1921, in U.S. humorist Frederick J. Allen's piece "The Goon and His Style" (Harper's Monthly Magazine, December 1921), which defines it as "a person with a heavy touch," one who lacks "a playful mind;" perhaps a made-up word, or from gony "simpleton" (1580s), which was applied by sailors to the albatross and similar big, clumsy birds. Goons were contrasted with jiggers, and the columns about them had some currency in U.S. newspapers c. 1921-25.
A goon is a person with a heavy touch as distinguished from a jigger, who has a light touch. ... Most Germans are goons; most French jiggers. ["A 'Goon' and His Style," in Lincoln State Journal, Dec. 9, 1921]
The word turns up in various places early 20c.: As a mythical monster in a children's serialized story in the U.S. from 1904, as the name of a professional wrestler in North Carolina in 1935. The goons were characters in the "Thimble Theater" comic strip (starring Popeye) by U.S. cartoonist E.C. Segar (1894-1938); they appeared in Segar's strips from mid-1930s and, though they reportedly gave children nightmares, enjoyed a burst of popularity when they appeared in animated cartoons in 1938.
The most famous was Alice the Goon, slow-witted and muscular (but gentle-natured) character who began as the Sea Hag's assistant. Segar might have got the word directly from sailors' jargon.
Later 20c. senses of the word all probably stem from this: Sense of "hired thug" is first recorded 1938 (in reference to union "beef squads" used to cow strikers in the Pacific Northwest). She also was the inspiration for British comedian Spike Milligan's "The Goon Show." Also used among American and British POWs in World War II in reference to their German guards. What are now "juvenile delinquents" were in the 1940s sometimes called goonlets.
Late Old English ræfen, refen, earlier hræfn (Mercian), hrefn, hræfn (Northumbrian, West Saxon), from Proto-Germanic *khrabanaz (source also of Old Norse hrafn, Danish ravn, Dutch raaf, Old High German hraban, German Rabe "raven," Old English hroc "rook"), from a PIE root imitative of harsh sounds (compare Latin crepare "to creak, clatter," cornix "crow," corvus "raven;" Greek korax "raven," korōnē "crow;" Old Church Slavonic kruku "raven;" Lithuanian krauklys "crow"). Old English, by a normal alteration of -fn, also used hræmn, hremm.
A larger species of crow common in Europe and Asia, noted for its lustrous black plumage and raucous voice; the raven is "popularly regarded as a bird of evil omen and mysterious character" [OED].
Raven mythology shows considerable homogeneity throughout the whole area [northern regions of the northern hemisphere] in spite of differences in detail. The Raven peeps forth from the mists of time and the thickets of mythology, as a bird of slaughter, a storm bird, a sun and fire bird, a messenger, an oracular figure and a craftsman or culture hero. [Edward A. Armstrong, "The Folklore of Birds," 1958]
The Quran connects the raven with Cain's murder of Abel, but in Christianity the bird plays a positive role in the stories of St. Benedict, St. Paul the Hermit, St. Vincent, etc. Poe's poem was published in 1845. It was anciently believed to live to a great age but also to be wanting in parental care. The raven standard was the flag of the Danish vikings. The vikings, like Noah, were said to have used the raven to find land when at sea. "When uncertain of their course they let one loose, and steered the vessel in his track, deeming that the land lay in the direction of his flight; if he returned to the ship, it was supposed to be at a distance" [Charles Swainson, "The Folk Lore and Provincial Names of British Birds," London, 1886]. As an English name for the constellation Corvus by late 14c.
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).
c. 1200, "space, dimensional extent, room, area," from Old French place "place, spot" (12c.) and directly from Medieval Latin placea "place, spot," from Latin platea "courtyard, open space; broad way, avenue," from Greek plateia (hodos) "broad (way)," fem. of platys "broad," from PIE root *plat- "to spread."
Replaced Old English stow and stede. From mid-13c. as "particular part of space, extent, definite location, spot, site;" from early 14c. as "position or place occupied by custom, etc.; precedence, priority in rank or dignity; social status, position on some social scale;" from late 14c. as "inhabited place, town, country," also "place on the surface of something, portion of something, part." Meaning "a situation, appointment, or employment" is by 1550s. Meaning "group of houses in a town" is from 1580s.
Also from the same Latin source are Italian piazza, Catalan plassa, Spanish plaza, Middle Dutch plaetse, Dutch plaats, German Platz, Danish plads, Norwegian plass. The word appears via the Bible in Old English (Old Northumbrian plaece, plaetse "an open place in a city"), but the modern word is a reborrowing.
Sense of "a mansion with its adjoining grounds" is from mid-14c.; that of "building or part of a building set apart for some purpose is by late 15c. (in place of worship). Meaning "a broad way, square, or open space in a city or town," often having some particular use or character (Park Place, Waverly Place,Rillington Place) is by 1690s, from a sense in French. Its wide application in English covers meanings that in French require three words: place, lieu, and endroit. Cognate Italian piazza and Spanish plaza retain more of the etymological sense.
To take place "happen, come to pass, be accomplished" (mid-15c., earlier have place, late 14c.), translates French avoir lieu. To know (one's) place "know how to behave in a manner befitting one's rank, situation, etc." is from c. 1600, from the "social status" sense; hence the figurative expression put (someone) in his or her place (1855). In in the first place, etc., it has the sense of "point or degree in order of proceeding" (1630s). Out of place "not properly adjusted or placed in relation to other things" is by 1520s. All over the place "in disorder" is attested from 1923.
1833, "one who embodies the person or character of another;" 1840 as "one who infuses (something) with a personality;" 1842 as "dramatic actor, one who plays a part on stage," from impersonate with Latinate agent noun suffix. Meaning "one who imitates the manners and speech of another" for entertainment (by 1921) perhaps grew from older theatrical use of female impersonator (1876), male impersonator (1874), both once popular stage acts; the first example of the latter was perhaps Miss Ella Wesner, who had a vogue c. 1870: In Britain, blackface performers were called negro impersonators (1906). As a fem. formation, impersonatrix, as if from Latin, is from 1847; impersonatress, as if from French, is from 1881.
Her [Wesner's] impersonation were a genuine surprise and her success was so pronounced that in a short period a host of imitators made their appearance. Her most successful rivals were Bessie Bonehill, Millie Hilton and Vesta Tilley, all of London. [M.B Leavitt, "Fifty Years in Theatrical Management," New York, 1912]
There is no member of a minstrel company who gets a better salary than a good female impersonator, the line being considered a very delicate one, requiring a high style of art in its way to judge where fun stops and bad taste begins, with decision enough on the part of the performer to stop at the stopping place. ["The Ancestry of Brudder Bones," Harper's New Monthly Magazine, April 1879]
The most fascinating performer I knew in those days was a dame named Metcalfe who was a female female impersonator. To maintain the illusion and keep her job, she had to be a male impersonator when she wasn't on. Onstage she wore a wig, which she would remove at the finish, revealing her mannish haircut. "Fooled you!" she would boom at the audience in her husky baritone. Then she would stride off to her dressing room and change back into men's clothes. She fooled every audience she played to, and most of the managers she worked for, but her secret was hard to keep from the rest of the company. [Harpo Marx, "Harpo Speaks"]
early 13c., "skin color, complexion," from Anglo-French culur, coulour, Old French color "color, complexion, appearance" (Modern French couleur), from Latin color "color of the skin; color in general, hue; appearance," from Old Latin colos, originally "a covering" (akin to celare "to hide, conceal"), from PIE root *kel- (1) "to cover, conceal, save." Old English words for "color" were hiw ("hue"), bleo. For sense evolution, compare Sanskrit varnah "covering, color," which is related to vrnoti "covers," and also see chroma.
Colour was the usual English spelling from 14c., from Anglo-French. Classical correction made color an alternative from 15c., and that spelling became established in the U.S. (see -or).
Meaning "a hue or tint, a visible color, the color of something" is from c. 1300. As "color as an inherent property of matter, that quality of a thing or appearance which is perceived by the eye alone," from late 14c. From early 14c. as "a coloring matter, pigment, dye." From mid-14c. as "kind, sort, variety, description." From late 14c. in figurative sense of "stylistic device, embellishment. From c. 1300 as "a reason or argument advanced by way of justifying, explaining, or excusing an action," hence "specious reason or argument, that which hides the real character of something" (late 14c.).
From c. 1300 as "distinctive mark of identification" (as of a badge or insignia or livery, later of a prize-fighter, horse-rider, etc.), originally in reference to a coat of arms. Hence figurative sense as in show one's (true) colors "reveal one's opinions or intentions;" compare colors.
In reference to "the hue of the darker (as distinguished from the 'white') varieties of mankind" [OED], attested from 1792, in people of colour, in translations from French in reference to the French colony of Saint-Domingue (modern Haiti) and there meaning "mulattoes."
In reference to musical tone from 1590s. Color-scheme is from 1860. Color-coded is by 1943, in reference to wiring in radios and military aircraft. Color-line in reference to social and legal discrimination by race in the U.S. is from 1875, originally referring to Southern whites voting in unity and taking back control of state governments during Reconstruction (it had been called white line about a year earlier, and with more accuracy).
Old English deofol "a devil, a subordinate evil spirit afflicting humans;" also, in Christian theology, "the Devil, a powerful spirit of evil otherwise known as Satan," from Late Latin diabolus (also the source of Italian diavolo, French diable, Spanish diablo; German Teufel is Old High German tiufal, from Latin via Gothic diabaulus).
The Late Latin word is from Ecclesiastical Greek diabolos, which in Jewish and Christian use was "the Devil, Satan," and which in general use meant "accuser, slanderer" (thus it was a scriptural loan-translation of Hebrew satan; see Satan). It is an agent noun from Greek diaballein "to slander, attack," literally "to throw across," from dia "across, through" (see dia-) + ballein "to throw" (from PIE root *gwele- "to throw, reach").
Jerome re-introduced Satan in Latin bibles, and English translators have used both words in different measures. In Vulgate, as in Greek, diabolus and dæmon (see demon) were distinct, but they have merged in English and other Germanic languages.
Meaning "false god, heathen god" is from c. 1200. Sense of "diabolical person, person resembling a devil or demon in character" is from late 12c. Playful use for "clever rogue" is from c. 1600. As an expletive and in expletive phrases from c. 1200.
Meaning "sand spout, dust storm" is from 1835 (dust devil is attested by 1867). In U.S. place names, the word often represents a native word such as Algonquian manito, more properly "spirit, god." Phrase a devil way (c. 1300) was originally "Hell-ward, to Hell," but by late 14c. it was a mere expression of irritation. Meaning "errand-boy in a printing office" is from 1680s, perhaps because they were often blackened by the ink (devils then being popularly supposed to be black).
Devil's books "playing cards" is from 1729, but the cited quote says they've been called that "time out of mind" (the four of clubs is the devil's bedposts); devil's coach-horse is from 1840, the large rove-beetle, which is defiant when disturbed. Devil's food cake (1895; three different recipes in the cookbook "compiled by the Ladies' Aid Society of the Friends' Church, Wilmington, Ohio"), rich and chocolate, probably is in deliberate contrast to angel food cake. Conventional phrase talk (or speak)of the Devil, and he's presently at your elbow is by 1660s.
"man who draws attention by unusual finery of dress and fastidiousness manners, a fop," c. 1780, of uncertain origin; attested earliest in a Scottish border ballad:
I've heard my granny crack
O' sixty twa years back
When there were sic a stock of Dandies O
etc. In that region, Dandy is diminutive of Andrew (as it was in Middle English generally). OED notes that the word was in vogue in London c. 1813-1819. His female counterpart was a dandizette (1821) with French-type ending.
Meaning "anything superlative or fine" is from 1786. As an adjective, "characteristic of a dandy, affectedly neat and trim," by 1813; earlier in the sense of "fine, splendid, first-rate" (1792) and in this sense it was very popular c. 1880-1900.
The popular guess, since at least 1827, is that it is from French Dandin, a mock surname for a foolish person used in 16c. by Rabelais (Perrin Dandin), also by Racine, La Fontaine, and Molière, from dandiner "to walk awkwardly, waddle." Farmer rejects this and derives it from dandyprat, an Elizabethan word for "a dwarf; a page; a young or insignificant person," originally (early 16c.) the name of a small silver coin. Both words are of unknown origin, and OED finds the connection of both to dandy to be "without any apparent ground." English dandy was itself borrowed into French c. 1830.
Jack-a-Dandy, or Jack O'Dandy figures in writings from the early 17c. He is listed among other famous Jacks in "Iack a Lent" (1620) and is sometimes defined as an impertinent little man, but other uses are unclear as to sense and in at least one instance from 1620s he is a bogeyman character.
DANDY was first applied half in admiration half in derision to a fop about the year 1816. John Bee (Slang Dict., 1823) says that Lord Petersham was the chief of these successors to the departed Macaronis, and gives, as their peculiarities, 'French gait, lispings, wrinkled foreheads, killing king's English, wearing immense plaited pantaloons, coat cut away, small waistcoat, cravat and chitterlings immense, hat small, hair frizzled and protruding.' [Farmer and Henley, "Slang and its Analogues," 1891]
Old English life (dative lif) "animated corporeal existence; lifetime, period between birth and death; the history of an individual from birth to death, written account of a person's life; way of life (good or bad); condition of being a living thing, opposite of death; spiritual existence imparted by God, through Christ, to the believer," from Proto-Germanic *leiban (source also of Old Norse lif "life, body," Old Frisian, Old Saxon lif "life, person, body," Dutch lijf "body," Old High German lib "life," German Leib "body"), properly "continuance, perseverance," from PIE root *leip- "to stick, adhere."
The noun associated with live (v.) "to live," which is literally "to continue, remain." Extended 1703 to inanimate objects, "term of duration or existence." Sense of "vitality, energy in action, expression, etc." is from 1580s. Meaning "conspicuously active part of human existence, pleasures or pursuits of the world or society" is by 1770s. Meaning "cause or source of living" led to the sense "vivifying or animating principle," and thus "one who keeps things lively" in life of the party (1787). Meaning "imprisonment for life, a life sentence" is from 1903. Paired alliteratively with limb from 1640s. Not on your life "by no means" is attested from 1896.
In gaming, an additional turn at play for a character; this transferred use was prefigured by uses in card-playing (1806), billiards (1856), etc., in reference to a certain number of chances or required objects without which one's turn at the game fails. The life "the living form or model, semblance" is from 1590s. Life-and-death "of dire importance" is from 1822; life-or-death (adj.) is from 1897. Life-jacket is from 1840; life-preserver from 1630s of anything that is meant to save a life, 1803 of devices worn to prevent drowning. Life-saver is from 1883, figurative use from 1909, as a brand of hard sugar candy from 1912, so called for shape.
Life-form is from 1861; life-cycle is from 1855; life-expectancy from 1847; life-history in biology from 1870; life-science from 1935. Life-work "the labor to which one's life has been devoted" is from 1848. Expression this is the life is from 1919; verbal shrug that's life is from 1924 (earlier such is life, 1778).
10th letter of the English alphabet, pronounced "jay," as in "kay" for -k-, but formerly written out as jy, rhyming with -i- and corresponding to French ji.
One of the most stable English letters (it has almost always the same sound), it is a latecomer to the alphabet and originally had no sound value. The letter itself began as a scribal modification of Roman -i- in continental Medieval Latin. The scribes added a "hook" to small -i-, especially in the final position in a word or roman numeral, to distinguish it from the strokes of other letters. The dot on the -i- (and thus the -j-) and the capitalization of the pronoun I are other solutions to the same problems.
In English, -j- was used as a roman numeral throughout Middle English, but the letter -y- was used to spell words ending an "i" sound, so -j- was not needed to represent a sound. Instead, it was introduced into English c. 1600-1640 to take up the consonantal sound that had evolved from the Roman i- since Late Latin times. In Italian, g- was used to represent this, but in other languages j- took the job. This usage is attested earliest in Spanish, where it was in place before 1600.
No word beginning with J is of Old English derivation. [OED]
English dictionaries did not distinguish words beginning in -i- and -j- until 19c., and -j- formerly was skipped when letters were used to express serial order.
In Latin texts printed in modern times, -j- often is used to represent Latin -i- before -a-, -e-, -o-, -u- in the same syllable, which in Latin was sounded as the consonant in Modern English you, yam, etc., but the custom has been controversial among Latinists:
The character J, j, which represents the letter sound in some school-books, is an invention of the seventeenth century, and is not found in MSS., nor in the best texts of the Latin authors. [Lewis]
In English words from Hebrew, -j- represents yodh, which was equivalent to English consonantal y (hence hallelujah) but many of the Hebrew names later were conformed in sound to the modern -j- (compare Jesus).