Etymology
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powder (n.)

 "fine, minute, loose, uncompacted particles," c. 1300, poudre, "ash, cinders; dust of the earth;" early 14c. of any pulverized substance; from Old French poudre "dust, powder; ashes; powdered substance" (13c.), earlier pouldre (11c.), from Latin pulverem (nominative pulvis) "dust, powder" (source also of Spanish polvo, Italian polve; see pulverize).

The insertion of the unetymological -d- was common in French (compare meddle, tender (adj.), remainder). German has it as a doublet; Puder via French and Pulver from Latin. From mid-14c. specifically as "medicinal powder;" specialized sense of "gunpowder" is from late 14c. In the sense "powdered cosmetic," it is recorded from 1570s.

Powder keg "small barrel for holding gunpowder" is by 1820; the figurative sense ("something likely to explode easily") is by 1895. Powder room, euphemistic for "women's lavatory," is attested from 1936. Earlier it meant "place where gunpowder is stored on a warship" (1620s). Powder monkey "boy employed on ships to carry powder from the magazines to the guns" is from 1680s. Powder blue (1650s) was smalt used in laundering; as a color name from 1894.

The phrase take a powder "scram, vanish," is from 1920; it was a common phrase as a doctor's instruction, so perhaps the notion is of taking a laxative medicine or a sleeping powder, with the result that one has to leave in a hurry (or, on another guess, from a magician's magical powder, which makes things disappear).

Avis dropped an exhausted little heap onto her aunt's bed. She put her hand over her heart and said piteously, "Oh, Aunt Joyce, I mustn't ever do that again. My heart's going awful fast. I shall have to take a powder. Wasn't it fun though-" Avis' dark eyes flashed. [from "The Evolution of Avis" in The Connecticut School Journal, Jan. 9, 1902]
When the wife of your breast has confessed she has drest
   On just triple the sum you allowed her,
And has run up long bills for her frocks and her frills—
   Take a powder, my friend, take a powder.
[from "The Panacaea," in Punch, Dec. 14, 1901]

Powder in the wind (c. 1300, meaning powdered spices) was a Middle English image of something highly valued but flawed in some way that renders it impermanent or doomed to loss (of virtues without humility, etc.).

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Saxon (n.)

c. 1200, Sexun, Saxun, "member of a people or tribe formerly living in northern Germania who invaded and settled in Britain 5c.-6c.," from Late Latin Saxonem (nominative Saxo; also source of Old French saisoigne, French Saxon, Spanish Sajon, Italian Sassone), usually found in plural Saxones, probably from a West Germanic tribal name (represented by Old English Seaxe, Old High German Sahsun, German Sachse "Saxon").

This is traditionally regarded as meaning "warrior with knives" (compare Middle English sax, Old English seax, Old Frisian, Old Norse sax "knife, short sword, dagger," Old High German Saxnot, name of a war-god), from Proto-Germanic *sahsa- "knife," from PIE root *sek- "to cut." But Watkins considers this doubtful.

The word figures in the oft-told tale, related by Geoffrey of Monmouth, who got it from Nennius, of the treacherous slaughter by the Anglo-Saxons of their British hosts:

Accordingly they all met at the time and place appointed, and began to treat of peace; and when a fit opportunity offered for executing his villany, Hengist cried out, "Nemet oure Saxas," and the same instant seized Vortigern, and held him by his cloak. The Saxons, upon the signal given, drew their daggers, and falling upon the princes, who little suspected any such design, assassinated them to the number of four hundred and sixty barons and consuls ....

The OED editors helpfully point out that the murderous shout in correct Old English (with an uninflected plural) would be nimað eowre seax. For other Germanic national names that may have derived from characteristic tribal weapons, see Frank, Lombard. Celtic languages used their form of the word to mean "an Englishman, one of the English race" or English-speaking person in Celtic lands (for example Welsh Sais, plural Seison "an Englishman;" Seisoneg "English;" compare Sassenach).

As an adjective from late 14c. (earlier was Saxish, c. 1200); in reference to the later German state of Saxony (German Sachsen, French Saxe) in central Germany it is attested by mid-14c. Bede distinguished the Anglo-Saxons, who conquered much of southern Britain, from the Ealdesaxe "Old Saxons," who stayed in Germany.

Saxon is the source of the -sex in Essex, Sussex, etc. (compare Middlesex, from Old English Middel-Seaxe "Middle Saxons").

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N 

fourteenth letter of the English alphabet; in chemistry, the symbol for nitrogen.

In late Middle English a and an commonly were joined to the following noun, if that word began with a vowel, which caused confusion over how such words ought to be divided when written separately. In nickname, newt, and British dialectal naunt, the -n- belongs to a preceding indefinite article an or possessive pronoun mine.

Other examples of this from Middle English manuscripts include a neilond ("an island," early 13c.), a narawe ("an arrow," c. 1400), a nox ("an ox," c. 1400), a noke ("an oak," early 15c.), a nappyle ("an apple," early 15c.), a negge ("an egg," 15c.), a nynche ("an inch," c. 1400), a nostryche ("an ostrich," c. 1500). My naunt for mine aunt is recorded from 13c.-17c. None other could be no noder (mid-15c.). My nown (for mine own) was frequent 15c.-18c. In 16c., an idiot sometimes became a nidiot (1530s), which, with still-common casual pronunciation, became nidget (1570s), now, alas, no longer whinnying with us.

It is "of constant recurrence" in the 15c. vocabularies, according to Thomas Wright, their modern editor. One has, among many others, Hoc alphabetum ... a nabse, from misdivision of an ABC (and pronouncing it as a word), and Hic culus ... a ners. Also compare nonce, pigsney. Even in 19c. provincial English and U.S., noration (from an oration) was "a speech; a rumor."

The process also worked in surnames, from oblique cases of Old English at "by, near," as in Nock/Nokes/Noaks from atten Oke "by the oak;" Nye from atten ye "near the lowland;" and see Nashville. (Elision of the vowel of the definite article also took place and was standard in Chancery English of the 15c.: þarchebisshop for "the archbishop," thorient for "the orient.")

But it is more common for an English word to lose an -n- to a preceding a: apron, auger, adder, umpire, humble pie, etc. By a related error in Elizabethan English, natomy or atomy was common for anatomy, noyance (annoyance) and noying (adj.) turn up 14c.-17c., and Marlowe (1590) has Natolian for Anatolian.  The tendency is not limited to English: compare Luxor, jade (n.1), lute, omelet, and Modern Greek mera for hēmera, the first syllable being confused with the article.

The mathematical use of n for "an indefinite number" is attested by 1717 in phrases such as to the nth power (see nth). In Middle English n. was written in form documents to indicate an unspecified name of a person to be supplied by the speaker or reader.

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club (n.)

c. 1200, "thick stick wielded in the hand and used as a weapon," from Old Norse klubba "cudgel" or a similar Scandinavian source (compare Swedish klubba, Danish klubbe), assimilated from Proto-Germanic *klumbon and related to clump (n.). Old English words for this were sagol, cycgel. Specific sense of "bat or staff used in games" is from mid-15c.

The club suit in the deck of cards (1560s) bears the correct name (Spanish basto, Italian bastone), but the pattern adopted on English decks is the French trefoil. Compare Danish klr, Dutch klaver "a club at cards," literally "a clover."

The sense "company of persons organized to meet for social intercourse or to promote some common object" (1660s) apparently evolved from this word from the verbal sense "gather in a club-like mass" (1620s), then, as a noun, "association of people" (1640s).

We now use the word clubbe for a sodality in a tavern. [John Aubrey, 1659]
Admission to membership of clubs is commonly by ballot. Clubs are now an important feature of social life in all large cities, many of them occupying large buildings containing reading-rooms, libraries, restaurants, etc. [Century Dictionary, 1902]
I got a good mind to join a club and beat you over the head with it. [Rufus T. Firefly] 

Join the club "become one of a number of people having a common experience" is by 1944. Club soda is by 1881, originally a proprietary name (Cantrell & Cochrane, Dublin). Club car is from 1890, American English, originally one well-appointed and reserved for members of a club run by the railway company; later of any railway car fitted with chairs instead of benches and other amenities (1917). Hence club for "class of fares between first-class and transit" (1978).

The club car is one of the most elaborate developments of the entire Commuter idea. It is a comfortable coach, which is rented to a group of responsible men coming either from a single point or a chain of contiguous points. The railroad charges from $250 to $300 a month for the use of this car in addition to the commutation fares, and the "club" arranges dues to cover this cost and the cost of such attendants and supplies as it may elect to place on its roving house. [Edward Hungerford, "The Modern Railroad," 1911]

Club sandwich recorded by 1899 (said to have been invented at Saratoga Country Club in New York), apparently as a type of sandwich served in clubs, or else because its multiple "decks" reminded people of two-decker club cars on railroads.  

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free (adj.)

Old English freo "exempt from; not in bondage, acting of one's own will," also "noble; joyful," from Proto-Germanic *friaz "beloved; not in bondage" (source also of Old Frisian fri, Old Saxon vri, Old High German vri, German frei, Dutch vrij, Gothic freis "free"), from PIE *priy-a- "dear, beloved," from root *pri- "to love."

The sense evolution from "to love" to "free" is perhaps from the terms "beloved" or "friend" being applied to the free members of one's clan (as opposed to slaves; compare Latin liberi, meaning both "free persons" and "children of a family"). For the older sense in Germanic, compare Gothic frijon "to love;" Old English freod "affection, friendship, peace," friga "love," friðu "peace;" Old Norse friðr "peace, personal security; love, friendship," German Friede "peace;" Old English freo "wife;" Old Norse Frigg, name of the wife of Odin, literally "beloved" or "loving;" Middle Low German vrien "to take to wife," Dutch vrijen, German freien "to woo."

Meaning "clear of obstruction" is from mid-13c.; sense of "unrestrained in movement" is from c. 1300; of animals, "loose, at liberty, wild," late 14c. Meaning "liberal, not parsimonious" is from c. 1300. Sense of "characterized by liberty of action or expression" is from 1630s; of art, etc., "not holding strictly to rule or form," from 1813. Of nations, "not subject to foreign rule or to despotism," recorded in English from late 14c. (Free world "non-communist nations" attested from 1950 on notion of "based on principles of civil liberty.") Sense of "given without cost" is 1580s, from notion of "free of cost."

Free even to the definition of freedom, "without any hindrance that does not arise out of his own constitution." [Emerson, "The American Scholar," 1837]

Free lunch, originally offered in bars to draw in customers, by 1850, American English. Free pass on railways, etc., attested by 1850. Free speech in Britain was used of a privilege in Parliament since the time of Henry VIII. In U.S., in reference to a civil right to expression, it became a prominent phrase in the debates over the Gag Rule (1836). Free enterprise recorded from 1832; free trade is from 1823; free market from 1630s. Free will is from early 13c. Free school is from late 15c. Free association in psychology is from 1899. Free love "sexual liberation" attested from 1822 (the doctrine itself is much older), American English. Free and easy "unrestrained" is from 1690s.

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understand (v.)
Origin and meaning of understand

Old English understandan "to comprehend, grasp the idea of, receive from a word or words or from a sign the idea it is intended to convey; to view in a certain way," probably literally "stand in the midst of," from under + standan "to stand" (see stand (v.)).

If this is the meaning, the under is not the usual word meaning "beneath," but from Old English under, from PIE *nter- "between, among" (source also of Sanskrit antar "among, between," Latin inter "between, among," Greek entera "intestines;" see inter-). Related: Understood; understanding.

That is the suggestion in Barnhart, but other sources regard the "among, between, before, in the presence of" sense of Old English prefix and preposition under as other meanings of the same word. "Among" seems to be the sense in many Old English compounds that resemble understand, such as underniman "to receive," undersecan "examine, investigate, scrutinize" (literally "underseek"), underðencan "consider, change one's mind," underginnan "to begin."

It also seems to be the sense still in expressions such as under such circumstances. Perhaps the ultimate sense is "be close to;" compare Greek epistamai "I know how, I know," literally "I stand upon."

Similar formations are found in Old Frisian (understonda), Middle Danish (understande), while other Germanic languages use compounds meaning "stand before" (German verstehen, represented in Old English by forstanden "understand," also "oppose, withstand"). For this concept, most Indo-European languages use figurative extensions of compounds that literally mean "put together," or "separate," or "take, grasp" (see comprehend).

The range of spellings of understand in Middle English (understont, understounde, unþurstonde, onderstonde, hunderstonde, oundyrston, wonderstande, urdenstonden, etc.) perhaps reflects early confusion over the elements of the compound. Old English oferstandan, Middle English overstonden, literally "over-stand" seem to have been used only in literal senses.

By mid-14c. as "to take as meant or implied (though not expressed); imply; infer; assume; take for granted." The intransitive sense of "have the use of the intellectual faculties; be an intelligent and conscious being" also is in late Old English. In Middle English also "reflect, muse, be thoughtful; imagine; be suspicious of; pay attention, take note; strive for; plan, intend; conceive (a child)." Also sometimes literal, "to occupy space at a lower level" (late 14c.) and, figuratively, "to submit." For "to stand under" in a physical sense, Old English had undergestandan.

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dream (n.)

"sequence of sensations or images passing through the mind of a sleeping person," mid-13c., probably related to Old Norse draumr, Danish drøm, Swedish dröm, Old Saxon drom "merriment, noise," Old Frisian dram "dream," Dutch droom, Old High German troum, German Traum "dream." These all are perhaps from a Proto-Germanic *draugmas "deception, illusion, phantasm" (source also of Old Saxon bidriogan, Old High German triogan, German trügen "to deceive, delude," Old Norse draugr "ghost, apparition"). Possible cognates outside Germanic are Sanskrit druh- "seek to harm, injure," Avestan druz- "lie, deceive."

Old English dream meant "joy, mirth, noisy merriment," also "music." Much study has failed to prove that Old English dream is the source of the modern word for "sleeping vision," despite being identical in form. Perhaps the meaning of the word changed dramatically, or "vision" was an unrecorded secondary Old English meaning of dream, or there are two words here.

OED offers this theory for the absence of dream in the modern sense in the record of Old English: "It seems as if the presence of dream 'joy, mirth, music,' had caused dream 'dream' to be avoided, at least in literature, and swefn, lit. 'sleep,' to be substituted ...."

The dream that meant "joy, mirth, music" faded out of use after early Middle English. According to Middle English Compendium, the replacement of swefn (Middle English swevn) by dream in the sense "sleeping vision" occurs earliest and is most frequent in the East Midlands and the North of England, where Scandinavian influence was strongest.

Dream in the sense of "that which is presented to the mind by the imaginative faculty, though not in sleep" is from 1580s. The meaning "ideal or aspiration" is from 1931, from the earlier sense of "something of dream-like beauty or charm" (1888). The notion of "ideal" is behind dream girl (1850), etc.

Before it meant "sleeping vision" Old English swefn meant "sleep," as did a great many Indo-European "dream" nouns originally, such as Lithuanian sapnas, Old Church Slavonic sunu, and the Romanic words (French songe, Spanish sueño, Italian sogno all from Latin somnium. All of these (including Old English swefn) are from PIE *swep-no-, which also is the source of Greek hypnos (from PIE root *swep- "to sleep"). Old English also had mæting in the "sleeping vision" sense.

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magpie (n.)

popular name of a common bird of Europe, Asia, and America, known for its chattering, acquisitiveness, curiosity, and mimicry, c. 1600, earlier simply pie (mid-13c.).

The first element is Mag, nickname for Margaret, long used in proverbial and slang English for qualities associated generally with women, especially in this case "idle chattering" (as in Magge tales "tall tales, nonsense," early 15c.; also compare French margot "magpie," from Margot, pet form of Marguerite). The name Margaret, and its reduced forms Mag, Madge, diminutive Maggie, also has long been familiarly applied to birds. Pies were proverbial since Middle English for chattering (as were jays), hence the application of pie to a prattling gossip or tattler, also "sly person, informer" (late 14c.) and in 15c.-16c. a wily pie (or wyly pye) was "a cunning person."

The second element, pie, is the earlier name of the bird, from Old French pie, from Latin pica "magpie" (source also of Spanish pega), fem. of picus "woodpecker," from PIE root *(s)peik- "woodpecker, magpie" (source also of Umbrian peica "magpie," Sanskrit pikah "Indian cuckoo," Old Norse spætr, German Specht "woodpecker"); possibly from PIE root *pi-, denoting pointedness, of the beak. The application to pies might be because the magpie also has a long, pointed tail.

The birds are proverbial for pilfering and hoarding and for their indiscriminate appetites (see pica (n.2)); they can be taught to speak, and have been regarded since the Middle Ages as ill omens.

Whan pyes chatter vpon a house it is a sygne of ryghte euyll tydynges. [1507]

Divination by numbering magpies is attested from c. 1780 in Lincolnshire; the rhyme varies from place to place, the only consistency being that one is bad, two are good.

The councils which magpies appear to hold together, at particular seasons, commonly called "folkmotes," are associated in the minds of many with superstitious and ominous notions. The innocent objects of terror, while meeting together most probably for the purpose of choosing mates, are supposed to be conspiring and clubbing their wits, for the weal or woe of the inhabitants of the neighbouring village. If they are of an even number and carry on their cheerful, noisy chatter, it is supposed to betoken good to old and young—but if there is an odd magpie perched apart from the rest, silent, and disconsolate, the reverse of this is apprehended, and mischievous consequences are inevitably expected. [The Saturday Magazine, Jan. 23, 1841]
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fool (n.1)

early 13c., "silly, stupid, or ignorant person," from Old French fol "madman, insane person; idiot; rogue; jester," also "blacksmith's bellows," also an adjective meaning "mad, insane" (12c., Modern French fou), from Medieval Latin follus (adj.) "foolish," from Latin follis "bellows, leather bag," from PIE root *bhel- (2) "to blow, swell."

The sense evolution probably is from Vulgar Latin use of follis in a sense of "windbag, empty-headed person." Compare also Sanskrit vatula- "insane," literally "windy, inflated with wind." But some sources suggest evolution from Latin folles "puffed cheeks" (of a buffoon), a secondary sense from plural of follis. One makes the "idiot" sense original, the other the "jester" sense.

The word has in mod.Eng. a much stronger sense than it had at an earlier period; it has now an implication of insulting contempt which does not in the same degree belong to any of its synonyms, or to the derivative foolish. [OED]

Also used in Middle English for "sinner, rascal, impious person" (late 13c.). Meaning "jester, court clown" in English is attested c. 1300, though it is not always possible to tell whether the reference is to a professional entertainer counterfeiting mental weakness or an amusing lunatic, and the notion of the fool sage whose sayings are ironically wise is also in English from c. 1300. The French word probably also got into English via its borrowing in the Scandinavian languages of the vikings (Old Norse fol, Old Danish fool, fol).

There is no foole to the olde foole ["Proverbs of John Heywood," 1546]

To make a fool of (someone) "cause to appear ridiculous" is from 1620s (make fool "to deceive, make (someone) appear a fool" is from early 15c.). Feast of Fools (early 14c., from Medieval Latin festum stultorum) was the burlesque festival celebrated in some churches on New Year's Day in medieval times. Fool's gold "iron pyrite" is from 1829. Fool's paradise "illusory state of happiness based on ignorance or erroneous judgment" is from mid-15c. (foles paradyce). Fool-trap is from 1690s. Foolosopher, a useful insult, is in a 1549 translation of Erasmus. Fool's ballocks is described in OED as "an old name" for the green-winged orchid. Fool-killer "imaginary personage invested with authority to put to death anybody notoriously guilty of great folly" is from 1851, American English.

Fool killer, a great American myth imagined by editors, who feign that his or its services are greatly needed, and frequently alluded to as being "around" or "in town" when some special act of folly calls for castigation. Whether the fool-killer be an individual or an instrument cannot always be gathered from the dark phraseology in which he or it is alluded to; but the weight of authority would sanction the impersonal interpretation. [Walsh, "Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities," 1892]
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