"yellow malleable alloy metal, harder than copper," Old English bræs "brass, bronze," originally any alloy of copper, in England usually with tin (this is now called bronze), later and in modern use an alloy of roughly two parts copper to one part zinc. A mystery word, with no known cognates beyond English. Perhaps akin to French brasser "to brew," because it is an alloy. It also has been compared to Old Swedish brasa "fire," but no sure connection can be made. Yet another theory connects it with Latin ferrum "iron," itself of obscure origin.
Words for "brass" in other languages (such as German Messing, Old English mæsling, French laiton, Italian ottone) also tend to be difficult to explain. As brass was unknown in early antiquity (it was well-known to Strabo, 1c., but not mentioned by Homer), the use of the English word in Bible translations, etc., likely means "bronze." The Romans were the first to deliberately make it.
When works of Greek and Roman antiquity in 'brass' began to be critically examined, and their material discriminated, the Italian word for 'brass' (bronzo, bronze) came into use to distinguish this 'ancient brass' from the current alloy. [OED]
Rhetorically or figuratively it was the common type of hardness, durability, or obduracy since late 14c. The meaning "effrontery, impudence, excessive assurance" is from 1620s. Slang sense of "high officials" is first recorded 1899, from their insignia. Meaning "brass musical instruments of a band" is from 1832.
early 14c., bernak; earlier in Anglo-Latin, bernekke, early 13c., "species of northern European wild goose;" as a type of "shellfish" found in clusters on submerged wood, first recorded 1580s. Of unknown origin despite intense speculation.
The earliest form looks like "bare neck," and one of the Middle English synonyms was balled cote, but this might be folk etymology. The word is often said to be from a Celtic source (compare Breton bernik, a kind of shellfish), but the application to the goose predates that of the shellfish, and the word seems to have arisen in English.
The goose nests in the Arctic in summer and returns to Europe in the winter, hence the mystery surrounding its reproduction. It was believed in ancient superstition (and as recently as late 17c.) to hatch or develop from the barnacle's shell, possibly because the crustacean's feathery stalks resemble goose down. Some versions of the fable had the barnacles growing on trees and dropping into the sea to become geese. Compare German Entenmuschel "barnacle," literally "duck-mussel."
For I tolde hem, that in oure Countree weren Trees, that beren a Fruyt, that becomen Briddes fleeynge; and tho that fellen in the Water, lyven; and thei that fallen on the Erthe, dyen anon: and thei ben right gode to Mannes mete. And here of had thei als gret marvaylle, that sume of hem trowed it were an impossible thing to be. [Sir John Mandeville, "Voiage and Travaile," mid-14c.]
The scientific name of the crustacean, Cirripedes, is from Greek cirri "curls of hair" + pedes "feet." Meaning "person holding tenaciously to an office or position, useless or incompetent jobholder" is from c. 1600.
"to thrust, push; jostle;" also, "to prod, drive (cattle, etc.) by poking and prodding," late 14c., from Old French ponchonner "to punch, prick, stamp," from ponchon "pointed tool, piercing weapon" (see punch (n.1)).
Meaning "to pierce, make a hole or holes in with a punch, emboss with a tool" is from early 15c.; meaning "to stab, puncture" is from mid-15c. Related: Punched; punching.
Specialized sense "to hit with the fist, give a blow, beat with blows of the fist" is recorded by 1520s. Compare Latin pugnare "to fight with the fists," from a root meaning "to pierce, sting." In English this sense-shift evolved also probably by influence of punish: Punch or punsch for punish is found in documents from 14c.-15c.:
punchyth me, Lorde, and spare my blyssyd wyff Anne. [Coventry Mystery Plays, late 15c.]
To punch (someone) out "beat (someone) up" is from 1971. To punch a ticket, etc., "make a hole in" to indicate use of it is from mid-15c. To punch the clock "record one's arrival at or departure from the workplace using an automated timing device" is from 1900.
There are time recorders for checking the minute of arrival and departure of each office employee—machines that operate with clock attachment and which in response to worker's punch print on tabular sheets of paper his promptnesses and delinquencies. [Richard Lord, "Running an Office by Machinery," in System, September 1909]
Perhaps you are some great big chief, who has a lot to say.
Who lords it o'er the common herd who chance to come your way;
Well, here is where your arrogance gets a dreadful shock,
When you march up, like a private, salute, and PUNCH THE CLOCK.
[from "Punch the Clock," by "The Skipper," The Commercial Telegraphers' Journal, May 1912]
"quadruped of the genus Canis," Old English docga, a late, rare word, used in at least one Middle English source in reference specifically to a powerful breed of canine; other early Middle English uses tend to be depreciatory or abusive. Its origin remains one of the great mysteries of English etymology.
The word forced out Old English hund (the general Germanic and Indo-European word, from root from PIE root *kwon-) by 16c. and subsequently was picked up in many continental languages (French dogue (16c.), Danish dogge, German Dogge (16c.)). The common Spanish word for "dog," perro, also is a mystery word of unknown origin, perhaps from Iberian. A group of Slavic "dog" words (Old Church Slavonic pisu, Polish pies, Serbo-Croatian pas) likewise is of unknown origin.
In reference to persons, by c. 1200 in abuse or contempt as "a mean, worthless fellow, currish, sneaking scoundrel." Playfully abusive sense of "rakish man," especially if young, "a sport, a gallant" is from 1610s. Slang meaning "ugly woman" is from 1930s; that of "sexually aggressive man" is from 1950s.
Many expressions — a dog's life (c. 1600), go to the dogs (1610s), dog-cheap (1520s), etc. — reflect the earlier hard use of the animals as hunting accessories, not pets. In ancient times, "the dog" was the worst throw in dice (attested in Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit, where the word for "the lucky player" was literally "the dog-killer"), which plausibly explains the Greek word for "danger," kindynos, which appears to be "play the dog" (but Beekes is against this).
Notwithstanding, as a dog hath a day, so may I perchance have time to declare it in deeds. [Princess Elizabeth, 1550]
Meaning "something poor or mediocre, a failure" is by 1936 in U.S. slang. From late 14c. as the name for a heavy metal clamp of some kind. Dog's age "a long time" is by 1836. Adjectival phrase dog-eat-dog "ruthlessly competitive" is by 1850s. Phrase put on the dog "get dressed up" (1934) may be from comparison of dog collars to the stiff stand-up shirt collars that in the 1890s were the height of male fashion (and were known as dog-collars from at least 1883).
And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from Hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
Cry Havoc! and let slip the dogs of war;
[Shakespeare, "Julius Caesar"]
1786, earlier neger (1568, Scottish and northern England dialect), negar, negur, from French nègre, from Spanish negro (see Negro). From the earliest usage it was "the term that carries with it all the obloquy and contempt and rejection which whites have inflicted on blacks" [cited in Gowers, 1965, probably Harold R. Isaacs]. But as black African inferiority was at one time a near universal assumption in English-speaking lands, the word in some cases could be used without deliberate insult. More sympathetic writers late 18c. and early 19c. seem to have used black (n.) and, after the American Civil War, colored person.
Nigger is more English in form than negro, and was formerly and to some extent still is used without intent; but its use is now confined to colloquial or illiterate speech, in which it generally conveys more or less of contempt. [Century Dictionary, 1895]
"You're a fool nigger, and the worst day's work Pa ever did was to buy you," said Scarlett slowly. ... There, she thought, I've said "nigger" and Mother wouldn't like that at all. [Margaret Mitchell, "Gone With the Wind," 1936]
It was also applied by English colonists to the dark-skinned native peoples in India, Australia, Polynesia.
One hears the contemptuous term "nigger" still applied to natives by those who should know better, especially by youths just come from home, and somewhat intoxicated by sudden power. [Samuel Smith, "India Revisited," in "The Contemporary Review," July 1886]
The reclamation of the word as a neutral or positive term in black culture (not universally regarded as a worthwhile enterprise), often with a suggestion of "soul" or "style," is attested first in the U.S. South, later (1968) in the Northern, urban-based Black Power movement. The variant nigga, attested from 1827 (as niggah from 1835), is found usually in situations where blacks use the word. Also compare nigra.
[F]or when a town black has called a country black (equally black with himself) a "dam black plantation nigga," you may know that he has been terribly provoked, and has now ejected his last drop of gall in that most contemptuous epithet. [The Pamphleteer, vol. XXVIII, No. LVI, 1827]
Used in combinations (such as nigger-brown) since 1840s for various dark brown or black hues or objects; euphemistic substitutions (such as Zulu) began to appear in these senses c. 1917. Brazil nuts were called nigger toes by 1896. Nigger stick "prison guard's baton" is attested by 1971. To work like a nigger "work very hard" is by 1836.
Slang phrase nigger in the woodpile "a concealed motive or unknown factor affecting a situation in an adverse way" [OED] is attested by 1800; Thornton's "American Glossary" (1912) defines it as "A mode of accounting for the disappearance of fuel," hence "an unsolved mystery." Nigger heaven "the top gallery in a (segregated) theater" first attested 1878 in reference to Troy, N.Y. Nigger-shooter "slingshot" is by 1876.