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Words That Mean The Opposite Of What They Used To Mean

Language continues to evolve over time, making it hard for some people to adopt the new words that come with time. With all the new words that exist, it makes you wonder how old certain words are. Do they still mean the same thing or has their meaning changed as language has changed?

English is such a complicated language, and although it is widely spoken many have shifted in their use and context in conversation. Here are a couple of words that do not possess the definition they used to:

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1. Awesome

This is a word you might hear children often scream when they see something they deem cool. The word ‘awesome’ first cropped up in the 1600s becoming part of Early Modern English. Originally, it meant “something which inspires or is full of awe.”

Awesome was originally alluded to experiencing something deeply terrifying. The modern day has seen this definition shift to an exclamation of one’s amazement. With how often the word is used in speech now, it is doubtful it holds the same weight that it once did.

2. Silly

The meaning of the world silly has gone all over the place in its meaning. Middle English had a similar word, seely, which meant happy. Over time, however, people began to write and pronounce the word as silly, changing the meaning to an innocent person deserving of pity or sympathy.

After that, silly’s meaning went on to mean naïve or unsophisticated and then to our current definition of ignorant or foolish.

3. Egregious

Egregious actually has its roots in etymology, “the study of the origin of the word and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.” Originally, it meant something along the lines of “rising above the flock.”

When it came to the English language in the 1500s, it specifically meant exceptional or distinguished. By the 1600s, ironic usage of the word transformed its meaning so much, one would only label something ‘egregious’ if it is also outstandingly bad.

4. Awful

The way this word changed might leave you scratching your heads. While awesome was used to describe something negative, awful was the complete opposite. It leaves one wondering where the logic was when it came to meaning change.

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People in the 1300s used it to describe anything that was “awe-inspiring, worth of respect and admiration. 500 years later, in the 1800s was when the term ‘awful’ was eventually used to describe something bad.

5. Terrific

The way the word is spelled should, according to some, be obvious enough in what the word first meant. And those people are completely right. Its use was first seen in the 1600s, and could be used to describe something “frightening.”

A terrific occurrence or object was something that filled one with terror. It was not until the 18th century that terrific meant something great or severe. By the time the 19th century rolled around, the word adopted the modern meaning: excellent.

6. Smart

This is one word that despite its age, I have seen used the way it was originally intended. Often used by people exclaiming “Ow, that smarts,” it was spelled in Old English as smeart, and meant painful or stinging.

Eventually, time transformed it from meaning a pain sensation to someone with a sharp tongue. From that meaning, it went on to refer to one’s intelligence in general.

7. Nice

Time has transformed this word in interesting ways. We often use it to praise those of an amicable nature, despite the fact that it was once associated with offensive speech. Nice, with its origin in Old French, meant foolish or weak.

As the Middle Ages began, it was used to mean shy, reserved, or fastidious. It was in the late 1700s when people considered such traits honorable, that was used to describe such.

8. Harlot

About 600 years ago, this word was not used to describe ‘ladies of the night.’ It actually meant something completely different and author Geoffrey Chaucer used it a few times in The Canterbury Tales.

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In Chaucer’s time, the word used to describe a goofy, somewhat mischievous man. Harlots at the time were “miscreants” and “scoundrels”.

The change in meaning is thanks to the Geneva Bible, published in 1560. In place of words such as “strumpet” or “whore,” harlot was often used.

9. Moot Point

This one is probably one of the weirdest. A moot point was originally something extremely important that required group discussion. These days we see it used to describe something that no one has a reason to talk about anymore.

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