genitive (adj.)

late 14c., in reference to the grammatical case, from Old French genitif or directly from Latin (casus) genitivus "case expressing possession, source, or origin," from genitivus "of or belonging to birth," from genitus, past participle of gignere "to beget, produce" (from PIE root *gene- "give birth, beget," with derivatives referring to procreation and familial and tribal groups).

This word was misused by Latin grammarians to render Greek genikē (ptōsis) "the general or generic (case)," expressing race or kind (Greek genikos "belonging to the family"), from genos "family, race, birth, descent," from the same PIE root as the Latin word. As the genitive also is the case of the possessor, and the Romans "were not strong in abstract matters" [Gilbert Murray], the result was some confusion.

The Latin genitivus is a mere blunder, for the Greek word genike could never mean genitivus. Genitivus, if it is meant to express the case of origin or birth, would in Greek have been called gennetike, not genike. Nor does the genitive express the relation of son to father. For though we may say, "the son of the father," we may likewise say, "the father of the son." Genike, in Greek, had a much wider, a much more philosophical meaning. It meant casus generalis, the general case, or rather the case which expresses the genus or kind. This is the real power of the genitive. If I say, "a bird of the water," "of the water" defines the genus to which a certain bird belongs; it refers to the genus of water-birds. [Max Müller, "Lectures on the Science of Language," 1861]

 The noun meaning "the genitive case in grammar" is from 1610s.

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alchemy (n.)
Origin and meaning of alchemy

"medieval chemistry; the supposed science of transmutation of base metals into silver or gold" (involving also the quest for the universal solvent, quintessence, etc.), mid-14c., from Old French alchimie (14c.), alquemie (13c.), from Medieval Latin alkimia, from Arabic al-kimiya, from Greek khemeioa (found c.300 C.E. in a decree of Diocletian against "the old writings of the Egyptians"), all meaning "alchemy," and of uncertain origin.

Perhaps from an old name for Egypt (Khemia, literally "land of black earth," found in Plutarch), or from Greek khymatos "that which is poured out," from khein "to pour," from PIE root *gheu- "to pour" [Watkins, but Klein, citing W. Muss-Arnolt, calls this folk etymology]. The word seems to have elements of both origins.

Mahn ... concludes, after an elaborate investigation, that Gr. khymeia was probably the original, being first applied to pharmaceutical chemistry, which was chiefly concerned with juices or infusions of plants; that the pursuits of the Alexandrian alchemists were a subsequent development of chemical study, and that the notoriety of these may have caused the name of the art to be popularly associated with the ancient name of Egypt. [OED]

The al- is the Arabic definite article, "the." The art and the name were adopted by the Arabs from Alexandrians and entered Europe via Arabic Spain. Alchemy was the "chemistry" of the Middle Ages and early modern times, involving both occult and natural philosophy and practical chemistry and metallurgy. After c. 1600 the strictly scientific sense went with chemistry, and alchemy was left with the sense "pursuit of the transmutation of baser metals into gold, search for the universal solvent and the panacea."

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etymology (n.)
Origin and meaning of etymology

late 14c., ethimolegia "facts of the origin and development of a word," from Old French etimologie, ethimologie (14c., Modern French étymologie), from Latin etymologia, from Greek etymologia "analysis of a word to find its true origin," properly "study of the true sense (of a word)," with -logia "study of, a speaking of" (see -logy) + etymon "true sense, original meaning," neuter of etymos "true, real, actual," related to eteos "true," which perhaps is cognate with Sanskrit satyah, Gothic sunjis, Old English soð "true," from a PIE *set- "be stable." Latinized by Cicero as veriloquium.

In classical times, with reference to meanings; later, to histories. Classical etymologists, Christian and pagan, based their explanations on allegory and guesswork, lacking historical records as well as the scientific method to analyze them, and the discipline fell into disrepute that lasted a millennium. Flaubert ["Dictionary of Received Ideas"] wrote that the general view was that etymology was "the easiest thing in the world with the help of Latin and a little ingenuity."

As a modern branch of linguistic science treating of the origin and evolution of words, from 1640s. As "an account of the particular history of a word" from mid-15c. Related: Etymological; etymologically.

As practised by Socrates in the Cratylus, etymology involves a claim about the underlying semantic content of the name, what it really means or indicates. This content is taken to have been put there by the ancient namegivers: giving an etymology is thus a matter of unwrapping or decoding a name to find the message the namegivers have placed inside. [Rachel Barney, "Socrates Agonistes: The Case of the Cratylus Etymologies," in "Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy," vol. xvi, 1998]
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natural (adj.)

c. 1300, naturel, "of one's inborn character; hereditary, innate, by birth or as if by birth;" early 14c. "of the world of nature (especially as opposed to man)," from Old French naturel "of nature, conforming to nature; by birth," and directly from Latin naturalis "by birth, according to nature," from natura "nature" (see nature).

Of events, features, etc., "existing in nature as a result of natural forces" (that is, not caused by accident, human agency, or divine intervention), late 14c. From late 14c. of properties, traits, qualities, "proper, suitable, appropriate to character or constitution;"  from late 15c. as "native, native-born." Also late 15c. as "not miraculous, in conformity with nature," hence "easy, free from affectation" (c. 1600). Of objects or substances, "not artificially cultivated or created, existing in nature" c. 1400. As a euphemism for "illegitimate, bastard" (of children), it is recorded from c. 1400, on the notion of blood kinship (but not legal status).

Natural science, that pertaining to physical nature, is from late 14c.;  natural history meaning more or less the same thing is from 1560s (see history).  Natural law "the expression of right reason or the dictate of religion inhering in nature and man and having ethically binding force as a rule of civil conduct" is from late 14c. Natural order "apparent order in nature" is from 1690s. Natural childbirth is attested by 1898. Natural life, usually in reference to the duration of life, is from mid-15c.; natural death, one without violence or accident, is from mid-15c. To die of natural causes is from 1570s.

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letter (n.1)
c. 1200, "graphic symbol, alphabetic sign, written character conveying information about sound in speech," from Old French letre "character, letter; missive, note," in plural, "literature, writing, learning" (10c., Modern French lettre), from Latin littera (also litera) "letter of the alphabet," also "an epistle, writing, document; literature, great books; science, learning;" a word of uncertain origin.

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.).
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shit (v.)
Origin and meaning of shit

Old English scitan, from Proto-Germanic *skit- (source also of North Frisian skitj, Dutch schijten, German scheissen), from PIE root *skei- "to cut, split." The notion is of "separation" from the body (compare Latin excrementum, from excernere "to separate," Old English scearn "dung, muck," from scieran "to cut, shear;" see sharn). It is thus a cousin to science and conscience.

"Shit" is not an acronym. The notion that it is a recent word might be partly because it was taboo from c. 1600 and rarely appeared in print (neither Shakespeare nor the KJV has it), and even in "vulgar" publications of the late 18c. it is disguised by dashes. It drew the wrath of censors as late as 1922 ("Ulysses" and "The Enormous Room"), scandalized magazine subscribers in 1957 (a Hemingway story in Atlantic Monthly) and was omitted from some dictionaries as recently as 1970 ("Webster's New World").

Extensive slang usage; meaning "to lie, to tease" is from 1934; that of "to disrespect" is from 1903. Shite, now a jocular or slightly euphemistic and chiefly British variant of the noun, formerly a dialectal variant, reflects the vowel in the Old English verb (compare German scheissen); the modern verb has been influenced by the noun. Shat is a humorous past tense form, not etymological, first recorded 18c. To shit bricks "be very frightened" attested by 1961. The connection between fear and involuntary defecation has generated expressions in English since 14c. (the image also is in Latin), and probably also is behind scared shitless (1936).

Alle þe filþ of his magh ['maw'] salle breste out atte his fondament for drede. ["Cursor Mundi," early 14c.]
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atmosphere (n.)

1630s, atmosphaera (modern form from 1670s), "gaseous envelop surrounding the earth," from Modern Latin atmosphaera, from Greek atmos "vapor, steam" (see atmo-) + sphaira "sphere" (see sphere). In old science, "vaporous air," which was considered a part of the earth and a contamination of the lower part of the air (n.1).

Þe ouer partye of þe eyr is pure and clene, clere, esy & softe, ffor mevynge of stormys, of wynde and of wedir may nat reche þerto; and so it perteyneþ to heuenlych kynde. And þe neþir partye is nyʒe to þe spere of watir and of erþe, and is troubly, greet and þicke, corpulent and ful of moyst erþy vapoures, as longiþ to erþy partyes. Þe eyr strecchiþ hym kyndely al aboute fro þe ouer partye of þe erþe and of watir anon to þe spere of fire. [Bartholomew Glanville, "De proprietatibus rerum," c. 1240, translated by John of Trevisa c. 1398 ]

First used in English in connection with the Moon, which, as it turns out, practically has none.

'Tis Observed, in the Solary Eclipses, that there is some times a great Trepidation about the Body of the Moon, from which we may likewise argue an Atmo-sphaera, since we cannot well conceive what so probable a cause there should be of such an appearance as this, Quod radii Solares a vaporibus Lunam ambientibus fuerint intercisi, that the Sun-beams were broken and refracted by the Vapours that encompassed the Moon. [Rev. John Wilkins, "Discovery of New World or Discourse tending to prove that it probable there may be another World in the Moon," 1638]

Figurative sense of "surrounding influence, mental or moral environment" is c. 1800.

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billion (n.)

1680s, from French billion (originally byllion in Chuquet's unpublished "Le Triparty en la Science des Nombres," 1484; copied by De la Roche, 1520); see bi- "two" + million. A million million in Britain and Germany (numeration by groups of sixes), which was the original sense; subsequently altered in French to "a thousand million" (numeration by groups of threes) and picked up in that form in U.S., "due in part to French influence after the Revolutionary War" [David E. Smith, "History of Mathematics," 1925]. France reverted to the original meaning in 1948. British usage is truer to the etymology, but U.S. sense is said to be increasingly common there in technical writing.

In Italian arithmetics from the last quarter of the fifteenth century the words bilione or duilione, trilione, quadrilione or quattrilione, quintilione, cinquilione, or quinquilione, sestione or sestilione, settilione, ottilione, noeilione and decilione occur as common abbreviations of due volte millioni, tre volte millione, etc. In other countries these words came into use much later, although one French writer, Nicolas Chuquet, mentions them as early as 1484, in a book not printed until 1881. The Italians had, besides, another system of numeration, proceeding by powers of a thousand. The French, who like other northern peoples, took most if not all their knowledge of modern or Arabic arithmetic from the Italians, early confounded the two systems of Italian numeration, counting in powers of a thousand, but adopting the names which properly belong to powers of a million. [Century Dictionary]

For a time in Britain gillion (1961), based on giga-, was tried as "a thousand million" to avoid ambiguity. Compare milliard.

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history (n.)
Origin and meaning of history

late 14c., "relation of incidents" (true or false), from Old French estoire, estorie "story; chronicle, history" (12c., Modern French histoire), from Latin historia "narrative of past events, account, tale, story," from Greek historia "a learning or knowing by inquiry; an account of one's inquiries; knowledge, account, historical account, record, narrative," from historein "be witness or expert; give testimony, recount; find out, search, inquire," and histōr "knowing, expert; witness," both ultimately from PIE *wid-tor-, from root *weid- "to see," hence "to know."

It is thus related to Greek idein "to see," and to eidenai "to know." Beekes writes of histōr that "The word itself, but especially the derivations ... that arose in Ionic, have spread over the Hellenic and Hellenistic world together with Ionic science and philosophy." 

In Middle English, not differentiated from story (n.1); sense of "narrative record of past events" probably first attested late 15c. Meaning "the recorded events of the past" is from late 15c. As a branch of knowledge, from late 15c. Meaning "a historical play or drama" is from 1590s. Sense of "systematic account (without reference to time) of a set of natural phenomena" (1560s) is now obsolete except in natural history (as late as the 1880s published county histories in the U.S. routinely included natural history chapters, with lists of birds and fishes and illustrations of local slugs and freshwater clams). Meaning "an eventful career, a past worthy of note" (a woman with a history) is from 1852. To make history "be notably engaged in public events" is from 1862.

History is the interpretation of the significance that the past has for us. [Johan Huizinga, "The Task of the Cultural Historian"]
History is more or less bunk [Henry Ford, Chicago Tribune, May 25, 1916]
One difference between history and imaginative literature ... is that history neither anticipates nor satisfies our curiosity, whereas literature does. [Guy Davenport, "Wheel Ruts," 1996]
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match (n.1)

"stick for striking fire." Late 14c., macche, "wick of a candle or lamp," a sense now obsolete, from Old French meiche "wick of a candle," from Vulgar Latin *micca/*miccia (source also of Catalan metxa, Spanish mecha, Italian miccia), which is of uncertain origin, probably ultimately from Latin myxa, from Greek myxa "lamp wick," originally "mucus," based on notion of wick dangling from the spout of a lamp like snot from a nostril, from PIE root *meug- "slimy, slippery" (see mucus). English snot also had a secondary sense from late 14c. of "snuff of a candle, burnt part of a wick," surviving at least to late 19c. in northern dialects.

The modern spelling is from mid-15c. The meaning "piece of cord or tow soaked in sulfur, used for lighting fires, lamps, candles, etc." is from 1530. It was used by 1830 for the modern type of sulfur-tipped wooden friction match, which were perfected about that time, and competed with lucifer for much of 19c. as the name for this invention. An earlier version consisted of a thin strip of wood tipped with combustible matter that required contact with phosphorous carried separately in a box or vial.

In the manufacture of matches much trouble has been occasioned by the use of phosphorous .... In some of the small and poorly-managed factories the men and children are never free from the fumes; their clothes and breath are luminous in the dark, and in the daytime white fumes may be seen escaping from them whenever they are seated by the fire. ... The danger arising from the use of matches was magnified, because they could sometimes be seen in the dark, were liable to ignite on a warm shelf, and were poisonous to such an extent that children had been killed by using them as playthings. [John A. Garver, "Matches," in The Popular Science Monthly, August 1877]
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