Words whose meaning have changed with time

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  • August 14, 2017

Words follow their own law of mutation. With passage of time, many commonly used words and also the ‘not so common’ ones have evolved in their meaning and are used differently today. ‘Awful’ meant quite the contrary of what it means today. Words like ‘nice’ and ‘cheater’ have also evolved in meaning over hundreds of years. So have words like ‘addict’ and ‘assassin’.

Riding on the time machine and looking back at how our forefathers used these words would be an interesting thing to do. So, let us begin.


As opposed to the compliment that this word refers to today, it meant silly and foolish in older times.


‘Get me a clue to knit a cardigan’ was how the word ‘clue’ was used originally. Earlier Clue (or clew) originally meant a ball of yarn. From there, it evolved to its current meaning ‘hint’.


Originated from a Latin word ‘addictus’, ADDICT in Roman times meant ‘a debtor awarded as a slave to his creditor’. A broke person was termed as ‘addict’ and he was given as a slave to the person he owed money to. In 1600’s, the meaning changed slightly and the words meant ‘giving oneself to someone or some practice’. Later in 1900’s, the meaning of addict took its current form and started being used for a person who gave in to Morphine dependency and/or other similar drugs.


A brisk jerk movement or the act of flicking something away or was termed as ‘flirt’ some 500 years ago. The term eventually changed in meaning and is today used for a person who plays with people’s emotions such as love and passion.


Meat once meant any solid form of food other than fodder for animals. In certain Scottish dialects, it is still used similarly. However, its meaning has varied from the past in most countries and ‘meat’ today refers to the flesh of animals, typically mammals.


A young one or a child, irrespective of the gender was termed as ‘girl’ in earlier times. Later, the term started representing a specific gender and gathered its present meaning.


Assassin in Arabic means “hashish eater’. In olden times, the warriors used to consume a powder called hashish, made of hemp leaves, and intoxicate themselves before going for a war. These warriors, at the time of crusades, were sent by the sheikhs to murder the Christian leaders.

The two facts eventually united and the word gained its present meaning. Assassin today means ‘a person who murders an important person for political or religious reasons.’


Some 250 years ago, broadcast was broken up in two words ‘broad cast’ and it referred to the action of sowing seeds with a sweeping motion of the hand. Later in 1922, when the radio first made use of this word, it got its current meaning ‘to spread the news’.


Awful, in olden times meant something ‘worthy of awe’. Originally the words awful and awesome were synonymous as they both originated from the word ‘awe.’ Later in 1900’s, the word started having negative connotations and it started to denote something terrible or very bad.


‘A women who spins’ was called a spinster; this was way before it started being used as a term to denote ‘unmarried women’.


Can you derive a good sense from the word ‘egregious’. Before it started to mean ‘something conspicuously bad’, egregious actually was used to refer something as ‘distinguished’ or ‘reputed’.

Interesting, isn’t it? Let us know if you found this blog worth a read. Write to us at info@creativeninjas.in.