a digraph written also as a ligature (œ) found in Latin words and Greek borrowings into Latin, representing Greek -oi-. Words with -oe- that came early into English from Old French or Medieval Latin usually already had been leveled to -e- (economic, penal, cemetery), but later borrowings directly from Latin or Greek tended to retain it at first (oestrus, diarrhoea, amoeba) as did proper names (Oedipus, Phoebe, Phoenix) and purely technical terms. British English tends to be more conservative with it than American, which has done away with it in all but a few instances.
It also occurred in some native Latin words (foedus "treaty, league," foetere "to stink," hence occasionally in English foetid, foederal, which last was the form in the original publications of the "Federalist" papers). In these it represents an ancient -oi- in Old Latin (for example Old Latin oino, Classical Latin unus), which apparently passed through an -oe- form before being leveled out but was preserved into Classical Latin in certain words, especially those belonging to the realms of law (such as foedus) and religion. These language demesnes, along with the vocabulary of sailors, are the most conservative branches of any language in any time, through a need for precision and immediate comprehension, demonstration of learning, or superstitious dread. But in foetus it was an unetymological spelling in Latin that was picked up in English and formed the predominant spelling of fetus into the early 20c.
The digraph in English also can represent a modified vowel, a mutation or umlaut of -o- in German or Scandinavian words (such as Goethe) and a similar vowel in French words (e.g. oeil "eye," from Latin oculus).
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.).
fem. proper name, name of the faithful wife in the "Odyssey," from Greek Pēnelopē, Pēnelopeia, which is perhaps related to pēne "thread on the bobbin," from pēnos "web," cognate with Latin pannus "cloth garment" (see pane (n.)). But Beekes suggests rather a connection with pēnelops "duck or wild goose with colored neck." Used in English as the type of the virtuous wife (1580) as it was in Latin.
Penelope, the daughter of Icarus, was a rare and perfect example of chastity. For though it was generally thought that her husband Ulysses was dead, since he had been absent from her twenty years; yet, neither the desires of her parents, nor the solicitations of her lovers, could prevail on her to marry another man, and to violate the promises of constancy which she gave to her husband when he departed. And when many noblemen courted her, and even threatened her with ruin, unless she declared which of them should marry her, she desired that the choice might be deferred till she had finished the piece of needle-work about which she was then employed: but undoing by night what she had worked by day, she delayed them till Ulysses returned and killed them all. Hence came the proverb, "To weave Penelope's web;" that is, to labour in vain; when one hand destroys what the other has wrought. [Andrew Tooke, "The Pantheon, Representing the Fabulous Histories of the Heathen Gods and Most Illustrious Heroes, in a Plain and Familiar Method," London: 1824]
c. 1500, "a ceasing, an ending; a going away, act of leaving" (obsolete in this sense), from Old French departement "division, sharing out; divorce, parting" (12c.), from Late Latin departire "to divide" (transitive), from de- "from" (see de-) + partire "to part, divide," from pars (genitive partis) "a part, piece, a share, a division" (from PIE root *pere- (2) "to grant, allot").
French department came also to mean "group of people" (as well as "departure"), and from this by 1735 English had borrowed the sense of "separate division of a complex whole, separate business assigned to someone in a larger organization, distinct branch or group of activities" (science, business, manufacture, the military). The specific meaning "separate division of a government" is from 1769. As an administrative district in France, from 1792.
Department store "store that sells a variety of items, organized by department" is from 1878.
The "Department Store" is the outgrowth of the cheap counter business originated by Butler Brothers in Boston about ten years ago. The little "Five Cent Counter" then became a cornerstone from which the largest of all the world's branches of merchandising was to be reared. It was the "Cheap Counter" which proved to the progressive merchant his ability to sell all lines of wares under one roof. It was the Five Cent Counter "epidemic" of '77 and '78 which rushed like a mighty whirlwind from the Atlantic to the Pacific and all along its path transformed old time one line storekeepers into the wide-awake merchant princes of the present day. It was this same epidemic which made possible the world famed Department Stores of Houghton, of Boston; Macy, of New York; Wanamaker, of Philadelphia; and Lehman, of Chicago. [American Storekeeper, 1885]
common burrowing mammal, identified as a rodent, noted for prolific breeding, late 14c., rabet, "young of the coney," suspected to be from Walloon robète or a similar northern French dialect word, a diminutive of Flemish or Middle Dutch robbe "rabbit," which are of unknown origin. "A Germanic noun with a French suffix" [Liberman]. The adult was a coney (q.v.) until 18c.
Zoologically speaking, there are no native rabbits in the United States; they are all hares. But the early colonists, for some unknown reason, dropped the word hare out of their vocabulary, and it is rarely heard in American speech to this day. When it appears it is almost always applied to the so-called Belgian hare, which, curiously enough, is not a hare at all, but a true rabbit. [Mencken, "The American Language"]
Rabbit punch "chop on the back of the neck" (1915) is so called from resemblance to a gamekeeper's method of dispatching an injured rabbit. Pulling rabbits from a hat as a conjurer's trick recorded by 1843. Rabbit's foot "good luck charm" is attested by 1879 in U.S. Southern black culture. Earlier references are to its use as a tool to apply cosmetic powders.
[N]ear one of them was the dressing-room of the principal danseuse of the establishment, who was at the time of the rising of the curtain consulting a mirror in regard to the effect produced by the application of a rouge-laden rabbit's foot to her cheeks, and whose toilet we must remark, passim, was not entirely completed. [New York Musical Review and Gazette, Nov. 29, 1856]
Rabbit-hole is by 1705. Rabbit ears "dipole television antenna" is from 1950. Grose's 1785 "Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue" has "RABBIT CATCHER. A midwife."
"mortuary, place where bodies of persons found dead are taken to be claimed by family or friends," 1821, from French Morgue, originally a specific building in Paris where bodies were exposed for identification:
There is, in the most populous part of the French metropolis, an establishment entitled La Morgue, destined for the reception and exposition of bodies drowned in the Seine, and caught in nets, which are placed in different parts of the river for that purpose. The object of this exposition is, that the deceased may be recognised by their friends or relatives, and receive the rights of sepulture accordingly. The Morgue is open at all hours of the day, to passengers of every description, and often displays at a time, five or six horrible carcasses stretched, without covering, on an inclined platform, and subjected to the promiscuous gaze of the mob. ["American Review," January 1811]
Before that it was the place where new prisoners were displayed to keepers to establish their identification. Thus the name is believed to be probably from French morgue "haughtiness, pride," originally "a sad expression, solemn look," from Old French morguer "look solemnly," from Vulgar Latin *murricare "to make a face, pout," from *murrum "muzzle, snout." The 1768 Dictionnaire Royal François-Anglois Et Anglois-François defines French morgue both as "A proud, big, haughty or stately look, stare, surliness, or surly look" and "A little gratel room wherein a new prisoner is set, and must continue some hours, that the Jailer's ordinary servants may the better take notice of his face."
Adopted 1880s as a general term in U.S., replacing earlier dead house, etc. In newspaper slang, "collection of pre-written obituary material of living persons" (1898), thence extended generally to "library of clips, photos, etc." (1918).
"a Conceit arising from the use of two Words that agree in the Sound, but differ in the Sense" [Addison]; "An expression in which the use of a word in two different applications, or the use of two different words pronounced alike or nearly alike, presents an odd or ludicrous idea" [Century Dictionary]; 1660s (first attested in Dryden), a word of uncertain origin.
Perhaps from pundigron, meaning the same thing (though attested first a few years later), itself a word of uncertain etymology, perhaps a humorous alteration of Italian puntiglio "equivocation, trivial objection," diminutive of Latin punctum "point." This is pure speculation. Punnet was another early form.
Pun was prob. one of the clipped words, such as cit, mob, nob, snob, which came into fashionable slang at or after the Restoration. [OED]
The verb, "to make puns," also is attested from 1660s, first in Dryden. Related: Punned; punning.
At the revival of learning, and the spread of what we may term the refinement of society, punning was one of the few accomplishments at which the fine ladies and gentlemen aimed. From the twelfth to the sixteenth century, it was at its greatest height. The conversation of the witty gallants, and ladies, and even of the clowns and other inferior characters, in the comedies of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, which we may be sure was painted from the life, is full of puns and plays upon words. The unavoidable result of such an excess was a surfeit, and the consequent dégout, which lasted for more than a century. Like other diseases, it broke out again subsequently with redoubled virulence, and made great havoc in the reign of Queen Anne. [Larwood & Hotten, "The History of Signboards from the Earliest Times to the Present Day," London, 1867]
Old English wæcce "a watching, state of being or remaining awake, wakefulness;" also "act or practice of refraining from sleep for devotional or penitential purposes;" from wæccan "keep watch, be awake," from Proto-Germanic *wakjan, from PIE root *weg- "to be strong, be lively."
From c. 1200 as "one of the periods into which the night is divided," in reference to ancient times translating Latin vigilia, Greek phylake, Hebrew ashmoreth. From mid-13c. as "a shift of guard duty; an assignment as municipal watchman;" late 13c. as "person or group obligated to patrol a town (especially at night) to keep order, etc."
Also in Middle English, "the practice of remaining awake at night for purposes of debauchery and dissipation;" hence wacches of wodnesse "late-night revels and debauchery." The alliterative combination watch and ward preserves the old distinction of watch for night-time municipal patrols and ward for guarding by day; in combination, they meant "continuous vigilance."
Military sense of "military guard, sentinel" is from late 14c. General sense of "careful observation, watchfulness, vigilance" is from late 14c.; to keep watch is from late 14c. Meaning "period of time in which a division of a ship's crew remains on deck" is from 1580s. The meaning "small timepiece" is from 1580s, developing from that of "a clock to wake up sleepers" (mid-15c.).
The Hebrews divided the night into three watches, the Greeks usually into four (sometimes five), the Romans (followed by the Jews in New Testament times) into four. [OED]
On þis niht beð fowuer niht wecches: Biforen euen þe bilimpeð to children; Mid-niht ðe bilimpeð to frumberdlinges; hanecrau þe bilimpeð þowuene men; morgewile to alde men. [Trinity Homilies, c. 1200]
spectral being in a human body who maintains semblance of life by leaving the grave at night to suck the warm blood of the living as they sleep, 1732, vampyre, from French vampire (18c.) or German Vampir (1732, like the English word first in an account of Hungarian vampires), from Hungarian vampir, from Old Church Slavonic opiri (source also of Serbian vampir, Bulgarian vapir, Ukrainian uper), said by Slavic linguist Franc Miklošič to be ultimtely from Kazan Tatar ubyr "witch," but Max Vasmer, an expert in this linguistic area, finds that phonetically doubtful.
An Eastern European creature popularized in English by late 19c. gothic novels, however there are scattered English accounts of night-walking, blood-gorged, plague-spreading undead corpses from as far back as 1196. Figurative sense of "person who preys on others" is from 1741. Applied 1774 by French biologist Buffon to a species of South American blood-sucking bat. Related: Vampiric.
MR. D'Anvers tells of a Conversation he had about a certain Prodigy, mention'd in the News Papers of March last, viz. that in the Village of Medreyga in Hungary, certain dead Bodies (call'd there Vampyres) had kill'd several Persons by sucking out all their Blood : That Arnold Paul, an Heyduke, having kill'd four Persons after he was dead, his Body was taken up 40 Days after, which bled at the Nose, Mouth and Ears : That, according to Custom, they drove a Stake thro' his Heart, at which he gave horrid Groan, and lost a great deal of Blood. And that all such as have been tormented or kill'd by Vampyres, become Vampyres when they are dead. [London Journal, May 20, 1732, quoted in Weekly Essays, May 1732]
The spread of the story about this time is perhaps traceable to a pamphlet published in 1732, the title page of which reads: Dissertationem De Hominibus Post Mortem Sanguisugis, Vulgo Sic Dictis Vampyren, Auctoritate Inclyti Philosophorum Ordinis, Publico Eruditorum Examini Die XXX. Aug. An. MDCCXXXII. Submittent M. Io. Christophorus Pohlius, Lignicens. Silesius Et Io. Gottlob Hertelius, Philos. Et Med. Stud.