1794, "recklessly daring person, one who fears nothing and will attempt anything," from dare (v.) + devil (n.). The devil might refer to the person, or the sense might be "one who dares the devil." For the formation, compare scarecrow, killjoy, dreadnought, pickpocket (n.), cut-throat, also fear-babe a 16c. word for "something that frightens children;" kill-devil "bad rum," sell-soul "one who sells his soul" (1670s).
As an adjective, "characteristic of a daredevil, reckless," by 1832. Related: Daredevilism; daredeviltry.
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Middle English durren, daren, from first and third person singular of Old English durran "be bold enough, have courage" (to do something), also transitive "to venture, presume," from Proto-Germanic *ders- (source also of Old Norse dearr, Old High German giturran, Gothic gadaursan), according to Watkins from PIE root *dhers- "bold" (source also of Sanskrit dadharsha "to be bold;" Old Persian darš- "to dare;" Greek thrasys "bold," tharsos "confidence, courage, audacity;" Old Church Slavonic druzate "to be bold, dare;" Lithuanian drįsti "to dare," drąsus "courageous").
An Old English irregular preterite-present verb: darr, dearst, dear were first, second and third person singular present indicative; mostly regularized 16c., though past tense dorste survived as durst, but is now dying, persisting mainly in northern English dialect.
Transitive sense of "attempt boldly to do" is from 1630s. Meaning "to challenge or defy (someone), provoke to action," especially by asserting or implying that one lacks the courage to accept the challenge, is by 1570s. Weakened sense in I dare say (late 14c.) "I suppose, I presume, I think likely," now usually implying more or less indifference. How dare you? is from c. 1200 (Hu durre ȝe).
Old English deofol "a devil, a subordinate evil spirit afflicting humans;" also, in Christian theology, "the Devil, a powerful spirit of evil otherwise known as Satan," from Late Latin diabolus (also the source of Italian diavolo, French diable, Spanish diablo; German Teufel is Old High German tiufal, from Latin via Gothic diabaulus).
The Late Latin word is from Ecclesiastical Greek diabolos, which in Jewish and Christian use was "the Devil, Satan," and which in general use meant "accuser, slanderer" (thus it was a scriptural loan-translation of Hebrew satan; see Satan). It is an agent noun from Greek diaballein "to slander, attack," literally "to throw across," from dia "across, through" (see dia-) + ballein "to throw" (from PIE root *gwele- "to throw, reach").
Jerome re-introduced Satan in Latin bibles, and English translators have used both words in different measures. In Vulgate, as in Greek, diabolus and dæmon (see demon) were distinct, but they have merged in English and other Germanic languages.
Meaning "false god, heathen god" is from c. 1200. Sense of "diabolical person, person resembling a devil or demon in character" is from late 12c. Playful use for "clever rogue" is from c. 1600. As an expletive and in expletive phrases from c. 1200.
Meaning "sand spout, dust storm" is from 1835 (dust devil is attested by 1867). In U.S. place names, the word often represents a native word such as Algonquian manito, more properly "spirit, god." Phrase a devil way (c. 1300) was originally "Hell-ward, to Hell," but by late 14c. it was a mere expression of irritation. Meaning "errand-boy in a printing office" is from 1680s, perhaps because they were often blackened by the ink (devils then being popularly supposed to be black).
Devil's books "playing cards" is from 1729, but the cited quote says they've been called that "time out of mind" (the four of clubs is the devil's bedposts); devil's coach-horse is from 1840, the large rove-beetle, which is defiant when disturbed. Devil's food cake (1895; three different recipes in the cookbook "compiled by the Ladies' Aid Society of the Friends' Church, Wilmington, Ohio"), rich and chocolate, probably is in deliberate contrast to angel food cake. Conventional phrase talk (or speak)of the Devil, and he's presently at your elbow is by 1660s.
updated on April 21, 2022