Etymology
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great (adj.)

Old English great "big, tall, thick, stout, massive; coarse," from West Germanic *grauta- "coarse, thick" (source also of Old Saxon grot, Old Frisian grat, Dutch groot, German groß "great"). If the original sense was "coarse," it is perhaps from PIE root *ghreu- "to rub, grind," via the notion of "coarse grain," then "coarse," then "great;" but "the connextion is not free from difficulty" [OED].

It took over much of the sense of Middle English mickle, and itself now is largely superseded by big and large except in reference to non-material things. In the sense of "excellent, wonderful" great is attested from 1848.

Great White Way "Broadway in New York City" is from 1901, in reference to brilliant street illumination. The Great Lakes of North America so called by 1726, perhaps 1690s. Great Spirit "high deity of the North American Indians," 1703, originally translates Ojibwa kitchi manitou. The Great War originally (1887) referred to the Napoleonic Wars, later (1914) to what we now call World War I (see world).

"The Great War" — as, until the fall of France, the British continued to call the First World War in order to avoid admitting to themselves that they were now again engaged in a war of the same magnitude. [Arnold Toynbee, "Experiences," 1969]

Also formerly with a verb form, Old English greatian "to become enlarged," Middle English greaten "to become larger, increase, grow; become visibly pregnant," which became archaic after 17c.

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shall (v.)

Old English sceal, Northumbrian scule "I owe/he owes, will have to, ought to, must" (infinitive sculan, past tense sceolde), from *skulanan, a common Germanic preterite-present verb (along with can, may, will), from Proto-Germanic *skul- (source also of Old Saxon sculan, Old Frisian skil, Old Norse and Swedish skola, Middle Dutch sullen, Old High German solan, German sollen, Gothic skulan "to owe, be under obligation"). This is said to be related, via a past tense form, to Old English scyld "guilt," German Schuld "guilt, debt;" also Old Norse Skuld, name of one of the Norns.

These Germanic words are reconstructed (Watkins, Pokorny) to be from a PIE root *skel-(2) "to be under an obligation." The basic sense of the Germanic word probably was "I owe," hence "I ought." Cognates outside Germanic include Lithuanian skelėti "to be guilty," skilti "to get into debt;" Old Prussian skallisnan "duty," skellants "guilty." But Boutkan gives the group no PIE etymology and writes that the alleged root, limited as it is to Germanic and Balto-Slavic, "is likely to represent an innovation on the basis of North European substrate material."

Shall survives as an auxiliary. The original senses are obsolete; the meaning shifted in Middle English from obligation to include futurity. It has no participles, no imperative, and no infinitive. Its past-tense form has become should (q.v.) and has acquired special senses of its own.

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shoddy (adj.)

1862, "having a delusive appearance of high quality," a Northern word from the American Civil War in reference to the quality of government supplies for the armies, from earlier noun meaning "rag-wool, kind of cloth made of woolen waste and old rags" (1832), "presumably orig. a factory word" [Century Dictionary], which is perhaps a Yorkshire provincial word, itself of uncertain origin; according to Watkins, it could be from the same Old English source as shed (v.).

Originally the material was used for padding. English manufacturers in 19c. began making coarse wearing clothes from it. When new it looked like broad-cloth but the gloss quickly wore off, giving the stuff a reputation as a commercial cheat.

The 1860 U.S. census of manufactures notes import of more than 6 million pounds of it, which was "much used in the manufacture of army and navy cloths and blankets in the United States" according to an 1865 government report. The citizen-soldier's experience with it in the war, and the fortunes made on it by contractors, thrust the word into sudden prominence.

The Days of Shoddy, as the reader will readily anticipate, are the opening months of the present war, at which time the opprobrious name first came into general use as a designation for swindling and humbug of every character; and nothing more need be said to indicate the scope of this novel. [Henry Morford, "The Days of Shoddy: A Novel of the Great Rebellion in 1861," Philadelphia, 1863]

Related: Shoddily; shoddiness.

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soft (adj.)

Old English softe, earlier sefte, "gentle, mild-natured; easeful, comfortable, calm, undisturbed; luxurious," from West Germanic *samfti, from Proto-Germanic *samftijaz "level, even, smooth, gentle, soft" (source also of Old Saxon safti, Old High German semfti, German sanft; and from a variant form with -ch- for -f-, Middle Dutch sachte, Dutch zacht, German sacht), from root *som- "fitting, agreeable."

From c. 1200 of material things, "not stiff, not coarse, fine; yielding to weight." From late 14c. of wind, rain, etc. Of sounds, "quiet, not loud," from early 13c. Of words, "mild, restrained; courteous" mid-14c. From late 14c. as "indulgent," also "physically feeble; easily overcome, lacking manly courage." From 1755 of water ("relatively free from mineral salts"), from 1789 of coal. Meaning "foolish, simple, silly" is attested from 1620s; earlier "easily moved or swayed; soft-hearted, sympathetic; docile" (early 13c.). In reference to drinks, "non-alcoholic" from 1880. As an adverb, Old English softe "gently;" late 13c. as "quietly." As an interjection from 1540s.

Soft landing is from 1958 and the U.S. space program. Adjective soft-core (in reference to pornography) is from 1966 (see hardcore). Soft rock as a music style is attested from 1969. Soft sell is from 1955. Soft-shoe as a dancing style is attested from 1927. Soft-boiled is from 1757 of eggs; of persons, ideas, etc., 1930 (compare half-baked). Soft-focus (adj.) of camera shots is from 1917. The softer sex "women collectively" is from 1640s.

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thing (n.)

Old English þing "meeting, assembly, council, discussion," later "entity, being, matter" (subject of deliberation in an assembly), also "act, deed, event, material object, body, being, creature," from Proto-Germanic *thinga- "assembly" (source also of Old Frisian thing "assembly, council, suit, matter, thing," Middle Dutch dinc "court-day, suit, plea, concern, affair, thing," Dutch ding "thing," Old High German ding "public assembly for judgment and business, lawsuit," German Ding "affair, matter, thing," Old Norse þing "public assembly"). The Germanic word is perhaps literally "appointed time," from a PIE *tenk- (1), from root *ten- "stretch," perhaps on notion of "stretch of time for a meeting or assembly."

The sense "meeting, assembly" did not survive Old English. For sense evolution, compare French chose, Spanish cosa "thing," from Latin causa "judicial process, lawsuit, case;" Latin res "affair, thing," also "case at law, cause." Old sense is preserved in second element of hustings and in Icelandic Althing, the nation's general assembly.

Of persons, often pityingly, from late 13c. Used colloquially since c. 1600 to indicate things the speaker can't name at the moment, often with various meaningless suffixes (see thingamajig).

Things "personal possessions" is from c. 1300. The thing "what's stylish or fashionable" is recorded from 1762. Phrase do your thing "follow your particular predilection," though associated with hippie-speak of 1960s is attested from 1841.

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chain (n.)

c. 1300, "connected series of links of metal or other material," from Old French chaeine "chain" (12c., Modern French chane), from Latin catena "chain" (source also of Spanish cadena, Italian catena), which is of unknown origin, perhaps from a PIE root *kat- "to twist, twine" (source also of Latin cassis "hunting net, snare").

As a type of ornament worn about the neck, from late 14c. As a linear measure ("a chain's length") from 1660s. From 1590s as "any series of things linked together." The meaning "series of stores controlled by one owner or firm" is American English, 1846. The figurative use "that which binds or confines" is from c. 1600.

Chain-reaction is from 1916 in physics; the specific nuclear physics sense is from 1938. Chain-mail armor is from 1795, from mail (n.2). Before that, mail alone sufficed. Chain letter is recorded from 1892; at first usually to raise money; decried from the start as a nuisance.

Nine out of every ten givers are reluctant and unwilling, and are coerced into giving through the awful fear of "breaking the chain," so that the spirit of charity is woefully absent. [St. Nicholas magazine, vol. xxvi, April 1899] 

Chain of command is from 1915. Chain-lightning, visible as jagged or broken lines, is from 1834. Chain-smoker, one who smokes one after another, lighting the next from the stump of the last, is attested from 1885, originally of Bismarck (who smoked cigars), thus probably a loan-translation of German Kettenraucher. Chain-smoking (n.) is from 1895.

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real (adj.)

early 14c., "actually existing, having physical existence (not imaginary);" mid-15c., "relating to things" (especially property), from Old French reel "real, actual," from Late Latin realis "actual," in Medieval Latin "belonging to the thing itself," from Latin res "property, goods, matter, thing, affair," which de Vaan traces to a PIE *Hreh-i- "wealth, goods," source also of Sanskrit rayim, rayah "property, goods," Avestan raii-i- "wealth."

The meaning "genuine" is recorded from 1550s; the sense of "unaffected, no-nonsense" is from 1847. Real estate, the exact term, "land, including what is naturally or artificially on or in it" is recorded from 1660s, but as far back as Middle English real was used in law in reference to immovable property, paired with, and distinguished from, personal. The noun phrase real time is from early 19c. in logic and philosophy, from 1953 as an adjectival phrase in reference to "the actual time during which an event or process occurs," with the rise of computer processes. Get real, usually an interjection, was U.S. college slang in 1960s, reaching wide popularity c. 1987. As a noun, the real, "that which actually exists," by 1818 (Coleridge). The real thing "the genuine article" is by 1818.

Real applies to that which certainly exists, as opposed to that which is imaginary or feigned : as, real cause for alarm ; a real occurrence ; a real person, and not a ghost or a shadow ; real sorrow. Actual applies to that which is brought to be or to pass, as opposed to that which is possible, probable, conceivable, approximate, estimated, or guessed at. [Century Dictionary]
Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand. [Margery Williams, "The Velveteen Rabbit"]
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brass (n.)

"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. The slang sense of "high officials" is first recorded 1899, from their insignia. The meaning "brass musical instruments of a band" is from 1832.

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confetti (n.)

1815, "small pellets made of lime or soft plaster, used in Italy during carnival by the revelers for pelting one another in the streets," from Italian plural of confetto "sweetmeat," via Old French, from Latin confectum, confectus (see confection).

The little balls (which left white marks) were substitutes for the small sugar-plum candies that traditionally were thrown during Italian carnivals; the custom was adopted in England by early 19c. for weddings and other occasions, with symbolic tossing of little bits of paper (which are called confetti by 1846).

The chief amusement of the Carnival consists in throwing the confetti—a very ancient practice, and which, with a little research, may be traced up through the Italian Chronicles to the time of the Romans. The confetti were originally of sugar, and the nobility still pique themselves on adhering to so costly a material. The people have degraded them to small balls of lime, which allows more sport, and takes in a much greater number of combatants. [Dr. Abraham Eldon, "The Continental Traveller's Oracle; or, Maxims for Foreign Locomotion," London, 1828]
[The Roman ladies] are generally provided with a small basket of confetti, and as their acquaintance and admirers pass in review, they must be prepared to receive a volley of them. It is thought quite the supreme bon ton for a Roman beau, to mark how many distinguished beauties he is in favour with, by having both his coat and hat covered as white as a miller with the flour of these confetti. [John Bramsen, "Letters of a Prussian Traveller," 1818]
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shape (v.)

"create, fashion, form," Middle English shapen, from Old English scapan, past participle of scieppan "to form, create, make out of existing materials; bring into existence; destine" (past tense scop, often used of God).

This is reconstructed to be from Proto-Germanic *skapjanan "create, ordain" (source also of Old Norse skapa, Danish skabe, Old Saxon scapan, Old Frisian skeppa, Middle Dutch schappen "do, treat," Old High German scaffan, German schaffen "shape, create, produce"), from PIE root *(s)kep-, forming words meaning "to cut, scrape, hack" (see scabies), which acquired broad technical senses and in Germanic a specific sense of "to create."

Old English scieppan survived into Middle English as shippen, but shape emerged as a regular verb (with past tense shaped) by 1500s. The old past-participle form shapen survives in misshapen.

Meaning "to form in or with the mind" is from late 14c. Also by late 14c. as "prepare, get ready." The sense of "give a definite form to" is by 1580s. Specifically as "give direction and character to" (one's life, conduct, etc.) is by 1823.

The phrase shape up (v.) is literally "to give form to by stiff or solid material;" attested from 1865 as "progress;" by 1938 as "reform oneself, pull oneself up to a standard;" alliterative variant shape up or ship out is by 1951 in the newspapers, said to be Korean War U.S. military slang, with a suggestion of "do right or get shipped up to active duty."

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