changing words (re) – (en)

See eight words which have completely changed their meaning over time:
Strangely, their original meaning was very different – or totally the opposite – of what it is now.
Artificial
This originally meant “full of artistic or technical skill”.
Now its meaning has a very different slant:
1. produced by man; not occurring naturally: artificial materials of great strength
2. made in imitation of a natural product, esp as a substitute; not genuine: artificial cream
3. pretended; assumed; insincere: an artificial manner
4. lacking in spontaneity; affected: an artificial laugh
5. biology  relating to superficial characteristics not based on the interrelationships of organisms: an artificial classification
[C14: from Latin artificiālis  belonging to art, from artificium  skill, artifice ]
Nice
This comes from the Latin “not to know”. Originally a ‘nice person’ was someone who was ignorant or unaware.
Now:
1. pleasant or commendable: a nice day
2. kind or friendly: a nice gesture of help
3. good or satisfactory: they made a nice job of it
4. subtle, delicate, or discriminating: a nice point in the argument
5. precise; skilful: a nice fit
6. rare  fastidious; respectable: he was not too nice about his methods
7. nice and  pleasingly: it’s nice and cool
[C13 (originally: foolish): from Old French nice  simple, silly, from Latin nescius  ignorant, from nescīre  to be ignorant; see nescience ]
Awful
This meant “full of awe” i.e. something wonderful, delightful, amazing.
However, over time it has evolved to mean exactly the opposite:
1. very bad; unpleasant
2. not standard  (intensifier): an awful cold day
Brave
This once was used to signify “cowardice”. Indeed, its old meaning lives on in the word ‘bravado’.
Now:
1. a. having or displaying courage, resolution, or daring; not cowardly or timid  b. ( as collective noun  preceded by the ): the brave
2. fine; splendid: a brave sight ; a brave attempt
3. archaic  excellent or admirable
4. a warrior of a Native American tribe
5. an obsolete word for bully
6. to dare or defy: to brave the odds
7. to confront with resolution or courage: to brave the storm
8. obsolete  to make splendid, esp in dress
[C15: from French, from Italian bravo  courageous, wild, perhaps ultimately from Latin barbarus barbarous ]
Manufacture
From the Latin meaning “to make by hand” this originally signified things that were created by craftsmen.
Now the opposite, made by machines, is its meaning:
1. to process or make (a product) from a raw material, esp as a large-scale operation using machinery
2. ( tr ) to invent or concoct: to manufacture an excuse
3. the production of goods, esp by industrial processes
4. a manufactured product 5. the creation or production of anything
[C16: from obsolete manufact  hand-made, from Late Latin manūfactus,  from Latin manus  hand + facere  to make]
Counterfeit
This once meant a “perfect copy”.
Now it means anything but:
1. made in imitation of something genuine with the intent to deceive or defraud; forged 2. simulated; sham: counterfeit affection
3. an imitation designed to deceive or defraud
4. archaic  an impostor; cheat
5. ( tr ) to make a fraudulent imitation of
6. ( intr ) to make counterfeits
7. to feign; simulate
8. ( tr ) to imitate; copy
[C13: from Old French contrefait,  from contrefaire  to copy, from contre- counter-  + faire  to make, from Latin facere ]
Prove
Originally this meant “to test”. The old meaning survives in the phrase ‘proving ground’.
Now it means:
1. ( may take a clause as object or an infinitive ) to establish or demonstrate the truth or validity of; verify, esp by using an established sequence of procedures or statements
2. to establish the quality of, esp by experiment or scientific analysis
3. law  to establish the validity and genuineness of (a will)
4. to show (oneself) able or courageous
5. ( copula ) to be found or shown (to be): this has proved useless ; he proved to be invaluable
6. printing  to take a trial impression of (type, etc)
7. ( intr ) (of dough) to rise in a warm place before baking
8. archaic  to undergo
[C12: from Old French prover,  from Latin probāre  to test, from probus  honest]
Tell
Its original meaning was “to count”. Which is how we came by the term ‘bank teller’.
Now:
1. ( when  tr, may take a clause as object ) to let know or notify: he told me that he would go
2. ( tr ) to order or instruct (someone to do something): I told her to send the letter airmail
3. to give an account or narration (of something): she told me her troubles
4. ( tr ) to communicate by words; utter: to tell the truth
5. ( tr ) to make known; disclose: to tell fortunes
6. to serve as an indication: her blush told of her embarrassment
7. ( tr; used with  can, etc ; may take a clause as object ) to comprehend, discover, or discern: I can tell what is wrong
8. ( tr; used with  can, etc ) to distinguish or discriminate: he couldn’t tell chalk from cheese
9. ( intr ) to have or produce an impact, effect, or strain: every step told on his bruised feet
10. informal  to reveal secrets or gossip (about): don’t tell! ; she told on him
11. ( tr ) to assure: I tell you, I’ve had enough!
12. ( tr ) to count (votes)
13. dialect  ( intr ) to talk or chatter
14. informal chiefly  ( US ) to tell the truth no matter how unpleasant it is
15. tell the time  to read the time from a clock 16. slang you’re telling me  I know that very well
[Old English tellan;  related to Old Saxon tellian,  Old High German zellen  to tell, count, Old Norse telja ]
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Changing words– Dagutigui

About Dugutigui

In the “Diula” language in Mali, the term « dugutigui » (chief of the village), literally translated, means: «owner of the village»; «dugu» means village and «tigui», owner. Probably the term is the result of the contraction of «dugu kuntigui» (literally: chief of the village).
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10 Responses to changing words (re) – (en)

  1. myrthryn says:

    great post..I dislike “nice” for this very reason..

  2. Madhu says:

    Had some idea about the others, but wasn’t aware about the original meaning of ‘artificial’ at all!

  3. Fascinating! Now I know for sure why I cringe when people call me ‘nice.’ :>)

  4. Interesting post…I suppose a person that is too nice is sometimes thought of as “ignorant” nowadays, because some people will take advantage of a person’s “nice-ness”.

    • Dugutigui says:

      Too nice, and yet too true!
      Guys, as well as girls, like that sense of badness…I want a good girl, who can be a little bad🙂 and so on… If a voice is just too nice, without an edge, it kinda all flows by. You forget it. You don’t listen to the lyrics…

  5. jn says:

    Awful did not mean “full of awe” in the sense of delightful, it meant “full of awe” in the sense of frightening. Also “art” for a time meant “any human industry or work”, hence “artificial”. Finally, “contrefaire” was French for “imitation”, not “perfect copy”.

    • Dugutigui says:

      Thank you for your explanations and clarifications.

      You right, “awe” came from Greek akhos “pain, grief”. But current sense of “dread mixed with veneration” is due to biblical use with reference to the Supreme Being. Awe-inspiring is recorded from 1814. “Awful” meant c.1300, “so as to inspire reverence,” from awful + -ly (2). Or as a simple intensifier, “very, exceedingly,” recorded from c.1830.

      “Art” in Middle English usually with a sense of “skill in scholarship and learning” (c.1300), especially in the seven sciences, or liberal arts. This sense remains in Bachelor of Arts, etc. Meaning “human workmanship” (as opposed to nature) is from late 14c. Sense of “cunning and trickery” first attested c.1600. Meaning “skill in creative arts” is first recorded 1610s; especially of painting, sculpture, etc., from 1660s. Broader sense of the word remains in “artless”. “Artificial” late 14c., in the phrase artificial day “part of the day from sunrise to sunset,” from O.Fr. artificial, from L. artificialis “of or belonging to art,” from artificium (see artifice). Meaning “made by man” (opposite of natural) is from early 15c. Applied to things that are not natural, whether real (artificial light) or not (artificial flowers). Artificial insemination dates from 1897. Artificial intelligence “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines” was coined in 1956.

      “Counterfeit” is from late 13c., from O.Fr. contrefait “imitated” (Mod.Fr. contrefait), pp. of contrefaire “imitate,” from contre- “against” + faire “to make, to do”. M.L. contrafactio meant “setting in opposition or contrast.” Related: Counterfeited; counterfeiting. The noun and adj. are from late 14c.

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