Bring one person back from the dead from years ago and he or she would be bewildered at the words that used to mean something else long ago. The meanings of words change all the time and unfortunately their origins are very often forgotten. Interestingly, some of the every day words we use now actually had the totally opposite meaning. I wonder how we get from one end of the spectrum to another! Let’s just take a look at some of the words that used to mean something else years ago.
Out of all the words that used to mean something else, “awful” underwent one of the most dramatic changes over the years. Today we know that this word has a lot of negative connotations and we often use it to describe something unpleasant or disturbing. However, in the 1300s it actually meant “inspiring wonder” or “full of awe”!
If you were to call someone a bully, you would be making big accusations against that person and his or her actions, but if you were to call someone a bully in the 16th century, they might actually be flattered. That is because back then this word used to mean "darling" or "sweetheart"! Oh, how things have changed!
When you think of someone who is nice, you imagine him or her to be friendly, well mannered and put together. However, if you were to think of someone as nice with the original meaning of the word, this would be a completely different picture. Back in the 14th century, the word “nice” meant “foolish” or “silly,” but with time it took on a more positive meaning.
Today “artificial” describes something that is produced by human beings rather than occurring naturally. For example, we often have artificial coloring or flavoring in our goods. Yet the original meaning of the word was something that was full of artistic or technical skill. In a way it makes a lot of sense, as it takes a lot of skill to produce something man made.
“Egregious” means a noticeable or an unforgivable error and it comes from the Latin word “grex,” which means "flock." It used to refer to anything or anyone that separates itself from a group. This change in meaning might have occurred due to the fact that we no longer prioritize individuality to the degree that we did before.
Apologies are efforts to seek forgiveness for a mistake or a misunderstanding. It’s something that saves our social relationships and forms understanding between people. However, originally it used to mean “defense,” so back then people weren’t admitting to their wrongdoings with apologies but instead were claiming that they haven’t done anything wrong.
Before the word “brave” was used to describe someone who is courageous and ready to face danger, it was used for people who portrayed uncivilized and showy behavior. It was in the 1400s that this word had negative connotations, but not anymore!
Take any word in our every day language and chances are that it used to mean something completely opposite! As our perspectives and mindsets changed, so did the meanings of words. What are some other examples that come to mind?