"bifurcated garment worn by men, covering the body and waist to the knees," c. 1200, a double plural (also breechen, and singular breech), from Old English brec "breeches," which already was plural of broc "garment for the legs and trunk," from Proto-Germanic *brokiz (source also of Old Norse brok, Dutch broek, Danish brog, Old High German bruoh, German Bruch, obsolete since 18c. except in Swiss dialect), perhaps from PIE root *bhreg- "to break." The etymological notion would be of a garment "forked" or "split." The singular breech survived into 17c., but the word is now always used in the plural.
The Proto-Germanic word is a parallel form to Celtic *bracca, source (via Gaulish) of Latin braca (source of French braies, Italian braca, Spanish braga). Some propose that the Germanic word group is borrowed from Gallo-Latin, others that the Celtic was from Germanic, but OED writes that the Proto-Germanic noun "has all the markings of an original Teutonic word."
Classical bracae were part of the characteristic garb of Gauls and Orientals; they were not worn by Greeks or Romans until the end of the republic. After 1 c. they came into use at first among military forces stationed in cold climates and were adopted generally toward the end of the empire, though they never seem to have been much in favor in Rome proper.
Expanded sense of "lower part of the body, part of the body covered by breeches, posterior" led to senses in childbirthing (1670s) and gunnery ("the part of a firearm behind the bore," 1570s). As the popular word for "trousers" in English, displaced in U.S. c. 1840 by pants. The Breeches Bible (Geneva Bible of 1560) so called on account of rendition of Genesis iii.7 (already in Wyclif) "They sewed figge leaues together, and made themselues breeches."
also dumbbell, "one of a pair of weighted bars used for exercise," by 1785, earlier (from 1711), according to OED, an apparatus like that used to ring a church bell, but without the bell (hence dumb); used for physical exercise but sometimes also to practice ringing changes. See dumb (adj.) + bell (n.). If this is right, the word must have been transferred; earlier 18c. references make mention of "pulling" or "ringing" dumb-bells and note that it can be done only indoors. The following is a footnote to the 1903 reprint of Joseph Strutt's 1801 "The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England":
The origin of the term is somewhat curious. Dumb-bells take their name by analogy, as was pointed out in Notes and Queries in 1861, "from a machine used for exercise, consisting of a rough, heavy, wooden flywheel with a rope passing through and round a spindle ... and set in motion like a church bell." This statement, however, does not sufficiently explain the transference of such a name to the short bar and rounded lead or iron ends of a hand dumb-bell. This difficulty was explained by the late Chancellor Ferguson in a paper read before the Archaeological Institute in 1895, wherein a dumb-bell apparatus, now at Lord Sackville's seat at Knowle, was described and illustrated. The roller round which the rope winds and unwinds has four iron arms, each of which has a leaden poise or ball at the end, just like the end of an ordinary hand dumb-bell. This Knowle example is fixed in an attic and the rope passed through to a gallery beneath. Anyone pulling the rope would get much the same exercise as in pulling a bell rope in a church tower, but without annoying his neighbours by the noise. There used to be a similar apparatus at New College, Oxford.
Figurative sense of "blockhead, stupid person" attested by 1918, American English college slang.
Old English frogga "frog," a diminutive of frosc, forsc, frox "frog," a common Germanic word but with different formations that are difficult to explain (cognates: Old Norse froskr, Middle Dutch vorsc, German Frosch "frog"), probably literally "hopper" (if from PIE root *preu- "to hop," source also of Sanskrit provate "hops," Russian prygat "to hop, jump"). Watkins calls the Old English -gga an "obscure expressive suffix."
The Latin word for it (rana) is imitative of croaking. Also in Middle English as frok, vrogge, frugge, and with sometimes plural form froggen. Collateral Middle English forms frude, froud are from Old Norse frauðr "frog," and native alternative form frosk "frog" survived in English dialects into the 19c.
I always eat fricasseed frogs regretfully; they remind one so much of miniature human thighs, and make one feel cannibalistic and horrid .... [H. Ellen Browning, "A Girl's Wanderings in Hungary," 1896]
As a British derogatory term for "Frenchman," 1778 (short for frog-eater), but before that (1650s) it meant "Dutch" (from frog-land "marshy land," in reference to their country).
The principal inn on the island of Texel is called the Golden Frog, (de Goude kikker). We may wonder that there are not more examples of this sign in Holland, for there are, without doubt, as many frogs in that country as there are Dutchmen ; and even unto this day it is a mooted point, which of the two nations has more right to the possession of the country ; both however are of a pacific disposition, so that they live on in a perfect entente cordiale. [Larwood and Hotten, "The History of Signboards," 1866]
To have a frog in the throat "be hoarse" is from 1892, from frog as a name for a lump or swelling in the mouth (1650s) or throat infections causing a croaking sound.
"adult female human," late Old English wimman, wiman (plural wimmen), literally "woman-man," alteration of wifman (plural wifmen) "woman, female servant" (8c.), a compound of wif "woman" (see wife) + man "human being" (in Old English used in reference to both sexes; see man (n.)). Compare Dutch vrouwmens "wife," literally "woman-man."
It is notable that it was thought necessary to join wif, a neuter noun, representing a female person, to man, a masc. noun representing either a male or female person, to form a word denoting a female person exclusively. [Century Dictionary]
The formation is peculiar to English and Dutch. Replaced older Old English wif and quean as the word for "female human being," as in Jesus's answer to his mother, in Anglo-Saxon gospels la, wif, hwæt is me and þe? (John ii:4 "Woman, what have I to do with thee?").
The pronunciation of the singular altered in Middle English by the rounding influence of -w-; the plural retains the original vowel. Meaning "wife," now largely restricted to U.S. dialectal use, is attested from mid-15c.
In American English, lady is "In loose and especially polite usage, a woman" [Craigie, "Dictionary of American English"]. This peculiarity was much commented upon by English travelers; in the U.S. the custom was considered especially Southern, but the English didn't bother with nice distinctions and regarded it simply as American. "This noble word [woman], spirit-stirring as it passes over English ears, is in America banished, and 'ladies' and 'females' substituted; the one to English taste mawkish and vulgar; the other indistinctive and gross. The effect is odd." [Harriet Martineau, 1837]
Woman-hater "misogynist" is from c. 1600. Women's work, that considered appropriate to women, is from 1660s. Women's liberation is attested from 1966; women's rights is from 1840, with an isolated example in 1630s.
Old English deaþ "total cessation of life, act or fact of dying, state of being dead; cause of death," in plural, "ghosts," from Proto-Germanic *dauthuz (source also of Old Saxon doth, Old Frisian dath, Dutch dood, Old High German tod, German Tod, Old Norse dauði, Danish død, Swedish död, Gothic dauus "death"), from verbal stem *dau-, which is perhaps from PIE root *dheu- (3) "to die" (see die (v.)). With Proto-Germanic *-thuz suffix indicating "act, process, condition."
I would not that death should take me asleep. I would not have him meerly seise me, and onely declare me to be dead, but win me, and overcome me. When I must shipwrack, I would do it in a sea, where mine impotencie might have some excuse; not in a sullen weedy lake, where I could not have so much as exercise for my swimming. [John Donne, letter to Sir Henry Goodere, Sept. 1608]
Of inanimate things, "cessation, end," late 14c. From late 12c. as "death personified, a skeleton as the figure of mortality." As "a plague, a great mortality," late 14c. (in reference to the first outbreak of bubonic plague; compare Black Death). Death's-head, a symbol of mortality, is from 1590s. Death's door "the near approach of death" is from 1540s.
As a verbal intensifier "to death, mortally" (as in hate (something) to death) 1610s; earlier to dead (early 14c.). Slang be death on "be very good at" is from 1839. To be the death of "be the cause or occasion of death" is in Shakespeare (1596). Expression a fate worse than death is from 1810 though the idea is ancient.
Death row "part of a prison exclusively for those condemned to capital execution" is by 1912. Death knell is attested from 1814; death penalty "capital punishment" is from 1844; death rate from 1859. Death-throes "struggle which in some cases accompanies death" is from c. 1300.
Middle English iron, iren, yron, from Old English iren, variant (with rhotacism of -s-) of isen, later form of isern, isærn "the metal iron; an iron weapon or instrument," from Proto-Germanic *isarn (source also of Old Saxon isarn, Old Frisian isern, Old Norse isarn, Middle Dutch iser, Old High German isarn, German Eisen).
This perhaps is an early borrowing of Celtic *isarnon (compare Old Irish iarn, Welsh haiarn), which Watkins suggests is from PIE *is-(e)ro- "powerful, holy," from PIE *eis "strong" (source also of Sanskrit isirah "vigorous, strong," Greek ieros "strong"), on the notion of "holy metal" or "strong metal" (in contrast to softer bronze).
It was both an adjective and a noun in Old English, but in form it is an adjective. The alternative isen survived into early Middle English as izen. In southern England the Middle English word tended to be ire, yre, with loss of -n, perhaps regarded as an inflection; in the north and Scotland, however, the word tended to be contracted to irn, yrn, still detectable in dialect.
Right so as whil that Iren is hoot men sholden smyte. [Chaucer, c. 1386]
Chemical symbol Fe is from the Latin word for the metal, ferrum (see ferro-). Meaning "metal device used to press or smooth clothes" is from 1610s. Meaning "golf club with an iron head, 1842. To have (too) many irons in the fire "to be doing too much at once" is from 1540s. Iron lung "artificial respiration tank" is from 1932. The iron crown was that of the ancient kings of Lombardy, with a thin band of iron in the gold, said to have been forged from a nail of Christ's Cross. Iron horse "railroad locomotive" is from an 1839 poem. Iron maiden, instrument of torture, is from 1837 (probably translating German eiserne jungfrau). The unidentified French political prisoner known as the man in the iron mask died in the Bastille in 1703. In British history, Wellington was called the Iron Duke by 1832.
Old English bean "bean, pea, legume," from Proto-Germanic *bauno (source also of Old Norse baun, Middle Dutch bone, Dutch boon, Old High German bona, German Bohne), and related to Latin faba "bean;" Greek phakos "lentil;" Albanian bathë "horse-bean;" Old Prussian babo, Russian bob "bean," but the original form is obscure. Watkins suggests a PIE reduplicated root *bha-bhā- "broad bean;" de Vaan writes that the Italic, Slavic and Germanic "are probably independent loanwords from a European substratum word of the form *bab- (or similar) 'bean'."
As a metaphor for "something of small value" it is attested from c. 1300 (hill of beans as something not much to amount to is from 1863). Meaning "head" is U.S. baseball slang 1905 (in bean-ball "a pitch thrown at the head"); thus slang verb bean meaning "to hit on the head," attested from 1910. Bean-shooter as a child's weapon for mischief, a sort of small sling-shot to fire beans, is attested from 1876. Slang bean-counter "accountant" recorded by 1971.
The notion of lucky or magic beans in English folklore is from the exotic beans or large seeds, carried from the Caribbean or South America by the Gulf Stream, that wash up occasionally in Cornwall and western Scotland. They were cherished, believed to ward off the evil eye and aid in childbirth.
To not know beans "be ignorant" is attested by 1842 in American English, often said to be a New England phrase; it is perhaps from the "object of little worth" sense. Some of the earliest citations give it in a fuller form, but they do not agree: "why, I sometimes think they don't know beans when the bag is open" ["The History of the Saints," 1842]; "This feller don't know beans from porridge, no how." ["Etchings of a Whaling Cruise," 1850]. It might have a connection to the English colloquial expression know how many beans make five (1824) "be a clever fellow."
Old English bæc "back," from Proto-Germanic *bakam (cognates: Old Saxon and Middle Dutch bak, Old Frisian bek), with no known connections outside Germanic. In other modern Germanic languages the cognates mostly have been ousted in this sense by words akin to Modern English ridge (such as Danish ryg, German Rücken).
Many Indo-European languages show signs of once having distinguished the horizontal back of an animal (or a mountain range) from the upright back of a human. In other cases, a modern word for "back" may come from a word related to "spine" (Italian schiena, Russian spina) or "shoulder, shoulder blade" (Spanish espalda, Polish plecy).
By synecdoche, "the whole body," especially with reference to clothing. Meaning "upright part of a chair" is from 1520s. To turn (one's) back on (someone or something) "ignore" is from early 14c. As a U.S. football position by 1876, so called from being behind the line of rushers; further distinguished according to relative position as quarterback, halfback, fullback.
To know (something) like the back of one's hand, implying familiarity, is first attested 1893 in a dismissive speech made to a character in Robert Louis Stevenson's "Catriona":
If I durst speak to herself, you may be certain I would never dream of trusting it to you; because I know you like the back of my hand, and all your blustering talk is that much wind to me.
The story, a sequel to "Kidnapped," has a Scottish setting and context, and the back of my hand to you was noted in the late 19th century as a Scottish expression meaning "I will have nothing to do with you" [see Longmuir's edition of Jamieson's Scottish dictionary]. In English generally, the back of (one's) hand has been used to imply contempt and rejection at least since 1300. Perhaps the connection of a menacing dismissal is what made Stevenson choose that particular anatomical reference.
a late Old English contraction of cyning "king, ruler" (also used as a title), from Proto-Germanic *kuningaz (source also of Dutch koning, Old Norse konungr, Danish konge, Old Saxon and Old High German kuning, Middle High German künic, German König).
This is of uncertain origin. It is possibly related to Old English cynn "family, race" (see kin), making a king originally a "leader of the people." Or perhaps it is from a related prehistoric Germanic word meaning "noble birth," making a king etymologically "one who descended from noble birth" (or "the descendant of a divine race"). The sociological and ideological implications render this a topic of much debate. "The exact notional relation of king with kin is undetermined, but the etymological relation is hardly to be doubted" [Century Dictionary].
General Germanic, but not attested in Gothic, where þiudans (cognate with Old English þeoden "chief of a tribe, ruler, prince, king") was used. Finnish kuningas "king," Old Church Slavonic kunegu "prince" (Russian knyaz, Bohemian knez), Lithuanian kunigas "clergyman" are forms of this word taken from Germanic. Meaning "one who has superiority in a certain field or class" is from late 14c.
As leon is the king of bestes. [John Gower, "Confessio Amantis," 1390]
In Old English, used for chiefs of Anglian and Saxon tribes or clans, of the heads of states they founded, and of the British and Danish chiefs they fought. The word acquired a more imposing quality with the rise of European nation-states, but then it was applied to tribal chiefs in Africa, Asia, North America. The chess piece is so called from c. 1400; the playing card from 1560s; the use in checkers/draughts is first recorded 1820. Three Kings for the Biblical Wise Men is from c. 1200.
[I]t was [Eugene] Field who haunted the declining years of Creston Clarke with his review of that actor's Lear. ... Said he, "Mr. Clarke played the King all the evening as though under constant fear that someone else was about to play the Ace." ["Theatre Magazine," January 1922]
1540s, "the expulsion of the fetus before it is viable," originally of deliberate as well as unintended miscarriages; from Latin abortionem (nominative abortio) "miscarriage; abortion, procuring of an untimely birth," noun of action from past-participle stem of aboriri "to miscarry, be aborted, fail, disappear, pass away," a compound word used in Latin for deaths, miscarriages, sunsets, etc., which according to OED is from ab, here as "amiss" (see ab-), + stem of oriri "appear, be born, arise" (see origin).
Meaning "product of an untimely birth" is from 1630s; earlier in this sense was abortive (early 14c.). Another earlier noun in English for "miscarriage" was abort (early 15c.). In the Middle English translation of Guy de Chauliac's "Grande Chirurgie" (early 15c.) Latin aborsum is used for "stillbirth, forced abortion." Abortment is attested from c. 1600; aborsement from 1530s, both archaic. Aborticide (1875) is illogical. Compare miscarriage.
In 19c. some effort was made to distinguish abortion "expulsion of the fetus between 6 weeks and 6 months" from miscarriage (the same within 6 weeks of conception) and premature labor (delivery after 6 months but before due time). The deliberate miscarriage was criminal abortion. This broke down late 19c. as abortion came to be used principally for intentional miscarriages, probably via phrases such as procure an abortion.
Criminal abortion is premeditated or intentional abortion procured, at any of pregnancy, by artificial means, and solely for the purpose of preventing the birth of a living child : feticide. At common law the criminality depended on the abortion being caused after quickening. [Century Dictionary, 1899]
Foeticide (n.) appears 1823 as a forensic medical term for deliberate premature fatal expulsion of the fetus; also compare prolicide. Another 19c. medical term for it was embryoctony, with second element from a Latinized form of Greek kteinein "to destroy." Abortion was a taboo word for much of early 20c., disguised in print as criminal operation (U.S.) or illegal operation (U.K.), and replaced by miscarriage in film versions of novels. Abortium "hospital specializing in abortions," is from 1934, in a Soviet Union context.