as a metaphysical concept, "belief that the world tends to become better or is capable of improvement;" in practical terms, "the improvement of society by regulated practical means;" by 1868, attributed to "George Eliot" (Mary Anne Evans), from Latin melior "better" (see meliorate) + -ism. Related: Meliorist (1835); melioristic.
In her general attitude towards life, George Eliot was neither optimist nor pessimist. She held to the middle term, which she invented for herself, of "meliorist." She was cheered by the hope and by the belief in gradual improvement of the mass; for in her view each individual must find the better part of happiness in helping another. ["Life and Letters"]
I don't know that I ever heard anybody use the word "meliorist" except myself. But I begin to think that there is no good invention or discovery that has not been made by more than one person. The only good reason for referring to the "source" would be, that you found it useful for the doctrine of meliorism to cite one unfashionable confessor of it in the face of the fashionable extremes. ["George Eliot," letter to James Sully, Jan. 19, 1877]
a phrase that stands for "absurd etymology," or generally "anything illogical, outrageous hypothesis," 1711, from the Latin phrase, taken as the outstanding example of such an error.
"A grove (lucus) [is so called] from not (a non) being light" (lucendo, ablative of lucere "to shine;" see light (n.)). That is, it is called a grove because light doesn't get into it. This explanation is found in a commentary on Virgil (Aeneid 1.22) by Servius, a 4th century grammarian, among other places. Other ancient grammarians (notably Quintilian) found it paradoxical and absurd, based on nothing more than the similarity in sound between the two words.
Modern scholarship, however, concludes that lucus and lucere probably do come both from the same PIE root (*leuk-) meaning "light, bright." De Vaan writes: "Lucus 'sacred grove, wood,' from PIE *louk-o- 'light place,' with cognates in Sanskrit loka- 'free space, world,' Lithuanian laukas 'field, land,' Latvian lauks 'field, clearing in the woods,' Old High German loh 'clearing' and English lea 'open field, meadow, piece of untilled grassy ground.' " Apparently the primeval notion in *louk-o- was a lighter place in a thick forest. Migration, change of climate, or felling of the woods might have shifted the meaning.
Old English word "speech, talk, utterance, sentence, statement, news, report, word," from Proto-Germanic *wurda- (source also of Old Saxon, Old Frisian word, Dutch woord, Old High German, German wort, Old Norse orð, Gothic waurd), from PIE *were- (3) "speak, say" (see verb).
The meaning "promise" was in Old English, as was the theological sense. In the plural, the meaning "verbal altercation" (as in have words with someone) dates from mid-15c. Word-processor first recorded 1971; word-processing is from 1972; word-wrap is from 1977. A word to the wise is from Latin phrase verbum sapienti satis est "a word to the wise is enough." Word-for-word "in the exact word or terms" is late 14c. Word of mouth "spoken words, oral communication" (as distinguished from written words) is by 1550s.
It is dangerous to leave written that which is badly written. A chance word, upon paper, may destroy the world. Watch carefully and erase, while the power is still yours, I say to myself, for all that is put down, once it escapes, may rot its way into a thousand minds, the corn become a black smut, and all libraries, of necessity, be burned to the ground as a consequence. [William Carlos Williams, "Paterson"]
Old English cnotta "intertwining of ropes, cords, etc.," from Proto-Germanic *knuttan- (source also of Low German knütte, Old Frisian knotta "knot," Dutch knot, Old High German knoto, German Knoten, perhaps also Old Norse knutr "knot, knob"). For pronunciation, see kn-.
Figurative sense of "difficult problem, a perplexity" was in Old English (compare Gordian knot). Symbolic of the bond of wedlock from early 13c. As an ornament of dress, first attested c. 1400. Meaning "thickened part or protuberance on tissue of a plant" is from late 14c. As "small group or cluster of persons" late 14c.
The nautical unit of measure of speed (1630s) is from the practice of attaching knotted string to the log line at equal distances (see log (n.2)). The ship's speed can be measured by the number of knots that play out while the sand glass is running.
The distance between the knots on the log-line should contain 1/120 of a mile, supposing the glass to run exactly half a minute. [Jorge Juan and Antonio de Ulloa, "A Voyage to South America" 1760]
Hence the word knot came also to be used as the equivalent of a nautical mile (in pre-World War II use in U.S. and Britain, about 6,080 feet). A speed of 10 knots will cover ten nautical miles in an hour (equivalent to a land speed of about 11.5 mph).
c. 1300, "free, liberal, generous;" 1540s, "outspoken," from Old French franc "free (not servile); without hindrance, exempt from; sincere, genuine, open, gracious, generous; worthy, noble, illustrious" (12c.), from Medieval Latin francus "free, at liberty, exempt from service," as a noun, "a freeman, a Frank" (see Frank).
Frank, literally, free; the freedom may be in regard to one's own opinions, which is the same as openness, or in regard to things belonging to others, where the freedom may go so far as to be unpleasant, or it may disregard conventional ideas as to reticence. Hence, while openness is consistent with timidity, frankness implies some degree of boldness. [Century Dictionary]
A generalization of the tribal name; the connection is that Franks, as the conquering class, alone had the status of freemen in a world that knew only free, captive, or slave. For sense connection of "being one of the nation" and "free," compare Latin liber "free," from the same root as German Leute "nation, people" (see liberal (adj.)) and Slavic "free" words (Old Church Slavonic svobodi, Polish swobodny, Serbo-Croatian slobodan) which are cognates of the first element in English sibling "brother, sister" (in Old English used more generally: "relative, kinsman"). For the later sense development, compare ingenuity.
common Irish surname, Gaelic Murchadh "sea-warrior." The Celtic "sea" element is also in names Muriel (q.v.), Murdoch (Old Irish Muireadhach, Old Welsh Mordoc "mariner"), etc. As colloquial for "a potato" by 1811, apparently in allusion ot it being a staple food of the Irish.
Murphy bed (1912; in full Murphy In-A-Dor Bed) is named for U.S. inventor William Lawrence Murphy (1876-1959). By happy coincidence, Murphy was an illiterate 18c.-19c. perversion of Morpheus, god of sleep. Murphy's law (1958) is used of various pessimistic aphorisms. If there ever was a real Murphy his identity is lost to history. Said to be military originally, and it probably pre-dates the earliest printed example (the 1958 citation calls it "an old military maxim").
No history of the subject would be complete without some reference to the semilegendary, almost anonymous Murphy (floreat circa 1940?) who chose to disguise his genius by stating a fundamental systems theorem in commonplace, almost pedestrian terminology. This law, known to schoolboys the world over as Jellybread always falls jelly-side down, is here restated in Murphy's own words, as it appears on the walls of most of the world's scientific laboratories:
If Anything Can Go Wrong, It Will.
[John Gall, "Systemantics," 1975]
Old English ende "end, conclusion, boundary, district, species, class," from Proto-Germanic *andiaz (source also of Old Frisian enda, Old Dutch ende, Dutch einde, Old Norse endir "end;" Old High German enti "top, forehead, end," German Ende, Gothic andeis "end"), originally "the opposite side," from PIE *antjo "end, boundary," from root *ant- "front, forehead," with derivatives meaning "in front of, before."
Worldly wealth he cared not for, desiring onely to make both ends meet. [Thomas Fuller, "The History of the Worthies of England," 1662]
Original sense of "outermost part" is obsolete except in phrase ends of the earth. Sense of "destruction, death" was in Old English. Meaning "division or quarter of a town" was in Old English. The end "the last straw, the limit" (in a disparaging sense) is from 1929. The end-man in minstrel troupes was one of the two at the ends of the semicircle of performers, who told funny stories and cracked jokes with the middle-man. U.S. football end zone is from 1909 (end for "side of the field occupied by one team" is from 1851). The noun phrase end-run is attested from 1893 in U.S. football; extended to military tactics by 1940. End time in reference to the end of the world is from 1917. To end it all "commit suicide" is attested by 1911. Be-all and end-all is from Shakespeare ("Macbeth" I.vii.5).
The new and exquisitely beautiful theatre of Drury-lane has the peculiar contrivance of an iron-curtain to secure the audience from all danger, in case of fire on the stage. Miss Farren, in the occasional epilogue, delivered on opening this new theatre, pleasantly informs the spectators that, should flames burst out in the part appropriated to the representation, they may comfort themselves with thinking that nothing can be burnt but the scenery and the actors. [The Monthly Review, June 1794]
From 1819 in the figurative sense "impenetrable barrier." In reference to the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe, famously coined by Winston Churchill March 5, 1946, in speech at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, but it had been used earlier in this context (for example by U.S. bureaucrat Allen W. Dulles at a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations, Dec. 3, 1945). The phrase had been used in the sense of "barrier at the edge of the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union" from 1920. During World War II, Goebbels used it in German (ein eiserner Vorhang) in the same sense. But its popular use in the U.S. dates from Churchill's speech.
also pip-squeak, contemptuous name for an insignificant person, 1910, from the trivial noise a young or weak creature makes. In World War I it was the soldier's slang name for a small German shell "which makes both a pip and a squeak when it comes over the trenches" [Farrow, "Dictionary of Military Terms," 1918]. Pip and Squeak (and later Wilfred), the beloved English comic strip animals, debuted May 1919 in the children's section of the Daily Mirror. To squeeze (something) until the pips squeak "exact the maximum from" is attested by 1918, from pip (n.1).
The grossest spectacle was provided by Sir Eric Geddes in the Guildhall at Cambridge. An earlier speech in which, in a moment of injudicious candour, he had cast doubts on the possibility of extracting from Germany the whole cost of the war had been the object of serious suspicion, and he had therefore a reputation to regain. "We will get out of her all you can squeeze out of a lemon and a bit more," the penitent shouted, "I will squeeze her until you can hear the pips squeak" ; his policy was to take every bit of property belonging to Germans in neutral and Allied countries, and all her gold and silver and her jewels, and the contents of her picture-galleries and libraries, to sell the proceeds for the Allies' benefit. [John Maynard Keynes, "The Economic Consequences of Peace," 1919]
narcotic Old World plant, early 14c., mondrake, also mandragge, from Medieval Latin mandragora, from Latin mandragoras, from Greek mandragoras, probably from a non-Indo-European word. The word was in late Old English and Middle English in its Latin form; folk etymology associated the second element with dragoun and substituted native drake in its place, though perhaps with little meaning attached to it. The forked root is thought to resemble a human body and was said to shriek when pulled from the ground. The plant has been regarded as an aphrodisiac.
Meanwhile it should not be forgotten that there was one magical possession, an idol of domestic superstition in mediaeval German households, which is said to have passed at the father's death to the youngest son upon condition that he performed certain heathenish rites in relation to the father's funeral. The "mandrake," a plant with broad leaves and bright yellow flowers and with a root which grew in a semi-human form, was found beneath the public gallows and was dragged from the ground and carried home with many extraordinary ceremonies. When secured it became a familiar spirit, speaking in oracles if properly consulted and bringing good luck to the household in which it was enshrined. [Charles Elton, "Origins of English History," 1882]