Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Changing Words – ‘Strong’, ‘Vigorous’, ‘Promiscuous’, ‘Punk’, ‘Mugger / mug shot’, ‘Bully', ‘Idiot’ and ‘Idiom’

'Mug shot' (picture of the face)
Back in July I looked at how the words ‘okay’ and ‘nice’ have changed in meaning. Today I am looking at other words where meanings have changed as time has progressed.

‘Strong’ and ‘vigorous’ used to mean full of nerves.
‘Bully’ in the sixteenth century meant a fellow or a darling in Shakespeare’s sense. Eventually it began to refer to someone who showed off and became a bragger, and thus began to merge to mean someone who used intimidation to brag.

‘Promiscuous’ once meant confused.
The first ‘punks’ in the sixteenth century were prostitutes.

The earliest ‘muggers’ were sellers of mugs. Today, we talk of the ‘mug’ referring to the face - ‘mug shot’ for example. This comes from the rather grotesque drinking mugs that resembled human faces which were common in the 1700s.
And finally ‘idiot’ once meant a private, peculiar individual and someone who preferred to be on their own. This idea of being by oneself and alone links to the word ‘idiom’. Whereas ‘idiot’ once meant private, peculiar, and unique, the root of ‘idiom’ is the same, relating specifically to a person’s use of language and speech rather than their behaviour i.e. an individual’s ‘private/peculiar/unique/individual language’. So ‘idiot’ and ‘idiom’ are linked by their ancient Greek root ‘idio-‘.

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