An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English, Vol. 1

An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English, Vol. 1

by Ernest Weekley

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The compiler of this dictionary of word and phrase origins and history was not only a linguist and a philologist but also a man of culture and wit. When he turned his attention, therefore, to the creation of an etymological dictionary for both specialists and non-specialists, the result was easily the finest such work ever prepared.
Weekley's Dictionary is a


The compiler of this dictionary of word and phrase origins and history was not only a linguist and a philologist but also a man of culture and wit. When he turned his attention, therefore, to the creation of an etymological dictionary for both specialists and non-specialists, the result was easily the finest such work ever prepared.
Weekley's Dictionary is a work of thorough scholarship. It contains one of the largest lists of words and phrases to be found in any singly etymological dictionary — and considerably more material than in the standard concise edition, with fuller quotes and historical discussions. Included are most of the more common words used in English as well as slang, archaic words, such formulas as "I. O. U.," made-up words (such as Carroll's "Jabberwock"), words coined from proper nouns, and so on. In each case, roots in Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, Greek or Latin, Old and modern French, Anglo-Indian, etc., are identified; in hundreds of cases, especially odd or amusing listings, earliest known usage is mentioned and sense is indicated in quotations from Dickens, Shakespeare, Chaucer, "Piers Plowman," Defoe, O. Henry, Spenser, Byron, Kipling, and so on, and from contemporary newspapers, translations of the Bible, and dozens of foreign-language authors.

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An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English

By Ernest Weekley

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1967 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-12287-8



Malui brevius omnia persequi, et leviter attingere, quae nemini esse ignota suspicari possint, quam quasi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], perque locos communes identidem expatiari.

(Claud. Minos Divion. in praefat. commentar. Alciat. Emblemat.)

a. See an.

a-. As E. prefix this generally represents AS. an, on (abed, asleep, twice-a-day, etc.), less frequently ME. of (anew) and AS. ge- (aware). In a few words it represents an AS. prefix a-, orig. ur-, cogn. with Ger. er-, and having intens. force (arise, awake). In words of F. or L. origin it comes from ad (achieve, arrive) or ab (avert). Many scient. terms begin with G. a-, neg. (amorphous). Less common origins are illustrated by the words along, ado, affray, alas. The gerund preceded by a- (= on), now dial., was literary E. in 17 cent.

Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a-fishing

(John, xxi. 3).

A 1. Symbol used in Lloyd's Register to describe a ship as first-class, the A referring to the hull and the 1 to the stores. Cf. first-rate (see rate).

A proper A 1 copper-bottom lie

(Times, Oct. 26, 1917).

aard-vark. SAfr. quadruped. Du. aarde, earth, vark, pig (see farrow). Cf. aard-wolf.

aasvogel [SAfr.]. Vulture. Du., lit. carrion fowl; cf. Ger. aas, carrion, prob. cogn. with essen, to eat.

ab-. L., from, away; cogn. with of (q.v.). Also a-, abs.

aba. Substitute for sextant, invented by, and named from, Antoine d'Abbadie.

aback. AS. on bœc (see a-), now reduced to back, exc. in naut. lang. Taken aback is a naut. metaphor from the sudden checking of a ship through the square sails being flattened back against the masts by a change of wind or bad steering.

Gang thu sceocca on bæc

(AS. Gospels, Matt. iv. 10).

abacot. Ghost-word which appears in most dicts. from Spelman onward and defined as "a cap of state, wrought up into the shape of two crowns, worn formerly by English kings." Orig. misprint for a bicocquet, an OF. word (Sp. bicoquete, cap) of doubtful origin.

abacus. Frame with balls on wires for mechanical calculation. L., G. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], board, slab.

abaddon [Bibl.]. Heb. abaddon, destruction, used in Rev. ix. 11 of the angel of the bottomless pit, and by Milton (Par. R. iv. 624) of the pit itself (cf. Job, xxvi. 6, RV.).

The aungel of depnesse, to whom the name bi Ebru Labadon [var. Abbadon], forsothe bi Greke Appolion, and bi Latyn havynge the name Destrier

(Wyc. Rev. ix. 11).

abaft [naut.]. AS. on bœft, the latter for bi œftan. See aft, and cf. aback.

abaisance [archaic]. OF. abaissance, humility, from abaisser, to abase (q.v.). Hence a deep bow. Confused in E. with obeisance (q.v.) by which it is now quite absorbed. abaisance; a low conge, or bow (Bailey).

abandon. F. abandonner, from OF. adv. à bandon, at will, at discretion (whence pleon. ME. at abandon). Bandon, from ban (q.v.), had in OF. & ME. the meaning of control, jurisdiction, etc. Current sense of adj. abandoned is from earlier abandoned to, given up to (not necessarily to wickedness, etc. in ME.).

Trestute Espaigne iert hoi en lur bandun

(Rol. 2704).

The Scottis men dang on so fast, And schot on thame at abandoune (Barbour).

abandon: bandon, free licence, full libertie for others to use a thing (Cotg.).

abase. F. abaisser, VL. ad-bassiare. See base.

abash. OF. esbaïr, esbaïss- (ébahir), to astound, make to gape, from L. ex and a second element which may be bah! exclamation of astonishment (see bay). The -iss- of F. inchoative verbs regularly becomes -ish in E. (cherish, flourish, etc.), but in ME. we find also forms in -iss (cheriss, fluriss), so that abash has been confused in form with abase (q.v.), in ME. also abaiss, and this confusion has influenced the sense of abash. Cf. bashful.

And thei weren abaischt [Vulg. obstupuerunt] with greet stoneying (Wyc.Mark, v. 42).

abate. F. abattre, lit. to beat off, from battre, to beat, VL. battere for battuere. See bate. Cf. to knock something off (the price).

abatis, abattis [mil.]. Defence made of felled trees. F. abattis, from abattre, to fell (v.s.). The ending is, OF. eïs, represents L. -aticius, added to verb-stems.

abattoir. Slaughter-house. F., from abattre, to fell. See abate.

abba [Bibl.]. See abbot.

Abbassides [hist.]. Caliphs of Baghdad (749–1258), claiming descent from Abbas, uncle of Mohammed. Most famous was Haroun-al-Raschid.

abbé, abbess, abbey. See abbot.

abbot. AS. abbod, L. abbas, abbat-, G. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Syriac abba, father (Mark, xiv. 36), applied in East to all monks and in West restricted to superior of monastery; cogn. with Arab. abu, father, so common in personal names. Ult. a word from baby lang.; cf. papa, baby, babble, and see pope. Other words of this group come via F., e.g. abbé, abbess (Late L. abbatissa), abbey (Late L. abbatia), or are of later and learned formation, e.g. abbatial, abbatical. Vague use of F. abbé for ecclesiastic, esp. one not holding Church office, dates from 16 cent.

abbreviate. From L. abbreviare, from ad and brevis, short. Cf. abridge.

abc. From 13 cent. Cf. alphabet, abecedarian.

Abderite. Democritus (q.v.), who was born at Abdera (Thrace). Cf. Stagirite.

abdicate. From L. abdicare, to proclaim off.

abdomen. L., from abdere, to hide away, from ab and dare, to give.

abduct. For earlier abduce. From L. ab-ducere, abduct-, to lead away.

abeam [naut.]. Abreast, level with, i.e. neither ahead nor astern. The beams of a ship are at right-angles to the keel; cf. beam-ends.

abear [dial.]. AS. beran, from bear. Obs. from c. 1300, exc. in dial.

"Territorial" is a word that the dunderheads of the War Office "cannot abear"

(Sunday Times, Aug. 25, 1918).

abecedarian. Alphabetical, concerned with the alphabet. Still used in US. for beginners at school. Cf. MedL. abecedarium, barbarously formed from ABC. abecedarium: an absee (Coop.).

abed [dial.]. For on bed. See a-.

abele. White poplar. Du. abeel, OF. aubel, Late L. albellus, from albus, white.

aberglaube. Ger., superstition, from glauben, to believe, with pejorative prefix as in abgott, idol.

aberration. From L. aberrare, to wander off. See err.

aberuncator. Incorr. for averruncator (q.v.).

abet. OF. abeter, to egg on, from OF. beter, to bait, ON. beita, to cause to bite. See bait, bet. First in Shaks. (v.i.), but the noun abetment is found in ME.

Abetting him to thwart me in my mood

(Com. of Errors, ii. 2)

abeyance. OF. abeance, from abeer, to gape at, compd. of bayer, béer, to gape. Now usu. of a right or estate which is regarded with (gaping) expectancy. See bay.

abhor. L. abhorrere, to shrink from, from horrere, to bristle (see horrid). The abhor-rers (hist.) expressed in various petitions to Charles II their abhorrence of Whig and Nonconformist views.

abide. AS. abidan, from bidan, to bide (q.v.), remain. Followed by gen., it meant to wait for; hence, to endure, put up with, as still in dial. (can't abide). Shaks. use in the sense of pay for, expiate (v.i.) is due to confusion with obs. abye, AS. abycgan, to expiate, from bycgan, to buy, pay for.

If it be found so, some will dear abide it

(Jul. Caes. iii. 2).

abiet - [chem.]. From L. abies, abiet-, fir.

abigail. Waiting-maid. Name of character in Beaumont and Fletcher's Scornful Lady (1616), this perh. suggested by 1 Sam. xxv. 24 sqq.

ability. Re-fashioned, after ModF. habileté, from ME. & OF. ableté. See able. Often hability in 16–17 cents.

abiogenesis [biol.]. Generation of living organisms from dead matter. Coined (1870) by Huxley from G. a-, neg., [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], life. So also biogenesis, its opposite.

abject. From L. abicere, abject-, to cast away, from jacere.

abjure. L. abjurare, to swear off. See jury.

ablactation. Weaning. From L. ablactare, from lac, lact-, milk.

ablative. Lit. bearing away. F. ablatif, L. ablativus, from ablat- (auferre). Coined by Julius Caesar, there being no ablative in G.

ablaut [ling.]. Change of vowel. Ger., from laut, sound, with prefix cogn. with off. Cf. umlaut. Introduced by Jakob Grimm (1819).

ablaze. For on blaze. See a- and blaze, and cf. aback, abed, etc.

They setten all on blase (Gower).

able. OF. (replaced by habile), L. habilis, fit, apt, from habere, to have, hold. Cf. capable for sense-development.

ablution. From L. abluere, ablut-, to wash away. Orig. a chem. term (Chauc.), "the rinsing of chymical preparations in water, to dissolve and wash away any acrimonious particles" (Johns.).

abnegate. From L. abnegare, to deny off. Cf. negative.

abnormal. "Few words show such a series of pseudo-etymological perversions; G. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], L. anomalus, having been altered in Late L., after norma, to anormalis, whence F. anormal and E. anormal, the latter referred to L. abnormis and altered to abnormal. It has displaced the earlier ab-normous" (NED.). See normal, anomalous.

aboard [naut.]. F. à bord, of Teut. origin (see board). With to lay aboard cf. orig. meaning of vb. to board (see board, accost).

abode. From abide; cf. road (rode) from ride.

abolish. F. abolir, aboliss- from L. abolescere, from abolere, to destroy. Hence abolitionism, -ist, orig. coined by opponents of slave-trade (c. 1800). Some connect the L. word with G. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], I destroy.

abominable. L. abominabilis, from abominari, to deprecate, shrink from the omen (cf. absit omen). Strong meaning is due to erron. medieval derivation from ab homine, as though inhuman, unnatural. Hence usual MedL., OF. & ME. spelling ab-homin-. So Holofernes:

This is abhominable, which he would call abominable (Love's Lab. Lost, v. i).

aborigines. L., from ab origine. First applied to original inhabitants of Greece and Italy.

abortion. From L. aboriri, abort-, to miscarry, from oriri, to appear.

abound. F. abonder, L. abundare, to overflow, from unda, wave. Cf. superfluous.

about. AS. on-butan, for on be utan, on by outside, utan being adv. from prep. ut. Cf. above. All senses spring from primitive meaning, e.g. a man about fifty is "in the neighbourhood" of fifty (cf. similar use of F. environ).

above. From AS. bufan for be ufan, by upward, from uf, up. First element added later by analogy with abaft, about (q.v.). Hence above-board, "a figurative expression, borrowed from gamesters, who, when they put their hands under the table, are changing their cards. It is used only in familiar language" (Johns.). Cf. F. jouer cartes sur table, to play fair.

abracadabra. Cabalistic word used as charm; first occurs in 3 cent.? From G. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], cabalistic word composed of letters whose numerical values give 365, the number of successive manifestations attributed to the Supreme Being by the gnostic Basilides.

abrade. L. abradere, to scrape off. See razor.

abram, to sham [naut.]. To feign sickness. Hotten's explanation is very doubtful.

An Abraham-man is he that walketh bare-armed and bare-legged and faynyth hymselfe mad

(Awdeley, Fraternytye of Vacaboundes, 1561).

It appears to have been the practice in former days to allow certain inmates of Bethlehem Hospital to have fixed days to go begging. Hence impostors were said to "sham Abraham" (the Abraham Ward in Bedlam having for its inmates these mendicant lunatics) when they pretended they were licensed beggars on behalf of the hospital (Hotten).

abranchiate [biol.]. Without gills. Cf. branchiopod. See a-.

abreast. Perh. orig. of breast; cf. F. aller de front. See anew.

abridge. F. abréger, L. abbreviare, from ad and brevis, short. Cf. F. alléger, to lighten, VL. alleviare, from levis, light.

abroach, to set [archaic]. Orig. to pierce a cask. See broach.

abroad. Altered, on adj. broad, from ME. on brede, on breadth, widely scattered, etc. Mod. sense of foreign travel is evolved from ME. meaning of out of doors. Cf. travel, voyage, for similar sense-development characteristic of sea-faring race.

abrogate. From L. abrogare, to call off. Cf. repeal.

abrupt. From L. abrumpere, abrupt-, to break off. See rout.

abscess. L. abscessus, from abscedere, abscess-, to go away, from cedere, to go.

abscissa [match.]. L. (sc. linea), from abscindere,absciss-, to cut off.

abscond. L. abscondere, to hide away. Orig. trans., mod. use being for earlier reflex.

The poor man fled from place to place absconding himself (NED. 1721).

absent. F., L. absens, absent-, pres. part. of abesse, to be away (see entity). First records for absentee (Camden, Blount, Swift) refer to Ireland.

absentee: a word used commonly with regard to Irishmen living out of their country (Johns.).

absinthe. F., L. absinthium, G. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], the herb wormwood. In this sense used in E. in 1612, while the liqueur is first mentioned by Thackeray.

absit [univ.]. L., let him be absent. Cf. exeat.

absolve. L. absolvere, to set free, replacing from 16 cent. earlier assoil (q.v.). Hence absolute, freed from restraint or conditions. Much earlier (12 cent.) is absolution, in eccl. sense.

absorb. L. absorbere, to suck away, swallow up.

absquatulate [US.]. To make off, skedaddle. Facetious US. coinage, perh. suggested by squat, to settle.

Rumour has it that a gay bachelor, who has figured in Chicago for nearly a year, has skedaddled, absquatulated, vamosed, and cleared out.

(Rocky Mountain News, 1862).

abstain. From F. abstenir, VL. abstenire for abstinere, to hold away. Orig. reflex. (cf. abscond).

Wryte unto them that they absteyne them selves from fylthynesse of idols (Coverd. Acts, xv. 20).

abstemious. From L. abstemius, from temetum, strong drink. Wider sense in E. partly due to association with abstain.

absterge. L. abstergere, to wipe away.

abstinence. F.; see abstain. Total abstinence in spec. sense dates from c. 1830.

The passionate Eastern character, like all weak ones, found total abstinence easier than temperance

(Kingsley, Hypatia)


Excerpted from An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English by Ernest Weekley. Copyright © 1967 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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