"all right, correct," 1839, only survivor of a slang fad in Boston and New York c. 1838-9 for abbreviations of common phrases with deliberate, jocular misspellings (such as K.G. for "no go," as if spelled "know go;" N.C. for "'nuff ced;" K.Y. for "know yuse"). In the case of O.K., the abbreviation is of "oll korrect."
Probably further popularized by use as an election slogan by the O.K. Club, New York boosters of Democratic president Martin Van Buren's 1840 re-election bid, in allusion to his nickname Old Kinderhook, from his birth in the N.Y. village of Kinderhook. Van Buren lost, the word stuck, in part because it filled a need for a quick way to write an approval on a document, bill, etc.
Spelled out as okeh, 1919, by Woodrow Wilson, on assumption that it represented Choctaw okeh "it is so" (a theory which lacks historical documentation); this spelling was ousted quickly by okay after the appearance of that form in 1929. Greek immigrants to America who returned home early 20c. having picked up U.S. speech mannerisms were known in Greece as okay-boys, among other things.
The noun is first attested 1841, "endorsement, approval, authorization" (especially as indicated by the letters O.K.); the verb, "to approve, agree to, sanction," is by 1888. Okey-doke is student slang first attested 1932.
1650s, from Greek euphemismos "use of a favorable word in place of an inauspicious one, superstitious avoidance of words of ill-omen during religious ceremonies," also of substitutions such as Eumenides for the Furies. This is from euphemizein "speak with fair words, use words of good omen," from eu- "good, well" (see eu-) + phēmē "speech, voice, utterance, a speaking," from phanai "speak" (from PIE root *bha- (2) "to speak, tell, say"). See also Euxine, and compare Greek Greek aristeros "the better one," a euphemism for "the left (hand)." In English, a rhetorical term at first; broader sense of "choosing a less distasteful word or phrase than the one meant" is first attested 1793. Related: Euphemistic; euphemistically.
All the ancients, but most of all the Athenians, were careful not to use ill-omened words; so they called the prison 'the chamber,' and the executioner 'the public man,' and the Furies (Erinyes) they called 'Eumenides' ('the kindly ones') or 'the Venerable Goddesses.' " [Helladius of Antinoopolis, 4 c. C.E., quoted by Photius]
Thus, in our dialect, a vicious man is a man of pleasure, a sharper is one that plays the whole game, a lady is said to have an affair, a gentleman to be a gallant, a rogue in business to be one that knows the world. By this means, we have no such things as sots, debauchees, whores, rogues, or the like, in the beau monde, who may enjoy their vices without incurring disagreeable appellations. [George Berkeley, "Alciphron or the Minute Philosopher," 1732]
"Native North American shaman," by 1801, from adoption of the word medicine in native speech with a sense of "magical influence; something supposed to possess curative, supernatural, or mysterious power." The U.S.-Canadian boundary they called the Medicine Line (attested by 1880), because it conferred a kind of magic protection: punishment for crimes committed on one side of it could be avoided by crossing over to the other. Compare Middle English use of medicine in secondary senses of "moral, psychological, or social remedy; safeguard, defense."
Unless some understanding is arrived at between the American and Canadian Governments that offenders may be promptly and vigorously dealt with, I very much fear that killing and stealing will increase to such an extent that the country along the border will be scarcely habitable. When the Indians are made to understand that the mere fact of "hopping" across the line does not exempt them from punishment, there will be a much greater guarantee of their good behaviour. Now they call the boundary the "Medicine line," because no matter what they have done upon one side they feel perfectly secure after having arrived upon the other. [Report of Superintendent L.N.F. Crozier, Dec. 1880, in "North-West Mounted Police Force Commissioner's Report," 1880]
Hence also medicine bag "pouch containing some article supposed to possess curative or magical powers, worn on the person by native North American people" (1802).
1570s, "cotton padding," corrupted from earlier bombace "raw cotton" (1550s), from Old French bombace "cotton, cotton wadding," from Late Latin bombacem, accusative of bombax "cotton, 'linteorum aut aliae quaevis quisquiliae,' " a corruption and transferred use of Latin bombyx "silk," from Greek bombyx "silk, silkworm" (which also came to mean "cotton" in Medieval Greek), from some oriental word, perhaps related to Iranian pambak (modern panba) or Armenian bambok, perhaps ultimately from a PIE root meaning "to twist, wind."
Also from the same source are Swedish bomull, Danish bomuld "cotton," and, via Turkish forms, Modern Greek mpampaki, Rumanian bumbac, Serbo-Croatian pamuk. German baumwolle "cotton" probably is from the Latin word but altered by folk-etymology to look like "tree wool." Polish bawełna, Lithuanian bovelna are partial translations from German.
From stuffing and padding for clothes or upholstery, meaning extended to "pompous, empty speech" (1580s).
Bombast was originally applied to a stuff of soft, loose texture, once used to swell the garment. Fustian was also a kind of cloth of stiff expansive character. These terms are applied to a high, swelling style of writing, full of extravagant sentiments and expressions. Bathos is a word which has the same application, meaning generally the mock heroic—that "depth" into which one falls who overleaps the sublime; the step which one makes in order to pass from the sublime to the ridiculous. [James de Mille, "Elements of Rhetoric," 1878]
British political party, 1657, in part perhaps a disparaging use of whigg "a country bumpkin" (1640s); but mainly a shortened form of Whiggamore (1649) "one of the adherents of the Presbyterian cause in western Scotland who marched on Edinburgh in 1648 to oppose Charles I." Perhaps originally "a horse drover," from dialectal verb whig "to urge forward" + mare. In 1689 the name was first used in reference to members of the British political party that opposed the Tories. American Revolution sense of "colonist who opposes Crown policies" is from 1768. Later it was applied to opponents of Andrew Jackson (as early as 1825), and taken as the name of a political party (1834) that merged into the Republican Party in 1854-56.
[I]n the spring of 1834 Jackson's opponents adopted the name Whig, traditional term for critics of executive usurpations. James Watson Webb, editor of the New York Courier and Enquirer, encouraged use of the name. [Henry] Clay gave it national currency in a speech on April 14, 1834, likening "the whigs of the present day" to those who had resisted George III, and by summer it was official. [Daniel Walker Howe, "What Hath God Wrought," 2007, p.390]
Whig historian is recorded from 1924. Whig history is "the tendency in many historians ... to emphasise certain principles of progress in the past and to produce a story which is the ratification if not the glorification of the present." [Herbert Butterfield, "The Whig Interpretation of History," 1931]
Old English dumb, of persons, "mute, silent, refraining from speaking or unable to speak," from Proto-Germanic *dumbaz "dumb, dull," which is perhaps from PIE *dheubh- "confusion, stupefaction, dizziness," from root *dheu- (1) "dust, mist, vapor, smoke," also expressing related notions of "defective perception or wits." The -b has probably been silent since 13c. Related: Dumbly; dumber; dumbest. Of animals, "lacking in speech," hence "without intellect" (c. 1200).
The fork in meaning probably comes via the notion of "not responding through ignorance or incomprehension." The Old English, Old Saxon (dumb), Gothic (dumbs), and Old Norse (dumbr) forms of the word meant only "mute, speechless;" in Old High German (thumb) it meant both this and "stupid," and in Modern German this latter became the only sense (the sense of "mute, speechless" being expressed by stumm). Meaning "foolish, ignorant" was occasional in Middle English, but the modern use in this sense (since 1823) seems to be from influence of German dumm, especially in Pennsylvania German.
dumb-cake ..., n. A cake made in silence on St Mark's Eve, with numerous ceremonies, by maids, to discover their future husbands. [Century Dictionary]
Applied to silent contrivances, hence dumb-waiter. Dumb ox "stupid man" is by 1756; dumb-bunny "stupid person" is college slang from 1922; dumb blonde "woman seen as incapable of comprehending anything complicated" is by 1936.
Old English yfel (Kentish evel) "bad, vicious, ill, wicked," from Proto-Germanic *ubilaz (source also of Old Saxon ubil, Old Frisian and Middle Dutch evel, Dutch euvel, Old High German ubil, German übel, Gothic ubils), from PIE *upelo-, from root *wap- "bad, evil" (source also of Hittite huwapp- "evil").
In Old English and other older Germanic languages other than Scandinavian, "this word is the most comprehensive adjectival expression of disapproval, dislike or disparagement" [OED]. Evil was the word the Anglo-Saxons used where we would use bad, cruel, unskillful, defective (adj.), or harm (n.), crime, misfortune, disease (n.). In Middle English, bad took the wider range of senses and evil began to focus on moral badness. Both words have good as their opposite. Evil-favored (1520s) meant "ugly." Evilchild is attested as an English surname from 13c.
The adverb is Old English yfele, originally of words or speech. Also as a noun in Old English, "what is bad; sin, wickedness; anything that causes injury, morally or physically." Especially of a malady or disease from c. 1200. The meaning "extreme moral wickedness" was one of the senses of the Old English noun, but it did not become established as the main sense of the modern word until 18c.
As a noun, Middle English also had evilty. Related: Evilly. Evil eye (Latin oculus malus) was Old English eage yfel. The jocular notion of an evil twin as an excuse for regrettable deeds is by 1986, American English, from an old motif in mythology.
early 15c., in reference to classical history, "a non-Roman or non-Greek," earlier barbar (late 14c.) "non-Roman or non-Greek person; non-Christian; person speaking a language different from one's own," from Medieval Latin barbarinus (source of Old French barbarin "Berber, pagan, Saracen, barbarian"), from Latin barbarus "strange, foreign, barbarous," from Greek barbaros "foreign, strange; ignorant," from PIE root *barbar- echoic of unintelligible speech of foreigners (compare Sanskrit barbara- "stammering," also "non-Aryan," Latin balbus "stammering," Czech blblati "to stammer").
Greek barbaroi (plural noun) meant "all that are not Greek," but especially the Medes and Persians; originally it was not entirely pejorative, but its sense became moreso after the Persian wars. The Romans (technically themselves barbaroi) took up the word and applied it to tribes or nations which had no Greek or Roman accomplishments.
Also in Middle English (c. 1400) "native of the Barbary coast;" meaning "rude, wild person" is from 1610s. Occasionally in 19c. English distinguished from savage (n.) as being a step closer to civilization. Sometimes, in reference to Renaissance Italy, "a non-Italian." It also was used to translate the usual Chinese word of contempt for foreigners.
Barbarian applies to whatever pertains to the life of an uncivilized people, without special reference to its moral aspects. Barbarous properly expresses the bad side of barbarian life and character, especially its inhumanity or cruelty: as, a barbarous act. Barbaric expresses the characteristic love of barbarians for adornment, magnificence, noise, etc., but it is not commonly applied to persons: it implies the lack of cultivated taste .... [Century Dictionary, 1889]
According to Watkins, perhaps via Etruscan from Greek diphthera "tablet" (with change of d- to l- as in lachrymose), from a hypothetical root *deph- "to stamp." In this sense it replaced Old English bocstæf, literally "book staff" (compare German Buchstabe "letter, character," from Old High German buohstab, from Proto-Germanic *bok-staba-m).
Latin littera also meant "a writing, document, record," and in plural litteræ "a letter, epistle, missive communication in writing," a sense passed through French and attested in English letter since early 13c. (replacing Old English ærendgewrit "written message," literally "errand-writing"). The Latin plural also meant "literature, books," and figuratively "learning, liberal education, schooling" (see letters).
The custom of giving the school letter as an achievement award in sports, attested by 1908, is said to have originated with University of Chicago football coach Amos Alonzo Stagg. Earlier in reference to colleges it meant "university degree or honor that adds initials to a name" (1888). Expression to the letter "precisely" is from 1520s (earlier after the letter, mid-14c.). Letter-quality (adj.) "suitable for (business) letters" is from 1977. For letters patent (with French word order) see patent (n.).
1867, "calf or yearling found without an owner's brand," a word from the great cattle ranches of the American West, so called for Samuel A. Maverick (1803-1870), Texas cattle owner who was notoriously negligent in branding his calves.
All neat stock found running at large in this State, without a mother, and upon which there is neither mark nor brand, shall be deemed a maverick, and shall be sold to the highest bidder for cash, at such time and place, and under such rules and regulations, as the round-up commissioners of the district shall prescribe. [act to amend the General Statutes of the State of Colorado, approved April 8, 1885]
The family name is an old one in Boston, and a different Samuel Maverick was killed in the Boston Massacre. The sense of "individualist, unconventional person" is said to be attested by 1886, via the notion of "masterless," but its modern popularity seems to date to the late 1930s and the career of Maury Maverick (1895-1954) of Texas, grandson of Samuel the rancher and a Democratic congressman 1935-1939 famous for his liberal independent streak, who also coined gobbledygook.
"The Crisis" (April 1939) wrote that "During his stormy career in Washington Maverick became known as the one dependable liberal among the southerners. He recognized the broad problems of our nation, refusing to allow his vision to be limited by sectional prejudices, or racial or economic bugaboos. He was the only southern congressman to vote for the Gavagan federal anti-lynching bill. Not only did he vote for it, but he made a speech on the floor of the House in support of it."