Etymology
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silk (n.)

"fine soft thread produced by the larvae of certain types of moths, feeding on mulberry leaves;" c. 1300, silke, from Old English seoloc, sioloc "silk, silken cloth," from Latin sericum "silk," plural serica "silken garments, silks," literally "Seric stuff," neuter of Sericus, from Greek Serikos "pertaining to the Sēres," an oriental people of Asia from whom the Greeks got silks. Their region is vaguely described but seems to correspond to northern China as approached from the northwest.

Western cultivation began 552 C.E., when agents from Byzantium impersonating monks smuggled silkworms and mulberry leaves out of China. Chinese si "silk," Manchurian sirghe, Mongolian sirkek have been compared to this and the people-name Seres in Greek might be a rendering via Mongolian of the Chinese word for "silk," but this is uncertain.

Cognate with Old Norse silki but the word is not found elsewhere in Germanic. The more common Germanic form is represented by Middle English say, from Old French seie, which, with Spanish seda, Italian seta, Dutch zijde, and German Seide, is from Medieval Latin seta "silk," which is perhaps elliptical for seta serica, or else a particular use of seta "bristle, hair" (see seta (n.)).

According to some sources [Buck, OED], the use of -l- instead of -r- in the Balto-Slavic form of the word (Old Church Slavonic šelku, Lithuanian šilkai) passed into English via the Baltic trade and may reflect a Chinese dialectal form, or a Slavic alteration of the Greek word. But the Slavic linguist Vasmer dismisses that, based on the initial sh- in the Slavic words, and suggests the Slavic words are from Scandinavian rather than the reverse.

As an adjective from mid-14c. In reference to the "hair" of corn, 1660s, American English (corn-silk is from 1861). The ancient Silk Road was so called in English by 1895.

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back (n.)

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. The meaning "upright part of a chair" is from 1520s. 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 turn (one's) back on (someone or something) "ignore" is from early 14c.

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.

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break (v.)

Old English brecan "to divide solid matter violently into parts or fragments; to injure, violate (a promise, etc.), destroy, curtail; to break into, rush into; to burst forth, spring out; to subdue, tame" (class IV strong verb; past tense bræc, past participle brocen), from Proto-Germanic *brekanan (source also of Old Frisian breka, Dutch breken, Old High German brehhan, German brechen, Gothic brikan), from PIE root *bhreg- "to break."

Closely related to breach (n.), brake (n.1), brick (n.). The old past tense brake is obsolete or archaic; the past participle is broken, but shortened form broke is attested from 14c. and was "exceedingly common" [OED] 17c.-18c.

Of bones in Old English. Formerly also of cloth, paper, etc. The meaning "escape by breaking an enclosure" is from late 14c. The intransitive sense of "be or become separated into fragments or parts under action of some force" is from late 12c. The meaning "lessen, impair" is from late 15c. That of "make a first and partial disclosure" is from early 13c. The sense of "destroy continuity or completeness" in any way is from 1741. Of coins or bills, "to convert to smaller units of currency," by 1882.

In reference to the heart from early 13c. (intransitive); to break (someone's) heart is late 14c. Break bread "share food" (with) is from late 14c. To break ground is from 1670s as "to dig, plow," from 1709 in the figurative sense of "begin to execute a plan." To break the ice "overcome the feeling of restraint in a new acquaintanceship" is from c. 1600, in reference to the "coldness" of encounters of strangers. Break wind is attested from 1550s. To break (something) out (1890s) probably is an image from dock work, of freeing cargo before unloading it.

The ironic theatrical good luck formula break a leg (by 1948, said to be from at least 1920s) has parallels in German Hals- und Beinbruch "break your neck and leg," and Italian in bocca al lupo. Evidence of a highly superstitious craft (see Macbeth). According to Farmer & Henley, in 17c. the expression was used euphemistically, of a woman, "to have a bastard."

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cover (n.)
Origin and meaning of cover

mid-14c., "something laid, placed or spread (on something else),"  from cover (v.). Sense of "something which veils or screens from sight" is from c. 1400. From c. 1500 as "shelter" of any kind, later especially in hunting, "shrubbery, brush, or thickets which conceal game" (1719).

Meaning "binding or wrapper of a book" is from 1590s; that of "envelope or wrapper for a letter" is by 1748. Meaning "recording of a song already recorded by another" is by 1970, short for cover version (1966). Cover-band "band that plays only cover songs" is by 1981. Cover girl is U.S. slang from 1915, shortening of magazine-cover girl (1899).

Cover-charge is attested by 1913. The immediate sense of cover in it appears to be the old one of "plate, knives, forks, spoons, napkin, wine glasses, etc., used at the table by one person," from French couvert, literally "a cover," in the same sense; supposedly they were so called because they were originally brought together in a case.

According to contemporary publications, cover came to include table condiments and bread and butter, and c. 1910 some restaurants began to charge extra for these. ["... a smart New York restauranteur recently made a 'cover charge' of twenty-five cents for bread and butter and ice-water. Others followed." - Edward Hungerford, "The Personality of American Cities," 1913]

In this sense, cover also probably involves the banquet service use of cover for a charge which includes ("covers") everything provided with the food — menu card, flowers, music, etc.

In recent years hotels, particularly those featuring entertainment in their restaurants, have made a so-called cover charge which includes entertainment in addition to the table service. For instance, at some of the larger hotels in New York, where there is dancing, or cabaret, or high-priced soloists, or entertainment of costly nature provided, there is a cover charge, sometimes as high as $1 the seat. [Hotel Monthly, December 1917]
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people (n.)

c. 1300, peple, "humans, persons in general, men and women," from Anglo-French peple, people, Old French pople, peupel "people, population, crowd; mankind, humanity," from Latin populus "a people, nation; body of citizens; a multitude, crowd, throng," a word of unknown origin. Based on Italic cognates and derivatives such as populari "to lay waste, ravage, plunder, pillage," Populonia, a surname of Juno, literally "she who protects against devastation," the Proto-Italic root is said to mean "army" [de Vaan]. An Etruscan origin also has been proposed. The Latin word also is the source of Spanish pueblo, Italian popolo. In English, it displaced native folk.

Sense of "Some unspecified persons" is from c. 1300. Meaning "body of persons comprising a community" is by mid-14c. (late 13c. in Anglo-French); the meaning "common people, masses" (as distinguished from the nobility) is from late 13c. The meaning "members of one's family, tribe, or clan" is from late 14c.

The word was adopted after c. 1920 by Communist totalitarian states, according to their opponents to give a spurious sense of populism to their governments. It is based on the political sense of the word, "the whole body of enfranchised citizens (considered as the sovereign source of government power," attested from 1640s. This also is the sense in the legal phrase The People vs., in U.S. cases of prosecution under certain laws (1801).

The people are the only censors of their governors: and even their errors will tend to keep these to the true principles of their institution. To punish these errors too severely would be to suppress the only safeguard of the public liberty. The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs thro’ the channel of the public papers, and to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people. [Jefferson to Edward Carrington, Jan. 16, 1787]

People of the Book "those whose religion entails adherence to a book of divine revelation" (1834) translates Arabic Ahl al-Kitab

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dumb-bell (n.)

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.

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blond (adj.)

of hair, "of a golden or light golden-brown color," late 15c., from Old French blont "fair, blond" (12c.), from the same source as Medieval Latin blundus "yellow," but of uncertain origin. Perhaps from Frankish *blund or another Germanic source (compare Dutch, German, Danish blond).

If it is a Germanic word, it is possibly related to Old English blonden-feax "gray-haired," from blondan, blandan "to mix" (see blend (v.)). According to Littré, the original sense of the French word was "a colour midway between golden and light chestnut," which might account for the notion of "mixed." [But Century Dictionary finds this "hardly probable."]

Old English beblonden meant "dyed," so it is also possible that the root meaning of blonde, if it is Germanic, may be "dyed," as ancient Teutonic warriors were noted for dying their hair. Du Cange, however, writes that blundus was a vulgar pronunciation of Latin flavus "yellow." Another guess (discounted by German etymologists), is that it represents a Vulgar Latin *albundus, from alba "white."

The word was reintroduced into English 17c. from French, and was until recently still felt as French, hence blonde (with French feminine ending) for females. Italian biondo, Spanish blondo, Old Provençal blon are said to be ultimately of Germanic origin.

Fair hair was much esteemed by both the Greeks and Romans, and so they not only dyed and gold-dusted theirs ..., but also went so far as to gild the hair of their statues, as notably those of Venus de Medici and Apollo. In the time of Ovid (A.U.C. 711) much fair hair was imported from Germany, by the Romans, as it was considered quite the fashionable color. Those Roman ladies who did not choose to wear wigs of this hue, were accustomed to powder theirs freely with gold dust, so as to give it the fashionable yellow tint. [C. Henry Leonard, "The Hair," 1879]
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mad (adj.)

late 13c., "disordered in intellect, demented, crazy, insane," from Old English gemædde "out of one's mind" (usually implying also violent excitement), also "foolish, extremely stupid," earlier gemæded "rendered insane," past participle of a lost verb *gemædan "to make insane or foolish," from Proto-Germanic *gamaidjan, demonstrative form of *gamaidaz "changed (for the worse), abnormal" (source also of Old Saxon gimed "foolish," Old High German gimeit "foolish, vain, boastful," Gothic gamaiþs "crippled, wounded," Old Norse meiða "to hurt, maim").

This apparently is from the Germanic intensive prefix *ga- + PIE *moito-, past participle of root *mei- (1) "to change, go, move" (source also of Latin mutare "to change," migrare "to change one's place of residence"). In Middle English usurped the place of the more usual Old English word, wod (see wood (adj.)).

The meanings "beside oneself with excitement or enthusiasm, under the influence of uncontrollable emotion" and "enraged, furious, beside oneself with anger" are attested from early 14c., but the latter was deplored by Rev. John Witherspoon (1781) as an Americanism. It now competes in American English with angry for this sense. Of animals, "affected with rabies, furious from disease" from late 13c.

To do something like mad "recklessly, as if mad or crazy" is by 1650s. Phrase mad as a March hare is attested from 1520s, via notion of breeding season; mad as a hatter is from 1829 as "demented," 1837 as "enraged," according to a modern theory supposedly from erratic behavior caused by prolonged exposure to poison mercuric nitrate, used in making felt hats. For mad as a wet hen see hen.

Mad money, which a young woman carries for use in getting home when she and her date have a falling out, is attested by 1922; mad scientist, one so eccentric as to be dangerous or evil, is by 1891. Mad Libs, the word game (based on the idea in consequences, etc.), was first published in 1958

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apple (n.)

Old English æppel "apple; any kind of fruit; fruit in general," from Proto-Germanic *ap(a)laz (source also of Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Dutch appel, Old Norse eple, Old High German apful, German Apfel), from PIE *ab(e)l- "apple" (source also of Gaulish avallo "fruit;" Old Irish ubull, Lithuanian obuolys, Old Church Slavonic jabloko "apple"), but the exact relation and original sense of these is uncertain (compare melon).

In Middle English and as late as 17c., it was a generic term for all fruit other than berries but including nuts (such as Old English fingeræppla "dates," literally "finger-apples;" Middle English appel of paradis "banana," c. 1400). Hence its grafting onto the unnamed "fruit of the forbidden tree" in Genesis.

As far as the forbidden fruit is concerned, again, the Quran does not mention it explicitly, but according to traditional commentaries it was not an apple, as believed by Christians and Jews, but wheat. [Seyyed Hossein Nasr, "The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity," 2002] 

 Cucumbers, in one Old English work, are eorþæppla, literally "earth-apples" (compare French pomme de terre "potato," literally "earth-apple;" see also melon). French pomme is from Latin pomum "apple; fruit" (see Pomona).

Apple of Discord (c. 1400) was thrown into the wedding of Thetis and Peleus by Eris (goddess of chaos and discord), who had not been invited, and inscribed kallisti "To the Prettiest One." Paris, elected to choose which goddess should have it, gave it to Aphrodite, offending Hera and Athene, with consequences of the Trojan War, etc.

Apple of one's eye (Old English), symbol of what is most cherished, was the pupil, supposed to be a globular solid body. Apple-polisher "one who curries favor" first attested 1928 in student slang. The image in the phrase upset the apple cart "spoil the undertaking" is attested from 1788. Road-apple "horse dropping" is from 1942.

A roted eppel amang þe holen, makeþ rotie þe yzounde. ["Ayenbite of Inwit," 1340] 
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hill (n.)

Old English hyll "hill," from Proto-Germanic *hulni- (source also of Middle Dutch hille, Low German hull "hill," Old Norse hallr "stone," Gothic hallus "rock," Old Norse holmr "islet in a bay," Old English holm "rising land, island"), from PIE root *kel- (2) "to be prominent; hill." Formerly including mountains.

In Great Britain heights under 2,000 feet are generally called hills; 'mountain' being confined to the greater elevations of the Lake District, of North Wales, and of the Scottish Highlands; but, in India, ranges of 5,000 and even 10,000 feet are commonly called 'hills,' in contrast with the Himalaya Mountains, many peaks of which rise beyond 20,000 feet. [OED]
The term mountain is very loosely used. It commonly means any unusual elevation. In New England and central New York, elevations of from one to two thousand feet are called hills, but on the plains of Texas, a hill of a few hundred feet is called a mountain. [Ralph S. Tarr, "Elementary Geology," Macmillan, 1903]
Despite the differences in defining mountain systems, Penck (1896), Supan (1911) and Obst (1914) agreed that the distinction between hills, mountains, and mountain systems according to areal extent or height is not a suitable classification. ["Geographic Information Science and Mountain Geomorphology," 2004]

 Figurative phrase over the hill "past one's prime" is recorded by 1950. Expression old as the hills is recorded by 1819, perhaps echoing Job xv.7. Earlier form old as the hills and the valleys is attested by 1808:

And this is no "new morality." It is morality as old as the hills and the valleys. It is a morality which must be adopted; or, we must confess that there are certain political evils greater than that of seeing one's country conquered. [Cobbett's Weekly Political Register, Feb. 6, 1808]

Cobbett's also had, on April 11, 1818:

However, thus it always is: "those whom God intends to destroy, he first makes foolish," which is a saying as old as the hills between Everly and Marlborough.
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