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Author Topic: Evolution of language  (Read 3598 times)

Offline DoctorBeaver

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Evolution of language
« on: 05/12/2005 02:40:48 »
I am fascinated by words - their origins, how meanings change over time etc. Here some examples of words now meaning something totally different from the original. See if you can work out what they would have meant a few hundred years ago:-

Not all buxom girls are silly or pretty, some are quite nice.

I have 3 donkeys on my neck.

I am not sophisticated, this gold coin is a counterfeit.


 

another_someone

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Re: Evolution of language
« Reply #1 on: 05/12/2005 19:06:16 »
quote:
Originally posted by DoctorBeaver

I am fascinated by words - their origins, how meanings change over time etc. Here some examples of words now meaning something totally different from the original. See if you can work out what they would have meant a few hundred years ago:-

Not all buxom girls are silly or pretty, some are quite nice.

I have 3 donkeys on my neck.

I am not sophisticated, this gold coin is a counterfeit.



According to my book of 'Dictionary of Changes in Meaning' by Adrian Room.

Pretty (prettig) used to mean artful or crafty.

Silly, deriving from seely, meant happy or blessed.  Conversely, the word 'nice' would mean what we now mean by 'silly'.

In the 13th century, the term 'girl' could refer to a child of either sex.  Apparently, a boy would commonly be called a 'knave girl', but 'girles' would be equivalent to the modern term 'children'.

Buxom (derived from 'bow-some') originally meant someone who was subservient or obedient, later meaning someone who was flexible, before coming to its present meaning in the 16th century.

Thus we can translate the first statement to mean “Not all obedient children are artful or blessed, some are absolutely silly”.

The second sentence has caused me much more problems.  It seems (according to Chambers 'Dictionary of Etymology') that the modern use of the word Donkey is very new, only since around 1785.  According to The Penguin Dictionary of Historical Slang, a 'donkey' could refer to anything long and thin (including, but not limited to, a penis), but could also refer to a sailors clothes chest, or a compositor, or a slang term for 'Duncan' or 'Dominic'.  Why any of these would be on your neck, I am not sure.

The older meaning of the word neck seems (both according to Chambers, and Eric Partridges 'Origins') to have originally referred to the nape of the neck, but that alone does not make sense of your sentence.  Colloquially, neck could also refer to the throat, but again, this does not help me understand your sentence.

The best I can imagine would be 3 long drinks – but I am not at all certain that this would be correct.

The last one I thought would be simple, a straight reversal of meaning.  Certainly, I was right to believe that the original meaning of 'sophisticate' was a cheat or adulterer (or money or goods), but it seems the counterfeit, already from the 14th century, had the meaning of something fake or an imitation of reality.  But, 'I am not sophisticated' to mean 'I am not adulterated' does not really seem to make sense.

A coin originally meant a wedge, which would then be a mint, from which coins were minted.  Coin could in theory mean any invention of innovation (as in to 'coin a phrase'), but to say that this 'gold innovation is counterfeit' again does not help much.
The sentence might make sense if I were to assume the word 'sophisticated' were used to mean 'wealthy', but I don't know of it ever having meant that.

OK, will one out of 3 do?
 

Offline DoctorBeaver

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Re: Evolution of language
« Reply #2 on: 05/12/2005 19:16:13 »
You've done remarkably well. Spot on with the 1st 1.

A donkey was a small wooden structure such as a frame for sawing. This is possibly whence Whatshisname got the name Spinning Jenny (a Jenny being a female donkey) for his machine. Think now of the expression "My neck of the woods". A neck was a small piece of land, so my sentence would translate as "I have 3 wooden frames on my land"

Sophisticated did indeed mean corrupt, adulterated or a cheat. Counterfeit originally meant genuine. Therefore the sentence means "I am not a cheat , this gold coin is genuine"

Well done to you, sir
 

another_someone

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Re: Evolution of language
« Reply #3 on: 05/12/2005 19:58:14 »
quote:
Originally posted by DoctorBeaver
A donkey was a small wooden structure such as a frame for sawing. This is possibly whence Whatshisname got the name Spinning Jenny (a Jenny being a female donkey) for his machine.


And there was me thinking Jenny was the name of his (James Hargreaves') daughter.

Although, there seems to be those who believe that the first 'spinning jenny' was actually invented by a guy called 'Thomas Highs', who (if stories are to be believed) never got any credit for his invention.
 

sharkeyandgeorge

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Re: Evolution of language
« Reply #4 on: 14/12/2005 13:39:09 »
perhaps not quite on topic but im always surprised that people take so little time to understand what their talking about for example in my neck of the woods saying the weather is cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey is considered quite rude simply because people dont know that a brass monkey ws a tray used on ships to hold cannonballs when the weather was cold the tray wold contract and the balls be forced out and roll free. now its considered rude simply because people dont think balls can be anything but testicles rather a shame no?

"I realised i was sitting on a thousand tons of fuel in a rocket built by the lowest bidder"
 

Offline DoctorBeaver

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Re: Evolution of language
« Reply #5 on: 14/12/2005 15:51:44 »
Chris - absolutely.
Also slightly off topic... I don't know if you remember the great Kenneth Williams doing his Rambling Sid Rumpo character? He used made-up words to great effect. Although everyone knew they were his own inventions, they purveyed an air of illicit rudeness; lyrics such as "fuzzle my gruttocks and wurdle my nadges" or "Nail his moolies to the captain's muggle". It means absolutely nothing, but the way he sang the words simply oozed double entendres!
 

Offline neilep

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Re: Evolution of language
« Reply #6 on: 14/12/2005 19:53:25 »


More off topic stuff:

Captain Pugwash:

Roger The Cabin Boy
Seamen Stains
Master Bates...

Though I suspect (as I just found out) that these were urban myths....what a wasted post !...still...allowed me to add further double entendres!

Men are the same as women.... just inside out !!
 

Offline DoctorBeaver

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Re: Evolution of language
« Reply #7 on: 14/12/2005 19:56:55 »
We won't even mention Muffin the Mule! :D
 

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Re: Evolution of language
« Reply #7 on: 14/12/2005 19:56:55 »

 

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