10 English Words That Have Changed Meaning Over Time

Every word has its origin, but with time, many words have changed their meanings. Let’s talk about the English language, it is the third most native spoken language in the world. Many people in the world speak the English language as a second language rather than its native speakers. The English language is brought to Britain by Anglo-Saxon settlers and then it is influenced by French, Latin, and Norse. Let’s have a look at 10 English words that have changed meaning over time with the influence of other languages and culture.

Awesome and Awful

Awesome and awful are the words derived from owe. Awesome means excellent but awful meaning is really bad.  Formerly, awesome and awful were synonymous but at the end of the 19th century, the meaning of awful changed to extremely bad and frightful. In old English, awe meant dread, fear, and terror. It was mainly used to depict the reverential or respectful fear concerning God. In the 1700s, awe meant reverential wonder and solemn and was used to depict thunder or storm at sea. In the learn English oxford Dictionary, the awesome meaning is great, marvelous, and stunning.

Words That Have Changed Meaning Over Time

Audition

The audition is the word derived from audio. At present, when you hear the word audition, the first thing that comes to mind is the person that is trying out to get part in a play or film. The word audition was initially used by the doctors who examine the patient’s ear to check hearing disorders. In the 19th century, the term tryouts were used for hearing in England because at that time, to check the eligibility of people who want to take part in films is examined by reciting something. The word audition is still used today to check the performance while hearing refers more to sound perception.

Fine

The word fine is derived from the French word fin or end. At present, it is used to denote something that is best in the order and is marvelous.  The best order in English means something that is of high quality and delicate. A high-quality product means something that is produced by taking into account all quality standards. The word fine is used in other ways also like if you want to ask someone how he is doing. In other meanings, the word fine means the person is doing well and is in the best of his health. In the wider sense, it means paying for a minor violation. When you watch a French film, you will see the word fin at the end before the credits. Outside France, fine is used in other meanings.

Nice

Nice is a word derived from the Latin word nescius that means ignorant.  It was used in the negative sense to depict an ignorant, foolish and stupid person. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the word ‘nice’ was used to define someone who was finely dressed and who was timed and reserved. Moreover, in the 16th century, it was used to describe polite, society, refined, and in a positive manner. By the 16th century, the meaning of nice had changed to someone attentive, sharp, and meticulous. In the 18th century, this word lost its prestige but it regained its meaning like agreeable and pleasant and is still used today. 

Dinner

Dinner is the word that originated from a French word called disner that is derived from the Latin word disjejunare which means breaking the fast. In actuality, it means the first meal of the day and is still used in the same meaning in certain parts of the world. According to the Oxford English dictionary Dinner is used to depict the largest meal of the day that is taken in the evening. Although the last meal of the day is called supper that is not much used today. At present, dinner is used to denote the meal that is taken in the evening or the last meal that you take before going to the bed.

Words That Have Changed Meaning Over Time

Spinster

To your surprise, a spinster is used to depict a woman that spun yarn or thread. In the late middle ages, the word spinster was used for a woman who is unmarried and who earns a low amount of money by spinning wool. Just like other occupations, it is used in legal documents to show the occupation of unmarried women.

Meat

In the old English version, meat meant solid food that includes animal feed. In the 14th century, it was used to depict the animal flesh that is used in food. If we see the meat in the figurative sense, it means the main component of something. Generally, the word meat is used for flesh for animals. In some regions of the world, it is used for beef and pork. In Scottish dialects, the meat word is used to represent any sort of food.

Commodity

Commodity depicts staple products. In other words, a commodity represents such words that have a constant production despite many producers. The word commodity is further used to depict future contracts that maintain a stable price even in case of market fluctuation. Initially, when this word was used, it represented comfort, for instance, to be comfortable in a cozy bed or sofa. At present, the meaning of commodities is entirely different from the original meaning that is from feeling comfortable to be productive in the future markets and to complete the contract despite financial crises.

Pretty

In old English, pretty meant cunning and crafty. By the time, its connotation changed in a positive manner that is competent and clever. It is used to describe a speech that is elegantly and cleverly made. In 1400, the meaning of pretty was changed in a positive way that is good-looking and pleasant, and at present, we use the word pretty in the same meaning.

Nervous

The nervous word relates to something that is concerned with your nerves. This word is derived from the Latin word nervous which means vigorous or sineway. It is used to depict a person that is not medically fit and who has a disease related to the nervous system. From the mid-18th century, the word nervous is used to describe a feeling of restlessness and agitation. Today we still use the word to describe a mentally disturbed person.

Wrapping Up

The connotation of every word in every culture is different. If you are unaware of the meanings of different words then don’t worry, CCJK is here for you. We have a team of native translators that can provide seamless translation service while considering cultural and linguistic nuances.

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