Old English þræd "fine cord, especially when twisted" (related to þrawan "to twist"), from Proto-Germanic *thredu- "twisted yarn" (source also of Old Saxon thrad, Old Frisian thred, Middle Dutch draet, Dutch draad, Old High German drat, German Draht, Old Norse þraðr), literally "twisted," from suffixed form of PIE root *tere- (1) "to rub, turn." Meaning "spiral ridge of a screw" is from 1670s. Threads, slang for "clothes" is 1926, American English.
The silk line, as spun by the worm, is about the 5000th part of an inch thick; but a spider's line is perhaps six times finer, or only the 30,000th part of an inch in diameter, insomuch, that a single pound of this attenuated substance might be sufficient to encompass our globe. [John Leslie, "Elements of Natural Philosophy," Edinburgh, 1823]
Nuts and bolts you know as little things that put big things together. Actually, our whole industrial civilization hangs by a thread—a screw thread. [Popular Science, March 1949]
late 13c., "recollection (of someone or something); remembrance, awareness or consciousness (of someone or something)," also "fame, renown, reputation;" from Anglo-French memorie (Old French memoire, 11c., "mind, memory, remembrance; memorial, record") and directly from Latin memoria "memory, remembrance, faculty of remembering," abstract noun from memor "mindful, remembering," from PIE root *(s)mer- (1) "to remember."
Sense of "commemoration" (of someone or something) is from c. 1300. Meaning "faculty of remembering; the mental capacity of retaining unconscious traces of conscious impressions or states, and of recalling these to consciousness in relation to the past," is late 14c. in English. Meaning "length of time included in the consciousness or observation of an individual" is from 1520s.
I am grown old and my memory is not as active as it used to be. When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened. It is sad to go to pieces like this, but we all have to do it. ["Mark Twain," "Autobiography"]
Meaning "that which is remembered; anything fixed in or recalled to the mind" is by 1817, though the correctness of this use was disputed in 19c. The word was extended, with more or less of figurativeness, in 19c. to analogous physical processes. Computer sense, "device which stores information," is from 1946. Related: Memories.
"artificial satellite," extended from the name of the one launched by the Soviet Union Oct. 4, 1957, from Russian sputnik "satellite," literally "traveling companion" (in this use short for sputnik zemlyi, "traveling companion of the Earth") from Old Church Slavonic supotiniku, from Russian so-, s- "with, together" + put' "path, way," from Old Church Slavonic poti, from PIE *pent- "to tread, go" (see find (v.)) + agent suffix -nik.
The electrifying impact of the launch on the West can be gauged by the number of new formations in -nik around this time (the suffix had been present in a Yiddish context for at least a decade before); Laika, the stray dog launched aboard Sputnik 2 (Nov. 2, 1957), which was dubbed muttnik in the Detroit Free Press, etc. The rival U.S. satellite which failed to reach orbit in 1957 (because the Vanguard rocket blew up on the launch pad) derided as a kaputnik (in the Daytona Beach Morning Journal), a dudnik (Christian Science Monitor), a flopnik (Youngstown Vindicator, New York Times), a pffftnik (National Review), and a stayputnik (Vancouver Sun).
c. 1200, "of wide application, generic, affecting or involving all" (as opposed to special or specific), from Old French general (12c.) and directly from Latin generalis "relating to all, of a whole class, generic" (contrasted with specialis), from genus (genitive generis) "stock, kind" (from PIE root *gene- "give birth, beget," with derivatives referring to procreation and familial and tribal groups).
What is common is of frequent occurrence. What is general admits of comparatively few exceptions: the general opinion (the opinion of the majority); the general welfare. [J.H.A. Günther, "English Synonyms Explained & Illustrated," Groningen, Netherlands, 1904]
Used in forming titles from late 14c. with the sense "having general authority or jurisdiction, chief." Phrase in general "without exception, in one body; as a rule, generally, not specifically" is from late 14c. General rule, one applying to an art or science as a whole, is from c. 1400. General store attested by 1810, American English, in reference to the range of goods sold; a general hospital (1737) is one not restricted to one class of persons or type of disease.
"common running garden plant," cultivated from earliest times in many Old World countries, also the long, fleshy fruit of the plant, late 14c., cucomer, from Old French cocombre (13c., Modern French concombre), from Latin cucumerem (nominative cucumis), perhaps from a pre-Italic Mediterranean language. The Latin word also is the source of Italian cocomero, Spanish cohombro, Portuguese cogombro. Replaced Old English eorþæppla (plural), literally "earth-apples."
Cowcumber was the common form of the word in 17c.-18c., in good literary use and representing the modern evolution of the Middle English form. Cucumber is an attempted reversion to Latin. In 1790s the pronunciation "cowcumber" was standard except in western England dialects and "coocumber" was considered pedantic, but 30 years later, with the spread of literacy and education "cowcumber" was limited to the ignorant and old-fashioned.
It was planted as a garden vegetable by 1609 by Jamestown colonists. Short form cuke is attested by 1977. Phrase cool as a cucumber (c. 1732) embodies ancient folk knowledge confirmed by science in 1970: inside of a field cucumber on a warm day is 20 degrees cooler than the air temperature.
late 14c., "kiss of peace," from Latin pax (genitive pacis) "peace," in Ecclesiastical Latin, "kiss of peace" (see peace). Capitalized, Pax was the name of the Roman goddess of peace. Used with adjectives from national names, on model of Pax Romana (such as Pax Britannica, 1872); Pax Americana was used by 1884 in reference to the union of the states:
The great state of New York, stronger already in population than Sweden, Portugal, the Dominion of Canada, or any South American state, except Brazil, is surrounded by smaller states, Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware. But these last have no anxieties: no standing armies breed taxes and hinder labor; no wars or rumors of wars interrupt trade; there is not only profound peace, but profound security, for the Pax Americana of the Union broods over all. ["Cyclopaedia of Political Science,: John J. Lalor, ed., vol. III, 1884]
The phrase typically meant that at first, but by 1898 was used of theoretical influence of U.S. power beyond its borders, and by 1920 as a practical reality with reference to Latin America.
common name of any lepidopterous insect active in daylight, Old English buttorfleoge, evidently butter (n.) + fly (n.), but the name is of obscure signification. Perhaps based on the old notion that the insects (or, according to Grimm, witches disguised as butterflies) consume butter or milk that is left uncovered. Or, less creatively, simply because the pale yellow color of many species' wings suggests the color of butter. Another theory connects it to the color of the insect's excrement, based on Dutch cognate boterschijte. Also see papillon.
Applied to persons from c. 1600, originally in reference to vain and gaudy attire; by 1806 in reference to transformation from early lowly state; in reference to flitting tendencies by 1873. The swimming stroke so called from 1935. As a type of mechanical nut, 1869. Butterflies "light stomach spasms caused by anxiety" is from 1908. "Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?" is from Pope.
The butterfly effect is a deceptively simple insight extracted from a complex modern field. As a low-profile assistant professor in MIT's department of meteorology in 1961, [Edward] Lorenz created an early computer program to simulate weather. One day he changed one of a dozen numbers representing atmospheric conditions, from .506127 to .506. That tiny alteration utterly transformed his long-term forecast, a point Lorenz amplified in his 1972 paper, "Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?" [Peter Dizikes, "The Meaning of the Butterfly," The Boston Globe, June 8, 2008]
A rat race is ... a simple game of "follow the leader" in fighter planes. The leader does everything he can think of — Immelmanns, loops, snap rolls, and turns, always turns, tighter and tighter. [Popular Science, May 1941]
In the 1930s actual rat races of some sort are frequently mentioned among popular carnival and gambling attractions. Meaning "fiercely competitive struggle," especially to maintain one's position in work or life is by 1939. Rat-run is from 1870 in the sense of "maze-like passages by which rats move about their territory," but originally and usually in a derogatory transferred sense.
[Matthew] Milton was not, at the period we write of [c. 1811], at all in the ring ; for in the following March he was steward of a rat-race, held at a public-house in Shepherd's-market, where four of these "varmin," decorated with different coloured ribands, were started for a sweepstakes, round the clubroom, before a host of sportsmen. ["Sporting Incidents at Home and Abroad," The Sporting Review, May 1848]
late 14c., distressen, "constrain or compel by pain, suffering, or other circumstances; harass," from Old French destresser "restrain, constrain; afflict, distress," from Vulgar Latin *districtiare "restraint, affliction, narrowness, distress," from Latin districtus, past participle of distringere "draw apart, hinder," also, in Medieval Latin "compel, coerce," from dis- "apart" (see dis-) + stringere "draw tight, press together" (see strain (v.)).
From c. 1400 as "afflict with mental or physical pain, make miserable." From early 15c. as "to damage;" specifically "damage a piece of furniture to make it appear older (and thus more valuable)" by 1926.
My particular job is "distressing" new furniture—banging, hammering and knocking it to give it the wear of time. This is not so easy a task as it seems. The smallest mistake may make all your work useless. In high-class "antiques" such as we carry, you have to satisfy not only the average person but people who go in for furniture as a hobby. ["It's a Wise Man Who Knows a Real Antique," Popular Science Monthly, June 1926]
c. 1200, professioun, "vows taken upon entering a religious order," from Old French profession (12c.) and directly from Latin professionem (nominative professio) "public declaration," noun of action from past-participle stem of profiteri "declare openly" (see profess).
The meaning "any solemn declaration" is from mid-14c. Meaning "occupation one professes to be skilled in, a calling" is from early 15c.; meaning "body of persons engaged in some occupation" is from 1610; as a euphemism for "prostitution" (compare oldest profession) it is recorded from 1888.
Formerly theology, law, and medicine were specifically known as the professions; but, as the applications of science and learning are extended to other departments of affairs, other vocations also receive the name. The word implies professed attainments in special knowledge, as distinguished from mere skill; a practical dealing with affairs, as distinguished from mere study or investigation; and an application of such knowledge to uses for others as a vocation, as distinguished from its pursuit for one's own purposes. In professions strictly so called a preliminary examination as to qualifications is usually demanded by law or usage, and a license or other official authority founded thereon required. [Century Dictionary]