"that part of an animal body between the head and the trunk and which connects those parts," Middle English nekke, from Old English hnecca "neck, nape, back of the neck" (a fairly rare word) from Proto-Germanic *hnekk- "the nape of the neck" (source also of Old Frisian hnekka, Middle Dutch necke, Dutch nek, Old Norse hnakkr, Old High German hnach, German Nacken "neck"), with no certain cognates outside Germanic, though Klein's sources suggest PIE *knok- "high point, ridge" (source of Old Irish cnocc, Welsh cnwch, Old Breton cnoch "hill").
The more usual Old English words were hals (the general Germanic word, cognate with Gothic, Old Norse, Danish, Swedish, Dutch, German hals), from Proto-Germanic *halsaz, which is perhaps cognate with Latin collum (see collar (n.)); and sweora, swira "neck, nape," probably also from a PIE root meaning "column" (cognate with Old English swer "column," Sanskrit svaru- "post").
Oxen and other draught animals being yoked by the neck, it became a symbol of burdens, of submission or subjugation, and also resistance or obstinacy (compare stiff-necked). Figuratively, "life" (late 15c.) from the breaking or severing of the neck in legal executions. Meaning "narrow part at the top of a bottle" is from late 14c.; meaning "part of a garment which covers the neck" is from 1520s. Meaning "long, slender part of a stringed musical instrument" is from 1610s.
Sense of "isthmus, long, narrow strip of land connecting two larger ones" is from 1550s. Phrase neck of the woods (American English) is attested from 1780 in the sense of "narrow stretch of woods;" 1839 with meaning "settlement in a wooded region." To stick (one's) neck out "take a risk" is recorded by 1919, American English. Horses running neck and neck "at an equal pace" is attested from 1799; to win by a neck is from 1823. To be up to the neck "have a lot of" at first (mid-19c.) suggested "fed full," but since c. 1900 it has implied "in deep."
Middle English shaken, from Old English sceacan "move (something) quickly to and fro, cause to move with quick vibrations; brandish; move the body or a part of it rapidly back and forth;" also "go, glide, hasten, flee, depart" (as in sceacdom "flight"); also intransitive, of persons or parts of the body, "to tremble" especially from fever, cold, fear (class VI strong verb; past tense scoc, past participle scacen). This is from Proto-Germanic *skakanan (source also of Old Norse, Swedish skaka, Danish skage "to shift, turn, veer"). No certain cognates outside Germanic, but some suggest possible connections to Sanskrit khaj "to agitate, churn, stir about," Old Church Slavonic skoku "a leap, bound," Welsh ysgogi "move."
Of the ground in earthquakes, c. 1300. The meaning "seize and shake" (someone or something else) is from early 14c. From late 14c. in reference to mixing ingredients, etc., by shaking a container. The meaning "weaken, impair" in any respect is from late 14c. on the notion of "make unstable." The meaning "rid oneself of by abrupt twists" is from c. 1200; the modern colloquial use for "get rid of, cast off, abandon" (by 1872, American English) is likely a new extension on the notion of "throw off by a jolting or abrupt action," perhaps with horses in mind. The verb also was used in Middle English as "evade" responsibility, etc.
To shake hands "greet or salute by grasping one another's hands" dates from 1530s. Colloquial shake a (loose) leg "hurry up" is recorded by 1904; to shake a heel (sometimes foot) is an old or provincial way to say "dance" (1660s); to shake (one's) elbow (1620s) meant "to gamble at dice." In 16c.-18c. English, shake (one's) ears was "bestir oneself," an image of animal awakenings. The phrase more _____ than you can shake a stick at "more than you can count" is attested from 1818 (Lancaster, Pa., "Journal"), American English. To shake (one's) head "move one's head from side to side as a sign of disapproval" is recorded from c. 1300.
c. 1300 (mid-13c. in surnames), "to move or try to move forcibly by pulling, to drag forcibly or with effort," from Old English pullian "to pluck off (wool), to draw out," a word of unknown origin, perhaps related to Low German pulen "remove the shell or husk," Frisian pûlje "to shell, husk," Middle Dutch polen "to peel, strip," Icelandic pula "work hard." Related: Pulled; pulling.
From early 14c. as "to pick, pull off, gather by hand" (fruit, flowers, berries, leaves, petals, etc.); mid-14c. as "to extract, uproot" (of teeth, weeds, etc.).
Sense of "to draw (to oneself), attract" is from c. 1400; sense of "to pluck at with the fingers" is from c. 1400; meaning "tear to pieces" is mid-15c. By late 16c. it had replaced draw (v.) in these senses. From mid-14c. as "to deprive (someone of something)."
Common in slang terms 19c.-20c.; Bartlett (1859) has to pull foot "walk fast; run;" pull it "to run." To pull (someone's) chain in the figurative sense is from 1974, perhaps on the notion of a captive animal; the expression was also used for "to contact" (someone), on the notion of the chain that operates a signaling mechanism. To pull (someone's) leg is from 1882, perhaps on notion of "playfully tripping" (compare pull the long bow "exaggerate," 1830, and pulling someone's leg also sometimes was described as a way to awaken a sleeping person in a railway compartment, ship's berth, etc.). Thornton's "American Glossary" (1912) has pull (n.) "a jest" (to have a pull at (someone)), which it identifies as "local" and illustrates with an example from the Massachusetts Spy of May 21, 1817, which identifies it as "a Georgian phrase."
To pull (one's) punches is from 1920 in pugilism, from 1921 figuratively. To pull in "arrive" (1892) and pull out "depart" (1868) are from the railroads. To pull for someone or something, "exert influence or root for" is by 1903.
To pull (something) off "accomplish, succeed at" is originally in sporting, "to win the prize money" (1870). To pull (something) on (someone) is from 1916; to pull (something) out of one's ass is Army slang from 1970s. To pull rank is from 1919; to pull the rug from under (someone) figuratively is from 1946.
"a rodent of some of the larger species of the genus Mus," late Old English ræt "rat," a word of uncertain origin. Similar words are found in Celtic (Gaelic radan), Romanic (Medieval Latin ratus, Italian ratto, Spanish rata, Old French rat) and Germanic (Old Saxon ratta; Middle Dutch ratte, Dutch rat; German Ratte, dialectal Ratz; Swedish råtta, Danish rotte) languages, but their connection to one another and the ultimate source of the word are unknown. In its range and uncertain origin, it is much like cat.
Perhaps from Vulgar Latin *rattus, but Weekley thinks this is of Germanic origin, "the animal having come from the East with the race-migrations" and the word passing thence to the Romanic languages. American Heritage and Tucker connect Old English ræt to Latin rodere and thus to PIE root *red- "to scrape, scratch, gnaw," source of rodent (q.v.). Klein says there is no such connection and suggests a possible cognate in Greek rhine "file, rasp." Weekley connects the English noun and the Latin verb with a question mark and OED says it is "probable" that the rat word spread from Germanic to Romanic, but takes no position on further etymology. The common Middle English form was ratton, from augmented Old French form raton. Applied to rat-like species on other continents from 1580s.
The distinction between rat and mouse, in the application of the names to animals everywhere parasitic with man, is obvious and familiar. But these are simply larger and smaller species of the same genus, very closely related zoologically, and in the application of the two names to the many other species of the same genus all distinction between them is lost. [Century Dictionary]
Applied since 12c. (in surnames) to persons held to resemble rats or share some characteristic or quality with them. Specific sense of "one who abandons his associates for personal advantage" (1620s) is from the belief that rats leave a ship about to sink or a house about to fall, and this led to the meaning "traitor, informant" (1902).
To smell a rat "to be put on the watch by suspicion as the cat by the scent of a rat; to suspect danger" [Johnson] is from 1540s. _____-rat, "person who frequents _____" (in earliest reference dock-rat) is from 1864.
RATS. Of these there are the following kinds: a black rat and a grey rat, a py-rat and a cu-rat. ["Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue," Grose, 1788]
Middle English mēte, from Old English mete "food, nourishment, sustenance" (paired with drink), "item of food; animal food, fodder," also "a meal, repast," from Proto-Germanic *mati (source also of Old Frisian mete, Old Saxon meti, Old Norse matr, Old High German maz, Gothic mats "food," Middle Dutch, Dutch metworst, German Mettwurst "type of sausage"), from PIE *mad-i-, from root *mad- "moist, wet," also with reference to food qualities, (source also of Sanskrit medas- "fat" (n.), Old Irish mat "pig;" see mast (n.2)).
Narrower sense of "flesh of warm-blooded animals killed and used as food" is attested from c. 1300 (earlier this was flesh-meat, early 12c.). There is a similar sense evolution in French viande "meat," originally "food." In Middle English, vegetables still could be called grene-mete (15c.) and white meat was "a dairy food or product" (early 15c.). Figurative sense of "essential part" is from 1901.
Dark meat and light meat in reference to the meat of fowls, based on the color when cooked, were popularized 19c., supposedly as euphemisms for leg or thigh and breast, but earliest sources use both sets of terms without apparent embarrassment.
The choicest parts of a turkey are the side bones, the breast, and the thigh bones. The breast and wings are called light meat; the thigh-bones and side-bones dark meat. When a person declines expressing a preference, it is polite to help to both kinds. [Lydia Maria Child, "The American Frugal Housewife," Boston, 1835]
First record of meat loaf is from 1876. Meat-market "place where one looks for sex partners" is from 1896 (meat in various sexual senses of "penis, vagina, body regarded as a sex object, prostitute" are attested from 1590s; Old English for "meat-market" was flæsccyping ('flesh-cheaping')); slang meat wagon "ambulance" is from 1920, American English slang, said to date from World War I (in a literal sense by 1857). Meat-grinder is by 1858 in the literal sense "device for grinding meat;" in the figurative sense it is attested by 1951. Meat-hook is by 1812; in the colloquial transferred sense "arm" it is attested by 1919.
Old English dweorh, dweorg (West Saxon), duerg (Mercian), "very short human being, person much below ordinary stature, whether of proportionate parts or not," also "supernatural being of subhuman size," from Proto-Germanic *dweraz (source also of Old Frisian dwerch, Old Saxon dwerg, Old High German twerg, German Zwerg, Old Norse dvergr), perhaps from PIE *dhwergwhos "something tiny," but with no established cognates outside Germanic.
Also used by c. 1200 of an animal or plant much below the ordinary size of its species." The use of dwarf in the Germanic mythological sense, "a diminished and generally deformed being, dwelling in rocks and hills and skilled in working metals," seems to have faded after Middle English and been revived after c. 1770 from German.
Whilst in this and other ways the dwarfs do at times have dealings with mankind, yet on the whole they seem to shrink from man; they give the impression of a downtrodden afflicted race, which is on the point of abandoning its ancient home to new and more powerful invaders. There is stamped on their character something shy and something heathenish, which estranges them from intercourse with christians. They chafe at human faithlessness, which no doubt would primarily mean the apostacy from heathenism. In the poems of the Mid. Ages, Laurin is expressly set before us as a heathen. It goes sorely against the dwarfs to see churches built, bell-ringing ... disturbs their ancient privacy; they also hate the clearing of forests, agriculture, new fangled pounding-machinery for ore. ["Teutonic Mythology," Jakob Grimm, transl. Stallybrass, 1883]
The shift of the Old English guttural at the end of the word to modern -f is typical (compare enough, draft) and begins to appear early 14c. In Middle English it also was dwerþ, dwerke. Old English plural dweorgas became Middle English dwarrows, later leveled down to dwarfs. The use of dwarves for the legendary race was popularized by J.R.R. Tolkien. As an adjective, from 1590s.
The use of giant and dwarf in reference to stars of the highest and lowest luminosity is attested by 1914, said to have been suggested by Danish astronomer Ejnar Hertzsprung, (1873-1967); hence red dwarf (attested by 1922), white dwarf, black dwarf "dead and lightless star" (1966).
"terminal part of the leg of a vertebrate animal," Old English fot "foot," from Proto-Germanic *fōts (source also of Old Frisian fot, Old Saxon fot, Old Norse fotr, Danish fod, Swedish fot, Dutch voet, Old High German fuoz, German Fuß, Gothic fotus "foot"), from PIE root *ped- "foot." Plural form feet is an instance of i-mutation.
The linear measure was in Old English (the exact length has varied over time), this being considered the length of a man's foot; a unit of measure used widely and anciently. In this sense the plural is often foot. The current inch and foot are implied from measurements in 12c. English churches (Flinders Petrie, "Inductive Metrology"), but the most usual length of a "foot" in medieval England was the foot of 13.2 inches common throughout the ancient Mediterranean. The Anglo-Saxon foot apparently was between the two. All three correspond to units used by the Romans, and possibly all three lengths were picked up by the Anglo-Saxons from the Romano-Britons. "That the Saxon units should descend to mediæval times is most probable, as the Normans were a ruling, and not a working, class." [Flinders Petrie, 1877]. The medieval Paul's Foot (late 14c.) was a measuring standard cut into the base of a column at the old St. Paul's cathedral in London. The metrical foot (late Old English, translating Latin pes, Greek pous in the same sense) is commonly taken to represent one rise and one fall of a foot: keeping time according to some, dancing according to others.
In Middle English also "a person" (c. 1200), hence non-foot "nobody." Meaning "bottom or lowest part of anything eminent or upright" is from c. 1200. Of a bed, grave, etc., from c. 1300. On foot "by walking" is from c. 1300. To get off on the wrong foot is from 1905 (the right foot is by 1907); to put one's best foot foremost first recorded 1849 (Shakespeare has the better foot before, 1596); Middle English had evil-foot (adv.) "through mischance, unluckily." To put one's foot in (one's) mouth "say something stupid" is attested by 1942; the expression put (one's) foot in something "make a mess of it" is from 1823. To have one foot in the grave "be near death" is from 1844. Colloquial exclamation my foot! expressing "contemptuous contradiction" [OED] is attested by 1923, probably euphemistic for my ass in the same sense, which dates to 1796 (also see eyewash).
mid-14c., "fluid or juice of an animal or plant," from Old North French humour "liquid, dampness; (medical) humor" (Old French humor, umor; Modern French humeur), from Latin umor "body fluid" (also humor, by false association with humus "earth"); related to umere "be wet, moist," and to uvescere "become wet" (see humid).
In old medicine, "any of the four body fluids" (blood, phlegm, choler, and melancholy or black bile).
The human body had four humors—blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile—which, in turn, were associated with particular organs. Blood came from the heart, phlegm from the brain, yellow bile from the liver, and black bile from the spleen. Galen and Avicenna attributed certain elemental qualities to each humor. Blood was hot and moist, like air; phlegm was cold and moist, like water; yellow bile was hot and dry, like fire; and black bile was cold and dry, like earth. In effect, the human body was a microcosm of the larger world. [Robert S. Gottfried, "The Black Death," 1983]
Their relative proportions were thought to determine physical condition and state of mind. This gave humor an extended sense of "mood, temporary state of mind" (recorded from 1520s); the sense of "amusing quality, funniness, jocular turn of mind" is first recorded 1680s, probably via sense of "whim, caprice" as determined by state of mind (1560s), which also produced the verb sense of "indulge (someone's) fancy or disposition." Modern French has them as doublets: humeur "disposition, mood, whim;" humour "humor." "The pronunciation of the initial h is only of recent date, and is sometimes omitted ..." [OED].
For aid in distinguishing the various devices that tend to be grouped under "humor," this guide, from Henry W. Fowler ["Modern English Usage," 1926] may be of use:
HUMOR: motive/aim: discovery; province: human nature; method/means: observation; audience: the sympathetic
WIT: motive/aim: throwing light; province: words & ideas; method/means: surprise; audience: the intelligent
SATIRE: motive/aim: amendment; province: morals & manners; method/means: accentuation; audience: the self-satisfied
SARCASM: motive/aim: inflicting pain; province: faults & foibles; method/means: inversion; audience: victim & bystander
INVECTIVE: motive/aim: discredit; province: misconduct; method/means: direct statement; audience: the public
IRONY: motive/aim: exclusiveness; province: statement of facts; method/means: mystification; audience: an inner circle
CYNICISM: motive/aim: self-justification; province: morals; method/means: exposure of nakedness; audience: the respectable
SARDONIC: motive/aim: self-relief; province: adversity; method/means: pessimism; audience: the self
"solidungulate perissodactyl mammal of the family Equidæ and genus Equus" [Century Dictionary], Old English hors "horse," from Proto-Germanic *harss- (source also of Old Norse hross, Old Frisian, Old Saxon hors, Middle Dutch ors, Dutch ros, Old High German hros, German Roß "horse"), of unknown origin. By some, connected to PIE root *kers- "to run," source of Latin currere "to run." Boutkan prefers the theory that it is a loan-word from an Iranian language (Sarmatian) also borrowed into Uralic (compare Finnish varsa "foal"),
The usual Indo-European word is represented by Old English eoh, Greek hippos, Latin equus, from PIE root *ekwo-. Another Germanic "horse" word is Old English vicg, from Proto-Germanic *wegja- (source also of Old Frisian wegk-, Old Saxon wigg, Old Norse vigg), which is of uncertain origin. In many other languages, as in English, this root has been lost in favor of synonyms, probably via superstitious taboo on uttering the name of an animal so important in Indo-European religion. For the Romanic words (French cheval, Spanish caballo) see cavalier (n.); for Dutch paard, German Pferd, see palfrey; for Swedish häst, Danish hest see henchman. As plural Old English had collective singular horse as well as horses, in Middle English also sometimes horsen, but horses has been the usual plural since 17c.
Used at least since late 14c. of various devices or appliances which suggest a horse (as in sawhorse), typically in reference to being "that upon which something is mounted." For sense of "large, coarse," see horseradish. Slang use for "heroin" is attested by 1950. To ride a horse that was foaled of an acorn (1670s) was through early 19c. a way to say "be hanged from the gallows." Horse latitudes first attested 1777, the name of unknown origin, despite much speculation. Horse-pistol, "large one-handed pistol used by horseback riders," is by 1704. A dead horse as a figure for something that has ceased to be useful is from 1630s; to flog a dead horse "attempt to revive interest in a worn-out topic" is from 1864.
HORSEGODMOTHER, a large masculine wench; one whom it is difficult to rank among the purest and gentlest portion of the community. [John Trotter Brockett, "A Glossary of North Country Words," 1829]
The term itself is attested from 1560s. The horse's mouth as a source of reliable information is from 1921, perhaps originally of racetrack tips, from the fact that a horse's age can be determined accurately by looking at its teeth. To swap horses while crossing the river (a bad idea) is from the American Civil War and appears to have been originally one of Abe Lincoln's stories. Horse-and-buggy meaning "old-fashioned" is recorded from 1926 slang, originally in reference to a "young lady out of date, with long hair." To hold (one's) horses "restrain one's enthusiasm, be patient" is from 1842, American English; the notion is of keeping a tight grip on the reins.
Old English Carles wægn, a star-group associated in medieval times with Charlemagne, but originally with the nearby bright star Arcturus, which is linked by folk etymology to Latin Arturus "Arthur." Which places the seven-star asterism at the crux of the legendary association (or confusion) of Arthur and Charlemagne. Evidence from Dutch (cited in Grimm, "Teutonic Mythology") suggests that it might originally have been Woden's wagon. More recent names for it are the Plough (by 15c., chiefly British) and the Dipper (1833, chiefly American).
It is called "the Wagon" in a Mesopotamian text from 1700 B.C.E., and it is mentioned in the Biblical Book of Job. The seven bright stars in the modern constellation Ursa Major have borne a dual identity in Western history at least since Homer's time, being seen as both a wagon and a bear: as in Latin plaustrum "freight-wagon, ox cart" and arctos "bear," both used of the seven-star pattern, as were equivalent Greek amaxa (Attic hamaxa) and arktos.
The identification with a wagon is easy to see, with four stars as the body and three as the pole. The identification with a bear is more difficult, as the figure has a tail longer than its body. As Allen writes, "The conformation of the seven stars in no way resembles the animal,—indeed the contrary ...." But he suggests the identification "may have arisen from Aristotle's idea that its prototype was the only creature that dared invade the frozen north." The seven stars never were below the horizon in the latitude of the Mediterranean in Homeric and classical times (though not today, due to precession of the equinoxes). See also arctic for the identification of the bear and the north in classical times.
A variety of French and English sources from the early colonial period independently note that many native North American tribes in the northeast had long seen the seven-star group as a bear tracked by three hunters (or a hunter and his two dogs).
Among the Teutonic peoples, it seems to have been only a wagon, not a bear. A 10c. Anglo-Saxon astronomy manual uses the Greek-derived Aretos, but mentions that "unlearned men" call it "Charles's Wain":
Arheton hatte an tungol on norð dæle, se haefð seofon steorran, & is for ði oþrum naman ge-hatan septemtrio, þone hatað læwede meon carles-wæn. ["Anglo-Saxon Manual of Astronomy"]
[Septemtrio, the seven oxen, was yet another Roman name.] The star picture was not surely identified as a bear in English before late 14c.
The unlearned of today are corrected that the seven stars are not the Great Bear but form only a part of that large constellation. But those who applied the name "Bear" apparently did so originally only to these seven stars, and from Homer's time down to Thales, "the Bear" meant just the seven stars.
From Rome to Anglo-Saxon England to Arabia to India, ancient astronomy texts mention a supposed duplicate constellation to the northern bear in the Southern Hemisphere, never visible from the north. This perhaps is based on sailors' tales of the Southern Cross.