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poison (n.)

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.

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poison (v.)

"to give poison to; add poison to; kill with poison," c. 1300, poisonen, from Old French poisonner "to give to drink," and directly from poison (n.). Figuratively, "to corrupt," from late 14c. Related: Poisoned; poisoning.

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rat-poison (n.)

"something used to poison rats with," especially arsenic, 1799, from rat (n.) + poison (n.).

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counter-poison (n.)

also counterpoison, "antidote," 1570s, from counter- + poison (n.).

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poisonwood (n.)

"small poisonous tree of the West Indies and southern Florida," 1721, from poison (n.) + wood (n.).

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poisoner (n.)

"one who poisons or corrupts," late 14c., poisonere, agent noun from poison (v.). OED notes that in Australia and New Zealand it was used for "A cook, esp. for large numbers" (1905).

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poisonous (adj.)

"having the properties of a poison; containing poison," 1570s, from poison (n.) + -ous. Failed rivals were poisonsome (1590s), poisonful (1550s), poisony (1590s). Earlier poisoned was used (late 15c.). Related: Poisonously; poisonousness. Compare venomous.

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potion (n.)

c. 1300, pocioun "medicinal drink, dose of liquid medicine or poison," from Old French pocion "potion, draught, medicine" (12c.), from Latin potionem (nominative potio) "a potion, a drinking," also "poisonous draught, magic potion" (source also of Spanish pocion "potion," ponzoña "poison," Italian pozione "potion"), from potus, irregular past participle of potare "to drink," from PIE root *po(i)- "to drink." A doublet of poison (n.). By early 15c. specifically as a magical or enchanted drink.

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*po(i)- 
*pō(i)-, Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to drink."

It forms all or part of: beer; bever; beverage; bib; bibitory; bibulous; hibachi; imbibe; imbrue; pinocytosis; pirogi; poison; potable; potation; potion; symposium.

It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit pati "drinks," panam "beverage;" Greek pinein "to drink," poton "that which one drinks," potos "drinking bout;" Latin potare "to drink," potio "a potion, a drinking," also "poisonous draught, magic potion;" Old Church Slavonic piti "to drink," pivo "beverage."
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gift (n.)

mid-13c. "that which is given" (c. 1100 in surnames), from a Scandinavian source such as Old Norse gift, gipt "gift; good luck," from Proto-Germanic *geftiz (source also of Old Saxon gift, Old Frisian jefte, Middle Dutch ghifte "gift," German Mitgift "dowry"), from *geb- "to give," from PIE root *ghabh- "to give or receive." For German Gift, Dutch, Danish, Swedish gift "poison," see poison (n.).

Sense of "natural talent" (regarded as conferred) is from c. 1300, perhaps from earlier sense of "inspiration, power miraculously bestowed" (late 12c.), as in the Biblical gift of tongues. Old English cognate gift is recorded only in the sense "bride-price, marriage gift (by the groom), dowry" (hence gifta (pl.) "a marriage, nuptials"). The Old English noun for "a giving, gift" was giefu, which is related to the Old Norse word. Sense of "natural talent" is c. 1300, perhaps from earlier sense of "inspiration" (late 12c.). The proverbial gift horse was earlier given horse:

No man ought to looke a geuen hors in the mouth. [Heywood, 1546]

The modern form perhaps traces to Butler's "Hudibras" (1663), where the tight iambic tetrameter required a shorter phrase:

He ne'er consider'd it, as loth
To look a Gift-horse in the mouth.
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