Late Old English ræfen, refen, earlier hræfn (Mercian), hrefn, hræfn (Northumbrian, West Saxon), from Proto-Germanic *khrabanaz (source also of Old Norse hrafn, Danish ravn, Dutch raaf, Old High German hraban, German Rabe "raven," Old English hroc "rook"), from a PIE root imitative of harsh sounds (compare Latin crepare "to creak, clatter," cornix "crow," corvus "raven;" Greek korax "raven," korōnē "crow;" Old Church Slavonic kruku "raven;" Lithuanian krauklys "crow"). Old English, by a normal alteration of -fn, also used hræmn, hremm.
A larger species of crow common in Europe and Asia, noted for its lustrous black plumage and raucous voice; the raven is "popularly regarded as a bird of evil omen and mysterious character" [OED].
Raven mythology shows considerable homogeneity throughout the whole area [northern regions of the northern hemisphere] in spite of differences in detail. The Raven peeps forth from the mists of time and the thickets of mythology, as a bird of slaughter, a storm bird, a sun and fire bird, a messenger, an oracular figure and a craftsman or culture hero. [Edward A. Armstrong, "The Folklore of Birds," 1958]
The Quran connects the raven with Cain's murder of Abel, but in Christianity the bird plays a positive role in the stories of St. Benedict, St. Paul the Hermit, St. Vincent, etc. Poe's poem was published in 1845. It was anciently believed to live to a great age but also to be wanting in parental care. The raven standard was the flag of the Danish vikings. The vikings, like Noah, were said to have used the raven to find land when at sea. "When uncertain of their course they let one loose, and steered the vessel in his track, deeming that the land lay in the direction of his flight; if he returned to the ship, it was supposed to be at a distance" [Charles Swainson, "The Folk Lore and Provincial Names of British Birds," London, 1886]. As an English name for the constellation Corvus by late 14c.
[circular band] Old English hring "circlet of metal, especially one of a precious metal for wearing on the finger ornamentally, also a part of a mail coat; anything circular," from Proto-Germanic *hringaz "something curved, circle" (source also of Old Norse hringr, Old Frisian hring, Danish, Swedish, Dutch ring, Old High German hring, German Ring), from nasalized form of PIE root *sker- (2) "to turn, bend."
Other Old English senses were "circular group of persons" (birds, actually), also "horizon." In Old and Middle English also "a bracelet, armlet." As a token of marriage, betrothal, chastity, etc., by c. 1200. The sense of "a number of things arranged in a circle" is by 1580s.
The meaning "place for prize fight and wrestling bouts" (early 14c.) is from the space in a circle of bystanders in the midst of which such contests once were held, "... a circle formed for boxers, wrestlers, and cudgel players, by a man styled Vinegar; who, with his hat before his eyes, goes round the circle, striking at random with his whip to prevent the populace from crowding in" [Grose, 1785]. Hence the ring "boxing" (by 1770). The meaning "combination of persons interested in attaining some object" is from 1829, originally commercial or political, latter in reference to espionage or terrorism. Of the annual growth bands in trees, from 1670s.
Fairy ring is from 1620s. Ring finger, "third finger of the left hand" (in anatomy, of either hand) is Old English hringfingr, a compound also attested in other Germanic languages; it is also called ring-man (15c.). To run rings round (someone) "be superior to" is from 1891.
The nursery rhyme ring a ring a rosie is attested in an American form (with a different ending) from c. 1790. "The belief that the rhyme originated with the Great Plague is now almost universal, but has no evidence to support it and is almost certainly nonsense" ["Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore"]. This proposal of connection dates only to the late 1960s.
Old English deaþ "total cessation of life, act or fact of dying, state of being dead; cause of death," in plural, "ghosts," from Proto-Germanic *dauthuz (source also of Old Saxon doth, Old Frisian dath, Dutch dood, Old High German tod, German Tod, Old Norse dauði, Danish død, Swedish död, Gothic dauus "death"), from verbal stem *dau-, which is perhaps from PIE root *dheu- (3) "to die" (see die (v.)). With Proto-Germanic *-thuz suffix indicating "act, process, condition."
I would not that death should take me asleep. I would not have him meerly seise me, and onely declare me to be dead, but win me, and overcome me. When I must shipwrack, I would do it in a sea, where mine impotencie might have some excuse; not in a sullen weedy lake, where I could not have so much as exercise for my swimming. [John Donne, letter to Sir Henry Goodere, Sept. 1608]
Of inanimate things, "cessation, end," late 14c. From late 12c. as "death personified, a skeleton as the figure of mortality." As "a plague, a great mortality," late 14c. (in reference to the first outbreak of bubonic plague; compare Black Death). Death's-head, a symbol of mortality, is from 1590s. Death's door "the near approach of death" is from 1540s.
As a verbal intensifier "to death, mortally" (as in hate (something) to death) 1610s; earlier to dead (early 14c.). Slang be death on "be very good at" is from 1839. To be the death of "be the cause or occasion of death" is in Shakespeare (1596). Expression a fate worse than death is from 1810 though the idea is ancient.
Death row "part of a prison exclusively for those condemned to capital execution" is by 1912. Death knell is attested from 1814; death penalty "capital punishment" is from 1844; death rate from 1859. Death-throes "struggle which in some cases accompanies death" is from c. 1300.
mid-12c., dien, deighen, of sentient beings, "to cease to live," possibly from Old Danish døja or Old Norse deyja "to die, pass away," both from Proto-Germanic *dawjan (source also of Old Frisian deja "to kill," Old Saxon doian, Old High German touwen, Gothic diwans "mortal"), from PIE root *dheu- (3) "to pass away, die, become senseless" (source also of Old Irish dith "end, death," Old Church Slavonic daviti, Russian davit' "to choke, suffer").
It has been speculated that Old English had *diegan, from the same source, but it is not in any of the surviving texts and the preferred words were steorfan (see starve), sweltan (see swelter), wesan dead ("become dead"), also forðgan and other euphemisms.
Languages usually don't borrow words from abroad for central life experiences, but "die" words are an exception; they often are hidden or changed euphemistically out of superstitious dread. A Dutch euphemism translates as "to give the pipe to Maarten."
Regularly spelled dege through 15c., and still pronounced "dee" by some in Lancashire and Scotland. Of plants, "become devitalized, wither," late 14c.; in a general sense of "come to an end" from mid-13c. Meaning "be consumed with a great longing or yearning" (as in dying to go) is colloquial, from 1709. Used figuratively (of sounds, etc.) from 1580s; to die away "diminish gradually" is from 1670s. To die down "subside" is by 1834. Related: Died; dies.
To die out "become extinct" is from 1865. To die game "preserve a bold, resolute, and defiant spirit to the end" (especially of one facing the gallows) is from 1793. Phrase never say die "don't give up or in" is by 1822; the earliest contexts are in sailors' jargon.
"Never look so cloudy about it messmate," the latter continued in an unmoved tone—"Cheer up man, the rope is not twisted for your neck yet. Jack's alive; who's for a row? Never say die while there's a shot in the locker. Whup;" [Gerald Griffin, "Card Drawing," 1842]
parting salutation, 1860, of unknown origin, perhaps from a German idiom (compare German parting salutation adieu so lange, the full sense of which probably is something like "farewell, whilst (we're apart)"); or perhaps from Hebrew shalom (via Yiddish sholom). Some have noted a similarity to Scandinavian leave-taking phrases, such as Norwegian Adjø så lenge, Farvel så lenge, Mor'n så lenge, literally "bye so long, farewell so long, morning so long;" and Swedish Hej så länge "good-bye for now," with så länge "for now" attested since 1850 according to Swedish sources. Most etymology sources seem to lean toward the German origin. So long (adv.) "for such a long time" is from late Old English.
Earlier guesses that it was a sailors' corruption of a South Pacific form of Arabic salaam are not now regarded as convincing. "Dictionary of American Slang" also adds to the list of candidates Irish slán "safe," said to be used as a salutation in parting. The phrase seems to have turned up simultaneously in America, Britain, and perhaps Canada, originally among lower classes. First attested use is in title and text of the last poem in Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" in the 1860 edition.
An unknown sphere, more real than I dream'd, more direct, darts awakening rays about me — So long!
Remember my words — I may again return,
I love you — I depart from materials;
I am as one disembodied, triumphant, dead.
Whitman's friend and fan William Sloane Kennedy wrote in 1923:
The salutation of parting — 'So long!' — was, I believe, until recent years, unintelligible to the majority of persons in America, especially in the interior, and to members of the middle and professional classes. I had never heard of it until I read it in Leaves of Grass, but since then have quite often heard it used by the laboring class and other classes in New England cities. Walt wrote to me, defining 'so long' thus: "A salutation of departure, greatly used among sailors, sports, & prostitutes — the sense of it is 'Till we meet again,' — conveying an inference that somehow they will doubtless so meet, sooner or later." ... It is evidently about equivalent to our 'See you later.' The phrase is reported as used by farm laborers near Banff, Scotland. In Canada it is frequently heard; 'and its use is not entirely confined to the vulgar.' It is in common use among the working classes of Liverpool and among sailors at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and in Dorsetshire. ... The London Globe suggests that the expression is derived from the Norwegian 'Saa laenge,' a common form of 'farewell,' au revoir. If so, the phrase was picked up from the Norwegians in America, where 'So long' first was heard. The expression is now (1923) often used by the literary and artistic classes.
c. 1300, fairie, "the country or home of supernatural or legendary creatures; fairyland," also "something incredible or fictitious," from Old French faerie "land of fairies, meeting of fairies; enchantment, magic, witchcraft, sorcery" (12c.), from fae "fay," from Latin fata "the Fates," plural of fatum "that which is ordained; destiny, fate," from PIE root *bha- (2) "to speak, tell, say." Also compare fate (n.), also fay.
In ordinary use an elf differs from a fairy only in generally seeming young, and being more often mischievous. [Century Dictionary]
But that was before Tolkien. As a type of supernatural being from late 14c. [contra Tolkien; for example "This maketh that ther been no fairyes" in "Wife of Bath's Tale"], perhaps via intermediate forms such as fairie knight "supernatural or legendary knight" (c. 1300), as in Spenser, where faeries are heroic and human-sized. As a name for the diminutive winged beings in children's stories from early 17c.
Yet I suspect that this flower-and-butterfly minuteness was also a product of "rationalization," which transformed the glamour of Elfland into mere finesse, and invisibility into a fragility that could hide in a cowslip or shrink behind a blade of grass. It seems to become fashionable soon after the great voyages had begun to make the world seem too narrow to hold both men and elves; when the magic land of Hy Breasail in the West had become the mere Brazils, the land of red-dye-wood. [J.R.R. Tolkien, "On Fairy-Stories," 1947]
Hence, figurative adjective use in reference to lightness, fineness, delicacy. Slang meaning "effeminate male homosexual" is recorded by 1895. Fairy ring, of certain fungi in grass fields (as we would explain it now), is from 1590s. Fairy godmother attested from 1820. Fossil Cretaceous sea urchins found on the English downlands were called fairy loaves, and a book from 1787 reports that "country people" in England called the stones of the old Roman roads fairy pavements.
"small sack," c. 1200, bagge, probably from Old Norse baggi "pack, bundle," or a similar Scandinavian source. OED rejects connection to other Germanic words for "bellows, belly" as without evidence and finds a Celtic origin untenable. In some senses perhaps from Old French bague, which is also from Germanic.
As disparaging slang for "woman" it dates from 1924 in modern use (but various specialized senses of this are much older, and compare baggage). Meaning "person's area of interest or expertise" is 1964, from African-American vernacular, from jazz sense of "category," probably via notion of putting something in a bag. Meaning "fold of loose skin under the eye" is by 1867. Related: bags.
To be left holding the bag (and presumably nothing else), "cheated, swindled" is attested by 1793. Many figurative senses, such as the verb meaning "to kill game" (1814) and its colloquial extension to "catch, seize, steal" (1818) are from the notion of the game bag (late 15c.) into which the product of the hunt was placed. This also probably explains modern slang in the bag "assured, certain" (1922, American English).
To let the cat out of the bag "reveal the secret" is from 1760. The source is probably the French expression Acheter chat en poche "buy a cat in a bag," which is attested in 18c. French and explained in Bailey's "Universal Etymological English Dictionary" (1736), under the entry for To buy a pig in a poke as "to buy a Thing without looking at it, or enquiring into the Value of it." (Similar expressions are found in Italian and German; and in English, Wyclif (late 14c.) has To bye a catte in þo sakke is bot litel charge). Thus to let the cat out of the bag would be to inadvertently reveal the hidden truth of a matter one is attempting to pass off as something better or different, which is in line with the earliest uses in English.
Sir Joseph letteth the cat out of the bag, and sheweth principles inimical to the cause of true philosophy, by wishing to make great men Fellows, instead of wise men ["Peter Pindar," "Peter's Prophecy," 1788]
1590s, "pertaining to the island of Lesbos," from Latin Lesbius, from Greek lesbios "of Lesbos," Greek island in northeastern Aegean Sea (the name originally may have meant "wooded"), home of Sappho, great lyric poet whose erotic and romantic verse embraced women as well as men, hence meaning "relating to homosexual relations between women, characterized by erotic interest in other women" (in continuous use from 1890; the noun lesbianism from this sense is attested from 1870) and the noun, which is first recorded 1925.
Sappho's particular association with erotic love between women (with or without concurrent relations with men) dates to at least 1732 in writing in English, though the continuous use of lesbian and the modern words formed from it are from late 19c. The use of lesbian as a noun and an adjective in this sense seems to follow the same pattern.
In another Place the same commentator conjectures, that Myra is a Corruption of Myrrhina а famous Courtesan of Athens, who first practis'd and taught in that City Sappho's Manner and the Lesbian Gambols. ["Peregrine O Donald" (William King), "The Toast," 1732]
Before this, the principal figurative use of Lesbian was lesbian rule (c. 1600 and especially common in 17c.) a mason's rule of lead, of a type used in ancient times on Lesbos, which could be bent to fit the curves of a molding; hence, figuratively, "pliant morality or judgment."
And this is the nature of the equitable, a correction of law where it is defective owing to its universality. ... For when the thing is indefinite the rule also is indefinite, like the leaden rule used in making the Lesbian moulding; the rule adapts itself to the shape of the stone and is not rigid, and so too the decree is adapted to the facts. [Aristotle, "Nicomachean Ethics"]
It also was used in English from 1775 in reference to wines from Lesbos. Though the specific "pertaining to female homosexuality" is recent, Lesbian had long before that a suggestion of "amatory, erotic," "From the reputed character of the inhabitants and the tone of their poetry" [Century Dictionary]. The island's erotic reputation was ancient; Greek had a verb lesbiazein "to imitate the Lesbians," which implied "sexual initiative and shamelessness" among women (especially fellatio), but not necessarily female homosexuality, and they did not differentiate such things the way we have.
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.
Tiphon "violent storm, whirlwind, tornado," 1550s, from Greek typhon "whirlwind," personified as a giant, father of the winds, probably [Beekes] from or related to typhein "to smoke" (see typhus), but according to Watkins from PIE *dheub- "deep, hollow," via notion of "monster from the depths." The meaning "cyclone, violent hurricane of India or the China Seas" is first recorded 1588 in Thomas Hickock's translation of an account in Italian of a voyage to the East Indies by Caesar Frederick, a merchant of Venice:
concerning which Touffon ye are to vnderstand, that in the East Indies often times, there are not stormes as in other countreys; but euery 10. or 12. yeeres there are such tempests and stormes, that it is a thing incredible, but to those that haue seene it, neither do they know certainly what yeere they wil come. ["The voyage and trauell of M. Caesar Fredericke, Marchant of Venice, into the East India, and beyond the Indies"]
This sense of the word, in reference to titanic storms in the East Indies, first appears in Europe in Portuguese in the mid-16th century. It apparently is from tufan, a word in Arabic, Persian, and Hindi meaning "big cyclonic storm." Yule ["Hobson-Jobson," London, 1903] writes that "the probability is that Vasco [da Gama] and his followers got the tufao ... direct from the Arab pilots."
The Arabic word sometimes is said to be from Greek typhon, but other sources consider it purely Semitic, though the Greek word might have influenced the form of the word in English. Al-tufan occurs several times in the Koran for "a flood or storm" and also for Noah's Flood. Chinese (Cantonese) tai fung "a great wind" also might have influenced the form or sense of the word in English, and that term and the Indian one may have had some mutual influence; toofan still means "big storm" in India.
From the thighs downward he was nothing but coiled serpents, and his arms which, when he spread them out, reached a hundred leagues in either direction, had countless serpents' heads instead of hands. His brutish ass-head touched the stars, his vast wings darkened the sun, fire flashed from his eyes, and flaming rocks hurtled from his mouth. [Robert Graves, "Typhon," in "The Greek Myths"]