c. 1300, gyrle "child, young person" (of either sex but most frequently of females), of unknown origin. One guess [OED] leans toward an unrecorded Old English *gyrele, from Proto-Germanic *gurwilon-, diminutive of *gurwjoz (apparently also represented by Low German gære "boy, girl," Norwegian dialectal gorre, Swedish dialectal gurre "small child," though the exact relationship, if any, between all these is obscure), from PIE *ghwrgh-, also found in Greek parthenos "virgin." But this involves some objectionable philology. Liberman (2008) writes:
Girl does not go back to any Old English or Old Germanic form. It is part of a large group of Germanic words whose root begins with a g or k and ends in r. The final consonant in girl is a diminutive suffix. The g-r words denote young animals, children, and all kinds of creatures considered immature, worthless, or past their prime.
Another candidate is Old English gierela "garment" (for possible sense evolution in this theory, compare brat). A former folk-etymology derivation from Latin garrulus "chattering, talkative" is now discarded. Like boy, lass, lad it is of more or less obscure origin. "Probably most of them arose as jocular transferred uses of words that had originally different meaning" [OED]. Specific meaning of "female child" is late 14c. Applied to "any young unmarried woman" since mid-15c. Meaning "sweetheart" is from 1640s. Old girl in reference to a woman of any age is recorded from 1826. Girl next door as a type of unflashy attractiveness is recorded by 1953 (the title of a 20th Century Fox film starring June Haver).
Doris [Day] was a big vocalist even before she hit the movies in 1948. There, as the latest movie colony "girl next door," sunny-faced Doris soon became a leading movie attraction as well as the world's top female recording star. "She's the girl next door, all right," said one Hollywood admirer. "Next door to the bank." [Life magazine, Dec. 22, 1958]
Girl Friday "resourceful young woman assistant" is from 1940, a reference to "Robinson Crusoe." Girl Scout is from 1909. For the usual Old English word, see maiden.
famous seven-star figure of the northern sky, Old English Carles wægn, a star-group associated in medieval times with Charlemagne, but earlier with the nearby bright star Arcturus. Arcturus is linked by folk etymology to Latin Arturus "Arthur," which places the seven-star asterism at the crux of the legendary association (or confusion) of Arthur and Charlemagne. Evidence from Dutch (cited in Grimm, "Teutonic Mythology") suggests that it might originally have been Woden's wagon. More recent names for it are the Plough (by 15c., chiefly British) and the Dipper (1833, chiefly American).
It is called "the Wagon" in a Mesopotamian text from 1700 B.C.E., and it is mentioned in the Biblical Book of Job. The seven bright stars in the modern constellation Ursa Major have borne a dual identity in Western history at least since Homer's time, being seen as both a wagon and a bear: as in Latin plaustrum "freight-wagon, ox cart" and arctos "bear," both used of the seven-star pattern, as were equivalent Greek amaxa (Attic hamaxa) and arktos.
The identification with a wagon is easy to see, with four stars as the body and three as the pole. The identification with a bear is more difficult, as the figure has a tail longer than its body. As Allen writes, "The conformation of the seven stars in no way resembles the animal,—indeed the contrary ...." But he suggests the identification "may have arisen from Aristotle's idea that its prototype was the only creature that dared invade the frozen north." The seven stars never were below the horizon in the latitude of the Mediterranean in Homeric and classical times (not so today, due to precession of the equinoxes). See also arctic for the identification of the bear and the north in classical times.
A variety of French and English sources from the early colonial period independently note that many native North American tribes in the northeast had long seen the seven-star group as a bear tracked by three hunters (or a hunter and his two dogs).
Among the Teutonic peoples, it seems to have been only a wagon. A 10c. Anglo-Saxon astronomy manual uses the Greek-derived Aretos, but mentions that the unlearned call it "Charles's Wain":
Arheton hatte an tungol on norð dæle, se haefð seofon steorran, & is for ði oþrum naman ge-hatan septemtrio, þone hatað læwede meon carles-wæn. ["Anglo-Saxon Manual of Astronomy"]
[Septemtrio, the seven oxen, was yet another Roman name.] The star picture was not surely identified as a bear in English before late 14c.
The unlearned of today are corrected that the seven stars are not the Great Bear but only a part of that large constellation. But the name "Bear" belongs to the seven stars, and from Homer's time down to Thales, "the Bear" meant just that, but modern astronomers drew it bigger in parceling out the sky for their convenience.
From Rome to Anglo-Saxon England to Arabia to India, ancient astronomy texts mention a supposed duplicate constellation to the northern bear in the Southern Hemisphere, never visible from the north. This perhaps is based on sailors' tales of the Southern Cross.
"quadruped of the genus Canis," Old English docga, a late, rare word, used in at least one Middle English source in reference specifically to a powerful breed of canine; other early Middle English uses tend to be depreciatory or abusive. Its origin remains one of the great mysteries of English etymology.
The word forced out Old English hund (the general Germanic and Indo-European word, from root from PIE root *kwon-) by 16c. and subsequently was picked up in many continental languages (French dogue (16c.), Danish dogge, German Dogge (16c.). The common Spanish word for "dog," perro, also is a mystery word of unknown origin, perhaps from Iberian. A group of Slavic "dog" words (Old Church Slavonic pisu, Polish pies, Serbo-Croatian pas) likewise is of unknown origin.
In reference to persons, by c. 1200 in abuse or contempt as "a mean, worthless fellow, currish, sneaking scoundrel." Playfully abusive sense of "rakish man," especially if young, "a sport, a gallant" is from 1610s. Slang meaning "ugly woman" is from 1930s; that of "sexually aggressive man" is from 1950s.
Many expressions — a dog's life (c. 1600), go to the dogs (1610s), dog-cheap (1520s), etc. — reflect the earlier hard use of the animals as hunting accessories, not pets. In ancient times, "the dog" was the worst throw in dice (attested in Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit, where the word for "the lucky player" was literally "the dog-killer"), which plausibly explains the Greek word for "danger," kindynos, which appears to be "play the dog" (but Beekes is against this).
Notwithstanding, as a dog hath a day, so may I perchance have time to declare it in deeds. [Princess Elizabeth, 1550]
Meaning "something poor or mediocre, a failure" is by 1936 in U.S. slang. From late 14c. as the name for a heavy metal clamp of some kind. Dog's age "a long time" is by 1836. Adjectival phrase dog-eat-dog "ruthlessly competitive" is by 1850s. Phrase put on the dog "get dressed up" (1934) may be from comparison of dog collars to the stiff stand-up shirt collars that in the 1890s were the height of male fashion (and were known as dog-collars from at least 1883).
And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from Hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
Cry Havoc! and let slip the dogs of war;
[Shakespeare, "Julius Caesar"]
"agricultural implement drawn by animals, used to cut ground and turn it up to prepare it for sowing or planting," late Old English ploʒ, ploh "plow; plowland" (a measure of land equal to what a yoke of oxen could plow in a day); in reference to the implement perhaps from a Scandinavian cognate (such as Old Norse plogr "plow;" compare Swedish and Danish plog; Middle English Compendium notes that, "As an element in names, plough is most freq. in the area of the Danelaw"); from Proto-Germanic *plōga- (source also of Old Saxon plog, Old Frisian ploch "plow," Middle Low German ploch, Middle Dutch ploech, Dutch ploeg, Old High German pfluog, German Pflug), a late word in Germanic, of uncertain origin.
Rare as a word alone in Old English, where the usual word for "plow" (n.) was sulh (later sull), which is cognate with Latin sulcus "furrow" (see sulcus).
Old Church Slavonic plugu, Lithuanian plūgas "plow" are Germanic loan-words, as probably is Latin plovus, plovum "plow," a word said by Pliny to be of Rhaetian origin. Boutkan argues against that and points out that, "A priori, the initial p- [in a Germanic word] points to a probable non-IE origin." He also notes the unclear etymological connection with Albanian plúar "plow," which "may have the same, apparently Central-European origin as the Gmc. etymon. On the other hand, the word may represent a North-European innovation which would also be found in OIr. dlongid 'split' < *tlong-." For the usual IE "plow" word, see arable.
The plow and the use of it would have been familiar to most people in England (and later America) from remote antiquity to fairly recent times, and it thus figures largely in image and metaphor; Middle English had (modernized) govern the plow of battles "command an army, wage war;" drive (or hold) the plow "bear burdens; gain the authority;" have weak oxen in the plow "not have energy for the undertaking;" put (one) in pain's plow "force to suffer;" and slightly later plow the sand "labor fruitlessly."
As a name for the star pattern also known as the Big Dipper or Charles's Wain, it is attested by early 15c., perhaps early 14c., also Arthouris Plowe. The three "handle" stars (in the Dipper configuration) generally are seen as the team of oxen pulling the plow, though sometimes they are the plow's handle.
English coin, Middle English peni, from Old English pening, penig, Northumbrian penning "penny," from Proto-Germanic *panninga- (source also of Old Norse penningr, Swedish pänning, Danish penge, Old Frisian panning, Old Saxon pending, Middle Dutch pennic, Dutch penning, Old High German pfenning, German Pfennig, not recorded in Gothic where skatts is used instead), a word of unknown origin.
Offa's reformed coinage on light, broad flans is likely to have begun c.760-5 in London, with an awareness of developments in Francia and East Anglia. ... The broad flan penny established by Offa remained the principal denomination, with only minor changes, until the fourteenth century. [Anna Gannon, "The Iconography of Early Anglo-Saxon Coinage," Oxford, 2003]
The English coin was originally set at one-twelfth of a shilling (or 240 to a Tower pound) and was of silver, later copper, then bronze. There are two plural forms: pennies of individual coins, pence collectively. In Middle English, any coin could be called a penny, and in translations it rendered various foreign coins of small denomination, especially Latin denarius, whence comes its abbreviation d.
As an American English colloquial for cent, it is recorded by 1889. In reference to nails, "a pound," denoting that 1,000 nails will weigh so much, OED says it probably is based originally on the price per 100 and persisted as prices fell.
Penny-a-liner "writer for a journal or newspaper" is attested by 1830, from their supposed rate of pay. Penny dreadful in reference to "cheap and gory fiction" dates from 1870. Phrase penny-wise and pound-foolish is recorded from c. 1600.
Penny-pincher "miserly person" is recorded from 1906 (Middle English had pinchpenny (n.) in that sense; as an adjective penny-pinching is recorded from 1858, American English). Penny loafers attested from 1960, perhaps from the fashion of slipping a penny into the slits of the bands across the facing.
"A regular penny-a-liner is a person who supplies the newspapers of the city with short articles of news, ingenious remarks upon the current topics of the day, reports of meetings, or of cases in the police offices, accidents, &c. &c., but who, observe, has no express engagement from, or any direct connexion with, any newspaper whatever. His success is wholly precarious—always uncertain. If the contributions which those persons forward for publication, in this way, are published, they are certain of payment for them at the rate of one penny, three half-pence, and in rare cases, two pence a-line, according to the importance of the subject matter supplied. ["The London Penny-a-Line System," Irish Monthly Magazine, January 1833]
early 13c., "silly, stupid, or ignorant person," from Old French fol "madman, insane person; idiot; rogue; jester," also "blacksmith's bellows," also an adjective meaning "mad, insane" (12c., Modern French fou), from Medieval Latin follus (adj.) "foolish," from Latin follis "bellows, leather bag," from PIE root *bhel- (2) "to blow, swell."
The sense evolution probably is from Vulgar Latin use of follis in a sense of "windbag, empty-headed person." Compare also Sanskrit vatula- "insane," literally "windy, inflated with wind." But some sources suggest evolution from Latin folles "puffed cheeks" (of a buffoon), a secondary sense from plural of follis. One makes the "idiot" sense original, the other the "jester" sense.
The word has in mod.Eng. a much stronger sense than it had at an earlier period; it has now an implication of insulting contempt which does not in the same degree belong to any of its synonyms, or to the derivative foolish. [OED]
Also used in Middle English for "sinner, rascal, impious person" (late 13c.). Meaning "jester, court clown" in English is attested c. 1300, though it is not always possible to tell whether the reference is to a professional entertainer counterfeiting mental weakness or an amusing lunatic, and the notion of the fool sage whose sayings are ironically wise is also in English from c. 1300. The French word probably also got into English via its borrowing in the Scandinavian languages of the vikings (Old Norse fol, Old Danish fool, fol).
There is no foole to the olde foole ["Proverbs of John Heywood," 1546]
To make a fool of (someone) "cause to appear ridiculous" is from 1620s (make fool "to deceive, make (someone) appear a fool" is from early 15c.). Feast of Fools (early 14c., from Medieval Latin festum stultorum) was the burlesque festival celebrated in some churches on New Year's Day in medieval times. Fool's gold "iron pyrite" is from 1829. Fool's paradise "illusory state of happiness based on ignorance or erroneous judgment" is from mid-15c. (foles paradyce). Fool-trap is from 1690s. Foolosopher, a useful insult, is in a 1549 translation of Erasmus. Fool's ballocks is described in OED as "an old name" for the green-winged orchid. Fool-killer "imaginary personage invested with authority to put to death anybody notoriously guilty of great folly" is from 1851, American English.
Fool killer, a great American myth imagined by editors, who feign that his or its services are greatly needed, and frequently alluded to as being "around" or "in town" when some special act of folly calls for castigation. Whether the fool-killer be an individual or an instrument cannot always be gathered from the dark phraseology in which he or it is alluded to; but the weight of authority would sanction the impersonal interpretation. [Walsh, "Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities," 1892]
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread is a (shortened) line of Pope's "Essay on Criticism" (1711) popularized in Burke's "Reflections on the Revolution in France" (1793).
c. 1300, "to make, with an edged tool or instrument, an incision in; make incisions for the purpose of dividing into two or more parts; remove by means of a cutting instrument;" of an implement, "have a cutting edge," according to Middle English Compendium from a presumed Old English *cyttan, "since ME has the normal regional variants of the vowel." Others suggest a possible Scandinavian etymology from North Germanic *kut- (source also of Swedish dialectal kuta "to cut," kuta "knife," Old Norse kuti "knife"), or that it is from Old French couteau "knife."
It has largely displaced Old English ceorfan (see carve (v.)), snian, and scieran (see shear). The past participle is also cut, though cutted sometimes has been used since Middle English.
From early 14c. as "to make or fashion by cutting or carving." From c. 1400 as "to intersect or cross." From early 15c. as "abridge or shorten by omitting a part."
Meaning "to wound the sensibilities of" is from 1580s (to cut the heart in the same sense is attested from early 14c.). Sense of "sever connection or relations with" is from 1630s.
Meaning "to be absent without excuse" is British university slang from 1794. Colloquial or slang sense of "move off with directness and rapidity" is from 1580s. Meaning "divide (a deck of cards) at random into parts before the deal" to prevent cheating is from 1530s.
Meaning "to dilute, adulterate" (liquor, etc.) is by 1930. Colloquial sense of "to divide or share" is by 1928, perhaps an image from meat-carving at table. As a director's call to halt recording or performing, by 1931 (in an article about Pete, the bulldog with the black-ringed eye in the Hal Roach studios shorts, who was said to know the word). The sense of "perform, execute" (c. 1600) is in cut capers "frisk about;" cut a dash "make a display."
To cut down is from late 14c. as "to fell;" by 1821 as "to slay" (as with a sword); 1857 as "to curtail." To cut (someone or something) down to size is from 1821 as "reduce to suitable dimensions;" the figurative sense, "reduce to the proper level of importance," is by 1927.
To cut in "enter suddenly and unceremoniously" is from 1610s; sense of "suddenly join in conversation, interrupt" is by 1830. To cut up "cut in pieces" is from 1570s. To cut back is from 1871 as "prune by cutting off shoots," 1913 in cinematography, "return to a previous scene by repeating a part of it," 1943 as "reduce, decrease" (of expenditures, etc.). To cut (something) short "abridge, curtail, interrupt" is from 1540s.
In nautical use to cut a feather (1620s) is to move so fast as to make water foam under the bow. To cut and run (1704) also is originally nautical, "cut cable and set sail immediately," as in an emergency, hence, generally, "to make off suddenly."
To cut the teeth "have the teeth grow through the gums" as an infant is from 1670s. To cut both ways in the figurative sense of "have a good and bad effect" is from c. 1600. To cut loose "set (something) free" is by 1828; intransitive sense "begin to act freely" is by 1909.
Cut it out "remove (something) by or as if by cutting" yielded a figurative use in the command cut it out! "Stop! That's enough!" by 1933. The evolution seems to have begun earlier. A piece attributed to the Chicago Live Stock World that made the rounds in trade publications 1901-02 begins:
When you get 'hot' about something and vow you are going to rip something or somebody up the back—cut it out.
If you feel disposed to try the plan of building yourself up by tearing some one else down—cut it out.
Playing on both senses, it ends with "Should you, after reading this preachy stuff, fear you might forget some of the good advice—cut it out."
Old English wicce "female magician, sorceress," in later use especially "a woman supposed to have dealings with the devil or evil spirits and to be able by their cooperation to perform supernatural acts," fem. of Old English wicca "sorcerer, wizard, man who practices witchcraft or magic," from verb wiccian "to practice witchcraft" (compare Low German wikken, wicken "to use witchcraft," wikker, wicker "soothsayer").
OED says of uncertain origin; Liberman says "None of the proposed etymologies of witch is free from phonetic or semantic difficulties." Klein suggests connection with Old English wigle "divination," and wig, wih "idol." Watkins says the nouns represent a Proto-Germanic *wikkjaz "necromancer" (one who wakes the dead), from PIE *weg-yo-, from PIE root *weg- "to be strong, be lively."
That wicce once had a more specific sense than the later general one of "female magician, sorceress" perhaps is suggested by the presence of other words in Old English describing more specific kinds of magical craft. In the Laws of Ælfred (c. 890), witchcraft was specifically singled out as a woman's craft, whose practitioners were not to be suffered to live among the West Saxons:
Ða fæmnan þe gewuniað onfon gealdorcræftigan & scinlæcan & wiccan, ne læt þu ða libban.
The other two words combined with it here are gealdricge, a woman who practices "incantations," and scinlæce "female wizard, woman magician," from a root meaning "phantom, evil spirit."
Another word that appears in the Anglo-Saxon laws is lyblæca "wizard, sorcerer," but with suggestions of skill in the use of drugs, because the root of the word is lybb "drug, poison, charm" (see leaf (n.)). Lybbestre was a fem. word meaning "sorceress," and lybcorn was the name of a certain medicinal seed (perhaps wild saffron). Weekley notes possible connection to Gothic weihs "holy" and German weihan "consecrate," and writes, "the priests of a suppressed religion naturally become magicians to its successors or opponents." Whatever the English word's origin, the use of a "poisoner" word for "witch, sorceress" parallels that of the Hebrew word used for "witch, sorceress" in the Levitical condemnation.
In Anglo-Saxon glossaries, wicca renders Latin augur (c. 1100), and wicce stands for "pythoness, divinatricem." In the "Three Kings of Cologne" (c. 1400) wicca translates Magi:
Þe paynyms ... cleped þe iij kyngis Magos, þat is to seye wicchis.
The glossary translates Latin necromantia ("demonum invocatio") with galdre, wiccecræft. The Anglo-Saxon poem called "Men's Crafts" (also "The Gifts of Men") has wiccræft, which appears to be the same word, and by its context means "skill with horses." In a c. 1250 translation of "Exodus," witches is used of the Egyptian midwives who save the newborn sons of the Hebrews: "Ðe wicches hidden hem for-ðan, Biforen pharaun nolden he ben."
Witch in reference to a man survived in dialect into 20c., but the fem. form was so dominant by 1601 that men-witches or he-witch began to be used. Extended sense of "old, ugly, and crabbed or malignant woman" is from early 15c; that of "young woman or girl of bewitching aspect or manners" is first recorded 1740. Witch doctor is from 1718; applied to African magicians from 1836.
At this day it is indifferent to say in the English tongue, 'she is a witch,' or 'she is a wise woman.' [Reginald Scot, "The Discoverie of Witchcraft," 1584]