Etymology
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tang (n.)

mid-14c., "serpent's tongue" (thought to be a stinging organ), later "sharp extension of a metal blade" (1680s), from a Scandinavian source akin to Old Norse tangi "spit of land; pointed end by which a blade is driven into a handle," from Proto-Germanic *tang-, from PIE *denk- "to bite" (see tongs). Influenced in some senses by tongue (n.). Figurative sense of "a sharp taste" is first recorded mid-15c.; that of "suggestion, trace" is from 1590s. The fish (1734) so called for their spines.

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nag (v.)

1828, intransitive, "find fault constantly;" by 1840, intransitive, "annoy by continued scolding, pester with petty complaints," originally a dialectal word meaning "to gnaw" (1825, Halliwell), probably ultimately from a Scandinavian source (compare Old Norse gnaga "to complain," literally "to bite, gnaw," dialectal Swedish and Norwegian nagga "to gnaw"), from Proto-Germanic *gnagan, related to Old English gnagan "to gnaw" (see gnaw). As a noun, 1894, "act of nagging;" by 1925, "person who nags." Related: Nagged; nagger; nagging.

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half-wit (n.)

"simpleton" (one lacking all his wits), 1755, from half + wit (n.). Earlier "a would-be wit whose abilities are mediocre" (1670s).

Half-wits are fleas; so little and so light,
We scarce could know they live, but that they bite.
[Dryden, "All for Love"]

Phrase out of half wit "half out of one's mind" was in Middle English (late 14c.). Half-witted "lacking common sense" is from 1640s.

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snap (v.)

1520s, of animals, "to make a quick bite," from snap (n.). Meaning "to break suddenly or sharply" is first recorded c. 1600; the mental sense is from 1970s. Meaning "come into place with a snap" is from 1793. Meaning "take a photograph" is from 1890. U.S. football sense first recorded 1887. Related: Snapped; snapping. To snap the fingers is from 1670s. Phrase snap out of it recorded by 1907. Snapping turtle is attested from 1784. Snap-brim (adj.) in reference to a type of hat is from 1928.

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look (n.)

late Old English, "act or action of looking," from look (v.). Meaning "a particular instance of looking, a glance," especially one which conveys a certain feeling is from early 14c. Meaning "appearance of a person, visual or facial expression" is from late 14c. Looks with the same sense as the singular is from 1560s. Expression if looks could kill ..., of one seething silently, is attested by 1827 (if looks could bite is attested from 1747). Fashion sense "totality of appearance" is from 1938.

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copperhead (n.)

Trigonocephalus contortrix, common venomous serpent of the U.S., 1775, American English, so called for the copper-colored markings between its eyes; see copper (n.1) + head (n.).

Dangerous "sneak snakes" (because unlike the rattlesnake they strike without previous movement or warning), hence the figurative use in reference to hidden danger or secret hostility.

The copper-head, though smaller, was much more feared. The rattle-snake was larger, sooner seen, and a true southerner, always living up to the laws of honor. He would not bite without provocation, and by his rattles gave the challenge in an honorable way. Instead of this well-bred warfare, the copper-head is a wrathy little felon, whose ire is always up, and he will make at the hand or the foot in the leaves or grass, before he is seen, and his bite is as poisonous as that of his brother of the larger fang. The young men tested his temper, and found that in his wrath he would bite a red hot coal. [Henry Howe, "Historical Collections of Ohio," 1854]

Specifically in reference to Northerners suspected of sympathizing with the Southern rebellion, the name is said to have been first used in Greeley's New York "Tribune," July 20, 1861. Charles H. Coleman, "The Use of the Term 'Copperhead' During the Civil War" ["Mississippi Valley Historical Review" 25 (1938), p.263] traces it to an anonymous letter against Ohio anti-war Democrats in the Cincinnati "Commercial" newspaper in the summer of 1861. The Woodsfield, Ohio, "Spirit of Democracy" for Sept. 18, 1861, quotes "The last Guernsey Times" as calling Democrats "disunion copperheads." It seems not to have been in widespread use until summer 1862. Before the war it was a colloquial name for the old U.S. copper penny. Related: Copperheadism.

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mite (n.1)

"tiny animal, minute arachnid," Old English mite "minute, parasitic insect or arachnid," from Proto-Germanic *miton (source also of Middle Dutch mite, Dutch mijt, Old High German miza, Danish mide) meaning originally perhaps "the cutter," in reference to its bite, from Proto-Germanic *mait- (source also of Gothic maitan, Old High German meizen "to cut"), from PIE root *mai- (1) "to cut" (see maim). Compare ant. Or else its original sense is "something small," and it is from PIE root *mei- (2) "small," in reference to size.

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breakfast (n.)

"first meal of the day," mid-15c., from the verbal phrase; see break (v.) + fast (n.). For vowel shift, see below. An Old English word for it was undernmete (see undern), also morgenmete "morning meal."

Spanish almuerzo "lunch," but formerly and still locally "breakfast," is from Latin admorsus, past participle of admordere "to bite into," from ad "to" + mordēre "to bite" (see mordant). German Frühstück is from Middle High German vruostücke, literally "early bit."

In common with almuerzo, words for "breakfast" tend over time to shift in meaning toward "lunch;" compare French déjeuner "breakfast," later "lunch" (cognate of Spanish desayuno "breakfast"), from Vulgar Latin *disieiunare "to breakfast," from Latin dis- "apart, in a different direction from" + ieiunare, jejunare "fast" (see jejune; also compare dine). Greek ariston in Homer and Herodotus was a meal at the break of day but in classical times taken in the afternoon.

The long/short vowel contrast in break/breakfast represents a common pattern where words from Old English have a long vowel in their modern form but a short vowel as the first element of a compound: Christ/Christmas, holy/holiday, moon/Monday, sheep/shepherd, wild/wilderness, etc.

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muzzle (n.)

late 14c., mosel, "device put over an animal's mouth to stop it from biting, eating, or rooting," from Old French musel "muzzle," also "snout, nose" (12c., Modern French museau), from muse "muzzle," from Gallo-Roman *musa "snout" (source also of Provençal mus, Old Spanish mus, Italian muso), a word of unknown origin, possibly related to Latin morsus "bite" (but OED finds "serious difficulties" with this).

Meaning "projecting jaws and nose of the head of an animal" is from early 15c.; sense of "open end of a firearm" is recorded from 1560s. Muzzle-loader "gun loaded from the muzzle" (opposed to breech-loader) is by 1858.

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treacle (n.)

mid-14c., "medicinal compound, antidote for poison," from Old French triacle "antidote, cure for snake-bite" (c. 1200), from Vulgar Latin *triacula, from Latin theriaca, from Greek thēriakē (antidotos) "antidote for poisonous wild animals," from fem. of thēriakos "of a wild animal," from thērion "wild animal," diminutive of thēr (genitive thēros) "wild animal," from PIE root *ghwer- "wild beast."

The sense of "molasses" is recorded from 1690s (the connection may be from the use of molasses as a laxative, or its use to disguise the bad taste of medicine); that of "anything too sweet or sentimental" is from 1771. Related: Treacly.

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