"unlawful killing of another human being by a person of sound mind with premeditated malice," c. 1300, murdre, earlier morþer, from Old English morðor (plural morþras) "secret killing of a person, unlawful killing," also "mortal sin, crime; punishment, torment, misery," from Proto-Germanic *murthran (source also of Goth maurþr, and, from a variant form of the same root, Old Saxon morth, Old Frisian morth, Old Norse morð, Middle Dutch moort, Dutch moord, German Mord "murder"), from suffixed form of PIE root *mer- "to rub away, harm" (also "to die" and forming words referring to death and to beings subject to death).
The spelling with -d- probably reflects influence of Anglo-French murdre, from Old French mordre, from Medieval Latin murdrum, which is from the Germanic word. A parallel form murther persisted into 19c.
In Old Norse, custom distinguished morð "secret slaughter" from vig "slaying." The former involved concealment, or slaying a man by night or when asleep, and was a heinous crime. The latter was not a disgrace, if the killer acknowledged his deed, but he was subject to vengeance or demand for compensation.
Mordre wol out that se we day by day. [Chaucer, "Nun's Priest's Tale," c. 1386]
Weakened sense of "very unpleasant situation" is from 1878. Inverted slang sense of "something excellent or terrific" is by 1940. As the name of a parlor or children's game, by 1933.
c. 1200 mortheren, "to kill, slay; kill criminally, kill with premeditated malice," from Old English myrðrian, from Proto-Germanic *murthjan (source also of Old High German murdran, German mördren, Gothic maurþjan, from Proto-Germanic *murthra- (see murder (n.)). But OED doubts the Old English verb survived into Middle English and thinks the modern word perhaps from the noun. Forms with -d- begin mid-14c. Meaning "spoil by bad execution" is from 1640s. Related: Murdered; murdering.
updated on March 21, 2019