pagan (n.)

c. 1400, perhaps mid-14c., "person of non-Christian or non-Jewish faith," from Late Latin paganus "pagan," in classical Latin "villager, rustic; civilian, non-combatant" noun use of adjective meaning "of the country, of a village," from pagus "country people; province, rural district," originally "district limited by markers," thus related to pangere "to fix, fasten," from PIE root *pag- "to fasten." As an adjective from early 15c.

The religious sense often was said in 19c. [e.g. Trench] to derive from conservative rural adherence to the old gods after the Christianization of Roman towns and cities; but the Latin word in this sense predates that period in Church history, and it is more likely derived from the use of paganus in Roman military jargon for "civilian, incompetent soldier," which Christians (Tertullian, c. 202; Augustine) picked up with the military imagery of the early Church (such as milites "soldier of Christ," etc.).

The English word was used later in a narrower sense of "one not a Christian, Jew, or Muslim." As "person of heathenish character or habits," by 1841. Applied to modern pantheists and nature-worshippers from 1908.

Pagan and heathen are primarily the same in meaning; but pagan is sometimes distinctively applied to those nations that, although worshiping false gods, are more cultivated, as the Greeks and Romans, and heathen to uncivilized idolaters, as the tribes of Africa. A Mohammedan is not counted a pagan much less a heathen. [Century Dictionary, 1897]

The English surname Paine, Payne, etc., appears by old records to be from Latin paganus, but whether in the sense "villager," "rustic," or "heathen" is disputed. It also was a common Christian name in 13c., "and was, no doubt, given without any thought of its meaning" ["Dictionary of English Surnames"].

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-s (1)

suffix forming almost all Modern English plural forms of nouns, gradually extended in Middle English as -es from Old English -as, the nominative plural and accusative plural ending of certain "strong" masculine nouns (such as dæg "day," nominative/accusative plural dagas "days"). The commonest Germanic declension, traceable back to the original PIE inflection system, it is also the source of the Dutch -s plurals and (by rhotacism) Scandinavian -r plurals (such as Swedish dagar).

Much more uniform today than originally; Old English also had a numerous category of "weak" nouns that formed their plurals in -an, and other strong nouns that formed plurals with -u. Quirk and Wrenn, in their Old English grammar, estimate that 45 percent of the nouns a student will encounter will be masculine, nearly four-fifths of them with genitive singular -es and nominative/accusative plural in -as. Less than half, but still the largest chunk.

The triumphs of -'s possessives and -s plurals represent common patterns in language: using only a handful of suffixes to do many jobs (such as -ing), and the most common variant squeezing out the competition. To further muddy the waters, it's been extended in slang since 1936 to singulars (such as ducks,sweets,babes) as an affectionate or diminutive suffix.

Old English single-syllable collectives (sheep, folk) as well as weights, measures, and units of time did not use -s. The use of it in these cases began in Middle English, but the older custom is preserved in many traditional dialects (ten pound of butter; more than seven year ago; etc.).

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picture (n.)

early 15c., pictur, pictoure, pittour, pectur, "the process or art of drawing or painting," a sense now obsolete; also "a visual or graphic representation of a person, scene, object, etc.," from Latin pictura "painting," from pictus, past participle of pingere "to make pictures, to paint, to embroider," (see paint (v.)).

Picture window is from 1938. Picture post-card is recorded from 1899. Picture-book, "book illustrated with pictures or consisting mostly of pictures," especially one for children, is by 1847. Picture-frame "more or less ornamental border put around a picture to protect it" is from 1660s.

The phrase every picture tells a story is attested from 1900, in advertisements for an illustrated life of Christ. To be in (or out of) the picture in the figurative sense dates to 1900.

The expression a picture is worth a thousand words, attested from 1918, probably originated in the publication trade (the notion that a picture was worth 1,000 words is in printers' publications by 1911). The phrase was used in the form worth a million words by American newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane (1864-1936) in an editorial much-read c. 1916 titled "What is a Good Newspaper" in the "New York Evening Journal." In part it read: "After news and humor come good pictures. In this day of hurry we learn through the eye, and one picture may be worth a million words."

The phrase seems to have emerged into general use via the medium of advertising (which scaled down the number and also gave the expression its spurious origin story as "a Japanese proverb" or some such thing, by 1919). Earlier various acts or deeds (and in one case "the arrow") were said to be worth a thousand words.

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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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cracker (n.2)

Southern U.S. derogatory term for "poor, white trash" (1766), probably an agent noun from crack (v.) in the sense "to boast" (as in not what it's cracked up to be). Cracker "a boaster, a braggart" is attested from c. 1500; also see crack (n.). Compare Latin crepare "to rattle, crack, creak," with a secondary figurative sense of "boast of, prattle, make ado about."

I should explain to your Lordship what is meant by crackers; a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascalls on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas and Georgia, who often change their places of abode. [letter from colonial officer Gavin Cochrane to the Earl of Dartmouth, June 27, 1766]

But DARE compares corn-cracker "Kentuckian," also "poor, low-class white farmer of Georgia and North Carolina" (1835, U.S. Midwest colloquial).

The word was used especially of Georgians by 1808, though often extended to residents of northern Florida. Another name in mid-19c. use was sand-hiller "poor white in Georgia or South Carolina."

Not very essentially different is the condition of a class of people living in the pine-barrens nearest the coast [of South Carolina], as described to me by a rice-planter. They seldom have any meat, he said, except they steal hogs, which belong to the planters, or their negroes, and their chief diet is rice and milk. "They are small, gaunt, and cadaverous, and their skin is just the color of the sand-hills they live on. They are quite incapable of applying themselves steadily to any labor, and their habits are very much like those of the old Indians." [Frederick Law Olmsted, "A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States," 1856]
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bias (n.)

1520s, "oblique or diagonal line," from French biais "a slant, a slope, an oblique," also figuratively, "an expedient, means" (13c., originally in Old French a past-participle adjective, "sideways, askance, against the grain"), a word of unknown origin. Probably it came to French from Old Provençal biais, which has cognates in Old Catalan and Sardinian, and is possibly via Vulgar Latin *(e)bigassius from Greek epikarsios "athwart, crosswise, at an angle," from epi "upon" (see epi-) + karsios "oblique" (from PIE *krs-yo-, suffixed form of root *sker- (1) "to cut").

In the old game of bowls, it was a technical term used in reference to balls made with a greater weight on one side (1560s), causing them to curve toward one side; hence the figurative use "a one-sided tendency of the mind" (1570s), and, at first especially in law, "undue propensity or prejudice."

The bias of education, the bias of class-relationships, the bias of nationality, the political bias, the theological bias—these, added to the constitutional sympathies and antipathies, have much more influence in determining beliefs on social questions than has the small amount of evidence collected. [Herbert Spencer, "The Study of Sociology," 1873]
For what a man had rather were true he more readily believes. Therefore he rejects difficult things from impatience of research; sober things, because they narrow hope; the deeper things of nature, from superstition; the light of experience, from arrogance and pride, lest his mind should seem to be occupied with things mean and transitory; things not commonly believed, out of deference to the opinion of the vulgar. Numberless in short are the ways, and sometimes imperceptible, in which the affections colour and infect the understanding. [Francis Bacon, "Novum Organum," 1620]
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merry (adj.)

Middle English mirie, from Old English myrge "pleasing, agreeable, pleasant, sweet, exciting feelings of enjoyment and gladness" (said of grass, trees, the world, music, song); also as an adverb, "pleasantly, melodiously," from Proto-Germanic *murgijaz, which probably originally meant "short-lasting," (compare Old High German murg "short," Gothic gamaurgjan "to shorten"), from PIE root *mregh-u- "short." The only exact cognate for meaning outside English was Middle Dutch mergelijc "joyful."

The connection to "pleasure" likely was via the notion of "making time fly, that which makes the time seem to pass quickly" (compare German Kurzweil "pastime," literally "a short time;" Old Norse skemta "to amuse, entertain, amuse oneself," from skamt, neuter of skammr "short"). There also was a verbal form in Old English, myrgan "be merry, rejoice." For vowel evolution, see bury (v.).

Not originally applied to humorous moods or speech or conduct, yet the word had a much wider senses in Middle English than modern: "pleasant-sounding" (of animal voices), "fine" (of weather), "handsome" (of dress), "pleasant-tasting" (of herbs). The evolution of the modern senses is probably via the meaning "pleased by a certain event or situation or state of things" (c. 1200). Of persons, "cheerful by disposition or nature; playfully cheerful, enlivened with gladness or good spirits," by mid-14c.

Merry-bout "an incident of sexual intercourse" was low slang from 1780. Merry-begot "illegitimate" (adj.), also "bastard" (n.) are in Grose (1785). Merrie England (now frequently satirical or ironic) is c. 1400, meri ingland, originally in a broader sense of "bountiful, prosperous." Merry Monday was a 16c. term for "the Monday before Shrove Tuesday" (Mardi Gras).

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spider (n.)

late 14c., spydyr, spither, from earlier spiþre, spiþur, spiþer (mid-14c.), from Old English spiðra, from Proto-Germanic *spin-thron- (cognate with Danish spinder), literally "spinner," from PIE root *(s)pen- "to draw, stretch, spin" + formative or agential *-thro. The connection with the root is more transparent in other Germanic cognates (such as Middle Low German, Middle Dutch, Middle High German, German spinne, Dutch spin "spider").

The male is commonly much smaller than the female, and in impregnating the female runs great risk of being devoured. The difference in sizes is as if the human female should be some 60 or 70 feet tall. [Century Dictionary]

The loss of -n- before spirants is regular in Old English (compare goose (n.), tooth). For shift of -th- to -d- compare murder (n.), burden (n.), rudder.

Not the common word in Old or Middle English, which identified the creatures as loppe (Chaucer's usual word), lobbe. Old English also had atorcoppe (Middle English attercop, literally "poison-head"), and (from Latin aranea), renge; Middle English had araine, "spider," via Old French from the same Latin word; see arachnid). Another Old English word was gangewifre "a weaver as he goes."

In literature, often a figure of cunning, skill, and industry as well as venomous predation; in 17c. English used figuratively for venomousness and thread-spinning but also sensitivity (to vibrations), lurking, independence. As the name for a type of two-pack solitaire, it is attested from 1890, probably based on resemblance of the layout of the decks in the original form of the game (see "Tarbart," "Games of Patience," 1901, p. 49). Spider crab is from 1710, used of various species; spider monkey is from 1764, so called for its long limbs.

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creationism (n.)

1847, originally a Christian theological position that God immediately created out of nothing a soul for each person born; from creation + -ism.

As "science teaching based on a fundamentalist interpretation of the Book of Genesis, the scientific theory attributing the origin of matter and life to immediate acts of God," opposed to evolutionism, it is attested from 1880. Century Dictionary (1897) defines creationism in this sense as "The doctrine that matter and all things were created, substantially as they now exist, by the fiat of an omnipotent Creator, and not gradually evolved or developed."

Creation science is attested by 1970 as an alternative name for a theory of science not inconsistent with Christian fundamentalism. Creationist (n.) in an "anti-Darwin" sense is attested by 1859 in a letter of Darwin's, and it is said to be used in Darwin's unpublished writings as far back as 1842.

James Ussher (1581-1656), Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland, and Vice-Chancellor of Trinity College in Dublin was highly regarded in his day as a churchman and as a scholar. Of his many works, his treatise on chronology has proved the most durable. Based on an intricate correlation of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean histories and Holy writ, it was incorporated into an authorized version of the Bible printed in 1701, and thus came to be regarded with almost as much unquestioning reverence as the Bible itself. Having established the first day of creation as Sunday 23 October 4004 B.C. ... Ussher calculated the dates of other biblical events, concluding, for example, that Adam and Eve were driven from Paradise on Monday 10 November 4004 BC, and that the ark touched down on Mt Ararat on 5 May 1491 BC "on a Wednesday". [Craig, G.Y., and E.J. Jones, "A Geological Miscellany," Princeton University Press, 1982.]
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right (n.)

Old English riht (West Saxon, Kentish), reht (Anglian), "that which is morally right, duty, obligation," also "rule of conduct; law of a land;" also "what someone deserves; a just claim, what is due, equitable treatment;" also "correctness, truth;" also "a legal entitlement (to possession of property, etc.), a privilege," from Proto-Germanic *rehtan (see right (adj.1)). In Middle English often contrasted to might or wrong. From early 14c. as "a right action, a good deed," hence the right "that which is just or true, righteousness."

From what has been said it will be seen that the adjective right has a much wider signification than the substantive Right. Every thing is right which is conformable to the Supreme Rule of human action ; but that only is a Right which, being conformable to the Supreme Rule, is realized in Society, and vested in a particular person. Hence the two words may often be properly opposed. We may say that a poor man has no Right to relief, but it is right he should have it. A rich man has a Right to destroy the harvest of his fields, but to do so would not be right. [William Whewell, "Elements of Morality," 1858]

The meaning "the right hand or right side" (as opposed to the left) is from mid-13c.; see right (adj.2) for sense development. As "the right wing of an army" by 1707. Political use is from 1825. Meaning "a blow with the right fist" is from 1898; the meaning "a right-hand turn" is by 1961. The phrase to rights "at once, straightway" is 1660s, from an earlier meaning "in a proper manner" (Middle English). Adjectival phrase right-to-work is attested from 1958; right-to-die by 1976. To do or something in one's own right (1610s) is from the legal use for "title or claim to something possessed by one or more" (12c.).

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