Entries linking to watchword
Old English wæcce "a watching, state of being or remaining awake, wakefulness;" also "act or practice of refraining from sleep for devotional or penitential purposes;" from wæccan "keep watch, be awake," from Proto-Germanic *wakjan, from PIE root *weg- "to be strong, be lively."
From c. 1200 as "one of the periods into which the night is divided," in reference to ancient times translating Latin vigilia, Greek phylake, Hebrew ashmoreth. From mid-13c. as "a shift of guard duty; an assignment as municipal watchman;" late 13c. as "person or group obligated to patrol a town (especially at night) to keep order, etc."
Also in Middle English, "the practice of remaining awake at night for purposes of debauchery and dissipation;" hence wacches of wodnesse "late-night revels and debauchery." The alliterative combination watch and ward preserves the old distinction of watch for night-time municipal patrols and ward for guarding by day; in combination, they meant "continuous vigilance."
Military sense of "military guard, sentinel" is from late 14c. General sense of "careful observation, watchfulness, vigilance" is from late 14c.; to keep watch is from late 14c. Meaning "period of time in which a division of a ship's crew remains on deck" is from 1580s. The meaning "small timepiece" is from 1580s, developing from that of "a clock to wake up sleepers" (mid-15c.).
The Hebrews divided the night into three watches, the Greeks usually into four (sometimes five), the Romans (followed by the Jews in New Testament times) into four. [OED]
On þis niht beð fowuer niht wecches: Biforen euen þe bilimpeð to children; Mid-niht ðe bilimpeð to frumberdlinges; hanecrau þe bilimpeð þowuene men; morgewile to alde men. [Trinity Homilies, c. 1200]
Old English word "speech, talk, utterance, sentence, statement, news, report, word," from Proto-Germanic *wurda- (source also of Old Saxon, Old Frisian word, Dutch woord, Old High German, German wort, Old Norse orð, Gothic waurd), from PIE *were- (3) "speak, say" (see verb).
The meaning "promise" was in Old English, as was the theological sense. In the plural, the meaning "verbal altercation" (as in have words with someone) dates from mid-15c. Word-processor first recorded 1971; word-processing is from 1972; word-wrap is from 1977. A word to the wise is from Latin phrase verbum sapienti satis est "a word to the wise is enough." Word-for-word "in the exact word or terms" is late 14c. Word of mouth "spoken words, oral communication" (as distinguished from written words) is by 1550s.
It is dangerous to leave written that which is badly written. A chance word, upon paper, may destroy the world. Watch carefully and erase, while the power is still yours, I say to myself, for all that is put down, once it escapes, may rot its way into a thousand minds, the corn become a black smut, and all libraries, of necessity, be burned to the ground as a consequence. [William Carlos Williams, "Paterson"]
updated on June 02, 2012
our watchword will be `democracy'