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    a (1) — ABM (n.)

    a (1)

    indefinite article, the form of an used before consonants, mid-12c., a weakened form of Old English an "one" (see an). The disappearance of the -n- before consonants was mostly complete by mid-14c. After c. 1600 the -n- also began to vanish before words beginning with a sounded -h-; it still is retained by many writers before unaccented syllables in h- or (e)u- but is now no longer normally spoken as such. The -n- also lingered (especially in southern England dialect) before -w- and -y- through 15c.ETD a (1).2

    It also is used before nouns of singular number and a few plural nouns when few or great many is interposed.ETD a (1).3

    a (2)

    as in twice a day, etc., a reduced form of Old English an "on" (see on (prep.)), in this case "on each." The sense was extended from time to measure, price, place, etc. The habit of tacking a onto a gerund (as in a-hunting we will go) was archaic after 18c.ETD a (2).2


    first letter of the Roman alphabet, based on Greek alpha (see alpha). In music from c. 1600 as the name of the sixth note of the natural scale; it is the note given by a fixed-tone instrument (usually oboe or organ) to which all the instruments of an orchestra are tuned. As a blood type, 1926, denoting A agglutinogens. The A side of a two-sided record (by 1962, see side (n.)) held the material chosen for promotion. A-bomb, short for atom bomb, was in newspaper headlines by Aug. 8, 1945.ETD A.2

    a- (2)

    word-forming element meaning "away," from Latin a "off, of, away from," the usual form of Latin ab before consonants (see ab-). As in avert, avocation. It is also the a in a priori and the à in Thomas à Kempis, Thomas à Becket.ETD a- (2).2

    -a (1)

    word-forming element which in English is characteristic of fem. nouns and adjectives of Latin or Greek origin (such as idea, coma, mania, basilica, arena, formula, nebula). From Latin -a (plural -ae) and Greek -a, (plural -ai, Latinized as -ae). The Latin suffix also became Italian -a (plural -e), Spanish -a (plural -as). It is represented in Old English by -u, -e, but even then the suffix was fading and by the time of modern English was totally lost or swallowed into silent final -e-.ETD -a (1).2

    It also appears in Romanic words from Latin that have been borrowed into English, such as opera, plaza, armada. It figures in scientific names coined in Modern Latin (amoeba, soda, magnolia, etc.) and is common in geographical names formed according to Latin or Greek models (Asia, Africa, America, Arabia, Florida, etc.)ETD -a (1).3

    In English it marks sex only in personal names (Julia, Maria, Alberta) and in a few words from Italian or Spanish where a corresponding male form also is in use (donna, senora).ETD -a (1).4

    -a (2)

    nominative neuter plural ending of certain nouns and adjectives in Latin and Greek that have been adopted into English (phenomena, data, media, criteria, etc.). It also is common in biology in Modern Latin formations of class names (Mammalia, Reptilia, Crustacea).ETD -a (2).2

    a- (1)

    prefix or inseparable particle, a conglomerate of various Germanic and Latin elements.ETD a- (1).2

    In words derived from Old English, it commonly represents Old English an "on, in, into" (see on (prep.)), as in alive, above, asleep, aback, abroad, afoot, ashore, ahead, abed, aside, obsolete arank "in rank and file," etc., forming adjectives and adverbs from nouns, with the notion "in, at; engaged in." In this use it is identical to a (2).ETD a- (1).3

    It also can represent Middle English of (prep.) "off, from," as in anew, afresh, akin, abreast. Or it can be a reduced form of the Old English past participle prefix ge-, as in aware.ETD a- (1).4

    Or it can be the Old English intensive a-, originally ar- (cognate with German er- and probably implying originally "motion away from"), as in abide, arise, awake, ashamed, marking a verb as momentary, a single event. Such words sometimes were refashioned in early modern English as though the prefix were Latin (accursed, allay, affright are examples).ETD a- (1).5

    In words from Romanic languages, often it represents reduced forms of Latin ad "to, toward; for" (see ad-), or ab "from, away, off" (see ab-); both of which by about 7c. had been reduced to a in the ancestor of Old French. In a few cases it represents Latin ex.ETD a- (1).6

    a- (3)

    prefix meaning "not, without," from Greek a-, an- "not" (the "alpha privative"), from PIE root *ne- "not" (source also of English un-).ETD a- (3).2

    In words from Greek, such as abysmal, adamant, amethyst; also partly nativized as a prefix of negation (asexual, amoral, agnostic). The ancient alpha privatum, denoting want or absence.ETD a- (3).3

    Greek also had an alpha copulativum, a- or ha-, expressing union or likeness, which is the a- expressing "together" in acolyte, acoustic, Adelphi, etc. It is from PIE root *sem- (1) "one; as one, together with."ETD a- (3).4


    also A1, A-one, "first-rate," 1837 (in Dickens); a figurative use from Lloyd's of London marine insurance company's system for selective rating of merchant vessels ("Register of British and Foreign Shipping"), where it is the designation for ships in first-class condition. The letter refers to the condition of the hull of the ship itself, and the number rating to the equipment. Also used in equivalent ratings in U.S., where colloquially it is sometimes expanded to A No. 1 (which is attested by 1848 as top rating of entries in an agricultural fair).ETD A-1.2


    also AA, abbreviation of Alcoholics Anonymous, attested by 1941, American English. The group name was the title of a book published in 1938 by the founder, Bill W. From 1914 as an abbreviation of anti-aircraft guns.ETD A.A..2


    also AAA, abbreviation of American Automobile Association, attested 1902, American English, the year the organization was founded.ETD A.A.A..2

    aardvark (n.)

    also aard-vark, South African groundhog, 1833 (in German from 1824), from Afrikaans Dutch aardvark, literally "earth-pig" (it burrows), from aard "earth," from Proto-Germanic *ertho- (see earth (n.)) + vark "pig," from Middle Dutch varken "small pig," which is from Proto-Germanic *farhaz (source also of Old High German farah, German Ferkel "young pig, sucking pig," a diminutive form; Old English fearh), from PIE root *porko- "young pig."ETD aardvark (n.).2

    aardwolf (n.)

    also aard-wolf, "small, insectivorous mammal native to East and Southern Africa, related to the hyena," 1833, from Afrikaans Dutch aardwolf, literally "earth-wolf," from aard "earth" (see earth (n.)) + wolf "wolf" (see wolf (n.)).ETD aardwolf (n.).2


    masc. proper name, in the Old Testament the brother of Moses, from Hebrew Aharon, which is said to be probably of Egyptian origin. The Arabic form is Harun. Related: Aaronic. Aaron's beard as a popular name for various plants (including St. John's wort and a kind of dwarf evergreen) deemed to look hairy in some way is from 1540s. Aaron's rod is from 1834 in botany, 1849 in ornamentation; the reference is biblical (Exodus vii.19, etc.).ETD Aaron.2


    the usual form of ab- before -c-, -q-, or -t-.ETD abs-.2


    word-forming element meaning "away, from, from off, down," denoting disjunction, separation, departure; from Latin ab (prep.) "off, away from" in reference to space or distance, also of time, from PIE root *apo- "off, away" (also the source of Greek apo "off, away from, from," Sanskrit apa "away from," Gothic af, English of, off; see apo-).ETD ab-.2

    The Latin word also denoted "agency by; source, origin; relation to, in consequence of." Since classical times usually reduced to a- before -m-, -p-, or -v-; typically abs- before -c-, -q-, or -t-.ETD ab-.3


    affixed to a name, abbreviation of Modern Latin Artium Baccalaureus "Bachelor of Arts" (see bachelor), 1773, American English. British English preferred B.A., perhaps because A.B. was used in Britain to mean able-bodied on seamen's papers.ETD A.B..2

    abed (adv.)

    "in bed," c. 1200, contraction of Old English on bedde "in bed," from a- (1) + dative of bed (n.).ETD abed (adv.).2

    abs (n.)

    colloquial shortening of abdominals, by 1992.ETD abs (n.).2

    aba (n.)

    outer garment of coarse, woolen stuff, of a type worn in Arabia and Syria, 1811, from Arabic. Also of the cloth it is made from (often goat or camel hair).ETD aba (n.).2

    aback (adv.)

    c. 1200, "toward the rear," a contraction of Old English on bæc "backward, behind, at or on the back;" see a- (1) + back (n.). Now surviving mainly in taken aback, which originally was a nautical expression in reference to a vessel's square sails when a sudden change of wind flattens them back against the masts and stops the forward motion (1754). The figurative sense from this, "suddenly or unexpectedly checked or disappointed," is by 1792.ETD aback (adv.).2

    abacus (n.)

    late 14c., "sand table for drawing, calculating, etc.," also "art of calculating with an abacus," from Latin abacus, from Greek abax (genitive abakos) "counting table, board for drawing," a word of uncertain etymology. It is said to be from a Semitic source, such as Phoenician or Hebrew abaq "sand strewn on a surface for writing," literally "dust," from the Semitic root a-b-q "to fly off," but Beekes and others find this "semantically weak."ETD abacus (n.).2

    Originally a drawing board covered with dust or sand on which mathematical equations or calculations could be traced and erased. In reference to the other type of abacus, a counting frame with beads or balls strung on wires or rods, it is attested from 17c. or later in English. Both types were known in antiquity across Eurasia. Related: Abacist (late 14c.)ETD abacus (n.).3


    late 14c., used in Revelation ix.11 of "the angel of the bottomless pit," and by Milton of the pit itself, from Hebrew Abhaddon, literally "destruction," from abhadh "he perished." The Greek form was Apollyon.ETD Abaddon.2

    abaft (adv.)

    "in or farther toward the back part (of a ship)," as opposed to forward, 1590s, from Middle English on baft (late 13c.) "back, behind, to the rear," from Old English on bæftan. For first element, see a- (1). The second component is itself a compound of be "by" (see by) and æftan "aft" (see aft). The word has been saved by the sailors (the stern being the "after" part of a vessel), the lubbers having left it in Middle English.ETD abaft (adv.).2

    abalienate (v.)

    in civil law, "transfer title of ownership to another," 1550s, from Latin abalienatus, past participle of abalienare "to remove, separate, alienate, make formal transfer of," literally "to convey away," from ab "off, away from" (see ab-) + alienare "to separate" (from alius "another, other, different," from PIE root *al- "beyond"). Related: Abalienated; abalienating.ETD abalienate (v.).2

    abalienation (n.)

    "act of transferring title of ownership," 1650s, from Latin abalienationem (nominative abalienatio), in law, "transfer of property, sale," noun of action from past-participle stem of abalienare "to separate, transfer the ownership of," from ab "off, away from" (see ab-) + alienare "to separate" (from alius "another, other, different," from PIE root *al- (1) "beyond").ETD abalienation (n.).2

    abalone (n.)

    type of large mollusk found on the California coast, 1850, American English, from Spanish abulon, a loan-word from Rumsen (an extinct native language in the Costanoan family), aluan, said to mean "red abalone." Prized for its meat (once an important California export) and for the mother-of-pearl in its large shells (also called ear-shells).ETD abalone (n.).2

    abandoned (adj.)

    "self-devoted" to some practice or purpose (usually evil), late 14c., past-participle adjective from abandon (v.) in the reflexive sense. Hence, in a general way, "shamelessly wicked" (1690s). Meaning "deserted, forsaken" is from late 15c.ETD abandoned (adj.).2

    abandonment (n.)

    1610s, "action of relinquishing to another," from French abandonnement (Old French abandonement), from abandonner "to give up" (see abandon (v.)). Meaning "a deserting, forsaking" (of one's family, principles, etc.) is by 1788; from 1839 as "condition of being forsaken." In law, the relinquishing of a title, privilege, or claim. In music, Italian abbandonatamente is the instruction to play so as to make the time subordinate to the feeling.ETD abandonment (n.).2

    abandon (v.)

    late 14c., "to give up (something) absolutely, relinquish control, give over utterly;" also reflexively, "surrender (oneself), yield (oneself) utterly" (to religion, fornication, etc.), from Old French abandonner "surrender, release; give freely, permit," also reflexive, "devote (oneself)" (12c.).ETD abandon (v.).2

    The Old French word was formed from the adverbial phrase à bandon "at will, at discretion," from à "at, to" (from Latin ad; see ad-) + bandon "power, jurisdiction," from Latin bannum, "proclamation," which is from a Frankish or other Germanic word, from Proto-Germanic *bannan- "proclaim, summon, outlaw" (things all done by proclamation); see ban (v.).ETD abandon (v.).3

    Meaning "to leave, desert, forsake (someone or something) in need" is from late 15c. Related: Abandoned; abandoning.ETD abandon (v.).4

    Etymologically, the word carries a sense of "put (something) under someone else's control," and the earliest appearance of the word in English is as an adverb (mid-13c.) with the sense "under (one's) control," hence also "unrestricted."ETD abandon (v.).5

    abandon (n.)

    "a letting loose, freedom from self-restraint, surrender to natural impulses," by 1822 as a French word in English (it remained in italics or quotation marks through much of the 19c.; the naturalized abandonment in this sense was attempted from 1834), from a sense in French abandon "abandonment; permission" (12c.), from abandonner "to surrender, release" (see abandon (v.)).ETD abandon (n.).2

    The noun was borrowed earlier (c. 1400) from Old French in a sense "(someone's) control;" and compare Middle English adverbial phrase at abandon, i.e. "recklessly," attested from late 14c. In Old French, the past-participle adjective abandoné came to mean "zealous, eager, unreserved."ETD abandon (n.).3

    abase (v.)

    late 14c., "reduce in rank, etc.," from Old French abaissier "diminish, make lower in value or status; lower oneself" (12c.), literally "bend, lean down," from Vulgar Latin *ad bassiare "bring lower," from ad "to, toward" (see ad-) + Late Latin bassus "low, short" (see base (adj.)).ETD abase (v.).2

    The form in English was altered 16c. by influence of base (adj.), making the word an exception to the rule that Old French verbs with stem -iss- enter English as -ish (comprehension might have played a role; earlier forms of abase often are identical with those of abash). Literal sense of "lower, depress" (late 15c.) is archaic or obsolete. Related: Abased; abasing.ETD abase (v.).3

    abasement (n.)

    early 15c., "embarrassment, dread, fear," from abase + -ment. Sense of "action of lowering in price" is mid-15c.; "action of lowering in rank" is 1560s; "condition of being abased" is from 1610s.ETD abasement (n.).2

    abash (v.)

    "perplex or embarrass by suddenly exciting the conscience, discomfit, make ashamed," late 14c., abaishen, earlier "lose one's composure, be upset" (early 14c.), from Old French esbaiss-, present stem of esbaer "lose one's composure, be startled, be stunned."ETD abash (v.).2

    The first element is es "out" (from Latin ex; see ex-). The second may be ba(y)er "to be open, gape" (if the notion is "gaping with astonishment"), possibly ultimately imitative of opening the lips. Middle English Compendium also compares Old French abaissier "bow, diminish, lower oneself" (source of abase). Related: Abashed; abashing. Bashful is a 16c. derivative.ETD abash (v.).3

    abate (v.)

    c. 1300, abaten, "put an end to" (transitive); early 14c., "to grow less, diminish in power or influence" (intransitive); from Old French abatre "beat down, cast down, strike down; fell, destroy; abolish; reduce, lower" (Modern French abattre), from Vulgar Latin *abbatere, from Latin ad "to" (see ad-) + battuere "to beat" (see batter (v.)). The French literal sense of "to fell, slaughter" is in abatis and abattoir. Related: Abated; abating.ETD abate (v.).2

    abatement (n.)

    "act or state of being decreased or mitigated" in some way, mid-14c., from Old French abatement "overthrowing; reduction," from abatre "strike down; reduce" (see abate). Now mostly in the legal sense "destruction or removal of a nuisance, etc." (1520s).ETD abatement (n.).2

    abatis (n.)

    "barricade defense made of felled trees with the branches angled outward," 1766, from French abatis, literally "things thrown down," from Old French abateiz "a casting down; slaughter, carnage" (12c.), from abatre "to beat down, throw down" (see abate).ETD abatis (n.).2

    abattoir (n.)

    "slaughterhouse for cows," 1820, from French abattre in its literal sense "to beat down, knock down, slaughter" (see abate) + suffix -oir, corresponding to Latin -orium, indicating "place where" (see -ory).ETD abattoir (n.).2

    abaxile (adj.)

    "not in the axis," 1847, from Latin ab "away from" (see ab-) + axile "of or belonging to an axis," from axis.ETD abaxile (adj.).2

    abbe (n.)

    1520s, title given in France to "every one who wears an ecclesiastical dress" [Littré, quoted in OED], especially one having no assigned ecclesiastical duty but acting as a private tutor, etc., from French abbé (12c.), from Late Latin abbatem, accusative of abbas (see abbot). See Century Dictionary for distinctions.ETD abbe (n.).2


    Biblical title of honor, literally "father," used as an invocation of God, from Latin abba, from Greek abba, from Aramaic (Semitic) abba "the father, my father," emphatic state of abh "father." Also a title in the Syriac and Coptic churches.ETD Abba.2


    dynasty of caliphs of Baghdad (C.E. 750-1258) claiming descent from Abbas (566-652), uncle of the Prophet. His name is from the same Semitic source as abbot. With patronymic suffix.ETD Abbassid.2

    abbey (n.)

    mid-13c., "monastery or convent devoted to religion and celibacy, headed by an abbot or abbess," from Anglo-French abbeie, Old French abaïe (Modern French abbaye), from Late Latin abbatia, from abbas (genitive abbatis); see abbot. At the dissolution of the monasteries, the name often was kept by abbey churches (as in Westminster Abbey) or estate houses that formerly were abbey residences.ETD abbey (n.).2

    abbess (n.)

    c. 1300, abbese, "female superior of a convent of nuns," from Old French abbesse (12c.), from Late Latin abbatissa (6c.), fem. of abbas (see abbot). Replaced earlier abbotess, from Old English abbodesse.ETD abbess (n.).2

    abbot (n.)

    Old English abbod "abbot," from Latin abbatem (nominative abbas), from Greek abbas, from Aramaic (Semitic) abba, title of honor, literally "the father, my father," emphatic state of abh "father." Spelling with -t is a Middle English Latinization. Originally a title given to any monk, later limited to the head of a monastery. The use as a surname is perhaps ironic or a nickname. The Latin fem. abbatissa is root of abbess. Related: Abbacy; abbatial; abbotship.ETD abbot (n.).2


    common abbreviation of abbreviation.ETD abbr..2

    abbreviation (n.)

    early 15c., abbreviacioun, "shortness; act of shortening; a shortened thing," from Old French abréviation (15c.) and directly from Late Latin abbreviationem (nominative abbreviatio), noun of action from past-participle stem of abbreviare "shorten, make brief," from Latin ad "to" (see ad-) + breviare "shorten," from brevis "short, low, little, shallow" (from PIE root *mregh-u- "short").ETD abbreviation (n.).2

    From 1580s specifically of words. Technically a part of a word, usually the initial letter or syllable, used for the whole word but with no indication of the rest of the word (as abbr. for abbreviation or abbreviate). A contraction is made by elision of certain letters or syllables from the body of a word but still indicates its full form (as fwd. for forward; rec'd. for received).ETD abbreviation (n.).3

    abbreviate (v.)

    mid-15c., "to make shorter," from Latin abbreviatus, past participle of abbreviare "to shorten, make brief," from ad "to" (see ad-) + breviare "shorten," from brevis "short, low, little, shallow" (from PIE root *mregh-u- "short").ETD abbreviate (v.).2

    Specifically of words by 1580s. Also sometimes 15c. abbrevy, from French abrevier (14c.), from Latin abbreviare. Related: Abbreviated; abbreviating.ETD abbreviate (v.).3

    ABC (n.)

    also a-b-c, late 13c. (spelled abece) from the first three letters of it taken as a word (compare alphabet, abecedary, Old French abecé, abecedé "alphabet," 13c.). The sense of "rudiments or fundamentals (of a subject)" is from late 14c. As a shortening of American Broadcasting Company from 1944 (in a Billboard magazine headline), earlier of Australian Broadcasting Corporation (1931). Related: ABCs.ETD ABC (n.).2


    element in many Arabic names, from Arabic (Semitic) abd "slave, servant," as in Abdallah "servant of God."ETD Abd.2

    Abderian (n.)

    by 1650s, "of or pertaining to Abdera," in Thrace, whose citizens were proverbial as provincials who would laugh at anything or anyone they didn't understand (Abderian laughter), making their town the Hellenic equivalent of Gotham (q.v.). Especially (or alternatively) as it was the birthplace of Democritus the atomist, the "Laughing Philosopher" (born c. 460 B.C.E.) who observed human follies.ETD Abderian (n.).2

    abdication (n.)

    1550s, "a disowning," from Latin abdicationem (nominative abdicatio) "voluntary renunciation, abdication," noun of action from past-participle stem of abdicare "disown, disavow, reject," from ab "off, away from" (see ab-) + dicare "proclaim" (from PIE root *deik- "to show," also "pronounce solemnly," and see diction). Sense of "resignation of inherent sovereignty" is from 1680s.ETD abdication (n.).2

    abdicate (v.)

    1540s, "to disown, disinherit (children)," from Latin abdicatus, past participle of abdicare "to disown, disavow, reject" (specifically abdicare magistratu "renounce office"), literally "proclaim as not belonging to one," from ab "off, away from" (see ab-) + dicare "proclaim" (from PIE root *deik- "to show," also "pronounce solemnly," and see diction). Meaning "divest oneself of office, privilege, etc., before the term expires" is recorded by 1610s in English (it was in classical Latin). Related: Abdicated; abdicating.ETD abdicate (v.).2

    abdomen (n.)

    1540s, "flesh or meat of the belly" (a sense now obsolete), from Latin abdomen "the belly," a word of unknown origin, Perhaps [OED, Watkins] from abdere "conceal" (from ab "off, away" + PIE root *dhe- "to set, put"), with a sense of "concealment of the viscera," or else "what is concealed" by proper dress. De Vaan, however, finds this derivation "unfounded." Anatomical sense of "part of the mammalian body between the diaphragm and the pelvis" is from 1610s. Zoological sense of "posterior division of the bodies of arthropods" is by 1725.ETD abdomen (n.).2

    abdominal (adj.)

    "pertaining to the abdomen, ventral," 1550s, from medical Latin abdominalis, from abdomen (genitive abdominis); see abdomen. As a noun, "abdominal muscle," by 1961 (earlier "abdominal vein," 1928); earlier as a fish of the order including carp, salmon, and herring (1835), so called for their ventral fins. Related: Abdominally. English in 17c. had abdominous "big-bellied."ETD abdominal (adj.).2

    abdominals (n.)

    short for abdominal muscles, attested by 1980; see abdominal.ETD abdominals (n.).2

    abducent (adj.)

    "drawing away, pulling aside," 1713, from Latin abducentem (nominative abducens), present participle of abducere "to lead away," from ab "off, away from" (see ab-) + ducere "to lead" (from PIE root *deuk- "to lead").ETD abducent (adj.).2

    abduce (v.)

    "to draw away" by persuasion or argument, 1530s, from Latin abductus, past participle of abducere "to lead away, take away," also in figurative senses, from ab "off, away from" (see ab-) + ducere "to lead" (from PIE root *deuk- "to lead"). Related: Abduced; abducing.ETD abduce (v.).2

    abduct (v.)

    "to kidnap," 1834, probably a back-formation from abduction; also compare abduce, the earlier verb, which has a more abstract sense. Related: Abducted; abducting.ETD abduct (v.).2

    abduction (n.)

    1620s, "a leading away," from Latin abductionem (nominative abductio) "a forcible carrying off, ravishing, robbing," noun of action from past-participle stem of abducere "to lead away, take away, arrest" (often by force), from ab "off, away from" (see ab-) + ducere "to lead" (from PIE root *deuk- "to lead"). As "criminal act of forcibly taking (someone)" by 1768; before that the word also was a term in surgery and logic. In the Mercian hymns, Latin abductione is glossed by Old English wiðlaednisse.ETD abduction (n.).2

    abductor (n.)

    1610s, in physiology, a muscle that moves (a limb) away from the axis of the body, from Latin abductor, agent noun from abducere "to lead away," from ab "off, away from" (see ab-) + ducere "to lead" (from PIE root *deuk- "to lead").ETD abductor (n.).2

    abeam (adv.)

    "at right angles to the keel" of a ship, hence in line with its beam, 1826, nautical, literally "on beam;" see a- (1) + beam (n.) in the nautical sense.ETD abeam (adv.).2

    abecedary (n.)

    "primer, alphabet table," mid-15c., from Medieval Latin abecedarium "an ABC book," neuter of adjective abecedarius, used as a noun, from the first four letters of the Latin alphabet. Abecedarian (adj.) is attested from 1660s.ETD abecedary (n.).2


    masc. proper name, in the Old Testament the second son of Adam and Eve, from Hebrew Hebhel, literally "breath," also "vanity;" "so called from his short life and sudden death" [Thayer].ETD Abel.2


    also Abnaki, Algonquian people and language of northern New England and eastern Canada, 1721, from French abenaqui, from the people's name, East Abenaki wapanahki, literally "person of the dawn-land," hence "easterners." [Bright]ETD Abenaki.2


    city in eastern Scotland, literally "mouth of the (River) Don," which enters the North Sea there, from Gaelic aber "(river) mouth," from Celtic *ad-ber-o-, from *ad- "to" (see ad-) + *ber- "to carry" (from PIE root *bher- (1) "to carry"). Compare Inverness. Related: Aberdonian.ETD Aberdeen.2

    aberrant (adj.)

    "wandering from the usual course," 1798, originally in natural history, "differing somewhat from a group in which it is placed," from Latin aberrantem (nominative aberrans), present participle of aberrare "to wander away, go astray," literally and figuratively, from ab "off, away from" (see ab-) + errare "to wander, stray, roam, rove" (see err). Related: Aberrance; aberrancy (1660s). The verb aberrate is rare.ETD aberrant (adj.).2

    aberration (n.)

    1590s, "a wandering, act of straying," from Latin aberrationem (nominative aberratio) "a wandering," noun of action from past-participle stem of aberrare "to wander out of the way, lose the way, go astray," literally and figuratively, from ab "off, away from" (see ab-) + errare "to wander, stray, roam, rove" (see err). Meaning "deviation from the normal type" is attested by 1735.ETD aberration (n.).2

    abet (v.)

    late 14c., "urge on, incite" (implied in abetting), from Old French abeter "to bait, to harass with dogs," literally "to cause to bite," from a- "to" (see ad-) + beter "to bait." This verb is probably from Frankish or some other Germanic source (perhaps Low Franconian betan "incite," or Old Norse beita "cause to bite"); ultimately from Proto-Germanic *baitjan, from PIE root *bheid- "to split," with derivatives in Germanic referring to biting. Sense of "encourage by aid or approval" is from 1779. Related: Abetted; abetting.ETD abet (v.).2

    abeyance (n.)

    1520s, "state of expectation," from Anglo-French abeiance "suspension," also "expectation (especially in a lawsuit)," from Old French abeance "aspiration, powerful desire," noun of condition from abeer "aspire after, gape, open wide," from à "at" (see ad-) + ba(y)er "be open," from Latin *batare "to yawn, gape" (see abash).ETD abeyance (n.).2

    Originally in French a legal term, "condition of a person in expectation or hope of receiving property;" it turned around in English law to mean "condition of property temporarily without an owner" (1650s). Hence "state of suspended action or existence." The French verb baer is also the source of English bay (n.2) "recessed space," as in bay window.ETD abeyance (n.).3

    abhor (v.)

    c. 1400, "to loathe, regard with repugnance, dislike intensely," literally "to shrink back with horror or dread," from Latin abhorrere "shrink back from, have an aversion for, shudder at," from ab "off, away from" (see ab-) + horrere "tremble at, shudder," literally "to bristle, be shaggy" (from PIE *ghers- "start out, stand out, rise to a point, bristle;" see horror).ETD abhor (v.).2

    Formerly also "fill (someone) with horror or loathing" (16c.). In Latin it was less intense: "be remote from, vary from, differ from, be out of harmony with." Related: Abhorred; abhorring.ETD abhor (v.).3

    abhorrence (n.)

    "feeling of extreme aversion or detestation," 1650s; see abhorrent + -ence. OED recommends this form for "act or fact of abhorring," abhorrency (c. 1600) for "quality of being abhorrent."ETD abhorrence (n.).2

    abhorrent (adj.)

    1610s, "recoiling (from), strongly opposed to," from Latin abhorentem (nominative abhorrens) "incongruous, inappropriate," present participle of abhorrere "shrink back from, be remote from, be out of harmony with" (see abhor). Meaning "repugnant, loathesome" is from 1650s. Earlier was abhorrable (late 15c.).ETD abhorrent (adj.).2

    abide (v.)

    Middle English abiden, from Old English abidan, gebidan "remain, wait, wait for, delay, remain behind," from ge- completive prefix (denoting onward motion; see a- (1)) + bidan "bide, remain, wait, dwell" (see bide).ETD abide (v.).2

    Originally intransitive (with genitive of the object: we abidon his "we waited for him"); the transitive senses of "endure, sustain, stay firm under," also "tolerate, bear, put up with" (now usually with a negative) are from c. 1200. To abide with "stay with (someone); live with; remain in the service of" is from c. 1300.ETD abide (v.).3

    Related: Abided; abiding. The historical conjugation was abide, abode, abidden, but in Modern English the formation generally is weak.ETD abide (v.).4

    abiding (adj.)

    late 14c., "enduring, steadfast," present-participle adjective from abide (v.). Related: Abidingly.ETD abiding (adj.).2

    abidance (n.)

    "act of continuing or abiding," 1640s, from abide + -ance.ETD abidance (n.).2


    fem. proper name, from Hebrew Abhigayil, literally "my father is rejoicing," from abh "father" + gil "to rejoice." In the Old Testament Abigail the Carmelitess was a wife of David. Used in general sense of "lady's maid" (1660s) from character of that name in Beaumont & Fletcher's "The Scornful Lady." Her traditional male counterpart was Andrew. The waiting maid association perhaps begins with I Samuel xxv, where David's wife often calls herself a "handmaid."ETD Abigail.2

    ability (n.)

    late 14c., "state or condition of being able; capacity to do or act," from Old French ableté "ability (to inherit)," from Latin habilitatem (nominative habilitas, in Medieval Latin abilitas) "aptitude, ability," noun of quality from habilis "easy to manage, handy" (see able). One case where a Latin silent -h- failed to make a return in English (despite efforts of 16c.-17c. scholars); see H. Also in Middle English, "suitableness, fitness." Abilities "one's talents or mental endowments" is from 1580s.ETD ability (n.).2


    word-forming element expressing ability, fitness, or capacity, from Latin -abilitas, forming nouns from adjectives ending in -abilis (see -able). Not etymologically related to ability, though popularly connected with it.ETD -ability.2

    ab initio

    c. 1600, Latin, literally "from the beginning," from ab "from" (see ab-) + ablative of initium "entrance, beginning," which is from or related to the verb inire "to go into, enter upon, begin" (see initial).ETD ab initio.2

    abiogenesis (n.)

    "spontaneous generation" (of life, without parent organisms), 1870, coined in Modern Latin by T.H. Huxley, from a- (3) + biogenesis.ETD abiogenesis (n.).2

    abiotic (adj.)

    "without life," 1870, from a- (3) + biotic.ETD abiotic (adj.).2

    Abitur (n.)

    German final secondary school exam, 1863, short for abiturium, from Modern Latin abitorire "to wish to leave," desiderative of Latin abire (neuter plural abitum) "to go away," from ab "off, away from" (see ab-) + ire "to go" (from PIE root *ei- "to go").ETD Abitur (n.).2

    abjection (n.)

    c. 1400, "humbleness, low state, meanness of spirit, abject situation, groveling humility," from Old French abjection (14c.), from Latin abiectionem (nominative abiectio) "dejection, despondency," literally "a throwing away, a casting off," noun of action from past-participle stem of abicere "to throw away, cast off; degrade, humble, lower," from ab "off, away from" (see ab-) + iacere "to throw" (past participle iactus; from PIE root *ye- "to throw, impel").ETD abjection (n.).2

    abject (adj.)

    c. 1400, "humble, lowly, poor; of low quality; menial," from Latin abiectus "low, crouching; common, mean, contemptible; cast down, dispirited," past participle of abicere "to throw away, cast off; degrade, humble, lower," from ab "off, away from" (see ab-) + iacere "to throw" (past participle iactus; from PIE root *ye- "to throw, impel").ETD abject (adj.).2

    The figurative sense of "downcast, brought low, hopeless," is by 1510s. Also in Middle English "cast off, rejected, expelled, outcast," a sense now obsolete. Abject formerly also was a verb in English, "to cast out, expel; to degrade, humiliate" (15c.-17c.). As a noun, "base or servile person," 1530s. Related: Abjectly; abjectness.ETD abject (adj.).3

    abjure (v.)

    early 15c., abjuren, "renounce on oath, repudiate, forswear," originally especially "renounce or recant (a heresy) on oath," from Old French abjurer and directly from Latin abiurare "deny on oath," from ab "off, away from" (see ab-) + iurare "to swear," from ius (genitive iuris) "law" (see jurist). Related: Abjured; abjuring.ETD abjure (v.).2

    abjuration (n.)

    "solemn renunciation," mid-15c., originally of heresy or idolatry, later of renunciations of oaths generally, from Latin abiurationem (nominative abiuratio) "a denying on oath," noun of action from past-participle stem of abiurare "deny on oath," from ab "off, away from" (see ab-) + iurare "to swear," from ius (genitive iuris) "law" (see jurist). Related: Abjuratory. The oath of abjuration is "the negative part of the oath of allegiance" [Century Dictionary].ETD abjuration (n.).2


    land on the northeast coast of the Black Sea, named for its people. Related: Abkhasian.ETD Abkhasia.2


    common termination and word-forming element of English adjectives (typically based on verbs) and generally adding a notion of "capable of; allowed; worthy of; requiring; to be ______ed," sometimes "full of, causing," from French -able and directly from Latin -abilis. It is properly -ble, from Latin -bilis (the vowel being generally from the stem ending of the verb being suffixed), and it represents PIE *-tro-, a suffix used to form nouns of instrument, cognate with the second syllables of English rudder and saddle (n.).ETD -able.2

    A living element in English, used in new formations from either Latin or native words (readable, bearable) and also with nouns (objectionable, peaceable). Sometimes with an active signification (suitable, capable), sometimes of neutral signification (durable, conformable). It has become very elastic in meaning, as in a reliable witness, a playable foul ball, perishable goods. A 17c. writer has cadaverable "mortal."ETD -able.3

    In Latin, -abilis and -ibilis depended on the inflectional vowel of the verb. Hence the variant form -ible in Old French, Spanish, English. In English, -able tends to be used with native (and other non-Latin) words, -ible with words of obvious Latin origin (but there are exceptions). The Latin suffix is not etymologically connected with able, but it long has been popularly associated with it, and this probably has contributed to its vigor as a living suffix.ETD -able.4

    ablative (n.)

    "grammatical case denoting removal or separation," late 14c. as an adjective; mid-15c. as a noun (short for ablative case, originally in reference to Latin), from Old French ablatif and directly from Latin (casus) ablativus "(case) of removal," expressing direction from a place or time, coined by Julius Caesar from ablatus "taken away," past participle of auferre "to carry off or away, withdraw, remove," from ab "off, away" (see ab-) + the irregular verb ferre (past participle latum; see oblate) "to carry, to bear" (from PIE root *bher- (1) "to carry," also "to bear children"). The "from" case, the Latin case of adverbial relation, typically expressing removal or separation, also "source or place of an action." Related: Ablatival.ETD ablative (n.).2

    able (adj.)

    "having sufficient power or means," early 14c., from Old French (h)able "capable; fitting, suitable; agile, nimble" (14c.), from Latin habilem, habilis "easily handled, apt," verbal adjective from habere "to hold" (from PIE root *ghabh- "to give or receive").ETD able (adj.).2

    "Easy to be held," hence "fit for a purpose." The silent h- was dropped in English and resisted academic attempts to restore it 16c.-17c. (see H), but some derivatives (such as habiliment, habilitate) acquired it via French. Able seaman, one able to do any sort of work required on a ship, may be the origin of this:ETD able (adj.).3

    ablactation (n.)

    "weaning of a child," 1650s, from Latin ablactationem (nominative ablactatio) "weaning," noun of action from past-participle stem of ablactare "to wean," from ab "off, away from" (see ab-) + lactare "to suckle," from lac (genitive lactis) "milk" (from PIE root *g(a)lag- "milk").ETD ablactation (n.).2

    ablation (n.)

    early 15c., "a carrying or taking away," in medicine, "mechanical removal of something harmful from the body," from Latin ablationem (nominative ablatio), "a taking away," noun of action from past-participle stem of auferre "to carry away," from ab "off, away from" (see ab-) + the irregular verb ferre (past participle latum; see oblate (n.)) "to bear, carry."ETD ablation (n.).2

    ablaut (n.)

    "systematic vowel alteration in the root of a word to indicate shades of meaning or tense," a characteristic of Indo-European languages, 1845, from German Ablaut, literally "off-sound" ("off" here denoting substitution), coined by J.P. Zweigel in 1568 from ab "off" (from Old High German aba "off, away from," from PIE root *apo- "off, away") + Laut "sound, tone" (from Old High German hlut, from Proto-Germanic *hludaz "heard, loud," from suffixed form of PIE root *kleu- "to hear"). The word was popularized by Jakob Grimm and Franz Bopp. The process is what makes strong verbs in Germanic. An example is bind/band/bond/bound + (German) Bund. Compare umlaut.ETD ablaut (n.).2

    ablaze (adv.)

    late 14c., "on fire," from a "on" (see a- (1)) + blaze (n.).ETD ablaze (adv.).2

    able-bodied (adj.)

    "healthy and sufficiently strong," 1620s; see able + body.ETD able-bodied (adj.).2

    ablegation (n.)

    "act of sending abroad or away," 1610s, from Latin ablegationem (nominative ablegatio) "a sending off or away," noun of action from past-participle stem of ablegare "send away on a commission," from ab "off, away from" (see ab-) + legare "send with a commission, send as an ambassador" (see legate).ETD ablegation (n.).2

    ableism (n.)

    by 1990 in feminist and lesbian literature, from able (adj.) + -ism. Defined in 1991 as "bias against the physically challenged and differently abled (formerly the disabled or handicapped) by the temporarily abled. The phrase 'blind to the truth' would be an example of ableist language." [U.S. News & World Report, vol. 110] Related: Ableist.ETD ableism (n.).2

    abloom (adj.)

    "in blossom, in a blooming state," 1855, from a- (1) + bloom (v.).ETD abloom (adj.).2

    ablution (n.)

    "ritual washing," late 14c., from Latin ablutionem (nominative ablutio) "a washing, cleansing," noun of action from past-participle stem of abluere "to wash off, wash away, cleanse by washing," from ab "off, away from" (see ab-) + luere "to wash" (from PIE root *leue- "to wash").ETD ablution (n.).2

    ABM (n.)

    1963, initialism (acronym) for anti-ballistic missile.ETD ABM (n.).2

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