"the middle of summer, the period of the summer solstice," Old English midsumor, from mid (adj.) + sumor "summer" (see summer (n.1)). Midsummer Day, an English quarter-day, was June 24 (Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist). Astronomically, midsummer falls on June 21, but the event traditionally was reckoned in northern Europe on the night of June 23-24 (with summer beginning at the start of May). Midsummer night was an occasion of superstitious practices and wild festivities.
name of the mischievous fairy in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," in 16c. the name of a fairy of high repute (his disguised name was Robin Goodfellow or Friar Rush), also generally, "an elf, fairy, or sprite;" probably from Middle English pouke "devil, evil spirit" (c. 1300; early 13c. in place-names), from Old English puca, pucel "goblin," which is cognate with Old Norse puki "devil, fiend," a word of unknown origin (compare pug). Celtic origins also have been proposed.
mid-15c., "day that begins a quarter of the year," designated as days when rents were paid and contracts and leases began or expired, from quarter (n.1). They were, in England, Lady day (March 25), Midsummer day (June 24), Michaelmas day (Sept. 29), and Christmas day (Dec. 25); in Scotland, keeping closer to the pre-Christian Celtic calendar, they were Candlemas (Feb. 2), Whitsunday (May 15), Lammas (Aug. 1), and Martinmas (Nov. 11). Quarter in the sense "period of three months; one of the four divisions of a year" is recorded from late 14c. Related: Quarter days.
also hobby-horse, 1550s, "mock horse used in the morris-dance;" 1580s, "child's toy riding horse," from hobby (n.) + horse (n.). Transferred sense of "favorite pastime or avocation" first recorded 1670s (shortened to hobby by 1816). The connecting notion being "activity that doesn't go anywhere."
The hobbyhorse originally was a "Tourney Horse," a wooden or basketwork frame worn around the waist and held on with shoulder straps, with a fake tail and horse head attached, so the wearer appears to be riding a horse. These were part of church and civic celebrations at Midsummer and New Year's throughout England.
Meaning "to frequent (a place)" is from c. 1300 in English. In Middle English to haunte scole was "attend school," and in Middle English as in Old French the verb had a secondary sense of "have sexual intercourse with." Use in reference to a spirit or ghost returning to the house where it had lived perhaps was in Proto-Germanic, but if so it was lost or buried; revived by Shakespeare's plays, it is first recorded 1590 in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Old French had a noun derivative, hantise "obsession, obsessive fear" (14c.).
solid ungulate quadruped beast of burden of the horse kind, but smaller and with long ears and a short mane, native to southwest Asia, Old English assa (Old Northumbrian assal, assald) "he-ass." The English word is cognate with Old Saxon esil, Dutch ezel, Old High German esil, German Esel, Gothic asilus, and, beyond Germanic, Lithuanian asilas, Old Church Slavonic osl, Russian oselŭ, etc. All probably are ultimately from Latin asinus. De Vaan says the form of asinus suggests it was a loan-word into Latin, and adds, "Most IE words for 'ass' are loanwords."
Together with Greek onos it is conjectured to be from a language of Asia Minor (compare Sumerian ansu). The initial vowel of the English word might be by influence of Celtic forms (Irish and Gaelic asal), from Old Celtic *as(s)in "donkey." In Romanic tongues the Latin word has become Italian asino, Spanish asno, Old French asne, French âne.
In familiar use, the name ass is now to a great extent superseded by donkey (in Scotland cuddie); but ass is always used in the language of Scripture, Natural History, proverb, and fable; also, in ordinary use, in Ireland. [OED]
Sure-footed and patient in domestication, since ancient Greek times, in fables and parables, the animal has typified clumsiness and stupidity (hence ass-head, late 15c., etc.). To make an ass of oneself is from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1590). Asses' Bridge (c. 1780), from Latin Pons Asinorum, is fifth proposition of first book of Euclid's "Elements." In Middle English, someone uncomprehending or unappreciative would be lik an asse that listeth on a harpe. In 15c., an ass man was a donkey-driver.
For al schal deie and al schal passe, Als wel a Leoun as an asse. [John Gower, "Confessio Amantis," 1393]
slang for "backside," first attested 1860 in nautical slang, in popular use from 1930; chiefly U.S.; from dialectal variant pronunciation of arse (q.v.). The loss of -r- before -s- is attested in other words (burst/bust, curse/cuss, horse/hoss, barse/bass, garsh/gash, parcel/passel).
Indirect evidence of the change from arse to ass can be traced to 17c. By 1680s arse was being pronounced to rhyme with "-ass" words, as in "Sodom or the Quintessence of Debauchery": "I would advise you, sir, to make a pass/Once more at Pockenello's loyal arse." It is perhaps as early as Shakespeare's day, if Nick Bottom transformed into a donkey in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1594) is the word-play some think it is.
I must to the barber's, mounsieur; for me thinks I am marvellous hairy about the face; and I am such a tender ass, if my hair do but tickle me, I must scratch. [Bottom]
By 1785 polite speakers were avoiding ass in the "donkey" sense.
Meaning "woman regarded as a sexual object" is by early 1940s (piece of ass seems to be implied in 1930s Tijuana Bibles), but the image is older (compare buttock "a common strumpet," 1670s). To have (one's) head up (one's) ass "not know what one is doing" is attested by 1969. Colloquial (one's) ass "one's self, one's person" attested by 1958. To work (one's) ass off "work very much" is by 1946; to laugh (one's) ass off "laugh very much" is by 1972 (implied from 1965). The (stick it) up your ass oath is attested by 1953; apparent euphemisms suggest earlier use:
He snoighed up his nose as if th' cheese stunk, eyed me wi an air o contempt fro my shoon to my yed, un deawn ogen fro my yed to my shoon ; un then pushin th' brade un cheese into my hont ogen, he says "Take your vile bread and cheese and stick it up your coat sleeve, and be demmed to you. Do you think I want your paltry grub?" Un then, turnin on his heel, he hurried into th' perk. ["Bobby Shuttle un His Woife Sayroh's Visit to Manchester," 1857]