"repeatedly, again and again, many times, under many circumstances," mid-13c., an extended form of oft, in Middle English typically before vowels and h-, probably by influence of its opposite, seldom (Middle English selden). In common use from 16c., replacing oft. Related: Oftener; oftenest.
Entries linking to often
Old English oft "repeatedly, again and again, many times; frequently; under many circumstances," from Proto-Germanic *ufta- "frequently" (source also of Old Frisian ofta, Danish ofte, Old High German ofto, German oft, Old Norse opt, Gothic ufta "often"), a word of unknown origin, perhaps [Watkins] from a suffixed form of PIE root *upo "under."
Archaic or only poetic except in compounds (such as oft-told) and replaced by its derivative often. It also was an adjective in Middle English, "frequent, repeated." Related: Ofter; oftest.
"rarely, not often, infrequently," late Old English and early Middle English seldum, an alteration of seldan "infrequently, rarely," from Proto-Germanic *selda- "strange, rare" (source also of Old Norse sjaldan, Old Frisian selden, Dutch zelden, Old High German seltan, German selten), a word of uncertain etymology. Perhaps ultimately from the base of self (q.v.).
The form shifted apparently on analogy of adverbial dative plurals in -um (as in whilom "at one time," from Old English hwilum, from the source of while). The same development also created litlum from little, miclum from mickle. Also compare random, ransom. The forms in -n decreased from 14c. and faded out in 16c.
Old English seldan had comparative seldor, superlative seldost; in early Middle English, as seldan changed form and lost its connection with these, selde was back-formed as a positive. Shakespeare uses seld-shown "rarely exhibited." Some compounds using the old form survived through Middle English, such as selcouth "rarely or little-known, unusual, strange, wonderful," from Old English selcuð, seld-cuð, from seldan + cuð (see couth).
German seltsam "strange, odd," Dutch zeldzaam are cognates of seldom, but with the second element conformed to their cognates of -some. Related: Seldomness.
Seldom-times "rarely, hardly ever" is from mid-15c. (earlier was seld-when, Old English seldhwanne "rarely," which lasted until 16c.). Seldom-seen "rarely encountered" is from mid-15c.; older was seld-seen (Middle English seld-sen, from Old English seldsiene), which lasted long enough to appear in Marlowe (seildsene, 1590s).