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

    spectacles (n.) — spikenard (n.)

    spectacles (n.)

    "pair of lenses set in a frame adjusted to help a person's sight," early 15c., from plural of spectacle. Earlier in singular form spectacle "device for assisting or enhancing vision" (late 14c.).ETD spectacles (n.).2

    spectacle (n.)

    mid-14c., "public entertainment, specially prepared or arranged display," from Old French spectacle "sight, spectacle, Roman games" (13c.), from Latin spectaculum "a public show, spectacle, place from which shows are seen," from spectare "to view, watch, behold," frequentative form of specere "to look at" (from PIE root *spek- "to observe").ETD spectacle (n.).2

    The sense of "object of public contempt, derision or wonderment" is from mid-14c. Also "device for assisting or enhancing vision" (late 14c.), "glass or other transparent material" (early 15c.).ETD spectacle (n.).3

    spectacular (adj.)

    "pertaining to or of the nature of a show or spectacle," 1680s, from Latin spectaculum "a sight, show" (see spectacle) + -ar. As a noun, "a spectacular display," attested by 1890. Related: Spectacularly; spectacularity.ETD spectacular (adj.).2

    spectator (n.)

    "one who looks on, a beholder," 1580s, from Latin spectator "viewer, watcher," agent noun from past-participle stem of spectare "to view, watch" (see spectacle).ETD spectator (n.).2

    Related: Spectatorial; spectatorship. Fem. form spectatress (1630s) is less classically correct than spectatrix (1610s). Spectator sport, one which affords entertainment for spectators, is attested from 1943.ETD spectator (n.).3

    spectate (v.)

    "to attend (a sporting event, etc.) as an observer, not a participant," 1929, probably a back-formation from spectator (q.v.). The earlier verb spectate meant "look about or upon, gaze, behold" (1709) but is obsolete. Related: Spectated; spectating. Related: Spectation (1630s in the older sense).ETD spectate (v.).2

    speculator (n.)

    1550s, "one who engages in mental speculation," from Latin speculator "a looker-out, spy, scout, explorer; investigator, examiner," agent noun from speculari (see speculation). The financial sense is from 1778. Formerly also "observer, onlooker," especially "an occult seer" (1650s), senses now obsolete. The fem. form speculatrix attested from 1610s. Related: Speculatory; speculatorial.ETD speculator (n.).2

    speculative (adj.)

    late 14c., speculatif, "theoretical, purely scientific, in theory only" (opposed to practical), from Old French speculatif "worth great attention; theoretical," or directly from Late Latin speculativus, from speculat-, past-participle stem of speculari (see speculation).ETD speculative (adj.).2

    The sense of "contemplative" is attested by late 15c. The meaning "engaged in or involving (financial) speculation" is from 1763. Related: Speculatively.ETD speculative (adj.).3

    speculate (v.)

    1590s, "view mentally, contemplate" (transitive), back-formation from speculation. Also formerly "view as from a watchtower" (1610s). The intransitive sense of "pursue truth by conjecture or thinking" is from 1670s. The meaning "invest money upon risk for the sake of profit" is from 1785. Related: Speculated; speculating.ETD speculate (v.).2

    Speculable as "subject to speculation, theoretical" is from mid-15c., from Latin speculabilis. Caxton had specule (v.) "regard attentively," from French speculer, but English did not keep it.ETD speculate (v.).3

    specular (adj.)

    1570s, "semi-transparent" (in specular stone); 1660s, "reflective" (like a mirror), from Latin specularis, from speculum "a mirror" (see speculum).ETD specular (adj.).2

    The meaning "assisting in vision; affording a view" is from 1650s, from Latin speculari "to spy" (see speculation). Related: Specularly.ETD specular (adj.).3

    speculum (n.)

    early 15c. (Chauliac), in surgery and medicine, "instrument for rendering a part accessible to observation," from Latin speculum "reflector, looking-glass, mirror" (also "a copy, an imitation"), from specere "to look at, view" (from PIE root *spek- "to observe"). As a type of telescope attachment with a metallic mirror, from 1704.ETD speculum (n.).2


    past tense and past participle of speed (v.); Old English spedde.ETD sped.2

    speech (n.)

    Middle English speche, from Old English spæc "act of speaking; power of uttering articulate sounds; manner of speaking; statement, discourse, narrative, formal utterance; language." It is a variant of Old English spræc, which is from Proto-Germanic *sprek-, *spek- (source also of Danish sprog, Old Saxon spraca, Old Frisian spreke, Dutch spraak, Old High German sprahha, German Sprache "speech"). See speak (v.).ETD speech (n.).2

    The spr- forms were extinct in English by 1200. In reference to written words by c. 1200. The meaning "address delivered to an audience" is recorded by 1580s.ETD speech (n.).3

    speechify (v.)

    "make a speech, harangue," especially "talk in a pompous, pontifical way," 1723, implied in speechifying, from speech + -ify. With humorous or contemptuous force. Related: Speechification.ETD speechify (v.).2

    speechless (adj.)

    Middle English specheles, from Old English spæcleas "permanently mute, not having the power of speaking;" see speech + -less. The meaning "mute by effect of astonishment or trauma, refraining or restrained from speaking" is from late 14c. Related: Speechlessly; speechlessness.ETD speechless (adj.).2

    speech-maker (n.)

    "one who makes speeches," 1710, from speech (n.) + maker.ETD speech-maker (n.).2

    speeding (n.)

    c. 1300, "success;" c. 1400 "action of aiding;" verbal noun from speed (v.). The meaning "action of driving an automobile too fast" is from 1908. Speeding ticket is from 1940. Speeding up (n.) "action of increasing the rate of" is by 1892, in reference to worker production.ETD speeding (n.).2

    speed (n.)

    Middle English spede, from Old English sped "success, a successful course; prosperity, riches, wealth; luck, good fortune; opportunity, advancement," from Proto-Germanic *spodiz (source also of Old Saxon spod "success," Dutch spoed "haste, speed," Old High German spuot "success," Old Saxon spodian "to cause to succeed," Middle Dutch spoeden, Old High German spuoten "to haste").ETD speed (n.).2

    This is reconstructed to be from PIE *spo-ti-, from root *spes- or *speh- "prosperity" (source also of Hittite išpai- "get full, be satiated;" Sanskrit sphira "fat," sphayate "increases;" Latin spes "hope," sperare "to hope;" Old Church Slavonic spechu "endeavor," spĕti "to succeed," Russian spet' "to ripen;" Lithuanian spėju, spėti "to have leisure;" Old English spōwan "to prosper").ETD speed (n.).3

    The meaning "rapidity of movement, quickness, swiftness" emerged in late Old English (at first usually adverbially, in dative plural, as in spedum feran). The meaning "rate of motion or progress" (whether fast or slow) is from mid-14c. The sense of "gear of a machine" is attested from 1866. Slang use in reference to methamphetamine or a related drug is attested by 1967, from its effect on users.ETD speed (n.).4

    Speed limit "maximum speed" of a vehicle (originally a locomotive), limited either by law or capability, is from 1879; the police officer's speed-trap is from 1908. Speed bump as a traffic control device is by 1975; the figurative use is by 1990s. Full speed "highest rate of speed" is recorded from late 14c. Speed reading first attested 1965. Speedball "mix of cocaine and morphine or heroin" is recorded from 1909.ETD speed (n.).5

    speed (v.)

    Middle English speden, "achieve one's goal, accomplish one's purpose, get on successfully," from Old English spedan (intransitive) "to succeed, prosper, grow rich, advance," from the source of speed (n.). Compare Old Saxon spodian, Middle Dutch spoeden "hasten," Old High German spuoton "to succeed, prosper," German sputen "make haste, hurry."ETD speed (v.).2

    The intransitive meaning "go hastily from place to place, get on rapidly" is attested from c. 1200. The transitive meaning "cause to advance toward success" is from mid-13c.; that of "send forth with quickness, give a high speed to" is from 1560s. The meaning "increase the work rate of" (usually with up) is from 1856. The meaning "drive an automobile too fast" is from 1908. Related: Speeded; sped; speeding.ETD speed (v.).3

    The older sense is that in archaic salutations such as God speed you, wishing one prosperity, "may God give you advancement or success" (see godspeed).ETD speed (v.).4

    speeder (n.)

    c. 1400, speder (early 13c. as a surname), "one who furthers or assists another," agent noun from speed (v.). As "one who advances rapidly or attains success," 1570s. Both the older senses are archaic or obsolete. By 1847 as "mechanical contrivance for quickening." As "one who drives fast or moves with great swiftness" by 1891.ETD speeder (n.).2

    speedy (adj.)

    Middle English spedi, "beneficial, helpful," from Old English spedig "prosperous, successful, wealthy," from speed (n.) + -y (2). The meaning "rapid, moving swiftly, agile, nimble" is from mid-14c. Related: Speedily; speediness.ETD speedy (adj.).2

    Speedy Gonzales, Warner Brothers studios talking Mexican cartoon mouse, debuted in a 1953 short directed by Bob McKimson.ETD speedy (adj.).3


    trademark name of a brand of swimwear, 1928, originally made by McRae Hosiery Manufacturers, Australia. From speed.ETD Speedo.2

    speedometer (n.)

    1904, from speed + -meter with connective -o-. A Germanic-Greek hybrid and thus much execrated.ETD speedometer (n.).2

    The correct classical formation is tachometer. Speed indicator also was used. Sometimes mistakenly used of the odometer.ETD speedometer (n.).3

    speedster (n.)

    1918, "fast car;" by 1921, "fast driver," from speed (n.) + -ster, perhaps modeled on roadster.ETD speedster (n.).2

    speedway (n.)

    1892, American English, "public road set aside for fast (horse) driving," from speed (n.) + way (n.). By 1925 as "race track for motor vehicles."ETD speedway (n.).2


    Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to observe."ETD *spek-.2

    It forms all or part of: aspect; auspex; auspices; auspicious; bishop; circumspect; conspicuous; despicable; despise; episcopal; especial; espionage; espy; expect; frontispiece; gyroscope; haruspex; horoscope; inspect; inspection; inspector; introspect; introspection; perspective; perspicacious; perspicacity; prospect; prospective; respect; respite; retrospect; scope; -scope; scopophilia; -scopy; skeptic; species; specimen; specious; spectacle; spectacular; spectrum; speculate; speculation; speculum; spice; spy; suspect; suspicion; suspicious; telescope.ETD *spek-.3

    It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit spasati "sees;" Avestan spasyeiti "spies;" Greek skopein "behold, look, consider," skeptesthai "to look at," skopos "watcher, one who watches;" Latin specere "to look at;" Old High German spehhon "to spy," German spähen "to spy."ETD *spek-.4

    spell (v.2)

    "work temporarily in place of (another)," 1590s, earlier spele, from Middle English spelen, "give (someone) rest or reprieve," from Old English spelian "to take the place of, be substitute for, represent," related to gespelia "substitute," a word of uncertain origin. Perhaps related to spilian "to play" (see spiel). Related: Spelled; spelling.ETD spell (v.2).2

    spelling (n.)

    mid-15c., "action of reading letter by letter," verbal noun from spell (v.1). In late Old English it meant "action of speaking, an utterance." The meaning "manner of forming words with letters" is from 1660s; the meaning "a particular way a word has been spelled" is from 1731.ETD spelling (n.).2

    Spelling bee "contest between two or more for superiority in spelling" is attested from 1809 (see bee); also spelling match, 1845; the act of winning such a schoolroom contest is described in 1854 as to spell (someone) down. Spelling book, designed to teach how to spell properly, is by 1670s. Spelling reform is by 1848.ETD spelling (n.).3

    spell (n.2)

    1620s, "a turn of work in place of another," from spell (v.2); compare Old English gespelia "a substitute." Earlier it was used of the persons taking the turn of duty or work (1590s). The meaning shifted toward "continuous course of work or duty" (1706), probably via shift work (as at sea) where one man or crew regularly "spelled" another.ETD spell (n.2).2

    Hence "interval of time within definite limits, continuous stretch" (of weather, etc.), a sense recorded by 1728. In U.S. colloquial use, "a bad time, an uncomfortable turn" (1853).ETD spell (n.2).3

    Hence also, via the notion in give a spell (1750) "relieve another by taking a turn of work," the sense of "interval of rest or relaxation" (1845), which took the word to a sense opposite its original.ETD spell (n.2).4

    spell (n.1)

    Middle English spel, from Old English spell "story, saying, tale, story in prose as opposed to verse; history, narrative, fable; discourse, command," in late Old English "sermon, religious instruction," from Proto-Germanic *spellam (see spell (v.1)). Compare Old Saxon spel, Old Norse spjall, Old High German spel, Gothic spill "report, discourse, tale, fable, myth;" German Beispiel "example."ETD spell (n.1).2

    The oldest senses are obsolete. From c. 1200 as "an utterance, something said, a statement, remark;" the meaning "set of words with supposed magical or occult powers, incantation, charm" is recorded from 1570s; hence any occult influence or means or cause of enchantment.ETD spell (n.1).3

    That sense of spell does not appear to be in Middle English, but Gower (1390) has spelling of charmes for "casting or reciting of spells;" Chaucer has night-spell for "charm for protection from evil spirits in the night."ETD spell (n.1).4

    Also in Old English, "doctrine; a sermon; religious instruction or teaching; the gospel; a book of the Bible" (compare gospel, which preserves the older sense). The 11c. glossaries give spel for Latin fabula.ETD spell (n.1).5

    spell (v.1)

    early 14c., spellen, "read letter by letter, write or say the letters of;" c. 1400, "form words by means of letters," said in most etymology sources to be from Anglo-French espeller, Old French espelir "to mean, signify; explain, interpret," also "spell out letters, pronounce, recite."ETD spell (v.1).2

    This French word is from Frankish *spellon "to tell" or some other Germanic source, from Proto-Germanic *spellam (source also of Dutch spellen, Old High German spellon "to tell," Old Norse spjalla, Gothic spillon "to talk, tell").ETD spell (v.1).3

    The native cognate word is Old English spellian, spillian "to tell, talk, speak, discourse." Only Barnhart seems to allow that the modern English word is partially from the Old English one, due to the difference in sense.ETD spell (v.1).4

    Klein's sources suggest a possible origin for this Germanic group in a PIE root *spel- (2) "to say aloud, recite, speak with emphasis" and cognates in Greek apeilē "threat" among other words, but Beekes finds the suggestion "rather far-fetched."ETD spell (v.1).5

    Also in early use speldren, from Old French espeldre, a variant of espelir. Related: Spelled; spelling.ETD spell (v.1).6

    In early Middle English still "to speak, preach, talk, tell," hence such expressions as hear spell "hear (something) told or talked about," spell the wind "talk in vain" (both 15c.). The meaning "form words with proper letters" is from 1580s.ETD spell (v.1).7

    Spell out "explain step-by-step" is recorded from 1940, American English. Shakespeare has spell (someone) backwards "reverse the character of, explain in a contrary sense, portray with determined negativity."ETD spell (v.1).8

    spellable (adj.)

    "capable of being represented in letters," 1837; see spell (v.1) + -able.ETD spellable (adj.).2

    spellbind (v.)

    also spell-bind, "to bind by or as if by spell," 1795, probably a back-formation from spellbound. Related: Spellbinding; spellbinder "one who fascinates;" in U.S. political slang, "an eloquent orator" (1888).ETD spellbind (v.).2

    spellbound (adj.)

    "rapt, fascinated, bound by or as if by a spell," 1742, from spell (n.1) + bound (adj.1) "fastened," past participle of bind (v.).ETD spellbound (adj.).2

    spell-check (v.)

    also spellcheck, "to use a computer's spell-checker application on a document," by 1985, from spell (v.) + check (v.1). The applications themselves date to the late 1970s. Related: Spell-checked; spell-checking.ETD spell-check (v.).2

    speller (n.)

    c. 1200, "a preacher;" in the sense "a person who reads letter by letter," mid-15c. (or possibly "spelling expert," glossing Latin sillabicator); by 1828 in reference to a book to teach orthography. Agent noun from spell (v.1).ETD speller (n.).2

    spelt (n.)

    type of grain, Old English spelt "spelt, corn," perhaps an early borrowing from Late Latin spelta "spelt" (noted as a foreign word), which is perhaps from a Germanic *spilt-, from PIE *speld-, extended form of root *spel- (1) "to split, to break off" (probably in reference to the splitting of its husks in threshing); see spill (v.).ETD spelt (n.).2

    The word has had little currency in English, and its history is discontinuous. It is widespread in Romanic languages (Italian spelta, Spanish espelta, Old French spelte, Modern French épeautre) also in Germanic (Middle Dutch spelte, Old High German spelta, German Spelt).ETD spelt (n.).3

    spelunker (n.)

    "a cave bug, a cave-crawler; one who explores caves as a hobby," by 1939, agent noun formed from obsolete spelunk "cave, cavern." Originally in coverage of an active cave-exploring Spelunkers Club in western Massachusetts in the Berkshire "Eagle." The activity and the word were popular nationally in U.S. by 1946. The verb spelunk "explore caves" and the verbal noun spelunking also are from 1939.ETD spelunker (n.).2

    spelunk (n.)

    also spelunc, "a cave, cavern, a vault," late 14c., from Old French spelonque, espelonche (13c.) and directly from Latin spelunca "a cave, cavern, grotto," from Greek spēlaion, spēlynx (accusative spēlynga, genitive spēlyngos) "a cave, cavern," which Beekes writes is "no doubt Pre-Greek." Compare Middle Dutch spelonke, also from Latin or French. An adjective, speluncar "of a cave" is recorded from 1855; speluncean (1803) is marked "rare" in OED.ETD spelunk (n.).2


    Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to draw, stretch, spin."ETD *(s)pen-.2

    It forms all or part of: append; appendix; avoirdupois; compendium; compensate; compensation; counterpoise; depend; dispense; equipoise; expend; expense; expensive; hydroponics; impend; painter (n.2) "rope or chain that holds an anchor to a ship's side;" pansy; penchant; pend; pendant; pendentive; pending; pendular; pendulous; pendulum; pension; pensive; penthouse; perpendicular; peso; poise; ponder; ponderous; pound (n.1) "measure of weight;" prepend; prepense; preponderate; propensity; recompense; span (n.1) "distance between two objects;" span (n.2) "two animals driven together;" spangle; spanner; spend; spider; spin; spindle; spinner; spinster; stipend; suspend; suspension.ETD *(s)pen-.3

    It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Latin pendere "to hang, to cause to hang," pondus "weight" (perhaps the notion is the weight of a thing measured by how much it stretches a cord), pensare "to weigh, consider;" Greek ponos "toil," ponein "to toil;" Lithuanian spendžiu, spęsti "lay a snare;" Old Church Slavonic peti "stretch, strain," pato "fetter," pina "I span;" Old English spinnan "to spin," spannan "to join, fasten; stretch, span;" Armenian henum "I weave;" Greek patos "garment," literally "that which is spun;" Lithuanian pinu "I plait, braid," spandau "I spin;" Middle Welsh cy-ffiniden "spider;" Old English spinnan "draw out and twist fibers into thread," spiðra "spider," literally "spinner."ETD *(s)pen-.4

    Spencer (n.)

    surname attested from mid-13c. (earlier le Despenser, mid-12c.), literally "one who dispenses or has charge of provisions in a household," short for Anglo-French espencer, Old French despencier "dispenser" (of provisions), "a butler or steward" (see dispense).ETD Spencer (n.).2

    Middle English spence meant "larder, pantry," and is short for Old French despense "larder" (Modern French dépense), from despenser "to distribute," hence the surname Spence (c. 1300). Another form of the word is spender, which also has become a surname.ETD Spencer (n.).3

    Extended 18c., to fashionable articles of dress associated with prominent members of the family. As a type of repeating rifle used in the American Civil War, 1863, named for U.S. gunsmith Christopher Spencer, who, with Luke Wheelock, manufactured them in Boston.ETD Spencer (n.).4

    Spencerian (adj.)

    1863, pertaining to the penmanship system devised by American penman Platt R. Spencer, the "Father of American Writing" (1800-1864), who c. 1840 began promoting an elliptical cursive style that became the standard U.S. business hand from 1850s to early 20c. It had an assured but joyous elegance lacking in the later Palmer letters.ETD Spencerian (adj.).2

    The word also can be a reference to English philosopher Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), who has some possession of Spencerism. For the Elizabethan poet, see Spenserian.ETD Spencerian (adj.).3

    spending (n.)

    late Old English spendung, "money, spendable wealth," a verbal noun from spend (v.). The meaning "act of paying out money" is by mid-14c. Spending-money, "money provided or used for small personal expenses" is from 1590s; earlier in this sense was spending silver (late 14c.).ETD spending (n.).2

    spend (v.)

    "to pay out or away, deprive oneself of" (money, wealth), Middle English spenden, from Old English -spendan (in forspendan "use up"), from Medieval Latin spendere, a shortening of Latin expendere "to weigh out money, pay down" (see expend) or possibly of dispendere "to pay out" (see dispense). The word was borrowed generally in Germanic: Old High German spendon, German and Middle Dutch spenden, Old Norse spenna.ETD spend (v.).2

    The Middle English word is also probably is in part from or merged with Old French despendre, from Latin dispendere.ETD spend (v.).3

    In reference to anything of exchangeable value (labor, thoughts, time, etc.), "consume, use up," attested from c. 1300. The notion of "consume or use wastefully or fruitlessly" is by late 14c. The intransitive sense "exhaust, wear (oneself) out" is from 1590s (see spent).ETD spend (v.).4

    spendable (adj.)

    "able to be used or consumed," early 15c., see spend (v.) + -able.ETD spendable (adj.).2

    spender (n.)

    "one who spends" (money or wealth), late 14c., agent noun from spend (v.). Earlier spendour was "one who manages or distributes" (mid-14c.) short for dispendour, which is an agent noun from French-derived dispense, and this probably is the sense in the surname, which is attested from c. 1300.ETD spender (n.).2

    spendthrift (n.)

    "one who spends lavishly or improvidently," c. 1600, from spend (v.) + thrift (n.) in the sense of "savings, profits, wealth." It replaced earlier scattergood (1570s) and spend-all (1550s), and OED lists dingthrift as another variant. From c. 1600 as an adjective. Related: Spendthrifty.ETD spendthrift (n.).2

    Spenglerian (adj.)

    1922, in reference to the works of Oswald Spengler (1880-1936), German polymath, whose "Decline of the West" was published in 1918 and 1922 and was between the wars influential if little read.ETD Spenglerian (adj.).2

    Spenserian (adj.)

    1817, from Edmund Spenser (c. 1552-1599), Elizabethan poet (for the origin of the surname, see Spencer). Spenserian stanza, which he employed in the "Faerie Queen," consists of eight decasyllabic lines and a final Alexandrine, with rhyme scheme ab ab bc bcc.ETD Spenserian (adj.).2

    "The measure soon ceases to be Spenser's except in its mere anatomy of rhyme-arrangement" [Elton, "Survey of English Literature 1770-1880," 1920]; it is the meter in Butler's "Hudibras," Scott's "Lady of the Lake," and notably the "Childe Harold" of Byron, who found (quoting Beattie) that it allowed him to be "either droll or pathetic, descriptive or sentimental, tender or satirical, as the humour strikes me; for, if I mistake not, the measure which I have adopted admits equally of all these kinds of composition."ETD Spenserian (adj.).3

    spent (adj.)

    "consumed, nearly exhausted or worn out," mid-15c., of material things, past-participle adjective from spend. Of time, "passed, over," from 1520s. By 1560s of persons or animals, "worn out, exhausted from overwork." The expression be spent, "be on the point of death," also of wilting flowers, is attested from early 14c.ETD spent (adj.).2

    sperate (adj.)

    in old law, in reference to a debt, "having some likelihood of recovery," 1550s; earlier, of a debtor, "able to pay" (mid-15c.), from Latin speratus, past participle of sperare "to hope, look forward to," denominative of spes "hope" (from PIE root spes- "prosperity," for which see speed (n.)).ETD sperate (adj.).2

    General (non-legal) use is by 1808. Etymologically, it is the opposite of desperate. Donne has speratory "resting on hope or expectation."ETD sperate (adj.).3

    sperm (n.)

    "male seminal fluid, male seed of any kind," late 14c., sperme, probably from Old French sparme, esperme "seed, sperm" (13c.) and directly from Late Latin sperma "seed, semen," from Greek sperma "the seed of plants, also of animals," literally "that which is sown," from speirein "to sow, scatter" (from PIE *sper-mn-, from root *sper- "to spread, to sow," for which see sparse; also compare spore).ETD sperm (n.).2

    Sperm-cell is attested by 1851. Sperm bank is attested by 1963. For sperm whale see spermaceti.ETD sperm (n.).3

    spermaceti (n.)

    "waxy, fatty stuff in the head of certain whales," late 15c., spermacete, in reference to ambergris used medicinally, from Medieval Latin sperma ceti "sperm of a whale, whale-seed" (it has when fresh something of the appearance of sperm and formerly was regarded as such), from Latin sperma "seed, semen" (see sperm) + ceti, genitive of cetus "whale, large sea animal" (see Cetacea). The substance in olden times was credited with medicinal properties, as well as being used for candle oil.ETD spermaceti (n.).2

    Scientists still are not sure exactly what it does. Formerly also in dialectal or corrupted form parmacety, etc. Sperm whale, short for spermaceti whale, is by 1793. Related: Spermacetic.ETD spermaceti (n.).3

    spermatic (adj.)

    late 14c., spermatike, "sperm-producing or carrying," from Old French spermatique and directly from Late Latin spermaticus, from sperma "seed, semen" (see sperm; compare Greek spermatikos "seminal"). By 1540s as "of or pertaining to sperm." Spermatical (c. 1500), spermal (1640s), spermy (early 15c.) also have been used.ETD spermatic (adj.).2


    before vowels spermat-, word-forming element meaning "seed, sperm," used from mid-19c. in scientific compounds, from Greek sperma (genitive spermatos "seed" of an animal or plant; see sperm).ETD spermato-.2

    spermatogenesis (n.)

    "formation or development of spermatozoa," 1877, earlier in German, from Greek sperma "seed" of an animal or plant (see sperm) + -genesis "birth, origin, creation." Related: Spermatogenous.ETD spermatogenesis (n.).2

    spermatozoa (n.)

    class of animalcules, plural of spermatozoon (q.v.), by 1818.ETD spermatozoa (n.).2

    spermatozoon (n.)

    (plural spermatozoa), "sperm-cell, male sexual cell, microscopic body contained in semen," 1832, a modern Latin coinage from spermato- + Greek zoion "animal" (from PIE root *gwei- "to live"). Related: Spermatozoal; spermatozoan; spermatozoic.ETD spermatozoon (n.).2

    spermicide (n.)

    "substance which kills spermatozoa," 1929; see sperm + -cide "killer." Earlier were spermacide (1908) and spermaticide (1922), which is from French, where it is recorded by 1876.ETD spermicide (n.).2

    spessartite (n.)

    manganese garnet, 1853, earlier spessartine (1837), from French spessartine (1832), from Spessart, district in Bavaria where it is found.ETD spessartite (n.).2

    spew (v.)

    Middle English speuen, "vomit, throw up, spit or cough up," also figurative, from Old English spiwan "spew, spit," from Proto-Germanic *spiewan- (source also of Old Saxon spiwan, Old Norse spyja, Old Frisian spiwa, Middle Dutch spijen, Dutch spuwen, Old High German spiwan, German speien, Gothic spiewan "to spit"), probably of imitative origin (compare Latin spuere; Greek ptuein, Doric psyttein; Old Church Slavonic pljuja, Russian plevati; Lithuanian spiauti).ETD spew (v.).2

    Also in Old English as a weak verb, speowan, spiwian; the weak form predominated from Middle English. The general sense of "eject or cast out as if by vomiting" is by 1590s. The intransitive sense is by 1660s. Related: Spewed; spewing.ETD spew (v.).3

    spew (n.)

    c. 1600, "vomited matter, that which is cast up from the stomach," from spew (v.).ETD spew (n.).2

    sphagnum (n.)

    genus of mosses, peat-moss, bog-moss, 1741, Modern Latin, from Latin sphagnos, a kind of lichen, from Greek sphagnos the name of a spiny shrub and a kind of moss, a word of unknown origin. Beekes compares sphakos "tree-moss," phagnos "salvia," phaskos "kind of moss," and suggests that the group is Pre-Greek. Related: Sphagnous.ETD sphagnum (n.).2


    before vowels sphen-, word-forming element meaning "wedge," used in anatomy from mid-19c. in reference to the sphenoid bone; from Greek sphēn "a wedge." This is traditionally said to be cognate with Old Norse spann "splinter," Old English spon "chip of wood" (see spoon (n.)), but Beekes rejects this "because the labials do not match," and assigns it no etymology.ETD spheno-.2

    sphenoid (adj.)

    "wedge-shaped," in reference to the bone at the base of the skull, 1732, from spheno- + -oid. Compare Greek sphēnoeidēs. As a noun from 1828, "the sphenoid bone." Related: Sphenoidal. Sphenic "wedge-like" is attested by 1889.ETD sphenoid (adj.).2

    sphere (n.)

    a re-Latinized spelling, attested beginning mid-15c., of Middle English spere (c. 1300) "cosmos; space, conceived as a hollow globe about the world," from Anglo-French espiere, Old French espere (13c., Modern French sphère), from Latin sphaera "globe, ball, celestial sphere" (Medieval Latin spera), from Greek sphaira "globe, ball, playing ball, terrestrial globe," a word of unknown origin.ETD sphere (n.).2

    According to Beekes there are no certain cognates outside Greek, but the Greek word also has been borrowed into Syrian (espero), Ethiopian (spir), Armenian (sp'er), and (non-Indo-European) Georgian (spero).ETD sphere (n.).3

    From late 14c. in reference to any of the supposed concentric, transparent, hollow, crystalline globes of the cosmos believed to revolve around the earth and contain the planets and the fixed stars; the supposed harmonious sound they made rubbing against one another was the music of the spheres (late 14c.), Milton's sphery chime.ETD sphere (n.).4

    Also from late 14c. in the general sense of "a globe; object of spherical form, a ball," and in the geometric sense of "solid figure with all points equidistant from the center." The meaning "range of something, place or scene" of activity, knowledge, etc. is recorded c. 1600 (as in sphere of influence, 1885, originally in reference to Anglo-German colonial rivalry in Africa).ETD sphere (n.).5

    spherical (adj.)

    1520s, "bounded by or having the form of the surface of a sphere," from sphere + -ical. The sense of "pertaining to or related to a sphere or spheres" is from c. 1600. Related: Spherically.ETD spherical (adj.).2

    Alternative spheric (1550s) is from Late Latin sphaericus, from Greek sphairikos. Spheral is attested from 1570s. Sphery (adj.) seems to have been limited to the poets (OED has examples from Shakespeare, Milton, Keats). English in 17c. also used nouns sphericality, sphericity.ETD spherical (adj.).3

    A spherical number (1640s) is one whose powers always terminate in the same digit as the number itself: 5, 6, and 10.ETD spherical (adj.).4

    spheroid (n.)

    "body resembling, but not identical with, a sphere," 1560s, from Latin sphaeroides, from Greek sphairoeidēs "ball-like, spherical," from sphaira (see sphere) + -oeidēs "form" (see -oid). As an adjective from 1767. Related: Spheroidal (1762), which has become the usual adjective; spheroidical (1690s); spheroidicity; spheroidity.ETD spheroid (n.).2

    spherule (n.)

    "a little sphere," 1660s, from Latin sphaerula, diminutive of sphaera "globe, ball" (see sphere).ETD spherule (n.).2

    sphincter (n.)

    in anatomy, "contractile muscle enclosing an aperture," 1570s, from French sphincter, from Late Latin sphincter "contractile muscle," from Greek sphinktēr "band, lace, contractile muscle, anything that binds tight," from sphingein "to squeeze, bind, embrace," a word of unknown origin. First used in anatomical sense by Galen. There are several in the body; the one usually meant is the sphincter ani.ETD sphincter (n.).2

    Sphinx (n.)

    monster of Greek mythology having a lion's (winged) body and a woman's head; she waylaid travelers around Thebes and devoured those who could not answer her questions; Oedipus solved the riddle and the Sphinx killed herself. In English from early 15c., from Latin Sphinx, from Greek Sphinx, said to mean literally "the strangler" and be a back-formation from sphingein "to squeeze, bind" (see sphincter).ETD Sphinx (n.).2

    There also was an Egyptian form (usually male and wingless); in reference to this the word is attested in English from 1570s; the specific reference to the colossal stone statue near the pyramids at Giza is attested from 1610s. The transferred sense of "person or thing of mysterious nature" is from c. 1600.ETD Sphinx (n.).3

    The proper classical plural would be sphinges. As adjectives in English, sphingal, sphingian, sphingine, sphinxian, sphinxine, and sphinx-like have been tried.ETD Sphinx (n.).4

    sphragistics (n.)

    "the study of seals," 1831, from Latinized form of Greek sphragtistikos, "of, for, or pertaining to a seal," from sphragis "seal. impression of a seal, signet," a word of unknown origin. Related: Sphragistical.ETD sphragistics (n.).2


    word-forming element used in anatomy from mid-19c. and meaning "pulse," from Greek sphygmos "a pulse," from sphyzein of the pulse, "to throb, pulse, beat," also "to twitch," a word of unknown origin.ETD sphygmo-.2

    sphygmomanometer (n.)

    "instrument to measure the tension of blood in an artery," 1882, coined c. 1881 in German by Austrian physician Karl Samuel Ritter von Basch, from sphygmo- "pulse" + manometer.ETD sphygmomanometer (n.).2

    spic (n.)

    derogatory for "Latino person," 1913, from cliche protestation, No spick English. Earlier spiggoty (by 1907 "speak-a the ..."); the term is said to have originated among Americans in Panama during the canal construction. But it also was applied from an early date to Italians, and some have suggested an alteration of of influence from spaghetti. As "the Spanish language," by 1933.ETD spic (n.).2

    Spica (n.)

    1650s, bright star in constellation Virgo, from Latin, literally "ear of grain, spike or head of a plant" (see spike (n.2)), corresponding to Greek stakhys. As the ancients visualized the constellation, she held an ear of grain. The star is noted in 1550s as the Virgin's spike.ETD Spica (n.).2

    spicate (adj.)

    1660s, "having spikes," in botany, ornithology, etc., from Latin spicatus, past participle of spicare "to furnish with spikes," from spica "ear of grain, head of a plant" (see spike (n.2)). Related: Spicated.ETD spicate (adj.).2

    spice (v.)

    "to season with spices, prepare with a condiment or seasoning," early 14c. (implied in spiced kake), from spice (n.), or from Old French espicier, from the French noun. The figurative sense of "to vary, diversify" is from 1520s.ETD spice (v.).2

    spice (n.)

    c. 1200, "vegetable substance aromatic or pungent to the taste added to food or drink to enhance the flavor," also "a spice used as a medication or an alchemical ingredient," from Anglo-French spece, Old French espice (Modern French épice), from Late Latin species (plural) "spices, goods, wares," in classical Latin "kind, sort" (see species, which is a doublet).ETD spice (n.).2

    From c. 1300 as "an aromatic spice," also "spices as commodities;" from early 14c. as "a spice-bearing plant." Of odors or perfumes by 1560s. The figurative sense of "attractive or enjoyable variation" is from 13c.; that of "slight touch or trace of something" is recorded from 1530s. The meaning "specimen, sample" is from 1790. Early druggists recognized four "types" of spices: saffron, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg.ETD spice (n.).3

    spice-box (n.)

    "box to keep spices in," especially a cylindrical box enclosing a number of smaller ones, 1520s, from spice (n.) + box (n.1).ETD spice-box (n.).2

    spice-cake (n.)

    "cake flavored with spice" (ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, etc.), early 15c., from spice (n.) + cake (n.). Cake of spice is from early 14c.ETD spice-cake (n.).2

    spicer (n.)

    "dealer in spices," early 14c. (late 12c. as a surname), from Old French espicier (Modern French épicier), from espice (see spice (n.)). Spicery is from c. 1300 as "a spicer's shop," also a department in a royal or noble house. Later also "spices collectively."ETD spicer (n.).2

    spicy (adj.)

    1560s, "of the nature of spice," from spice (n.) + -y (2). In reference to flowers, breezes, etc., "sweet-smelling," from 1640s, also from 1640s as "producing or abounding in spice." The figurative sense of "racy, salacious" dates from 1844. Earlier it was "full of spirit" (by 1828), especially of horses. Related: Spiciness.ETD spicy (adj.).2

    The earlier adjective was spiced "flavored with spice" (early 14c.), which had a figurative sense of "over-nice, fastidious" (late 14c.) in spiced conscience.ETD spicy (adj.).3

    spick-and-span (adj.)

    also spic-and-span, "very neat, clean, and trim," 1660s, from spick-and-span-new "new and fresh" (1570s), literally "new as a recently made spike and wood-chip."ETD spick-and-span (adj.).2

    It seems to be an elaboration, with spick "nail" (see spike (n.1)), of older span-new "very new," in reference to something fresh from the workman's hands, just cut or made (c. 1300), from Old Norse span-nyr, from spann "chip" (see spoon (n.)), perhaps as something likely to be new-made, + nyr "new." Or the fuller formation might be in imitation of Dutch spiksplinter nieuw "spike-splinter new."ETD spick-and-span (adj.).3

    From the expression, span- came to be taken vulgarly in 19c. New England as an adverb meaning "wholly, entirely," hence span-clean (compare Louisa May Alcott's spandy clean faces and hands).ETD spick-and-span (adj.).4

    spicule (n.)

    in botany and zoology, "fine-pointed needle-like body; small, sharp projection," 1785, from French spicule, from Latin spiculum, diminutive of spica (see spike (n.2)). Earlier in Latin form (1746). Related: Spicular; spiculate; spiculated; spiculation.ETD spicule (n.).2

    spider (n.)

    late 14c., spydyr, spither, earlier spiþre, spiþur, spiþer (mid-14c.), from Old English spiðra, from Proto-Germanic *spin-thron- (cognate with Danish spinder), etymologically "spinner," from PIE root *(s)pen- "to draw, stretch, spin" + formative or agential *-thro. The connection with the root is more transparent in other Germanic cognates, such as Middle Low German, Middle Dutch, Middle High German, German spinne, Dutch spin "spider."ETD spider (n.).2

    The loss of -n- before spirants is regular in Old English (compare goose (n.), tooth). For shift of -th- to -d- compare murder (n.), burden (n.), rudder; also see D.ETD spider (n.).3

    Not the common word in Old or Middle English, which identified the creatures as loppe (Chaucer's usual word), lobbe. Old English also had atorcoppe (Middle English attercop, literally "poison-head"), and (from Latin aranea), renge; Middle English had araine, "spider," via Old French from the same Latin word (see arachnid). Another Old English word was gangewifre "a weaver as he goes."ETD spider (n.).4

    In literature, often a figure of cunning, skill, and industry as well as venomous predation; in 17c. English used figuratively for venomousness and thread-spinning but also sensitivity (to vibrations), lurking, and independence. As the name for a type of two-pack solitaire, it is attested from 1890, probably based on resemblance of the layout of the decks in the original form of the game (see "Tarbart," "Games of Patience," 1901, p. 49).ETD spider (n.).5

    Spider crab is from 1710, used of various species with long, slender legs and comparatively small bodies; the spider monkey (1764) is so called for its long limbs. Spider-catcher (1570s) was an old vague term of abuse.ETD spider (n.).6

    spidery (adj.)

    1823, "long and thin," from spider + -y (2). Spider-like is from c. 1600.ETD spidery (adj.).2

    spiderling (n.)

    "a small spider, a baby spider," 1842, from spider + -ling.ETD spiderling (n.).2

    spiderman (n.)

    "worker on tall buildings, steeplejack," 1954; see spider (n.) + man (n.). The Marvel comics Spider-Man crime-fighting character was introduced in August 1962.ETD spiderman (n.).2

    spider-plant (n.)

    1823, said to have been discovered on the coast of the Pacific northwest of North America during Cook's third expedition and so named by the sailors, "from its striking resemblance to a large spider when it first appears above the surface, before the stem begins to rise from the spherical arrangement of the leaves, or the flagellae begin to creep to any distance from among them to the soil around" [Peter Sutherland, "Journal of a Voyage in Baffin's Bay," 1852]; from spider + plant (n.).ETD spider-plant (n.).2

    spider-web (n.)

    "cobweb," 1640s, earlier spider's web (1530s), from spider + web (n.). As a figure of cunning entrapment, etc., by c. 1700. Middle English had spiþere webb (mid-15c.).ETD spider-web (n.).2

    spiel (n.)

    "glib speech, pitch," slang, 1896 (Ade), probably from the verb (1894, in a San Francisco context) meaning "to speak in a glib manner," earlier "to play circus music" (1870, in a German-American context), from German spielen "to play," from Old High German spilon (cognate with Old English spilian "to play"). The noun also perhaps from German Spiel "play, game." Related: Spieler.ETD spiel (n.).2

    The Old English cognate survived into early Middle English as spile "play, sport, revelry" (13c.) also as a verb, spilen, from Old English spilian.ETD spiel (n.).3

    spier (n.)

    c. 1300, "spy, explorer, scout," agent noun from spy (v.).ETD spier (n.).2

    spiff (v.)

    "make neat or spruce," (with up or out), 1877, implied in spiffed, probably from spiffy (q.v.). Spiffing "excellent" (1872) was very popular in 1870s slang.ETD spiff (v.).2

    spiffy (adj.)

    "spruce, well-dressed," slang, by 1847, a word of uncertain origin, probably related to spiff "well-dressed man" (but this is attested only from 1862). It is of uncertain relationship to spiff (n.) "percentage allowed by drapers to their young men when they effect sale of old fashioned or undesirable stock" (1859), or to 18c. spiflicate "confound, overcome completely" (q.v.).ETD spiffy (adj.).2

    spiflicate (v.)

    "confound, overcome completely," a cant word from 1749 that was "common in the 19th century" [OED]. Probably a fanciful formation, it has been preserved in American English, where it yielded slang past-participle adjective spiflicated "intoxicated," which is recorded in Scottish and American slang by 1882. In Scottish slang, spiffed "slightly drunk" is attested by 1860. Related: Spiflication.ETD spiflicate (v.).2

    spigot (n.)

    late 14c., spigot, spegot, spikket, etc., "wooden plug used to stop the hole of a cask," according to Barnhart and Middle English Compendium probably from Old French *espigot (compare Gascony dialect espigot "core of a fruit, small ear of grain"), diminutive of Old Provençal espiga "spike, ear of grain," from Latin spica "ear of grain" (see spike (n.2)). The meaning "valve for controlling the flow of a liquid" is from 1520s; the connecting notion is "that which controls or restrains."ETD spigot (n.).2

    spike (n.1)

    "large nail," usually of iron, mid-14c., perhaps from or related to a Scandinavian word, such as Old Norse spik "splinter," Middle Swedish spijk "nail," from Proto-Germanic *spikaz (source also of Middle Dutch spicher, Dutch spijker "nail," Old English spicing "large nail," Old English spaca, Old High German speihha "spoke").ETD spike (n.1).2

    In older sources this is reconstructed to be from a PIE root *spei- "sharp point," source also of Latin spica "ear of corn," spina "thorn, prickle, backbone," and perhaps pinna "pin;" Greek spilas "rock, cliff;" Lettish spile "wooden fork;" Lithuanian speigliai "thorns," spitna "tongue of a buckle;" Old English spitu "spit." But de Vaan finds only the Germanic, Latin, and perhaps Lithuanian words connected and offers no further etymology.ETD spike (n.1).3

    The English word also might be influenced by and partly a borrowing of Latin spica (see spike (n.2)), from the same root. The general sense of "short, sharp point; pointed projection" is by 1718. The slang meaning "needle" is from 1923. The meaning "pointed stud in athletic shoes" is from 1832. The electrical sense of "pulse of short duration" is from 1935. Spike-heel as a type of women's shoe is attested by 1929.ETD spike (n.1).4

    spiked (adj.)

    "laced with alcohol," 1909, past-participle adjective from spike (v.) in the "add liquor" sense.ETD spiked (adj.).2

    spike (n.2)

    "ear of grain," c. 1300, from Latin spica "ear of grain," from PIE *speika-, from suffixed form of root *speig- "sharp point" (see spine, and compare spike (n.1)). In botany, as "flower-cluster along an unbranched axis," from 1570s.ETD spike (n.2).2

    spike (v.)

    1620s, "fasten with spikes," from spike (n.1). The sense of "furnish with spikes" is from 1680s (implied in spiked). The meaning "rise in a spike" is from 1958. The slang meaning "lace (a drink) with liquor" is by 1889.ETD spike (v.).2

    The military use (1680s) means "to disable guns by driving a large nail into the touch-hole." Figurative use of this sense is from 1823. The journalism sense of "kill a story before publication" (1908) is from the upright metal spindle on which old-time editors filed hard copy of stories after they were set in type, or, with special vigor, when they were rejected for publication. Related: Spiked; spiking.ETD spike (v.).3

    spikenard (n.)

    c. 1300, "aromatic substance from an Indian plant, famous perfumed unguent of the ancients," Old French spicanarde and directly from Medieval Latin spica nardi (see spike (n.2) + nard (n.), which is probably ultimately from the Sanskrit name of the plant), rendering Greek nardou stakhys.ETD spikenard (n.).2

    Larger font
    Smaller font