"intoxicating liquor made by malt fermentation," Old English ealu "ale, beer," from Proto-Germanic *aluth- (source also of Old Saxon alo, Old Norse öl), which is of uncertain origin. Perhaps from a PIE root meaning "bitter" (source also of Latin alumen "alum"), or from PIE *alu-t "ale," from root *alu-, which has connotations of "sorcery, magic, possession, and intoxication" [Watkins]. The word was borrowed from Germanic into Lithuanian (alus) and Old Church Slavonic (olu).
In the fifteenth century, and until the seventeenth, ale stood for the unhopped fermented malt liquor which had long been the native drink of these islands. Beer was the hopped malt liquor introduced from the Low Countries in the fifteenth century and popular first of all in the towns. By the eighteenth century, however, all malt liquor was hopped and there had been a silent mutation in the meaning of the two terms. For a time the terms became synonymous, in fact, but local habits of nomenclature still continued to perpetuate what had been a real difference: 'beer' was the malt liquor which tended to be found in towns, 'ale' was the term in general use in the country districts. [Peter Mathias, "The Brewing Industry in England," Cambridge University Press, 1959]
Meaning "festival or merry-meeting at which much ale was drunk" was in Old English (see bridal).
"Native North American shaman," by 1801, from adoption of the word medicine in native speech with a sense of "magical influence; something supposed to possess curative, supernatural, or mysterious power." The U.S.-Canadian boundary they called the Medicine Line (attested by 1880), because it conferred a kind of magic protection: punishment for crimes committed on one side of it could be avoided by crossing over to the other. Compare Middle English use of medicine in secondary senses of "moral, psychological, or social remedy; safeguard, defense."
Unless some understanding is arrived at between the American and Canadian Governments that offenders may be promptly and vigorously dealt with, I very much fear that killing and stealing will increase to such an extent that the country along the border will be scarcely habitable. When the Indians are made to understand that the mere fact of "hopping" across the line does not exempt them from punishment, there will be a much greater guarantee of their good behaviour. Now they call the boundary the "Medicine line," because no matter what they have done upon one side they feel perfectly secure after having arrived upon the other. [Report of Superintendent L.N.F. Crozier, Dec. 1880, in "North-West Mounted Police Force Commissioner's Report," 1880]
Hence also medicine bag "pouch containing some article supposed to possess curative or magical powers, worn on the person by native North American people" (1802).
in the sports sense, 1879, originally in cricket, "taking three wickets on three consecutive deliveries;" extended to other sports c. 1909, especially ice hockey ("In an earlier contest we had handed Army a 6-2 defeat at West Point as Billy Sloane performed hockey's spectacular 'hat trick' by scoring three goals" ["Princeton Alumni Weekly," Feb. 10, 1941]). So called allegedly because it entitled the bowler to receive a hat from his club commemorating the feat (or entitled him to pass the hat for a cash collection), but the term probably has been influenced by the image of a conjurer pulling objects from his hat (an act attested by 1876). The term was used earlier for a different sort of magic trick:
Place a glass of liquor on the table, put a hat over it, and say, "I will engage to drink every drop of that liquor, and yet I'll not touch the hat." You then get under the table; and after giving three knocks, you make a noise with your mouth, as if you were swallowing the liquor. Then, getting from under the table, say "Now, gentlemen, be pleased to look." Some one, eager to see if you have drunk the liquor, will raise the hat; when you instantly take the glass and swallow the contents, saying, "Gentlemen I have fulfilled my promise: you are all witnesses that I did not touch the hat." ["Wit and Wisdom," London, 1860]
supernatural being in Scandinavian mythology and folklore, 1610s (with an isolated use mid-14c.), from Old Norse troll "giant being not of the human race, evil spirit, monster." Some speculate that it originally meant "creature that walks clumsily," and derives from Proto-Germanic *truzlan, from *truzlanan (see troll (v.)). But it seems to have been a general supernatural word, such as Swedish trolla "to charm, bewitch;" Old Norse trolldomr "witchcraft."
The old sagas tell of the troll-bull, a supernatural being in the form of a bull, as well as boar-trolls. There were troll-maidens, troll-wives, and troll-women; the trollman, a magician or wizard, and the troll-drum, used in Lappish magic rites. The word was popularized in literary English by 19c. antiquarians, but it has been current in the Shetlands and Orkneys since Viking times. The first record of the word in modern English is from a court document from the Shetlands, regarding a certain Catherine, who, among other things, was accused of "airt and pairt of witchcraft and sorcerie, in hanting and seeing the Trollis ryse out of the kyrk yeard of Hildiswick."
Originally conceived as a race of malevolent giants, they have suffered the same fate as the Celtic Danann and by 19c. were regarded by peasants in in Denmark and Sweden as dwarfs and imps supposed to live in caves or under the ground.
They are obliging and neighbourly; freely lending and borrowing, and elsewise keeping up a friendly intercourse with mankind. But they have a sad propensity to thieving, not only stealing provisions, but even women and children. [Thomas Keightley, "The Fairy Mythology," London, 1850]
late 14c., poetrie, "poetry, composition in verse; a poem; ancient literature; poetical works, fables, or tales," from Old French poetrie (13c.), and perhaps directly from Medieval Latin poetria (c. 650), from Latin poeta (see poet). In classical Latin, poetria meant "poetess."
Figurative use is from 1660s. Old English had metergeweorc "verse," metercræft "art of versification." Also scop-cræft "the poet's art." Modern English lacks a true verb form in this group of words, though poeticize (1804), poetize (1580s, from French poétiser), and poetrize (c. 1600) have been tried. Poetry in motion (1826) perhaps is from poetry of motion (1813) "dance" (also poetry of the foot, 1660s). Poetry slam is by 1993.
... I decided not to tell lies in verse. Not to feign any emotion that I did not feel; not to pretend to believe in optimism or pessimism, or unreversible progress; not to say anything because it was popular, or generally accepted, or fashionable in intellectual circles, unless I myself believed it; and not to believe easily. [Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962), forward to "Selected Poems"]
Poetry — meaning the aggregate of instances from which the idea of poetry is deduced by every new poet — has been increasingly enlarged for many centuries. The instances are numerous, varied and contradictory as instances of love; but just as 'love' is a word of powerful enough magic to make the true lover forget all its baser and falser, usages, so is 'poetry' for the true poet. [Robert Graves, "The White Goddess"]
And the relation of the forms of poetry to the requirements of actual song is so fixed, that the laws of the four great groups of metre which we now successively to examine—the trimetre, tetrametre, pentametre, and hexametre—all depend upon the physical power of utterance in the breath. [Ruskin, "Elements of English Prosody, for use in St. George's Schools," 1880]
c. 1200, poisoun, "a deadly potion or substance," also figuratively, "spiritually corrupting ideas; evil intentions," from Old French poison, puison (12c., Modern French poison) "a drink," especially a medical drink, later "a (magic) potion, poisonous drink" (14c.), from Latin potionem (nominative potio) "a drinking, a drink," also "poisonous drink" (Cicero), from potare "to drink" (from PIE root *po(i)- "to drink").
A doublet of potion. For similar form evolution from Latin to French, compare raison from rationem, trahison from traditionem. The more usual Indo-European word for this is represented in English by virus. The Old English word was ator (see attercop) or lybb (cognate with Old Norse lyf "medicinal herbs;" see leaf (n.)).
For sense evolution, compare Old French enerber, enherber "to kill with poisonous plants." In many Germanic languages "poison" is named by a word equivalent to English gift (such as Old High German gift, German Gift, Danish and Swedish gift; Dutch gift, vergift). This shift might have been partly euphemistic, partly by influence of Greek dosis "a portion prescribed," literally "a giving," used by Galen and other Greek physicians to mean an amount of medicine (see dose (n.)).
Of persons detested or regarded as exerting baleful influence, by 1910. The slang meaning "alcoholic drink" is by 1805 in American English (potus as a past-participle adjective in Latin meant "drunken").
As an adjective from 1520s; with plant names from 18c. Poison ivy is recorded by 1784 for a shrub-vine of North America causing an itching rash on contact; poison oak for poison ivy or related species is by 1743. Poison sumac (1817), causing an even more severe rash, is a swamp-border tree noted for the brilliant red of its leaves in fall. Poison gas is recorded from 1915. Poison-pen (letter) was popularized 1913 by a notorious criminal case in Pennsylvania, U.S.; the phrase dates to 1898.
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."
name of an imaginary realm in "Las sergas de Esplandián" ("Exploits of Espladán"), a romance by Spanish writer Garci Ordóñez de Montalvo, published in 1510. It was a sequel to his "Amadis de Gaula," and was said to have been influential among Spanish explorers of the New World. It could have led them to misidentify Baja California as this mythical land and to mistake it for an island. The Amadis tales are the Iberian equivalent of the Arthurian romances; they are older than 1510 (traces of them have been found mid-14c.) and were wildly popular. That conquistadors and sailors would have known the story in all its imaginative detail is hardly surprising.
Amadis de Gaula ... set a fashion: all later Spanish writers of books of chivalry adopted the machinery of Amadis de Gaula. Later knights were not less brave (they could not be braver than) Amadis; heroines were not less lovely (they could not be lovelier) than Oriana; there was nothing for it but to make the dragons more appalling, the giants larger, the wizards craftier, the magic castles more inaccessible, the enchanted lakes deeper. Subsequent books of chivalry are simple variants of the types in Amadis de Gaula: Cervantes made his barber describe it as 'the best of all books of this kind.' This verdict is essentially just. Amadis de Gaula was read everywhere, especially in the French version of Herberay des Essarts. It was done into Hebrew during the sixteenth century, and attracted readers as different as St Ignatius of Loyola and Henry of Navarre. Its vogue perhaps somewhat exceeded its merit, but its merits are not inconsiderable. [James Fitzmaurice-Kelly, "Spanish Literature," 1922 edition]
Where Montalvo got the name and what it means, if anything, is a mystery. In reference to the native inhabitants, Californian is attested from 1785 as an adjective, 1789 as a noun. The element Californium (1950) was named in reference to University of California, where it was discovered.
Old English blæc "absolutely dark, absorbing all light, the color of soot or coal," from Proto-Germanic *blakaz "burned" (source also of Old Norse blakkr "dark," Old High German blah "black," Swedish bläck "ink," Dutch blaken "to burn"), from PIE *bhleg- "to burn, gleam, shine, flash" (source also of Greek phlegein "to burn, scorch," Latin flagrare "to blaze, glow, burn"), from root *bhel- (1) "to shine, flash, burn."
The same root produced Old English blac "bright, shining, glittering, pale;" the connecting notions being, perhaps, "fire" (bright) and "burned" (dark), or perhaps "absence of color." "There is nothing more variable than the signification of words designating colour" [Hensleigh Wedgwood, "A Dictionary of English Etymology," 1859].
The usual Old English word for "black" was sweart (see swart). According to OED: "In ME. it is often doubtful whether blac, blak, blake, means 'black, dark,' or 'pale, colourless, wan, livid.' " Used of dark-skinned people in Old English.
Of coffee with nothing added, attested by 1796. Black drop (1823) was a liquid preparation of opium, used medicinally. Black-fly (c. 1600) was used of various insects, especially an annoying pest of the northern American woods. Black Prince as a nickname of the eldest son of Edward III is attested by 1560s; the exact signification is uncertain.
Meaning "fierce, terrible, wicked" is from late 14c. Figurative senses often come from the notion of "without light," moral or spiritual. Latin niger had many of the same figurative senses ("gloomy; unlucky; bad, wicked, malicious"). The metaphoric use of the Greek word, melas, however, tended to reflect the notion of "shrouded in darkness, overcast." In English it has been the color of sin and sorrow at least since c. 1300; the sense of "with dark purposes, malignant" emerged 1580s (in black art "necromancy;" it is also the sense in black magic). Black flag, flown (especially by pirates) as a signal of "no mercy," is from 1590s. Black dog "melancholy" attested from 1826.
Black belt is from 1870 in reference to district extending across the U.S. South with heaviest African population (also sometimes in reference to the fertility of the soil); it is attested from 1913 in the judo sense, worn by one who has attained a certain high degree of proficiency. Black power is from 1966, associated with Stokely Carmichael. Black English "English as spoken by African-Americans," is by 1969. The Black Panther (1965) movement was an outgrowth of Student Nonviolent Co-ordinating Committee. Black studies is attested from 1968.
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]