871 entries found.
chance (n.)

c. 1300, "something that takes place, what happens, an occurrence" (good or bad, but more often bad), especially one that is unexpected, unforeseen, or beyond human control, also "one's luck, lot, or fortune," good or bad, in a positive sense "opportunity, favorable contingency;" also "contingent or unexpected event, something that may or may not come about or be realized," from Old French cheance "accident, chance, fortune, luck, situation, the falling of dice" (12c., Modern French chance), from Vulgar Latin *cadentia "that which falls out," a term used in dice, from neuter plural of Latin cadens, present participle of cadere "to fall," from PIE root *kad- "to fall."

In English frequently in plural, chances. The word's notions of "opportunity" and "randomness" are as old as the record of it in English and now all but crowd out its original notion of "mere occurrence." Meaning "fortuity, absence of any cause why an event should happen or turn out as it does, variability viewed as a real agent" is from c. 1400.

Chance is equivalent to the mathematical concept of probability, which is a precisely measurable factor enabling the accurate prediction of average outcomes over long runs of random events — the longer the run, the more accurate the predictions. Luck is at best a platitude and at worst a superstition. [David Partlett, "A History of Card Games"]

Main chance "probability that offers greatest advantage," hence "thing of most importance" is from 1570s. Mathematical sense "probability, likelihood of a certain outcome" is from 1778, hence the odds-making sense "balanced probability of gain or loss." To stand a chance (or not) is from 1796. To take (one's) chances "accept what happens" (early 14c.) is from the old, neutral sense; to take a chance/take chances is originally (by 1814) "participate in a raffle or lottery or game;" extended sense of "take a risk" is by 1826.

Related entries & more
English (n.1)

"the people of England; the speech of England," noun use of Old English adjective Englisc (contrasted to Denisc, Frencisce, etc.), "of or pertaining to the Angles," from Engle (plural) "the Angles," the name of one of the Germanic groups that overran the island 5c., supposedly so-called because Angul, the land they inhabited on the Jutland coast, was shaped like a fish hook (see angle (n.)). The use of the word in Middle English was reinforced by Anglo-French Engleis. Cognates: Dutch Engelsch, German Englisch, Danish Engelsk, French Anglais (Old French Engelsche), Spanish Inglés, Italian Inglese.

Technically "of the Angles," but Englisc also was used from earliest times without distinction for all the Germanic invaders — Angles, Saxon, Jutes (Bede's gens Anglorum) — and applied to their group of related languages by Alfred the Great. "The name English for the language is thus older than the name England for the country" [OED]. After 1066, it specifically meant the native population of England (as distinguished from Normans and French occupiers), a distinction which lasted about a generation. But as late as Robert of Gloucester's "Chronicle" (c. 1300) it still could retain a sense of "Anglian" and be distinguished from "Saxon" ("Þe englisse in þe norþ half, þe saxons bi souþe").

... when Scots & others are likely to be within earshot, Britain & British should be inserted as tokens, but no more, of what is really meant [Fowler]

In pronunciation, "En-" has become "In-," perhaps through the frequency of -ing- words and the relative rarity of -e- before -ng- in the modern language. A form Inglis is attested from 14c. and persisted in Scotland and northern England, and Ingland and Yngelond were used for "England" in Middle English, but the older spelling has stood fast. Meaning "English language or literature as a subject at school" is from 1889.

Related entries & more
match (n.1)

"stick for striking fire." Late 14c., macche, "wick of a candle or lamp," a sense now obsolete, from Old French meiche "wick of a candle," from Vulgar Latin *micca/*miccia (source also of Catalan metxa, Spanish mecha, Italian miccia), which is of uncertain origin, probably ultimately from Latin myxa, from Greek myxa "lamp wick," originally "mucus," based on notion of wick dangling from the spout of a lamp like snot from a nostril, from PIE root *meug- "slimy, slippery" (see mucus). English snot also had a secondary sense from late 14c. of "snuff of a candle, burnt part of a wick," surviving at least to late 19c. in northern dialects.

The modern spelling is from mid-15c. The meaning "piece of cord or tow soaked in sulfur, used for lighting fires, lamps, candles, etc." is from 1530. It was used by 1830 for the modern type of sulfur-tipped wooden friction match, which were perfected about that time, and competed with lucifer for much of 19c. as the name for this invention. An earlier version consisted of a thin strip of wood tipped with combustible matter that required contact with phosphorous carried separately in a box or vial.

In the manufacture of matches much trouble has been occasioned by the use of phosphorous .... In some of the small and poorly-managed factories the men and children are never free from the fumes; their clothes and breath are luminous in the dark, and in the daytime white fumes may be seen escaping from them whenever they are seated by the fire. ... The danger arising from the use of matches was magnified, because they could sometimes be seen in the dark, were liable to ignite on a warm shelf, and were poisonous to such an extent that children had been killed by using them as playthings. [John A. Garver, "Matches," in The Popular Science Monthly, August 1877]
Related entries & more
power (n.)

c. 1300, pouer, "ability; ability to act or do; strength, vigor, might," especially in battle; "efficacy; control, mastery, lordship, dominion, ability or right to command or control; legal power or authority; authorization; military force, an army," from Anglo-French pouair, Old French povoir, noun use of the infinitive, "to be able," earlier podir (9c.), from Vulgar Latin *potere (source also of Spanish poder, Italian potere), from Latin potis "powerful" (from PIE root *poti- "powerful; lord").

Whatever some hypocritical ministers of government may say about it, power is the greatest of all pleasures. It seems to me that only love can beat it, and love is a happy illness that can't be picked up as easily as a Ministry. [Stendhal "de l'Amour," 1822]

Meaning "one who has power, person in authority or exercising great influence in a community" is late 14c. Meaning "a specific ability or capacity" is from early 15c. In mechanics, "that with which work can be done," by 1727.

Sense of "property of an inanimate thing or agency of modifying other things" is by 1590s. Meaning "a state or nation with regard to international authority or influence" [OED] is from 1726. Meaning "energy available for work is from 1727. Sense of "electrical supply" is from 1896.

Colloquial a power of for "a large quantity of, a great number of" is from 1660s (compare powerful). Phrase the powers that be "the authorities concerned" is from Romans xiii.1. As a statement wishing good luck, more power to(someone) is recorded from 1842. A man-advantage power play in ice hockey so called by 1940. Power failure "failure of the (electrical) power supply" is from 1911; power steering in a motor vehicle is from 1921. Power politics "political action based on or backed by threats of force" (1937) translates German Macht-politik.

Related entries & more
work (v.)

a fusion of Old English wyrcan (past tense worhte, past participle geworht) "prepare, perform, do, make, construct, produce; strive after" (from Proto-Germanic *wurkjanan); and Old English wircan (Mercian) "to operate, function, set in motion," a secondary verb formed relatively late from Proto-Germanic noun *werkan (see work (n.)).

Sense of "perform physical labor" was in Old English, as was sense "ply one's trade" and "exert creative power, be a creator." Transitive sense "manipulate (physical substances) into a desired state or form" was in Old English. Meaning "have the expected or desired effect" is from late 14c. In Middle English also "perform sexually" (mid-13c.). Related: Worked (15c.); wrought; working.

To work in "insert, introduce or intermix," as one material with another, is by 1670s; hence the figurative sense "cause to enter or penetrate by repeated efforts." To work up (transitive) "bring into some state or condition" is by 1590s of material things, 1690s of immaterial things; hence "bring by labor or special effort to a higher state or condition" (1660s). The meaning "excite, stir up, raise, rouse" is from c. 1600. To work over "beat up, thrash" is from 1927. To work against "attempt to subvert" is from late 14c.

To work out "bring about or procure (a result) by continued labor or effort" is by 1530s. As "bring to a fuller or finished state, elaborate, develop," by 1821. Meaning "to solve, calculate the solution to" a problem or question is by 1848. Intransitive sense "make its way out" is from c. 1600; the sense of "succeed" is attested by 1909. Sense of "exhaust (a mine, etc.) by working it" is from 1540s. The pugilistic sense of "box for practice (rather than in a contest) is by 1927, hence the general sense of "practice, rehearse" (1929) and that of "take exercise" (by 1948).

Related entries & more
goon (n.)

1921, in U.S. humorist Frederick J. Allen's piece "The Goon and His Style" (Harper's Monthly Magazine, December 1921), which defines it as "a person with a heavy touch," one who lacks "a playful mind;" perhaps a made-up word, or from gony "simpleton" (1580s), which was applied by sailors to the albatross and similar big, clumsy birds. Goons were contrasted with jiggers, and the columns about them had some currency in U.S. newspapers c. 1921-25.

A goon is a person with a heavy touch as distinguished from a jigger, who has a light touch. ... Most Germans are goons; most French jiggers. ["A 'Goon' and His Style," in Lincoln State Journal, Dec. 9, 1921]

The word turns up in various places early 20c.: As a mythical monster in a children's serialized story in the U.S. from 1904, as the name of a professional wrestler in North Carolina in 1935. The goons were characters in the "Thimble Theater" comic strip (starring Popeye) by U.S. cartoonist E.C. Segar (1894-1938); they appeared in Segar's strips from mid-1930s and, though they reportedly gave children nightmares, enjoyed a burst of popularity when they appeared in animated cartoons in 1938.

The most famous was Alice the Goon, slow-witted and muscular (but gentle-natured) character who began as the Sea Hag's assistant. Segar might have got the word directly from sailors' jargon.

Later 20c. senses of the word all probably stem from this: Sense of "hired thug" is first recorded 1938 (in reference to union "beef squads" used to cow strikers in the Pacific Northwest). She also was the inspiration for British comedian Spike Milligan's "The Goon Show." Also used among American and British POWs in World War II in reference to their German guards. What are now "juvenile delinquents" were in the 1940s sometimes called goonlets.

Related entries & more

Old English fæger "pleasing to the sight (of persons and body features, also of objects, places, etc.); beautiful, handsome, attractive," of weather, "bright, clear, pleasant; not rainy," also in late Old English "morally good," from Proto-Germanic *fagraz (source also of Old Saxon fagar, Old Norse fagr, Swedish fager, Old High German fagar "beautiful," Gothic fagrs "fit"), perhaps from PIE *pek- (1) "to make pretty" (source also of Lithuanian puošiu "I decorate").

The meaning in reference to weather preserves the oldest sense "suitable, agreeable" (opposed to foul (adj.)). Of the main modern senses of the word, that of "light of complexion or color of hair and eyes, not dusky or sallow" (of persons) is from c. 1200, faire, contrasted to browne and reflecting tastes in beauty. From early 13c. as "according with propriety; according with justice," hence "equitable, impartial, just, free from bias" (mid-14c.).

Of wind, "not excessive; favorable for a ship's passage," from late 14c. Of handwriting from 1690s. From c. 1300 as "promising good fortune, auspicious." Also from c. 1300 as "above average, considerable, sizable." From 1860 as "comparatively good."

The sporting senses (fair ball, fair catch, etc.) began to appear in 1856. Fair play is from 1590s but not originally in sports (earlier it meant "pleasant amusement," c. 1300, and foul play was "sinful amusement"). Fair-haired in the figurative sense of "darling, favorite" is from 1909. First record of fair-weather friends is from 1736 (in a letter from Pope published that year, written in 1730). The fair sex "women" is from 1660s, from the "beautiful" sense (fair as a noun meaning "a woman" is from early 15c.). Fair game "legitimate target" is from 1776, from hunting.

Others, who have not gone to such a height of audacious wickedness, have yet considered common prostitutes as fair game, which they might pursue without restraint. ["Advice from a Father to a Son, Just Entered into the Army and about to Go Abroad into Action," London, 1776]
Related entries & more

late 14c., "relating to civil law or life; pertaining to the internal affairs of a state," from Old French civil "civil, relating to civil law" (13c.) and directly from Latin civilis "relating to a society, pertaining to public life, relating to the civic order, befitting a citizen," hence by extension "popular, affable, courteous;" alternative adjectival derivative of civis "townsman" (see city).

Meaning "not barbarous, civilized" is from 1550s. Specifically "relating to the commonwealth as secularly organized" (as opposed to military or ecclesiastical) by 1610s. Meaning "relating to the citizen in his relation to the commonwealth or to fellow citizens" also is from 1610s.

The word civil has about twelve different meanings; it is applied to all manner of objects, which are perfectly disparate. As opposed to criminal, it means all law not criminal. As opposed to ecclesiastical, it means all law not ecclesiastical: as opposed to military, it means all law not military, and so on. [John Austin, "Lectures on Jurisprudence," 1873]

The sense of "polite" was in classical Latin, but English did not pick up this nuance of the word until late 16c., and it has tended to descend in meaning to "meeting minimum standards of courtesy." "Courteous is thus more commonly said of superiors, civil of inferiors, since it implies or suggests the possibility of incivility or rudeness" [OED].

Civil, literally, applies to one who fulfills the duty of a citizen; It may mean simply not rude, or observant of the external courtesies of intercourse, or quick to do and say gratifying and complimentary things. ...  Courteous, literally, expresses that style of politeness which belongs to courts: a courteous man is one who is gracefully respectful in his address and manner — one who exhibits a union of dignified complaisance and kindness. The word applies to all sincere kindness and attention. [Century Dictionary, 1895]

Civil case (as opposed to criminal) is recorded from 1610s. Civil liberty "natural liberty restrained by law only so far as is necessary for the public good" is by 1640s.

Related entries & more
conspiracy (n.)

mid-14c., "a plotting of evil, unlawful design; a combination of persons for an evil purpose," from Anglo-French conspiracie, Old French conspiracie "conspiracy, plot," from Latin conspirationem (nominative conspiratio) "agreement, union, unanimity," noun of action from past-participle stem of conspirare "to agree, unite, plot," literally "to breathe together" (see conspire).

Earlier in same sense was conspiration (early 14c.), from French conspiration (13c.), from Latin conspirationem. An Old English word for it was facengecwis.

Conspiracy theory "explanation of an event or situation involving unwarranted belief that it is caused by a conspiracy among powerful forces" emerged in mid-20c. (by 1937) and figures in the writings of, or about, Charles Beard, Hofstadter, Veblen, etc., but the degree of paranoia and unreasonableness implied in each use is not always easy to discern. The phrase was used from 19c. in a non-pejorative sense "the theory that a (certain) conspiracy exists," especially in court cases. Its use in general reference to theories of hidden cabals pulling wires behind the scenes of national or global events is by 1871.

We shall better understand the ensuing civil war if we study the movements in the four most important of these States, in relation to a theory which asserts that the secession was a conspiracy whose central cabal, composed of Southern senators and representatives in Washington, dictated through its ramifications in the States the inception and the course of the revolution. [James Ford Rhodes, page headed "The Conspiracy Theory" in "History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850," New York, 1893]
To the Jingo Imperialist "the South African Conspiracy" is the alleged Dutch conspiracy to drive the British into the sea. But, to the man accustomed to weigh evidence and to base his opinions on ascertained facts, it is clear that this conspiracy theory is absolutely untenable, for whatever "evidence" has been adduced in support of the theory is nebulous and shadowy in the extreme. ["The South African Conspiracy," in The Westminster Review, January 1902]
Related entries & more
king (n.)

a late Old English contraction of cyning "king, ruler" (also used as a title), from Proto-Germanic *kuningaz (source also of Dutch koning, Old Norse konungr, Danish konge, Old Saxon and Old High German kuning, Middle High German künic, German König).

This is of uncertain origin. It is possibly related to Old English cynn "family, race" (see kin), making a king originally a "leader of the people." Or perhaps it is from a related prehistoric Germanic word meaning "noble birth," making a king etymologically "one who descended from noble birth" (or "the descendant of a divine race"). The sociological and ideological implications render this a topic of much debate. "The exact notional relation of king with kin is undetermined, but the etymological relation is hardly to be doubted" [Century Dictionary].

General Germanic, but not attested in Gothic, where þiudans (cognate with Old English þeoden "chief of a tribe, ruler, prince, king") was used. Finnish kuningas "king," Old Church Slavonic kunegu "prince" (Russian knyaz, Bohemian knez), Lithuanian kunigas "clergyman" are forms of this word taken from Germanic. Meaning "one who has superiority in a certain field or class" is from late 14c.

As leon is the king of bestes. [John Gower, "Confessio Amantis," 1390]

In Old English, used for chiefs of Anglian and Saxon tribes or clans, of the heads of states they founded, and of the British and Danish chiefs they fought. The word acquired a more imposing quality with the rise of European nation-states, but then it was applied to tribal chiefs in Africa, Asia, North America. The chess piece is so called from c. 1400; the playing card from 1560s; the use in checkers/draughts is first recorded 1820. Three Kings for the Biblical Wise Men is from c. 1200.

[I]t was [Eugene] Field who haunted the declining years of Creston Clarke with his review of that actor's Lear. ... Said he, "Mr. Clarke played the King all the evening as though under constant fear that someone else was about to play the Ace." ["Theatre Magazine," January 1922]
Related entries & more

Page 85