Posted by: Jack Henry | April 30, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Word Evolution

Good morning, everyone! In the past I’ve written about how words evolve, and I’ve shared a few words with you that have changed in meaning over the years—sometimes in surprising ways. Words are introduced with a particular meaning, but what really matters is how people use the words. I’m intrigued by how words sometimes morph and mutate. I hope you are too because I’m about to share some with you.

One of my favorite resources,, recently offered the following list of words that have evolved in meaning. They list each word along with the century it was first used, and they show the original meaning and the current meaning. Are you ready for some surprises? Don’t be nice, be dapper and read on! 😊

Word Early Meaning Current Meaning
awful (13th) worthy of awe (awe-full) extremely bad
backlog (17th) largest log in the hearth large number of jobs to be done
bully (16th) sweetheart intimidating, quarrelsome person
clue (9th) ball of yarn bit of evidence for a solution
dapper (15th) brave stylish, neat, trim
egregious (16th) distinguished, eminent flagrantly bad
fathom (9th) to encircle with one’s arms to understand after much thought
flirt (16th) to flick something away, act briskly to act amorously without seriousness
girl (13th) young person (either gender) young female
guy (19th) frightful figure man, boy, fellow
naughty (14th) having nothing (naught) disobedient, improper
nice (13th) foolish, simple, ignorant kind, pleasing, agreeable
matrix (14th) female breeding animal pattern of lines and spaces
prestigious (16th) involving trickery or illusion honored

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Ext: 765432

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

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