Examples of Words That Have Changed Meaning

The English language is very dynamic. Words are constantly being added and meanings change. I saw another reminder of this recently in an article entitled “25 Words That Don’t Mean What They Used To” by Paul Anthony Jones. It’s quite a surprising list. Here are some of the words that jumped out at me —

2. Ambidextrous today means to use both hands equally well. But when it came into use in the mid-16th century, an ambidexter was someone who took bribes from both sides in a legal action, so ambidextrous originally meant “duplicitous” or “two-faced.”

3. Bunny actually came from bun, an Old English word that meant squirrel.

10. Girl was originally gender neutral and could be used the same as child or kid. It didn’t receive its modern meaning until the 15th century, after the word boy, which first meant “a male servant or assistant, appeared in English.

12. Husband was originally a home-owner or a head of a household—and not necessarily married. 

14. Keen comes from the Old English word cene, meaning “brave,” “fierce,” or “warlike.”

19. Nice derives from the Latin nescius, meaning “ignorant” or “not knowing.” That’s how it started when first adopted into English from French around the turn of the 14th century. Over the years it has had many other meanings, like “wanton,” “ostentatious,” “hard to please,” “cultured,” “lazy,” “pampered,” “shy,” and “dainty” among others before obtaining its current usage in the early 1700s.

21. Queen began as a general name for a woman or a wife before attaining its current meaning in the middle of the Old English period.

For the complete list and all the backstories, visit https://getpocket.com/explore/item/25-words-that-don-t-mean-what-they-used-to.

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