I have gotten into the habit of using a walking stick around town, partly because of the rough terrain (the sidewalks here are worse than a lot of the trails I used to hike) and partly because of my iffy knees. The other day I wondered if I should stop using the stick because it’s become more of a crutch than a necessity, and it occurred to me how strange it was that the word “crutch” has come to mean the opposite of what it used to mean as well as keeping the original meaning of being a device to help when one is injured. In both cases, a crutch is something we rely on, but in the first case, there is a hint that the reliance is unnecessary, and in the second case, the physical reliance is a necessity.
This led me to think of other words that have come to mean something different while also keeping their original meanings, such as “moot.” Originally, something moot was a point to be debated. Now in general usage it means a point that is so obvious or so irrelevant that it needs no debate.
Smart is the same. Originally smart something sharp. Then people began calling those with a sharp tongue “smart.” And now, smart is largely associated with intelligence, though it still retains its original connotation when we refer to a sharp pain as smarting.
Other common words have taken on the opposite meaning of the original intent, and the origins have been lost somewhere along the way.
Two that interest me because they show more of a centuries-old prejudice against the poor than because of the words themselves. A villein used to be a bonded servant, a poor person, one who had nothing but was tied to land owned by someone else and could not leave it without permission. Now, of course, a villain is someone bad. Same with naughty. A naughty person used to be a person with naught, a poor person. So, the general idea, which holds today, is that people without anything are somehow bad.
I tried to find other fun words online, but most of them seemed silly to me. At least by today’s definition of silly. “Silly” used to mean blessed or fortunate. “Nice,” on the other hand, used to mean silly.
One word I did find interesting that I wasn’t aware of was “hussy.” A “hussy” was originally a housewife. Wow, what a turnaround to today’s meaning! “Radical” also has undergone a radical change — it originally meant something rooted, basic, fundamental, not, as it has come to mean, something or someone who advocates upheaval of fundamental ideas and complete social or political reform.
And all this because of a walking stick that may or may not be a crutch.
What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?
A fun book for not-so-fun times.
Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.