Friday, November 25, 2011

Did you know? The hidden story of words... 2 - Awful

And here is another word, "Awful":

Contemporary usage of “awful” only has its origins some 200 years ago, in a slang form of finding both concrete and conceptual objects or persons monstrous or bad; be it the state of a nation[1], or the dramatising of an adjective, as per the letters of Keats[2]. Colloquialised versions of the adverb followed shortly after, from Twain[3] to Paine[4]. This suggests a paradigm shift in the power of the word, perhaps introduced by the Victorian novel: a wilful playing down of the original meaning as something more natural, mundane and relevant to a speaker’s everyday life.

In the objective sense of the word, its etymology stems from the noun “awe” and, ironically, the striking of “a subjective emotion... fear... dread”[5]. Stemming in turn from the Old Norse, and Old Germanic, the suffix “-ful” makes its Anglo-Saxon appearance as slang, from the time of Alfred the Great[6] up through the 1800s. However, this use relates at first to vast “awefull armies”[7] and scenes that inspire dread, such as plagues[8], and massacres[9]: a sense of horror.
It is the words of Ælfric, circa 1000, which attempt to evoke instead a sense of God’s greatness[10], but other writers choose to subvert this as an earthly reverence in men only. It isn’t until Tudor England’s power play between Reformation and Counter-reformation that the inspiration of reverence and respect re-emerges. Even then, this subjective sense of being “filled with awe”[11] merely touches upon exaltations of God rather than settling there.

[1] Thomas Green Fessenden · Pills, poetical, political, and philosophical: prescribed for the purpose of purging the publick of piddling philosophers, of puny poetasters, of paltry politicians, and petty partisans · 1809.
[2] John Keats · Letters, 1814–1821 ed. H. E. Rollins 2 vols. 1958
[3] Mark Twain · The adventures of Tom Sawyer · Authorized ed., 1876. Leipzig: Bernhard Tauchnitz
[4] Ralph Delahaye Paine · Comrades of the rolling ocean · 1923
[5] "awe, n.1". OED Online. September 2011. Oxford University Press. (accessed November 01, 2011).
[6] King Alfred · Boethius' De Consol. Philosophy · 888
[7] William Warner · Albions England: a continued historie · revised edition, 1602 (1 vol.). London: E. Bollifant for G. Potter
[8] Daniel Defoe · A journal of the plague year · 1st edition, 1722 (1 vol.). London: Printed for E. Nutt; J. Roberts; A. Dodd; and J. Graves
[9] John Richard Green · A short history of the English people · 1st edition, 1874 (1 vol.).
[10] Ælfric of Eynsham · Deut. · 1000
[11] "awful, adj.". OED Online. September 2011. Oxford University Press. (accessed November 01, 2011).

Did you know? The hidden story of words... 1 - Horror

What follows is a brief discussion on the origins of the English word "horror"; an assignment in research and citations. Enjoy...

English forms of “horror” originate during the Hundred Years’ War. Its etymology borrows the Old French spelling “(h)orrour” for at least the first 100 years, but alters its Latinate of physical  reactions: “bristle... shudder”[1] to a psychological response to fear[2]. It is unknown whether this is a French etymological development or a weak translation. However, since the recorded use of “horrible” precedes “horror” in the poetry of Mannyng[3], it can be suggested that noun and adjective have informed each other.
This “shuddering with terror and repugnance”[4] is settled within the English language. Brief transferences into nautical[5] and alchemical[6] do not weaken or colloquialise the term. Neither does its appropriation as reverential fear and awe, which draws on the etymology of “awful” (as seen in Pope’s Iliad translation[7]), since this is soon obsolete.

The transferred sense from personal to projected horror (following “horror’s” introduction into the language) as early as 1413[8], remains throughout the word’s timeline. It becomes a dysphemism for places, things and people, as evidenced in Ulysses[9], becoming synonymous with the waxworks of Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors[10].
In a medical sense, the Latinate etymology returns within 200 years as a symptomatic description of disease – we may take it for fever, as expressed in Phillips’s New World of Words[11] – before being interjected into conversations in the late 1800s in a mostly over-dramatic manner, as per the writing of Troubridge[12]. The psychology of horror though, developed further into a colloquialised description of mental ill-health[13] which found itself linked euphemistically with the medical term for alcoholic withdrawal: “delirium tremens”.

[1] "† horre, v.". OED Online. September 2011. Oxford University Press. (accessed November 01, 2011).
[2] The Wycliffite Bible (early version) · a1382
[3] Robert Mannyng · Handlyng Synne · 1303
[4] "horror, n.". OED Online. September 2011. Oxford University Press. (accessed November 01, 2011).
[5] The Annual Register · 1758–
[6] Elias Ashmole · Theatrum chemicum Britannicum, containing severall poeticall pieces of our famous English philosophers, collected, with annotations, by E. Ashmole · 1652.
[7] Homer · The Iliad of Homer (transl. Alexander Pope) · 1st edition, 1715–1720 (6 vols.).
[8] The Pilgrimage of the Soul · 1483–1500
[9] James Augustine Aloysius Joyce · Ulysses · 1st book edition, 1922 (1 vol.).Paris: Shakespeare and Co; Dijon: Maurice Darantiere
[10] William Makepeace Thackeray · The history of Pendennis · 1st book edition, 1848-1850 (2 vols. publ. in parts). London: Bradbury and Evans, 11, Bouverie Street
[11] The new world of words; or, universal English dictionary (ed. John Kersey) · 6th edition, 1706 (1 vol.).
[12] Laura Elizabeth R. Troubridge · Life amongst the Troubridges · 1966.
[13] Oliver Goldsmith · The good natur'd man · 1st edition, 1768 (1 vol.).