In everyday life, not many people pay any heed to the origin of the words they are using. It is not crucial to know what they used to mean in the past, but to understand their meaning now.

Not many people are interested in the etymology of words, unless they are an etymologist or<br> a linguist. If we were to ask anybody to provide an exact dictionary definition of a word, even if it is<br> a popular and widely used one, it may prove to be a challenge. What would we find if we were to look at some of the words that have changed their meaning over time?


The Cambridge Dictionary defines the word “cute” as pleasant and attractive; however, it wasn’t always the case. The word derives from “acute”, which is defined as sharp and cleaver; moreover,<br> it is its shorter version. It is important to note that the change did not happen overnight, it was<br> a gradual process spanning over the years. The first step indicating a change was the difference in writing – an apostrophe was used instead of a letter “a”. After that, even the apostrophe was forgotten, which resulted in a difference in meaning.


As of now “nice” has only positive connotations; however, it was not always the case. If you were to use that word in the XIII century you would have gravely insulted somebody, as it meant: stupid, silly, and ignorant. Only in XV century did it start to have a more positive connotation, as it described someone shy or smartly dressed. The meaning of the word we know today has its origin in the XVIII century, and from that time to now it describes someone pleasant or pretty.


Deriving from an old English word “mete”, it was used to emphasise that something was a solid food and not a liquid. Food of an animal origin is a meaning that people started to use only after the XIV century, and it is still used to this day.


The word “awful” derives for the word “awe” and was a synonym of “awesome”. It is hard to imagine that those two now very contradictory words, sometime in the past, meant the same thing. In Old English “awe” meant terror, fear, and later fear out of respect. At the start of the XIX century “awful” took on the negative meaning, for example nasty or terrible, and “awesome” has taken on all the positive meaning, like great.

That’s language for you. Everything changes, language included; it may be caused by evolution of the culture or a translation mistake that stayed in use and is present to this day. Language is evolving and will continue to do so, whether we want it or not. One day the list of words that changed their meaning may be significantly longer.

(Translation K. P.)

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