Words which have changed their meaning over time

You can take this one or leave it, as it would take quite some verifying but it’s interesting, all the same.   Here’s a small selection:


Used to mean: To utter suddenly and passionately, to exclaim

The unintended double entendres in this sentence of Jane Eyre could make anyone snicker: “The sleepers were all aroused: ejaculations, terrified murmurs sounded in every room; door after door unclosed; one looked out and another looked out; the gallery filled.” Still, the old-school and modern definitions are pretty synonymous.


Used to mean: 10,000

Before people were debating whether “myriad” is a noun or adjective (it’s both), Greek mathematicians gave it the numeral M and were extremely specific about what it meant. Think a myriad is a lot to count? Try the myriad myriad (MM) or 100 million, the largest number in ancient Greece.


Used to mean: Meek, obedient

Hmmm… Not how we’d describe Beyoncé.


Used to mean: A low-life

In Middle English, “brothel” described the kind of person who’d cheat, steal, and … possibly frequent a bordello.


Used to mean: A divinely conferred gift or power

In the past, people with charisma could really work a room, restoring sight to the blind and other such miracles. Today, believers in Charismatic Christianity still believe in signs, prophecy, and divine healing. The root of it all: the Greek word kharis, for “god-given favor.”


Used to mean: Superb, wonderful

When Theodore Roosevelt referred to the presidency as a bully pulpit, he wasn’t talking about name-calling, harassment, or beating anyone with a big stick. He was praising the social change he might shape in office. Bully for him!

Read it here: http://mentalfloss.com/article/54770/15-words-dont-mean-what-they-used

[H/T haiku]


7 responses to “Words which have changed their meaning over time

  1. Thre are the obvious.

    My Great Grandmother would think nothing of describing something as “Gay.” Or saying “That’s a bit queer.”

    NOW you can get arrested for it.

  2. “Yes,” he ejaculated, “these days we have to be buxom.”

  3. (WordPress insists on calling me this.. I’m aka Twilight

    How about Fulsome – it appears to have two different meanings, changing with time perhaps, or changing with location? I wasn’t aware of the negative side of the word.


  4. Fulsome negative, eh?

  5. Enormity….. We are not permitted to be judgemental so now it is simply big.
    Decimated….. Any reduction at all. Even no reduction and nothing to do with reduction. A football team can be decimated when they lose by three points, without a single player being left bleeding to death on the field.

  6. “Naughty” used to mean “having naught/nought.”