as "to promote, raise to a higher rank." Intransitive sense "move forward, move further in front" is mid-14c.; transitive sense "bring forward in place, move (something) forward" is from c. 1500. Meaning "to give (money, etc.) before it is legally due" is first attested 1670s. Related: Advanced; advancing. The adjective (in advance warning, etc.) is recorded from 1843.
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dodge (v.)

1560s, "go this way and that in speech or action," a sense now obsolete; from 1680s as "start suddenly aside, shift suddenly," as to evade a blow;" 1704 as "to move to and fro, shift about;" origin and sense evolution obscure. Perhaps it is from or akin to Scottish and Northern English dodd "to jog" (1570s).

Transitive sense of "to evade (something) by a sudden shift of place" is by 1670s. It is attested from 1570s, and common from early 18c., in the figurative sense of "to swindle, to play shifting tricks (with)." Photography sense of "use artifice to improve a print" is by 1883. Related: Dodged; dodging.

Dodge City, Kansas, was laid out in 1872 and named for U.S. military man Richard I. Dodge, then commander of the nearby army fort. It later was notorious in Wild West lore as the home of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson.

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in- (2)
Origin and meaning of in-

element meaning "into, in, on, upon" (also im-, il-, ir- by assimilation of -n- with following consonant), from Latin in- "in," from PIE root *en "in."

In Old French (and hence in Middle English) this often became en-, which in English had a strong tendency to revert to Latin in-, but not always, which accounts for pairs such as enquire/inquire. There was a native form, which in West Saxon usually appeared as on- (as in Old English onliehtan "to enlighten"), and some of those verbs survived into Middle English (such as inwrite "to inscribe"), but all now seem to be extinct.

Not related to in- (1) "not," which also was a common prefix in Latin, causing confusion: to the Romans impressus could mean "pressed" or "unpressed;" inaudire meant "to hear," but inauditus meant "unheard of;" in Late Latin investigabilis could mean "that may be searched into" or "that cannot be searched into." Latin invocatus was "uncalled, uninvited," but invocare was "to call, appeal to."

The trouble has continued in English; the hesitation over what is meant by inflammable being a commonly cited example. Implume (1610s) meant "to feather," but implumed (c. 1600) meant "unfeathered." Impliable can mean "capable of being implied" (1865) or "inflexible" (1734). Impartible in 17c. could mean "incapable of being divided" or "capable of being imparted." Impassionate can be "free from passion" or it can mean "strongly stirred by passion." Inanimate (adj.) is "lifeless," but Donne uses inanimate (v.) to mean "infuse with life or vigor." Irruption is "a breaking in," but irruptible is "unbreakable."

In addition to improve "use to one's profit," Middle English also had a verb improve meaning "to disprove" (15c.). To inculpate is "to accuse," but inculpable means "not culpable, free from blame." Infestive has meant "troublesome, annoying" (1560s, from infest) and "not festive" (1620s). In Middle English inflexible could mean "incapable of being bent" or "capable of being swayed or moved." In 17c., informed could mean "current in information," formed, animated," or "unformed, formless" ("This was an awkward use" [OED]). Inhabited has meant "dwelt in" (1560s) and "uninhabited" (1610s); inhabitable likewise has been used on opposite senses, a confusion that goes back to Late Latin.

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shibboleth (n.)

late 14c., the Hebrew word shibboleth, meaning "flood, stream," also "ear of corn;" in Judges xii.4-6. It was the password used by the Gileadites to distinguish their own men from fleeing Ephraimites, because Ephraimites could not pronounce the -sh- sound. Hence the figurative sense of "watchword" (first recorded 1630s), which evolved by 1862 to "outmoded slogan still adhered to." A similar test-word was cicera "chick pease," used by the Italians to identify the French (who could not pronounce it correctly) during the massacre called the Sicilian Vespers (1282).

During training exercises on Pavuvu and Guadalcanal, the need to improve battlefield security is to be implemented not by a simple password, but by an identification procedure described as "sign and countersign." The ground rules are to sequentially interrogate an unknown friend or foe with the name of an automobile, preferably one with an "L" in its vocalization. The response is to be a cognomen for another automobile uttered in the same manner. This insures the "friend" entering our lines will reply with the correct countersign in a dialect distincly American; call out "Cadiwac" or "Chryswer," and you're dead. [Perry Pollins, "Tales of a Feather Merchant: The World War II Memoir of a Marine Radioman, 2006]
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