a (1) --- indefinite article, c.1150, a variation of O.E. an (see an) in which the -n- began to disappear before consonants, a process mostly complete by 1340. The -n- also was retained before words beginning with a sounded -h- until c.1600; it still is retained by many writers before unaccented syllables in h- or (e)u-, but is now no longer normally spoken as such. The -n- also lingered (especially in southern England dialect) before -w- and -y- through 15c.
a- (1) --- in native (derived from O.E.) words, it most commonly represents O.E. an "on" (see a (2)), as in alive, asleep, abroad, ashore, etc., forming adjectives and adverbs from nouns; but it also can be M.E. of, as in anew, abreast (1599); or a reduced form of O.E. pp. prefix ge-, as in aware; or the O.E. intens. a-, as in arise, awake, ashame, marking a verb as momentary, a single event. In words from Romanic languages, often it represents L. ad- "to, at." "[I]t naturally happened that all these a- prefixes were at length confusedly lumped together in idea, and the resultant a- looked upon as vaguely intensive, rhetorical, euphonic, or even archaic, and wholly otiose." [OED]
a (2) --- as in twice a day, etc., is from O.E. an "on," in this case "on each." The sense was extended from time to measure, price, place, etc. The habit of tacking a onto a gerund (as in a-hunting we will go) died out 18c.
a- (2) --- prefix meaning "not," from L. a-, short for ab "away from" (cf. avert), or its cognate, Gk. a-, short for apo "away from, from," both cognate with Skt. apa "away from," Goth. af, O.E. of.
a- (3) --- prefix meaning "not," from Gk. a-, an- "not," from PIE base *ne "not" (see un-).
a capella --- 1876, earlier alla capella (1847), from It., "in the manner of the chapel," lit. "according to the chapel," from cappella "chapel." Originally in ref. to older church music (pre-1600) which was written for unaccompanied voices; applied 20c. to unaccompanied vocal music generally.
à la carte --- 1826, from Fr., lit. "by the card;" in other words, "ordered by separate items." Distinguished from a table d'hôte, meal served at a fixed, inclusive price.
à la mode --- 1649, from Fr., lit. "in the fashion" (15c.). In 17c., sometimes nativized as all-a-mode. Cookery sense of a dessert served with ice cream is 1903, Amer.Eng.
a priori --- 1710, "from cause to effect" (a logical term, in ref. to reasoning), from L., lit. "from what comes first," from priori, abl. of prior "first" (see prior (adj.)). Used loosely for "in accordance with previous knowledge" (1834).
A&P --- U.S. grocery chain, originally The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, founded 1859 by George Huntington Hartford and George Gilman.
A.D. --- 1579, from L. Anno Domini "Year of the Lord." First put forth by Dionysius Exiguus in 527 or 533 C.E., but at first used only for Church business. Introduced in Italy in 7c., France (partially) in 8c. In England, first found in a charter of 680 C.E. Ordained for all ecclesiastical documents in England by the Council of Chelsea, July 27, 816. The resistance to it may have been in part because Dionysius chose 754 A.U.C. as the birth year of Jesus, while many early Christians would have thought it was 750 A.U.C. [See John J. Bond, "Handy-Book of Rules and Tables for Verifying Dates With the Christian Era," 4th ed., London: George Bell & Sons, 1889]
a.k.a. --- acronym for also known as; according to OED and other sources, first recorded 1955, Amer.Eng., but it is attested in legal documents from at least 1936 [cf. 4 Conn. Supp. 327, 1936 Conn. Super. LEXIS 205: GENERAL BAKING COMPANY vs. HYMAN KAPLAN (a.k.a. HYMAN I. KAPLAN)]. The OED reference date may be for non-legalese usage.
A.M. --- 1762, abbreviation of L. ante meridiem "before noon."
a.m. --- type of radio wave broadcast; see amplitude.
a.s.a.p. --- as soon as possible, 1955, originally U.S. Army slang.
A-1 --- in figurative sense of "first-rate," 1837, is from Lloyd's of London designation for ships in first-class condition.
aardvark --- 1833, from Afrikaans Du., lit. "earth-pig" (the animal burrows), from aard "earth" (see earth) + vark "pig," cognate with O.H.G. farah (cf. Ger. Ferkel "young pig, sucking pig," a dim. form), O.E. fearh (see farrow).
Aaron --- masc. proper name, in O.T., brother of Moses, from Heb. Aharon, probably of Egyptian origin. The Arabic form is Harun.
aback --- O.E. on bæc, "at or on the back." Now surviving mainly in taken aback, originally a nautical expression for a sudden change of wind that flattens the square sails back against the masts and stops the forward motion of a ship (1754). The figurative sense is first recorded 1840.
abacus --- 1387, "sand table for drawing, calculating, etc.," from L. abacus, from Gk. abax (gen. abakos) "counting table," from Heb. abaq "dust," from root a-b-q "to fly off." Originally a drawing board covered with dust or sand that could be written on to do mathematical equations. Specific reference to a counting frame is 17c. or later.
Abaddon --- c.1382, used in Rev. ix.11 of "the angel of the bottomless pit," and by Milton of the pit itself, from Heb. Abhaddon "destruction," from abhadh "he perished." The Gk. form was Apollyon (q.v.).
abaft --- O.E. on bæftan "backwards," the second component itself a compound of be "by" + æftan "aft" (see aft). Since M.E. used exclusively of ships, the stern being the "after" part of a vessel.
abalone --- 1850, Amer.Eng., from Sp. abulon from Costanoan (a California coastal Indian language family) aluan "red abalone."
abandon --- 1375, "to subjugate, subdue," from O.Fr. abandoner "surrender," from à "at, to" + bandon "power, jurisdiction," in phrase mettre à bandon "to give up to a public ban," from L. bannum, "proclamation," from a Frankish word related to ban (v.). Etymologically, the word carries a sense of "put someone under someone else's control." Meaning "to give up absolutely" is from 1386. The noun sense of "letting loose, surrender to natural impulses" (1822) is from Fr. abandon.
abase --- 1393, abaishen, from O.Fr. à bassier "make lower," from V.L. *ad bassiare "bring lower," from L.L. bassus "thick, fat, low;" from the same source as base (adj.) and altered in Eng. by influence of it, which made it an exception to the rule that O.Fr. verbs with stem -iss- enter Eng. as -ish.
abash --- c.1303, from O.Fr. esbaiss-, stem of esbaer "gape with astonishment," from es "out" + ba(y)er "to be open, gape," from L. *batare "to yawn, gape," from root *bat, possibly imitative of yawning. Bashful is 16c. derivative.
abate --- c.1270, from O.Fr. abattre "beat down," from L. ad "to" + battuere "to beat" (see batter (v.)). Secondary sense of "to fell, slaughter" is in abatis and abattoir.
abatis --- defense made of felled trees, 1766, from Fr., lit. "things thrown down," from O.Fr. abateis, from abattre "to beat down, throw down" (see abate).
abattoir --- slaughterhouse for cows, 1820, from Fr. abattre "to beat down" (see abate).
Abbassid --- dynasty of caliphs of Baghdad (750-1258) claiming descent from Abbas (566-652), uncle of Muhammad. For his name, see abbot.
abbé --- 1530, title given in France to "every one who wears an ecclesiastical dress," especially one having no assigned ecclesiastical duty, from Fr., from L.L. abbatem, acc. of abbas (see abbot).
abbess --- 1297, abbese, from O.Fr. abbesse, from L.L. abbatissa, fem. of abbas (see abbot).
abbey --- 1250, "convent headed by an abbot or abbess," from Anglo-Fr. abbeie, from O.Fr. abaie, from L.L. abbatia, from abbas (gen. abbatis); see abbot.
abbot --- O.E. abbud, from L. abbatem (nom. abbas), from Gk. abbas, from Aramaic abba, title of honor, lit. "the father, my father," emphatic state of abh "father." The L. fem. abbatissa is root of abbess.
abbreviation --- 1460, from M.Fr. abréviation, from L.L. abbreviationem (nom. abbreviatio), from pp. of abbreviare "make brief," from L. ad "to" + breviare "shorten," from brevis "short, low, little, shallow" (see brief (adj.)).
Abderian laughter --- from Abdera, in Thrace, whose citizens were considered rustic simpletons who would laugh at anything or anyone they didn't understand (making their town the Hellenic equivalent of Gotham).
abdicate --- 1541, "to disown, disinherit (children)," from L. abdicatus, pp. of abdicare "disown, disinherit" (specifically abdicare magistratu "renounce office"), from ab- "away" + dicare "proclaim," from stem of dicere "to speak, to say" (see diction). Meaning "divest oneself of office" first recorded 1618.
abdomen --- 1541, "belly fat," from L., "belly," originally "lower belly," perhaps from abdere "conceal," with a sense of "concealment of the viscera," or else "what is concealed" by proper dress. Purely anatomical sense is from 1615. Biological sense of "posterior division of the bodies of arthropods" first recorded 1788.
abduct --- to kidnap, 1834, altered from abduce "to draw away" by persuasion (1537), from L. abducere "lead away," from ab- "away" + ducere "to lead" (see duke). Abduction is first recorded 1626 in lit. sense of "a leading away;" the illegal activity so called from 1768. In the Mercian hymns, L. abductione is glossed by O.E. wiðlaednisse.
abed --- O.E. on bedde "in bed," from a- (1) + bed.
Abel --- masc. proper name, in O.T., second son of Adam and Eve, from Heb. Hebhel, lit. "breath," also "vanity."
Abenaki --- Algonquian-speaking Indians of northern New England and the Maritimes, 1721, from Fr. abenaqui, from E.Abenaki wapanahki, lit. "person of the dawn land."
aberration --- 1594, "a wandering, straying," from L. aberrationem, from aberrare "go astray," from ab- "away" + errare "to wander" (see err). Meaning "deviation from the normal type" first attested 1846.
abet --- c.1374 (implied in abetting), from O.Fr. abeter "to bait, to harass with dogs," lit. "to cause to bite," from à "to" + beter "to bait," from a Gmc. source, perhaps Low Franconian betan "incite," or O.N. beita "cause to bite," from P.Gmc. *baitjan, from PIE base *bheid- "to split" (see fissure).
abeyance --- 1528, from Anglo-Fr. abeiance "suspension," also "expectation (especially in a lawsuit)," from O.Fr. abeance "aspiration, desire," noun of condition of abeer "aspire after, gape" from à "at" + ba(y)er "be open," from L. *batare "to yawn, gape" (see abash). Originally in O.Fr. a legal term, "condition of a person in expectation or hope of receiving property;" it turned around in Eng. law to mean "condition of property temporarily without an owner" (1660). Root baer is also the source of English bay (2) "recessed space," as in "bay window."
abhor --- 1449, from L. abhorrere "shrink back in terror," from ab- "away" + horrere "tremble at, shudder," lit. "to bristle, be shaggy," from PIE *ghers- "start out, stand out, rise to a point, bristle" (see horror).
abide --- O.E. abidan, gebidan "remain," from ge- completive prefix (denoting onward motion; see a- (1)) + bidan "bide, remain, wait, dwell" (see bide). Originally intransitive (with genitive of the object: we abidon his "we waited for him"); transitive sense emerged in M.E. Meaning "to put up with" (now usually negative) first recorded 1526. The historical conjugation is abide, abode, abidden, but the modern formation is now generally weak.
Abigail --- fem. proper name, in O.T., Abigail the Carmelitess, a wife of David, from Heb. Abhigayil, lit. "my father is rejoicing," from abh "father" + gil "to rejoice." Used in general sense of "lady's maid" (1666) from character of that name in Beaumont & Fletcher's "The Scornful Lady." The waiting maid association perhaps begins with I Sam. xxv, where David's wife often calls herself a "handmaid."
-ability --- suffix expressing ability or capacity, from L. -abilitas, forming nouns from adjs. ending in -abilis (see -able). Not etymologically related to ability, though popularly connected with it.
ability --- c.1380, from O.Fr. ableté "expert at handling (something)," from L. habilitatem (nom. habilitas) "aptitude," from habilis "easy to manage, handy" (see able). One case where a silent L. -h- failed to make a return in Eng. (despite efforts of 16c.-17c. scholars); see H.
Abitur --- Ger. final secondary school exam, 1863, short for abiturium, from Mod.L., desiderative of L. abire "to go away."
abject --- c.1430, "cast off, rejected," from L. abjectus, pp. of abicere "throw away, cast off," from ab- "away, off" + jacere "to throw" (see jet (v.)). Fig. sense of "downcast, brought low" first attested 1520.
abjure --- 1430, from M.Fr. abjurer, from L. abjurare "deny on oath," from ab- "away" + jurare "to swear," related to jus (gen. juris) "law" (see jurist).
ablative --- c.1434, from M.Fr. ablatif, from L. (casus) ablativus "(case) of removal," expressing direction from a place or time, coined by Julius Caesar from ablatus "taken away," pp. of auferre "carrying away," from ab- "away" + ferre "carry" (see infer).
ablaut --- vowel gradation, 1849, from Ger. Ablaut, lit. "off-sound," coined by J.P. Zweigel in 1568 from ab "off" + Laut "sound, tone," from O.H.G. hlut (see listen). Popularized by Jacob Grimm.
ablaze --- 1393, from a "on" (see a- (1)) + blaze.
-able --- suffix expressing ability, capacity, fitness, from L. -ibilis, -abilis, forming adjectives from verbs, from PIE *-tro-, a suffix used to form nouns of instrument. In L., infinitives in -are took -abilis, others -ibilis; in Eng., -able is used for native words, -ible for words of obvious L. origin. The Latin suffix is not etymologically connected with able, but it long has been popularly associated with it, and this has contributed to its survival as a living suffix. It is related to the second syllable of rudder and saddle.
able --- c.1365, from O.Fr. (h)able, from L. habilis "easily handled, apt," verbal adj. from habere "to hold" (see habit). "Easy to be held," hence "fit for a purpose." The silent h- was dropped in Eng. and resisted academic attempts to restore it 16c.-17c., but some derivatives acquired it (e.g. habiliment, habilitate), via Fr. Able-bodied first attested 1622. "Able-whackets - A popular sea-game with cards, in which the loser is beaten over the palms of the hands with a handkerchief tightly twisted like a rope. Very popular with horny-fisted sailors." [Smyth, "Sailor's Word-Book," 1867]
ablution --- ritual washing, c.1386, from L. ablutionem (nom. ablutio), noun of action from ablutus, pp. of abluere "to wash off," from ab- "off" + luere "wash," related to lavere (see lave).
ABM --- 1963, acronym for anti-ballistic missile.
abnegation --- 1554, from L. abnegationem (nom. abnegatio) "refusal, denial," noun of action from abnegatus, pp. of abnegare, from ab- "off, away from" + negare "to deny" (see deny).
Abner --- name of Saul's commander in the O.T., from Heb. Abhner, lit. "my father is light," from abh "father" + ner "light."
abnormal --- 1835, replaced older anormal and abnormous (1742) under infl. of L. abnormis "deviating from a rule," from ab- "off, away from" + norma "rule" (see norm). The older forms were via O.Fr. anormal (13c.), from M.L. anormalos, from Gk. anomalos, from an- "not" + homalos, from homos "same." The Gk. word influenced in L. by association with norma.
aboard --- 1494, from O.Fr. à "on" + board "board," from Frank. *bord (see board); the "boarding" or sides of a vessel extended to the ship itself. The usual M.E. expression was within shippes borde. The call all aboard! as a warning to passengers is attested from 1838.
abode --- 1250, "action of waiting," from O.E. abad, pp. of abiden "to abide" (see abide), used as a verbal noun. The present-to-preterite vowel change is consistent with an O.E. class I strong verb (ride/rode, etc.). Meaning "habitual residence" is first attested 1576.
abolish --- 1459, from M.Fr. aboliss-, prp. stem of abolir "to abolish," from L. abolescere "to die out, decay little by little," inceptive of L. abolere "to retard the growth of," from ab- "from" + adolere "to grow," from PIE *ol-eye-, causative of base *al- "to grow, nourish" (see old). Tucker writes that there has been a confusion of forms in L., based on similar roots, one meaning "to grow," the other "to destroy." Application to persons and concrete objects has long been obsolete.
abolition --- 1529, see abolish. Specific application to "opposition to the black slave trade as a political question" is first attested 1788. Abolitionism in this sense is from 1790; abolitionist is from 1836. In Britain, applied 20c. to advocates of ending capital punishment.
abomination --- c.1325, "feeling of disgust, hatred, loathing," from O.Fr. abomination, from L. abominationem (nom. abominatio) "abomination," from abominatus, pp. of abominari "shun as an ill omen," from ab- "off, away from" + omin-, stem of omen (see omen). Meaning intensified by folk etymology derivation from L. ab homine "away from man," thus "beastly." Abominable snowman (1921) translates Tibetan meetaoh kangmi.
aborigine --- 1858, mistaken singular of aborigines (1547, the correct singular is aboriginal), from L. Aborigines "the first inhabitants" (especially of Latium), possibly a tribal name, or from ab origine, lit. "from the beginning." Extended 1789 to natives of other countries which Europeans have colonized. Australian slang shortening Abo attested from 1922.
abortive --- 1394, from L. abortivus "causing abortion," from abortus, pp. of aboriri "disappear, miscarry," from ab- "amiss" + oriri "appear, be born, arise" (see orchestra); the compound word used in L. for deaths, miscarriages, sunsets, etc. The L. verb for "to produce an abortion" was abigo, lit. "to drive away." Abortion first recorded 1547, originally of both deliberate and unintended miscarriages. In 19c. some effort was made to distinguish abortion "expulsion of the fetus between 6 weeks and 6 months" from miscarriage (the same within 6 weeks of conception) and premature labor (delivery after 6 months but before due time). This broke down as abortion came to be used principally for intentional miscarriages. For much of 20c., a taboo word, disguised in print as criminal operation (U.S.) or illegal operation (U.K.), and replaced by miscarriage in film versions of novels. Abort is 1580 as "to miscarry;" 1614 as "to deliberately terminate."
abound --- c.1374, from O.Fr. abunder, from L. abundare "overflow, run over," from L. ab- "off" + undare "rise in a wave," from unda "water, wave" (see water).
about --- O.E. onbutan "on the outside of," from on "on" + be "by" + utan "outside," from ut (see out). By 13c. it had forced out O.E. ymbe for meaning "in the neighborhood of." Abouts, with adverbial genitive, still found in hereabouts, etc., is probably a northern dialectal form. About face as a military command (short for right about face) is first attested 1861, Amer.Eng.
above --- O.E. abufan, from on "on" + bufan "over," compound of be "by" + ufan "over/high," from P.Gmc. *ufan-, *uban-. Meaning "in addition" first recorded 1596. Aboveboard (1616) was originally a gambling term, "A figurative expression borrowed from gamesters, who, when they put their hands under the table, are changing their cards." [Johnson]
abracadabra --- magical formula, 1696, from L. (Q. Severus Sammonicus, 2c.), from Late Gk. Abraxas, cabalistic or gnostic name for the supreme god, and thus a word of power. It was written out in a triangle shape and worn around the neck to ward off sickness, etc.
abrade --- 1677, from L. abradere "to scrape off" (see abrasion).
Abraham --- masc. proper name, name of the first of the patriarchs in O.T., from Heb. Abraham "father of a multitude," from abh "father" + *raham (cognate with Arabic ruham "multitude"); the name he altered from Abram "high father," from second element ram "high, exalted."
abrasion --- 1656, from M.L. abrasionem "a scraping," noun of action from L. abrasus, pp. of abradere, from ab- "off" + radere "to scrape" (see raze). Abrasive in the fig. sense of "tending to provoke anger" is first recorded 1925.
abreast --- c.1450, on brest, from a- (1) + breast; the notion is of "with breasts in line." To keep abreast in fig. sense of "stay up-to-date" is from 1655.
abridge --- 1303, from O.Fr. abregier "to shorten," from L.L. abbreviare "make short" (see abbreviate). The sound development from L. -vi- to Fr. -dg- is paralleled in assuage (from assuavidare) and deluge (from diluvium).
abroad --- c.1260, "widely apart," from O.E. on brede, which meant something like "at wide." The sense "out of doors, away from home" 1377) led to the main modern sense of "out of one's country, overseas" (c.1450).
abrogate (v.) --- 1526, from abrogate (adj.) (1460), from L. abrogatus, pp. of abrogare "to annul, repeal (a law)," from ab- "away" + rogare "propose a law, request" (see rogation).
abrupt --- 1583, from L. abruptus "broken off, precipitous, disconnected," pp. of abrumpere "break off," from ab- "off" + rumpere "break" (see rupture).
Absalom --- masc. proper name, King David's son in O.T., often used figuratively for "favorite son," from Heb. Abhshalom, lit. "father is peace," from abh "father" + shalom "peace."
abscess --- 1543, from L. abscessus "an abscess" (Celsus), lit. "a going away," from stem of abscedere "withdraw," from ab- "away" + cedere "to go" (see cede). The notion is that humors "go from" the body through the pus in the swelling.
abscissa --- 1698, from L. abscissa (linea) "(a line) cut off," from fem. pp. of abscindere "to cut off," from ab- "off, away" + scindere "to cut" (see shed (v.)).
abscond --- 1565, from L. abscondere "to hide, conceal," from ab(s)- "away" + condere "put together, store," from com- "together" + dere "put," from PIE *dhe- "to put, place, make" (see factitious). The notion is of "to hide oneself," esp. to escape debt or the law.
absence --- c.1374, from O.Fr. absence, from L. absentem (nom. absens, gen. absentis), prp. of abesse "be away," from ab- "away" + esse "to be."
absent (adj.) --- 1382, from M.Fr. absent (O.Fr. ausent), from L. absentem (see absence). Absent-minded "preoccupied" is first recorded 1854. absent (v.) "keep away" is c.1400, from M.Fr. absenter, from L.L. absentare "cause to be away," from L. absentem.
absinthe --- alcoholic liqueur distilled from wine mixed with wormwood, 1842, from Fr., "essence of wormwood," from Mod.L. (Linnaeus) name for the plant (Artemisia Absinthium), from L. absinthum, from Gk. apsinthion, perhaps from Persian (cf. Pers. aspand, of the same meaning). The plant so called in Eng. from 1612.
absolute --- c.1374, from M.Fr. absolut, from L. absolutus, pp. of absolvere "to set free, make separate" (see absolve). Most of the current senses were in L. Sense evolution is from "detached, disengaged," thus "perfect, pure." Meaning "despotic" (1612) is from notion of "absolute in position;" hence absolutism, 1753 in theology, 1830 in politics, first used by Gen. Perronet Thompson. Absolutely as an Amer.Eng. colloquial emphatic is first recorded 1892.
absolution --- remission, forgiveness, c.1200, from L. absolutionem, noun of action from absolvere "to absolve" (see absolve).
absolve --- 1535, from L. absolvere "set free, loosen, acquit," from ab- "from" + solvere "loosen" (see solve).
absorb --- 1490, from M.Fr. absorber (O.Fr. assorbir), from L. absorbere "to swallow up," from ab- "from" + sorbere "suck in," from PIE base *srebh- "to suck, absorb" (cf. Armenian arbi "I drank," Gk. rhopheo "to sup greedily up, gulp down," Lith. srebiu "to drink greedily"). Absorbent (n.) first recorded 1718. Absorbing in the fig. sense of "very interesting" first recorded 1876.
absquatulate --- 1837, "Facetious U.S. coinage" [Weekley], perhaps rooted in mock-Latin negation of squat "to settle."