Words related to shrewd
[small insectivorous mammal; malignant woman], Middle English shreue, which is recorded only in the sense of "rascal, evil-doer; scolding woman; undisciplined child;" which is apparently from Old English screawa "shrew-mouse," a word of uncertain origin.
OED calls the word's absence in the "animal" sense from Old English to the 16c. "remarkable." It gives the two words separate entries (2nd ed. print) and speculates that the "malignant person" sense might be original. Perhaps it is from Proto-Germanic *skraw-, from PIE *skreu- "to cut; cutting tool" (see shred (n.)), in reference to the shrew's pointed snout. An alternative Old English word for it was scirfemus, from sceorfan "to gnaw." Middle English Compendium points to Middle High German shröuwel, schrowel, schrewel "devil."
The specific meaning "peevish, malignant, clamorous, spiteful, vexatious, turbulent woman" [Johnson's definition] is c. 1300, from earlier sense of "spiteful person" (male or female), mid-13c., which is traditionally said to derive from some supposed malignant influence of the animal, which was once believed to have a venomous bite and was held in superstitious dread (compare beshrew). Shrews were paired with sheep from 1560s through 17c. as the contrasting types of wives.
past-participle suffix of weak verbs, from Old English -ed, -ad, -od (leveled to -ed in Middle English), from Proto-Germanic *-da- (cognates: Old High German -ta, German -t, Old Norse -þa, Gothic -da, -þs), from PIE *-to-, "suffix forming adjectives marking the accomplishment of the notion of the base" [Watkins] (cognates: Sanskrit -tah, Greek -tos, Latin -tus; see -th (1)).
Originally fully pronounced, as still in beloved (which, with blessed, accursed, and a few others retains the full pronunciation through liturgical readings). In Old English already the first and third person singular past tense form of some "weak" verbs was -te, a variant of -de (see -ed), often accompanied by a change in vowel sound (as in modern keep/kept, sleep/slept).
A tendency to shorten final consonants has left English with many past tense forms spelled in -ed but pronounced "-t" (looked, missed, etc.). In some older words both forms exist, with different shades of meaning, as in gilded/gilt, burned/burnt.
popular name for a stalk-eyed, short-tailed, ten-legged crustacean, Old English crabba, from a general Germanic root (compare Dutch krab, Old High German krebiz, German Krabbe, Old Norse krabbi "crab"), related to Low German krabben, Dutch krabelen "to scratch, claw," from PIE root *gerbh- "to scratch, carve" (see carve). French crabe (13c.) is from Germanic, probably Old Norse.
The zodiac constellation name is attested in English from c. 1000; the Crab Nebula (1840), however, is in Taurus, the result of the supernova of 1054, and is so called for its shape. Crab stick "white fish meat dyed to resemble crab and pressed into a stick shape" is by mid-1950s. To catch a crab "fall or be thrown due to a mistake in rowing" is from 1785. The crab-louse (1540s), commonly found in pubic hair, is so called for its shape and appearance. Short form crab for this is from 1840; related: Crabs.
"quadruped of the genus Canis," Old English docga, a late, rare word, used in at least one Middle English source in reference specifically to a powerful breed of canine; other early Middle English uses tend to be depreciatory or abusive. Its origin remains one of the great mysteries of English etymology.
The word forced out Old English hund (the general Germanic and Indo-European word, from root from PIE root *kwon-) by 16c. and subsequently was picked up in many continental languages (French dogue (16c.), Danish dogge, German Dogge (16c.). The common Spanish word for "dog," perro, also is a mystery word of unknown origin, perhaps from Iberian. A group of Slavic "dog" words (Old Church Slavonic pisu, Polish pies, Serbo-Croatian pas) likewise is of unknown origin.
In reference to persons, by c. 1200 in abuse or contempt as "a mean, worthless fellow, currish, sneaking scoundrel." Playfully abusive sense of "rakish man," especially if young, "a sport, a gallant" is from 1610s. Slang meaning "ugly woman" is from 1930s; that of "sexually aggressive man" is from 1950s.
Many expressions — a dog's life (c. 1600), go to the dogs (1610s), dog-cheap (1520s), etc. — reflect the earlier hard use of the animals as hunting accessories, not pets. In ancient times, "the dog" was the worst throw in dice (attested in Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit, where the word for "the lucky player" was literally "the dog-killer"), which plausibly explains the Greek word for "danger," kindynos, which appears to be "play the dog" (but Beekes is against this).
Notwithstanding, as a dog hath a day, so may I perchance have time to declare it in deeds. [Princess Elizabeth, 1550]
Meaning "something poor or mediocre, a failure" is by 1936 in U.S. slang. From late 14c. as the name for a heavy metal clamp of some kind. Dog's age "a long time" is by 1836. Adjectival phrase dog-eat-dog "ruthlessly competitive" is by 1850s. Phrase put on the dog "get dressed up" (1934) may be from comparison of dog collars to the stiff stand-up shirt collars that in the 1890s were the height of male fashion (and were known as dog-collars from at least 1883).
And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from Hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
Cry Havoc! and let slip the dogs of war;
[Shakespeare, "Julius Caesar"]
c. 1200, extended form of earlier wick "bad, wicked, false" (12c.), which apparently is an adjectival use of Old English wicca "wizard" (see witch). Formed as if a past participle, but there is no corresponding verb. For evolution, compare wretched from wretch. Slang ironic sense of "wonderful" first attested 1920, in F. Scott Fitzgerald. As an adverb from early 15c. Related: Wickedly.
Old English wicce "female magician, sorceress," in later use especially "a woman supposed to have dealings with the devil or evil spirits and to be able by their cooperation to perform supernatural acts," fem. of Old English wicca "sorcerer, wizard, man who practices witchcraft or magic," from verb wiccian "to practice witchcraft" (compare Low German wikken, wicken "to use witchcraft," wikker, wicker "soothsayer").
OED says of uncertain origin; Liberman says "None of the proposed etymologies of witch is free from phonetic or semantic difficulties." Klein suggests connection with Old English wigle "divination," and wig, wih "idol." Watkins says the nouns represent a Proto-Germanic *wikkjaz "necromancer" (one who wakes the dead), from PIE *weg-yo-, from PIE root *weg- "to be strong, be lively."
That wicce once had a more specific sense than the later general one of "female magician, sorceress" perhaps is suggested by the presence of other words in Old English describing more specific kinds of magical craft. In the Laws of Ælfred (c. 890), witchcraft was specifically singled out as a woman's craft, whose practitioners were not to be suffered to live among the West Saxons:
Ða fæmnan þe gewuniað onfon gealdorcræftigan & scinlæcan & wiccan, ne læt þu ða libban.
The other two words combined with it here are gealdricge, a woman who practices "incantations," and scinlæce "female wizard, woman magician," from a root meaning "phantom, evil spirit."
Another word that appears in the Anglo-Saxon laws is lyblæca "wizard, sorcerer," but with suggestions of skill in the use of drugs, because the root of the word is lybb "drug, poison, charm" (see leaf (n.)). Lybbestre was a fem. word meaning "sorceress," and lybcorn was the name of a certain medicinal seed (perhaps wild saffron). Weekley notes possible connection to Gothic weihs "holy" and German weihan "consecrate," and writes, "the priests of a suppressed religion naturally become magicians to its successors or opponents." Whatever the English word's origin, the use of a "poisoner" word for "witch, sorceress" parallels that of the Hebrew word used for "witch, sorceress" in the Levitical condemnation.
In Anglo-Saxon glossaries, wicca renders Latin augur (c. 1100), and wicce stands for "pythoness, divinatricem." In the "Three Kings of Cologne" (c. 1400) wicca translates Magi:
Þe paynyms ... cleped þe iij kyngis Magos, þat is to seye wicchis.
The glossary translates Latin necromantia ("demonum invocatio") with galdre, wiccecræft. The Anglo-Saxon poem called "Men's Crafts" (also "The Gifts of Men") has wiccræft, which appears to be the same word, and by its context means "skill with horses." In a c. 1250 translation of "Exodus," witches is used of the Egyptian midwives who save the newborn sons of the Hebrews: "Ðe wicches hidden hem for-ðan, Biforen pharaun nolden he ben."
Witch in reference to a man survived in dialect into 20c., but the fem. form was so dominant by 1601 that men-witches or he-witch began to be used. Extended sense of "old, ugly, and crabbed or malignant woman" is from early 15c; that of "young woman or girl of bewitching aspect or manners" is first recorded 1740. Witch doctor is from 1718; applied to African magicians from 1836.
At this day it is indifferent to say in the English tongue, 'she is a witch,' or 'she is a wise woman.' [Reginald Scot, "The Discoverie of Witchcraft," 1584]