Larger font
Smaller font
Etymology dictionary - Contents
  • Results
  • Related
  • Featured
No results found for: "".
  • Weighted Relevancy
  • Content Sequence
  • Relevancy
  • Earliest First
  • Latest First
    Larger font
    Smaller font

    spay (v.) — speckle (v.)

    spay (v.)

    early 15c., spaien, "stab with a sword, kill" (a hunted animal), also "remove the ovaries of" (a hunting dog), from Anglo-French espeier "cut with a sword," Old French espeer, espaer, from espee "sword" (Modern French épée), from Latin spatha "broad, flat weapon or tool," from Greek spathē "broad blade" (see spade (n.1)). Related: Spayed; spaying.ETD spay (v.).2


    c. 1200, Spaine, in reference to the ancient region comprising the great peninsula of southwestern Europe, from Anglo-French Espayne, from Late Latin Spania, from Latin Hispania (see Spaniard). The usual Old English form was Ispania.ETD Spain.2


    archaic or poetic past tense of speak (v.).ETD spake.2

    spald (v.)

    c. 1400, spalden, transitive, "to splinter, chip, break apart" (spalding-knife, for splitting fish, is attested from mid-14c.), of uncertain origin, perhaps from Middle Dutch spalden, with cognates in Middle Low German spalden, Old High German spaltan, German spalten "to split" (see spill (v.)).ETD spald (v.).2

    It survived in Scottish and Northern English. The later form of the English verb is spall (1758), back-formed from, or altered by influence of, the noun. Related: Spalled; spaller; spalling.ETD spald (v.).3

    spall (n.)

    "chip of stone thrown off in hewing, etc.," mid-15c., spalle, of doubtful origin; perhaps from the Middle English verb spald "to split open," or from continental Germanic and perhaps ultimately from a West Germanic *spaluz, perhaps related to German spellen "to split."ETD spall (n.).2

    Spam (n.)

    proprietary name registered by Geo. A. Hormel & Co. in U.S., 1937; probably a conflation of spiced ham. Soon extended to other kinds of canned meat.ETD Spam (n.).2

    Figurative of what is bland or unexciting by 1959. In the sense of "internet junk mail" it was coined by Usenet users some time after March 31, 1993, when Usenet administrator Richard Depew inadvertently posted the same message 200 times to a discussion group.ETD Spam (n.).3

    The term had been used in online text games, and ultimately it is from a 1970 sketch on the British TV show "Monty Python's Flying Circus" wherein a reading of a restaurant's menu devolves into endless repetitions of "spam" accompanied by an incongruous chorus of vikings.ETD Spam (n.).4

    span (n.1)

    [distance between two objects] Middle English spanne, a unit of length, from Old English span "distance between the thumb and the middle or little finger of an extended hand" (as a measure of length, roughly nine inches), probably related to Middle Dutch spannen "to join, fasten," from Proto-Germanic *spannan, from PIE root *(s)pen- "to draw, stretch, spin."ETD span (n.1).2

    The Germanic word was borrowed into Medieval Latin as spannus, hence Italian spanna, Old French espan "hand's width, span as a unit of measure" (Modern French empan), which might have influenced the Middle English word.ETD span (n.1).3

    As a measure of volume (early 14c.), "what can be held in two cupped hands." The figurative meaning "any short space," especially "period between two points of time" is by 1590s. The sense of "full extent or course over which anything is stretched or prolonged" is by 1630s. The sense of "space between abutments of an arch, etc." is from 1725, variously defined as including the abutments or not. The meaning "maximum lateral dimension of an aircraft" is recorded by 1909.ETD span (n.1).4

    span (n.2)

    "two animals driven together," 1769, American English, from Dutch span, used in this sense, from spannen "to stretch or yoke," from Middle Dutch spannan, cognate with Old English spannan "to join," from Proto-Germanic *spannan, from PIE root *(s)pen- "to draw, stretch, spin," thus a cognate of the verb and span (n.1). Also used in South African English. As a verb, "be matched for funning in harness," 1540s.ETD span (n.2).2

    span (v.)

    Middle English spannen, from Old English spannan "join, link, clasp, fasten, bind, connect; to stretch, spread out" (past tense speonn), from the noun or else from Proto-Germanic *spannan (source also of Old Norse spenna, Old Frisian spanna, Middle Dutch spannen, Dutch spannan "stretch, bend, hoist, hitch," Old High German spannan, German spannen "to join, fasten, extend, connect"), from PIE root *(s)pen- "to draw, stretch, spin" (source also of spin (v.) and of the two nouns span).ETD span (v.).2

    Hence "grasp, lay hold of" (late 14c., a sense now obsolete), "measure by means of the outstretched hand" (1550s). The meaning "to encircle with the hand(s)" is by 1781; the transitive sense of "stretch from side to side or end to end of, extend over or across" (something) is by 1630s. Related: Spanned; spanning.ETD span (v.).3

    spanandry (n.)

    "extreme scarcity of males in a population," 1924, from French spananderie (1913), from Greek spanis "scarcity," which is of disputed origin, + anēr "man" (from PIE root *ner- (2) "man").ETD spanandry (n.).2

    Spandex (n.)

    synthetic fiber, 1959, American English, proprietary name, an arbitrary formation from expand + commercial suffix -ex.ETD Spandex (n.).2

    spandrel (n.)

    "triangular space between the outer curve of an arch and the molding enclosing it," late 15c., apparently a diminutive of Anglo-French spandre, spaundre (late 14c.), which is of uncertain origin. Perhaps it is a shortening of Old French espandre "to expand, extend, spread," from Latin expandre "to spread out, unfold, expand," from ex "out" (see ex-) + pandere "to spread, stretch" (from nasalized form of PIE root *pete- "to spread").ETD spandrel (n.).2

    spangle (n.)

    mid-15c., spangel, "small piece of glittering metal," a diminutive (with -el (2)) of obsolete Middle English spang "glittering ornament, spangle" (c. 1400), which probably is from Middle Dutch spange "brooch, clasp" (cognate with Old English spang "buckle, clasp," German Spange "clasp, brooch"), from Proto-Germanic *spango, from an extended form of PIE root *(s)pen- "to draw, stretch, spin."ETD spangle (n.).2

    spangle (v.)

    1540s, "cover (a fabric, garment, etc.) with spangles; decorate with many small, bright objects or points," from spangle (n.). The intransitive meaning "glitter, glisten" is from 1630s. Related: Spangled; spangling. In ornithology, spangled is "speckled" (1580s) as in spangled coquette, a type of crested hummingbird.ETD spangle (v.).2

    spangly (adj.)

    "having the glittering effect of spangles," 1753, from spangle (n.) + -y (2).ETD spangly (adj.).2

    Spanglish (n.)

    "Spanish deformed by English words and idioms," by 1967, perhaps a nativization of Spanish Espanglish (1954); ultimately from Spanish (n.) + English.ETD Spanglish (n.).2

    Spaniard (n.)

    c. 1400, from Old French Espaignart, from Espaigne "Spain," from Latin Hispania, from Greek Hispania "Spain," Hispanos "Spanish, a Spaniard," which are probably from Celt-Iberian, in which language (H)i- is said to represent a definite article [Klein, who compares Hellenistic Greek Spania].ETD Spaniard (n.).2

    For the ending, see -ard. In German, Spanien. The earlier English noun was Spaynol (late 13c. as a surname), also Spainolde, from Old French Espaignol (equivalent of Spanish Español). The form Spainard is attested from c. 1400 for "person from (Christian) Spain," also sometimes especially "a Castilian" (as opposed to an Aragonese, etc.), and is attested from early 14c. as a surnameETD Spaniard (n.).3

    The Latin adjectives are Hispanus, Hispanicus, Hispaniensis.ETD Spaniard (n.).4

    spaniel (n.)

    late 13c., Spaynel, as a surname meaning "Spaniard;" as a name for a breed of bird-dog supposed to be of Spanish origin, late 14c., from Old French (chien) espagneul, literally "Spanish (dog)," from Vulgar Latin *Hispaniolus "of Spain," diminutive of Latin Hispanus "Spanish, Hispanic" (see Spaniard).ETD spaniel (n.).2

    The were used to start game; the breed was much-developed and popularized in England in 17c. Whether it is actually originally Spanish is uncertain. The disparaging figurative sense of "mean, cringing, fawning person" is by 1590s, in reference to the animal's docile and affectionate nature; it also was used as a verb, "be obsequious."ETD spaniel (n.).3

    Spanish (adj.)

    c. 1200, Spainisc, "of or pertaining to Spain or Spaniards," from Spaine "Spain," from Old French Espaigne (see Spaniard) + -ish. Replaced Old English Speonisc. Altered 16c. by influence of Latin. As a noun, "the Spanish language," from late 15c.ETD Spanish (adj.).2

    For Spanish Main see main. Spanish moss (also long-moss) is attested from 1823. Spanish fly, the fabled aphrodisiac (ground-up cantharis blister-beetles), is attested from c. 1600.ETD Spanish (adj.).3

    Spanish American "of or pertaining to the parts of America where Spanish is spoken" is by 1811, also a noun. The Spanish-American War, fought between Spain and the U.S.A., was so called in British press speculations in early 1898, weeks before it began in April. For Spanish Inquisition (by c. 1600), see inquisition.ETD Spanish (adj.).4

    spanking (n.)

    "act of striking with the open hand," especially as a punishment administered to children, 1854, verbal noun from spank (v.).ETD spanking (n.).2

    spanking (adj.)

    1660s, "very big or fine, strikingly large or surprising in any way," later (especially of horses) "moving at a spirited pace, move with a quick, springing step" (1738), a word of uncertain origin, and perhaps not all senses are the same word originally. The verb (see spank (v.)) could be the source. It is perhaps also from or influenced by a Scandinavian source (OED compares Danish spanke "to strut"), and Century Dictionary compares Low German spenkern, spakkern, "run quickly, gallop."ETD spanking (adj.).2

    It probably is the source of colloquial spanker "something striking" (for size, etc.), 1751; as the name for a kind of sail, from 1794.ETD spanking (adj.).3

    spank (v.)

    1727 (Bailey), "to strike forcefully with the open hand, or something flat and hard, especially on the buttocks," possibly imitative of the sound of spanking. Related: Spanked; spanking (q.v.). The noun, "smart blow with the open hand or something flat," is by 1785.ETD spank (v.).2

    spanner (n.)

    1630s, a tool for winding the spring of a wheel-lock firearm, from German Spanner, from spannen "to join, fasten, extend, connect," from Proto-Germanic *spannan, from PIE root *(s)pen- "to draw, stretch, spin" (source also of spin (v.), span (v.)).ETD spanner (n.).2

    The meaning "mechanical wrench" is from 1790; the common figurative phrase spanner in the works indicating something that disrupts smooth operation (like a tool snagged in the machinery) is attested by 1921 (Wodehouse).ETD spanner (n.).3

    spar (n.1)

    early 14c., sparre, "common rafter of a roof;" late 14c., "stout, long pole," from or cognate with Middle Low German or Middle Dutch sparre, from Proto-Germanic *sparron (source also of Old English *spere "spear, lance," in place-names; Old Norse sperra "rafter, beam," German Sparren "spar, rafter"), from PIE root *sper- (1) "spear, pole" (see spear (n.1)).ETD spar (n.1).2

    In nautical use, "piece of timber used on a ship," mid-14c.; the specific sense in reference to a stout, round pole used as a mast, yard, boom, etc., dates from 1630s. The Germanic word also was borrowed in Old French as esparre, which might be the direct source of the English word.ETD spar (n.1).3

    spar (v.)

    late 14c., sparren, "go quickly, rush, dart, spring;" c. 1400, "to strike or thrust," a word of uncertain origin.ETD spar (v.).2

    Perhaps [Barnhart] from French esparer "to kick" (Modern French éparer), from Italian sparare "to fling," from Latin ex- (see ex-) + parare "make ready, prepare," hence "ward off, parry" (from PIE root *pere- (1) "to produce, procure"). But this is a late word in French (17c.). Middle English Compendium points to Old English sperran "to strike," in Middle English "to strike a horse with spurs," which is of uncertain origin. Etymologists seem to consider connection to spur unlikely.ETD spar (v.).3

    Used in 17c. in reference to preliminary actions in a cock fight; figurative sense of "to dispute, bandy with words" is from 1690s but is not certainly the same word. Extension to humans, in a literal sense, with meaning "to engage in or practice boxing, make the motions of attack and defense as in fist-fighting" is attested from 1755. Related: Sparred; sparring.ETD spar (v.).4

    spar (n.2)

    old general term for a crystalline mineral that breaks easily into fragments with smooth surfaces, 1580s, from Low German Spar, from Middle Low German *spar, *sper, cognate with Old English spær- in spærstan "gypsum" (Middle English spær ston).ETD spar (n.2).2

    sparagmos (n.)

    ritual death of a hero in tragedy or myth, 1913, from Greek sparagmos, literally "tearing, rending," related to sparassein "to rip, tear, shred, attack," a word of uncertain origin.ETD sparagmos (n.).2

    spare (adj.)

    "kept in reserve, not in regular use, provided or held for extra need," late 14c., from or from the same root as spare (v.). Old English had spær "sparing, frugal." Also compare Old Norse sparr "(to be) spared."ETD spare (adj.).2

    In reference to time, from mid-15c.; the sense of "lacking in substance; lean, gaunt; flimsy, thin; poor," is recorded from 1540s. Spare part is attested from 1826. Spare tire (or tyre) is by 1894 of bicycles; 1903 of automobiles; 1961 of waistlines.ETD spare (adj.).3

    spare (n.)

    "extra thing or part," 1640s, from spare (adj.). The Middle English noun sense was "a sparing, mercy, leniency, fact of leaving unhurt or unharmed" (early 14c.). Bowling-game sense of "an advantage gained by a knocking down of all pins in two bowls" is attested from 1843, American English, in reference to the second ball.ETD spare (n.).2

    sparing (adj.)

    late 14c., "inclined to spare or save, economical," present-participle adjective from spare (v.). Adverb sparingly is mid-15c., "frugally, economically, with moderation," with -ly (2). As an adverb Middle English also had sparliche "sparely."ETD sparing (adj.).2

    spare (v.)

    Middle English sparren, from Old English sparian, Mercian spearian, "refrain from harming or injury, leave undamaged; be indulgent to, allow to go free; use sparingly," from the source of Old English spær "sparing, frugal," from Proto-Germanic *sparaz (source also of Old Saxon sparon, Old Frisian sparia, Old Norse spara, Dutch sparen, Old High German sparon, German sparen "to spare").ETD spare (v.).2

    The meaning "dispense from one's own stock, give or yield up" (especially what is not needed or in use) is recorded from c. 1200. Related: Spared; sparing.ETD spare (v.).3

    spareribs (n.)

    also spare-ribs, "cut of pork from the upper part of a row of ribs, with the meat on them," 1590s, formerly also spear-ribs, from spare (adj.), here indicating probably "absence of fat;" or perhaps from Middle Low German ribbesper "spare ribs," from sper "spit," and meaning originally "a spit thrust through pieces of rib-meat" [Klein]; if so, it is related to spar (n.1).ETD spareribs (n.).2

    spark (v.)

    c. 1200, sparken, "emit sparks" (intransitive), from spark (n.). Old English had spearcian, Middle Dutch had sparken. The modern English word could be conformed to the Dutch.ETD spark (v.).2

    The meaning "to sparkle, glitter" is from c., 1300. The transitive sense of "affect by an electrical spark" is from 1889. The figurative meaning "stimulate, trigger" is attested by 1912. The meaning "play the gallant, court" is from the 17c. secondary sense of the noun. Related: Sparked; sparking.ETD spark (v.).3

    spark (n.)

    Middle English sparke, from Old English spearca "glowing or fiery particle thrown off" from burning wood, heated iron, etc., from Proto-Germanic *spark- (source also of Middle Low German sparke, Middle Dutch spranke, not found in other Germanic languages).ETD spark (n.).2

    As "a gleam of light," 1540s. Old French esparque is from Germanic. Figurative use in Old English was especially in reference to something that starts a fire, also "a small trace." As "vital or animating principle in human life" from late 14c.; spark of life "trace of vitality" is mid-15c.ETD spark (n.).3

    The slang sense of "a gallant, a showy beau, a roisterer" (c. 1600) is perhaps a figurative use, but also perhaps from cognate Old Norse sparkr "lively." Earlier it was used to refer to a woman of great beauty, elegance, or wit (1570s).ETD spark (n.).4

    The electrical sense," flash or streak of light from discharge between two near conductors," dates from 1748. The electrical engine spark plug is recorded by 1902 (sparking plug is from 1899), the figurative sense of "one who initiates or is a driving force in some activity" is by 1941. Sparks as a slang nickname for anyone working with electrical equipment is by 1919.ETD spark (n.).5

    sparkle (v.)

    c. 1200, sparklen, "to shine or issue forth as if giving off sparks; to throw out sparks," frequentative verb form of sparke (see spark (v.)), with -el (2). The meaning "glitter, gleam, flash" is from mid-14c. The sense of "be bright or lively in writing or conversation" is by 1690s; of eyes from c. 1700. Related: Sparkled; sparkling. Compare Middle English sprankle "emit sparks" (late 14c.).ETD sparkle (v.).2

    sparkle (n.)

    early 14c., "small spark, fiery particle," from sparkle (v.), or a diminutive of spark (n.) with -el (2). The sense of "lively brightness" is from 1580s; figuratively, "brightness of spirit," from 1610s.ETD sparkle (n.).2

    sparkling (adj.)

    c. 1200, "emitting sparks," present-participle adjective from sparkle (v.). Of shining eyes and bubbly wines from early 15c.; of witty conversation from 1640s. Related: Sparklingly.ETD sparkling (adj.).2

    sparkler (n.)

    1713, "what sparkles" (in reference to gems, wits, women), agent noun from sparkle (v.). In reference to some sort of firework by 1894; in the modern hand-held fireworks sense by 1905.ETD sparkler (n.).2

    sparkly (adv.)

    "glittering, sparkling," 1922, from sparkle (n.) + -y (2). Related: Sparkliness.ETD sparkly (adv.).2

    sparrow (n.)

    small brown and gray bird (Passer domesticus), of European origin but widely spread by colonists and now naturalized in North America, Australia, etc.; Middle English sparwe, from Old English spearwa, from Proto-Germanic *sparwan (source also of Old Norse spörr, Old High German sparo, German Sperling, Gothic sparwa).ETD sparrow (n.).2

    This is reconstructed to be from PIE *spor-wo-, from a root *sper- (3), forming names of small birds in Germanic, Baltic, and Greek (source also of Old Prussian spurglis "sparrow;" Greek sparasion "small, sparrow-like bird," a diminutive form; spergoulos "small field bird," psar "starling").ETD sparrow (n.).3

    In English use, with qualifying words, in reference to many small, sparrow-like birds (e.g. snow-sparrow for "junco"). Used also of small, active, quick-witted persons, especially London cockneys (by 1861). Sparrow-pie (1881) was the proverbial dish of those who gained sharper wits. Of things, indicating those of a small or inferior sort.ETD sparrow (n.).4

    Sparrowfarts (1886) was Cheshire slang for "very early morning." To be sparrow-blasted (1650s) was to be balefully stricken (sparrow-blasting is from 1580s), but the sense is unclear.ETD sparrow (n.).5

    sparrow-hawk (n.)

    also sparrowhawk, "hawk that preys on small birds," late 14c., sparowhawke, replacing spar-hauc and other Middle English forms from Old English spearhafoc; see sparrow + hawk (n.). Compare Swedish sparfhök, Danish sporvehög.ETD sparrow-hawk (n.).2

    sparse (adj.)

    "thinly scattered, existing at considerable intervals, widely spaced between," 1727, from Latin sparsus "scattered," past participle of spargere "to scatter, spread, shower." This is, according to de Vaan, from Proto-Italic *sparg-, from PIE *sp(e)rg- "to strew," extended form of root *sper- "to spread, sow" (source also of Hittite išpar- "to spread out, strew;" Greek speirein "to strew, to sow," spora "a scattering, sowing," sperma "sperm, seed," literally "that which is scattered").ETD sparse (adj.).2

    The word is found earlier in English as a verb, "to scatter abroad" (16c.). Related: Sparsely; sparseness; sparsity.ETD sparse (adj.).3


    capital of Laconia in ancient Greece, famed for the severity of its social order, the frugality of its people, the valor of its arms, and the brevity of its speech. Also for dirty boys, men vain of their long hair, boxing girls, clumsy iron money, and unpalatable black broth.ETD Sparta.2

    The name is said to be from Greek sparte "cord made from spartos," a type of broom plant, a word modern etymology traces to a suffixed form of PIE root *sper- (2) "to turn, twist" (see spiral (adj.)). If so, perhaps the reference is to the cords laid as foundation markers for the city, but the story could be folk etymology.ETD Sparta.3

    Spartacist (n.)

    "German Bolshevik of the November 1918 uprising," 1919, from German Spartakist, from Spartacus (obit 71 B.C.E.), in Roman history the Thracian slave leader in the Servile War (73-71 B.C.E.), whose name is ultimately from Sparta. Spartacus was adopted 1916 as a pseudonym by Karl Liebknecht in his political tracts; thence Spartacist for the socialist revolutionary group he founded with Rosa Luxemburg and Franz Mehring.ETD Spartacist (n.).2

    Spartan (n.)

    early 15c., "Lacedaemonian, citizen of the ancient Greek city of Sparta" (q.v.), from Latin Spartanus. As an adjective from 1580s, "of or pertaining to (ancient) Sparta;" the extended meaning "characterized by frugality or courage" is from 1640s. Used as the nickname of sports teams or sporting clubs in England and U.S. by 1913.ETD Spartan (n.).2

    spasm (v.)

    "twitch convulsively," by 1889, from spasm (n.). Related: Spasmed; spasming.ETD spasm (v.).2

    spasm (n.)

    late 14c., "sudden violent muscular contraction," from Old French spasme (13c.) and directly from Latin spasmus "a spasm," from Greek spasmos "a spasm, convulsion; wincing; violent movement," from span "draw (a sword, etc.), pull out, pluck; tear away, drag; suck in; slurp down; contract violently," which according to Beekes is of uncertain origin, perhaps from a PIE *(s)peh- "to draw, set in motion (violently)," hence "to stretch."ETD spasm (n.).2

    The figurative sense of "a sudden convulsion, abnormally energetic action or phase" (of emotion, politics, etc.) is attested by 1817.ETD spasm (n.).3

    spasmatic (adj.)

    "pertaining to, of the nature of, or characterized by spasms," c. 1600, from French spasmatique, from Medieval Latin spasmaticus, from Latin spasmus "a spasm" (see spasm). Related: Spasmatical.ETD spasmatic (adj.).2

    spasmodic (adj.)

    1680s, "of the nature of a spasm; characterized by spasms," from French spasmodique, from Medieval Latin spasmodicus, from Greek spasmōdēs "of the nature of a spasm," from spasmos "a spasm, convulsion; wincing; violent movement" (see spasm) + -odes "like" (see -oid). Figuratively, "happening or operating by fits and starts; jerky" (1837), also "high-strung." Related: Spasmodical; spasmodically.ETD spasmodic (adj.).2

    spastic (adj.)

    1744, in medicine and pathology, "pertaining or relating to spasms; spasmodic," from Latin spasticus, from Greek spastikos "afflicted with spasms," also "pulling in, slurping in;" etymologically "drawing, pulling in, stretching," from span "to draw (a sword, etc.), pull out, pluck; tear away, drag; suck in; slurp down; contract violently" (see spasm (n.)).ETD spastic (adj.).2

    The noun meaning "a person affected with spastic paralysis" is attested from 1896 and was used insultingly by 1960s of persons deemed incompetent, uncoordinated, or foolish. Related: Spastically; spasticity.ETD spastic (adj.).3

    Other adjectives (with spasmodic, spasmatic) were spasmous "characterized by spasms" (1550s), spasmic "spasmodic, convulsive" (1710).ETD spastic (adj.).4

    spat (n.1)

    "petty quarrel," 1804, American English, a word of unknown origin; perhaps somehow imitative (compare dialectal spat "smack, slap," attested from 1823).ETD spat (n.1).2

    spat (n.3)

    "spawn of shellfish," especially "spawn of an oyster," also "a young oyster," 1660s, of unknown origin, perhaps from the past tense of spit (v.1). Century Dictionary compares Dutch spat "a speck, spot."ETD spat (n.3).2

    spat (n.2)

    "short gaiter covering the ankle" (usually in plural, spats), 1779, a shortening of spatterdash "long gaiter to keep trousers or stockings from being spattered with mud" (1680s), from spatter and dash (v.).ETD spat (n.2).2


    also spatch-cock, a colloquial term in cookery, by 1785 (Grose), denoting a method of grilling a game bird after splitting it open along the spine and laying it flat; a word of obscure origin. "Orig. in Irish use, later chiefly Anglo-Indian" [OED]. Said in Grose to be in reference to a fowl broiled immediately after killing.ETD spatchcock.2

    Smache-cok as the name of some chicken dish is from mid-15c.ETD spatchcock.3

    spate (n.)

    mid-15c., "a sudden flood, natural outpouring of water," especially one caused by heavy rains or a snowmelt, originally Scottish and northern English, a word of unknown origin. Perhaps from Old French espoit "flood," from Dutch spuiten "to flow, spout" and related to spout (v.). The figurative sense of "unusual quantity, sudden or violent outburst" is attested from 1610s.ETD spate (n.).2

    spathic (adj.)

    in mineralogy, 1788, "derived from spath or spar," from French spathique, from spath, from German Spath (see feldspar).ETD spathic (adj.).2

    spatial (adj.)

    1840 (spacial is from 1838), "occupying space, characterized by space," from Latin spatium + adjectival suffix -al (1); formed in English as an adjective to space (n.), that goes with temporal. The meaning "of or relating to space" is from 1857. Related: Spatially; spatiality.ETD spatial (adj.).2

    spatter (v.)

    "scatter or throw about carelessly," of water, mud, etc., 1570s (implied in spattering), possibly a frequentative verb from the stem of Dutch or Low German spatten "to spout, burst," which is of imitative origin. Related: Spattered. As a noun from 1797. Spatterware is attested by 1935.ETD spatter (v.).2

    spatterdash (n.)

    "covering for the lower leg to protect from mud, etc.," 1680s; see spat (n.2).ETD spatterdash (n.).2

    spatulate (adj.)

    "shaped like a spatula; having a broad, rounded end," 1760, from Modern Latin spatulatus, from spatula (see spatula). Related: Spatulation.ETD spatulate (adj.).2

    spatula (n.)

    "broad, flat, unsharpened blade with a handle," 1520s (early 15c. as a type of medical instrument), from Latin spatula "broad piece, spatula," diminutive of spatha "broad, flat tool or weapon," from Greek spathē "broad flat blade" used as a tool by weavers, also "blade of a sword, blade of an oar, palm leaf" (see spade (n.1)).ETD spatula (n.).2

    The pure Latin word seems to have disturbed the English tongue, it sometimes was Anglicized as spatule (late 14c.), spattle (mid-15c.), also, with altered ending, spature (late 14c. as an instrument used to mix medicines), and garbled spartle. The erroneous spattular (n.) is attested from c. 1600 (for form, compare scapular).ETD spatula (n.).3

    spavin (n.)

    disease of the hock joint of a horse, early 15c., spavein, from Old French espavain, esparvain (Modern French épavin, cognate with Italian spavenio, Spanish esparavan); the old explanation is that it is perhaps from Frankish *sparwan "sparrow" (see sparrow), on the supposition that a horse affected with spavin moved with a walk that reminded people of the bird's awkward gait. This seems a stretcher, and Century Dictionary admits it rests on mere resemblance of the forms of the words. Related: Spavined (adj.) "lame, halting, affected with spavin."ETD spavin (n.).2

    spawn (v.)

    early 15c., spawnen, of a fish, "to shed roe" (intransitive), from Anglo-French espaundre, Old French espandre "to spread out, pour out, scatter, strew," in reference to fish, "to spawn" (Modern French épandre), from Latin expandere "to spread out, unfold, expand," from ex "out" (see ex-) + pandere "to spread, stretch" (from nasalized form of PIE root *pete- "to spread").ETD spawn (v.).2

    The etymological notion seems to be of a "spreading out" of fish eggs released in water. The transitive meaning "to engender in large numbers, give rise to" is attested from 1590s. Related: Spawned; spawning.ETD spawn (v.).3

    spawn (n.)

    late 15c., "fish eggs" (in mid-15c. cookery books "male reproductive glands of a fish, milt"), from spawn (v.). Also of the eggs of amphibians, mollusks, crustaceans, etc. if small and numerous. The figurative sense of "brood, offspring" in general, and insulting use in reference to persons, are from 1580s.ETD spawn (n.).2

    spaz (n.)

    also spazz, by 1959, U.S. teen slang phrase, typically in later use a put-down, apparently a derogatory shortening of spastic (n.). Also used as a verb, by 1972, often with out (adv.). Related: Spazzed; spazzing.ETD spaz (n.).2

    speak (v.)

    Middle English speken, from Old English specan, variant of sprecan "to utter words articulately without singing, have or use the power of speech; make a speech; hold discourse" with others (class V strong verb; past tense spræc, past participle sprecen), from Proto-Germanic *sprekanan (source also of Old Saxon sprecan, Old Frisian spreka, Middle Dutch spreken, Old High German sprehhan, German sprechen "to speak," Old Norse spraki "rumor, report"). This has sometimes been said to represent a PIE root meaning "to strew," on notion of speech as a "scattering" of words, but Boutkan finds no Indo-European etymology for the Germanic word.ETD speak (v.).2

    In English the -r- began to drop out in Late West Saxon and was gone by mid-12c., perhaps from influence of Danish spage "crackle," also used in a slang sense of "speak" (compare crack (v.) in slang senses having to do with speech, such as wisecrack, cracker, all it's cracked up to be). Elsewhere, rare variant forms without -r- are found in Middle Dutch (speken), Old High German (spehhan), dialectal German (spächten "speak").ETD speak (v.).3

    Apparently not the primary word for "to speak" in Old English (the "Beowulf" author prefers maþelian, from mæþel "assembly, council," from root of metan "to meet;" compare Greek agoreuo "to speak, explain," originally "speak in the assembly," from agora "assembly").ETD speak (v.).4

    Also in Old English and Middle English as "to write, state or declare in writing." Of things, "be expressive or significative," by 1530s.ETD speak (v.).5

    To speak out is from late 14c. as "speak loudly;" by 1690s as "speak freely and boldly." To speak up "speak on behalf" (of another, etc.) is by 1705; as "speak loudly" by 1723. To speak for "make a speech on behalf of" is by c. 1300; to speak for itself "be self-evident" is by 1779.ETD speak (v.).6

    Speaking terms "relationship between two in which they converse with one another" is from 1786, often in the negative. As a type of megaphone, speaking-tube is by 1825; speaking-trumpet by 1670s.ETD speak (v.).7

    speak (n.)

    c. 1300, "talk, speech," from speak (v.). It survived in Scottish English and dialect, but modern use in compounds probably is entirely traceable to Orwell (see Newspeak).ETD speak (n.).2

    speakable (adj.)

    late 15c., spekabel, "able to be uttered" (translating Latin effabilis), from speak (v.) + -able. Also see unspeakable. Old English had sprecendlic "that should be spoken."ETD speakable (adj.).2

    speakeasy (n.)

    "unlicensed saloon," 1889 (in the New York "Voice"), from the verbal phrase, from speak (v.) + easy (adv.); so called from the practice of speaking quietly about such a place in public, or when inside it, so as not to alert the police and neighbors. Compare early 19c. Irish and British dialect speak softly shop "smuggler's den." The word gained wide currency in U.S. during Prohibition (1920-1932).ETD speakeasy (n.).2

    speaker (n.)

    c. 1300, speker, "one who utters words, one who tells or makes speeches," agent noun from speak (v.). Similar formation in Old Frisian spreker, Old High German sprahhari, German Sprecher.ETD speaker (n.).2

    First applied to "person who presides over an assembly" c. 1400, from similar use in Anglo-French (late 14c.) in reference to the English Parliament; later extended to the U.S. House of Representatives, etc. The electric amplifier so called from 1926, short for loud-speaker. Speaker-phone, one without a hand-held receiver, is by 1955. Related: Speakership.ETD speaker (n.).3

    spear (n.1)

    "weapon with a penetrating head and a long wooden shaft, meant to be thrust or thrown," Middle English spere, from Old English spere "spear, javelin, lance," from Proto-Germanic *sperō (source also of Old Norse spjör, Old Saxon sper, Old Frisian sper, spiri, Dutch speer, Old High German sper, German Speer "spear").ETD spear (n.1).2

    This has been traced to a PIE root *sper- (1) "spear, pole," (source also of Old Norse sparri "spar, rafter," and perhaps also Albanian shparr "oak," Latin sparus "hunting spear." Boutkan writes that "The etymon remains limited to the European languages and may represent a non-IE substrate word." De Vaan writes in his entry on sparus that the source of the group is "possibly a loanword, or an isolated reflex of a lost root."ETD spear (n.1).3

    spear (n.2)

    "sprout of a plant," 1640s, earlier "church spire" (c. 1500); variant of spire (n.), perhaps by influence of spear (n.1).ETD spear (n.2).2

    spear (v.)

    "pierce or strike with a spear or similar weapon," 1755, from spear (n.1). Related: Speared; spearing.ETD spear (v.).2

    spear-head (n.)

    also spearhead, "pointed metal end of a spear," c. 1400, spere-hed, from spear (n.1) + head (n.). Figurative sense of "leading element" (of an attack, movement, etc.) is attested from 1893; the verb in this sense is recorded by 1938. Related: Spearheaded; spearheading.ETD spear-head (n.).2

    spearmint (n.)

    common aromatic plant used in cookery, etc., 1530s, from spear (n.2) "sprout of a plant" + mint (n.1). "Said to be a corruption of spire-mint, with reference to the pyramidal inflorescence" [Century Dictionary]. Compare spearwort (Middle English spere-wort, Old English spere-wyrt).ETD spearmint (n.).2

    specs (n.)

    short for spectacles, 1807.ETD specs (n.).2

    spec (n.)

    by 1794, American English, as a shortening of speculation. By 1926 in circus slang as a shortening of spectacle. By 1956 as "detailed description or standard," especially in manufacturing and construction, short for specification. Related: Specs.ETD spec (n.).2

    specie (n.)

    "coin, money in the form of coins, metallic money as a medium of exchange" (as opposed to paper money or bullion), 1670s, a noun use from the Medieval Latin phrase in specie "in minted coins" (attested in English by 1610s). This was a specialized sense in reference to money; the broader and classical meaning of in specie was "in kind; in the real, precise, or actual form" (1550s in English). Latin specie is ablative singular of species "kind, sort; appearance, form" (see species).ETD specie (n.).2

    species (n.)

    late 14c., in logic, "a class of individuals or things," from Latin species "a particular sort, kind, or type" (opposed to genus), originally "a sight, look, view; outward appearance, shape, form," a derivative of specere "to look at, to see, behold" (from PIE root *spek- "to observe"). In English it is attested from 1550s as "appearance, outward form."ETD species (n.).2

    Latin species "a sight; outward appearance" had many extended senses, including "a spectacle; a mental appearance, an idea or notion;" also "semblance, pretext; manner, fashion; display, beauty; a likeness or statue; reputation, honor." Typically it was used in passive senses. Also compare spice (n.).ETD species (n.).3

    In Late Latin, in logic and legal language, it acquired the meaning "a special case," especially (as a translation of Greek eidos) "a class included under a higher class; a kind; a sort; a number of individuals having common characteristics peculiar to them." The notion (as Lewis & Short puts it) is "The particular thing among many to which the looks are turned."ETD species (n.).4

    The English word is attested from 1560s as "a distinct class (of something) based on common characteristics." The specific use in biological sciences in reference to groups of living things recognizably distinct from all others by their inherited characteristics is from c. 1600, but the exact definition never has been settled.ETD species (n.).5

    specialize (v.)

    1610s, "to indicate specially," from special (adj.) + -ize, perhaps on model of French spécialiser. The sense of "engage in a special study or line of business" is attested by 1881; the biological sense of "adapt to a specific function" is from 1851. Related: Specialized; specializing.ETD specialize (v.).2

    specially (adv.)

    late 13c., specialli, "of special purpose, for a special reason," from special (adj.) + -ly (2). As "more than others, above and beyond," mid-14c. A doublet of especially.ETD specially (adv.).2

    special (n.)

    "person or thing set aside for a particular purpose or occasion," c. 1300, from special (adj.) or from noun use of the adjective in Old French. Senses in 14c. included "sweetheart, lover; close friend." The meaning "special train" is attested from 1866.ETD special (n.).2

    specialization (n.)

    1831, "act of becoming specialized, condition of differentiation," noun of action from specialize. The biological sense of "adaptation to a specific function" is from 1862. In science and scientific education, "a direction of time and energies in one particular channel to the exclusion of others," by 1880.ETD specialization (n.).2

    speciality (n.)

    early 15c., "a distinctive quality or thing;" mid-15c. as "quality of being special," from Old French specialte, especialte "nature, special quality, particularity; special point, distinction," and directly from Latin specialitatem (nominative specialitas) "peculiarity, particularity" from specialis "individual, particular" (see special (adj.)).ETD speciality (n.).2

    The meaning "thing or article of manufacture characteristic of a particular place or business" is by 1863. The Modern French form spécialité is recorded in English from 1839, especially in reference to restaurant dishes.ETD speciality (n.).3

    special (adj.)

    c. 1200, "given or granted in unusual circumstances, exceptional;" also "specific" as opposed to general or common; from Old French special, especial "special, particular, unusual" (12c., Modern French spécial) and directly from Latin specialis "individual, particular" (source also of Spanish especial, Italian speziale), from species "appearance, kind, sort" (see species).ETD special (adj.).2

    The meaning "marked off from others by some distinguishing quality; dear, favored" is recorded from c. 1300. Also from c. 1300 is the sense of "selected for an important task; specially chosen." It is attested from mid-14c. as "extraordinary, distinguished, having a distinctive character," on the notion of "used for special occasions;" hence "excellent; precious."ETD special (adj.).3

    From late 14c. as "individual, particular; characteristic." The specific meaning "limited as to function, operation, or purpose" is from 14c., but developed especially in the 19c.; the sense of "in addition to the usual or ordinary" (as in special edition) is by 1840.ETD special (adj.).4

    Special effects in the Hollywood sense is by 1922, produced in the theater, not the studio:ETD special (adj.).5

    Special interest in the U.S. political sense of "group or industry seeking advantages for itself" is from 1910. Special education in reference to teaching those whose learning is impeded by some mental or physical handicap is from 1972. Special pleading is recorded by 1680s, a term that had a sound legal meaning once but now is used generally and imprecisely.ETD special (adj.).6

    specialisation (n.)

    chiefly British English spelling of specialization. For spelling, see -ize.ETD specialisation (n.).2

    specialist (n.)

    1843, "person devoted to a particular branch of a profession, science, or art" (originally in the medical sense and much scorned by the GPs); see special (adj.) + -ist. Perhaps immediately from French spécialiste (1842).ETD specialist (n.).2

    In general (non-medical) use in English by 1862. Related: Specialism.ETD specialist (n.).3

    specialty (n.)

    c. 1300, "particular affection; special attachment or favor, partiality," from Old French especialte, the more vernacular form of specialite (see speciality). Compare personalty/personality; realty/reality. It is attested by early 15c. as "unusual or extraordinary thing, peculiar quality, distinctive characteristic;" by late 15c. as "specialized branch of learning." By 1860 as "characteristic product or manufacture."ETD specialty (n.).2

    speciation (n.)

    "the forming of new species in evolution," 1906; see species + -ation. The verb speciate is a back-formation attested by 1961.ETD speciation (n.).2

    speciesism (n.)

    "discrimination against certain animals based on assumption of human superiority," first attested 1975 in Richard D. Ryder's "Victims of Science," from species + -ism.ETD speciesism (n.).2

    specific (adj.)

    1630s, "having a special quality," from French spécifique and directly from Late Latin specificus "constituting a kind or sort" (in Medieval Latin "specific, particular"), from Latin species "kind, sort" (see species) + -ficus "making, doing," from combining form of facere "to make."ETD specific (adj.).2

    The earlier form was specifical (early 15c., specificalle, "narrow, specific"). The meaning "precise, regarding a definite subject, in accord with what is determined" is recorded by 1740. Related: Specifically; specificness; specificalness.ETD specific (adj.).3

    specificity (n.)

    "state or quality of being specific," 1829, from French spécificité or else a native formation from specific + -ity.ETD specificity (n.).2

    specific (n.)

    "a specific quality or detail," 1690s, from specific (adj.). Related: Specifics.ETD specific (n.).2

    specification (n.)

    1610s, "act of investing with some quality," from Medieval Latin specificationem (nominative specificatio), noun of action from past-participle stem of Late Latin specificare "mention particularly," from Latin specificus (see specific).ETD specification (n.).2

    The meaning "technical particular, article, or item that has been described in detail" is attested from 1833, originally in patent law, where it refers to the applicant's description of the construction and use of the device; short form spec for this is attested by 1956.ETD specification (n.).3

    specify (v.)

    early 14c., specifien, "to speak, make plain, say" (intransitive); mid-14c., transitive, "to name (someone or something) explicitly," from Old French specifier, especefier (13c.) and directly from Late Latin specificare "mention particularly," from specificus (see specific). Related: Specified; specifying.ETD specify (v.).2

    Alternative verb specificate (1610s) is perhaps a back-formation from specification, as specificize (1885) is likely from specific.ETD specify (v.).3

    specifiable (adj.)

    "able to be named explicitly," 1660s (Boyle); see specify + -able. Related: Specifiably; specifiability.ETD specifiable (adj.).2

    specimen (n.)

    1610s, "pattern, model," a sense now obsolete, from Latin specimen "indication, mark, example, sign, evidence; that by which a thing is known, means of knowing," from specere "to look at" (from PIE root *spek- "to observe"). The meaning "single thing regarded as typical of its kind, part or individual taken as exemplifying many" is recorded by 1650s, specifically of plants, animals, minerals from 1765. Compare species. Related: Speciminal.ETD specimen (n.).2

    specious (adj.)

    late 14c., "pleasing to the sight, fair," from Latin speciosus "good-looking, beautiful, fair," also "showy, pretended, plausible, specious" (source also of Old French specieux, specieuse), from species "appearance, form, figure, beauty" (see species). Meaning "seemingly desirable, reasonable or probable, but not really so; superficially fair, just, or correct" in English is recorded from 1610s. Related: Speciously; speciosity (late 15c.); speciousness (1640s).ETD specious (adj.).2

    speck (n.1)

    "small spot or stain," Middle English spekke, speckke, from Old English specca, a word of unknown origin; probably related to Dutch speckel "speck, speckle," Middle Dutch spekelen "to sprinkle" (compare speckle (v.)). The meaning "tiny bit" developed c. 1400. As a verb, "to mark or stain in spots," late 14c. (implied in spekked "spotted, dappled"), from the noun. Related: Specked.ETD speck (n.1).2

    speck (n.2)

    "fat, lard, fat meat," 1630s, spycke, from Middle English spik (n.) "animal fat, lard," from Old English spic "bacon," cognate with Dutch spek, German Speck "lard, fat," which is of uncertain origin. Also perhaps partly from Old Norse spik. In later American English use (19c.) it is noted as a Pennsylvania German delicacy and the modern word may be a borrowing from German.ETD speck (n.2).2

    speckle (v.)

    "mark with speckles or spots," mid-15c. (implied in speckled), probably related to Middle English spekke "small spot, speck" (see speck (n.1)) or from a related Middle Dutch or Middle High German word. Related: Speckled; speckling. The noun, "a little speck or spot, a spark, gold-colored fleck" is attested mid-15c.ETD speckle (v.).2

    Larger font
    Smaller font