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    spiky (adj.) — split-level (adj.)

    spiky (adj.)

    "having the shape of a spike, having a sharp point or points, fitted with spikes," 1720, from spike (n.1) + -y (2). Related: Spikiness.ETD spiky (adj.).2

    spile (n.)

    tap or spout driven into a maple tree for drawing sap to make sugar, 1844, from Northern English dialect spile "splinter" (1510s), from Middle Dutch or Middle Low German spile "splinter, skewer, bar, spindle," German Speiler "skewer;" which are perhaps related to spike (n.1).ETD spile (n.).2

    spill (v.)

    Middle English spillen, from Old English spillan "destroy; destroy the life of, mutilate, kill," especially in a brutal way, also in late Old English "to waste;" a variant of spildan "destroy," from Proto-Germanic *spilthjan (source also of Old High German spildan "to spill," Old Saxon spildian "destroy, kill," Old Norse spilla "to destroy," Danish spilde "lose, spill, waste," Middle Dutch spillen "to waste, spend").ETD spill (v.).2

    This is reconstructed to be from a probable PIE root *spel- (1) "to split, break off" (source also of Middle Dutch spalden, Old High German spaltan "to split;" Greek aspalon "skin, hide," spolas "flayed skin;" Latin spolium "skin, hide;" Lithuanian spaliai "shives of flax;" Old Church Slavonic rasplatiti "to cleave, split;" Middle Low German spalden, Old High German spaltan "to split;" Sanskrit sphatayati "splits").ETD spill (v.).3

    The original sense in English faded after c. 1600. The transitive sense of "let (liquid) fall or run out" developed mid-14c.; the meaning "flow out of a container onto the ground" is from early 15c. This evolution out of the "kill" sense might be from use of the word in reference to shedding blood (attested by late 13c.).ETD spill (v.).4

    The general intransitive sense of "run out and become wasted" is from 1650s. Also, of a river, etc., "to run or flow over the brim," 1650s. Spill the beans is recorded by 1910 in a sense of "spoil the situation;" 1919 as "reveal a secret." To cry for spilt milk (usually with negative) is attested from 1738. Related: Spilled; spilt; spilling.ETD spill (v.).5

    spill (n.)

    1845, colloquial, "a throw or fall from a horse," from spill (v.). The meaning "the spilling of a liquid; amount of spilled stuff" is from 1848.ETD spill (n.).2

    spillage (n.)

    "action or fact of spilling; that which is spilled," 1827, from spill (v.) + -age. Perhaps not common before 20c. Shakespeare used spilth "that which has spilled, act of spilling" ("Timon," 1607), which was picked up by Browning, etc. Spilling (n.) is attested from late 14c. as "destruction, ruin," also "a pouring out."ETD spillage (n.).2

    spillikin (n.)

    also spillikins, name of a game played with wooden rods or sticks in a heap, the object being to pull one out without disturbing the rest, 1734, spilakees, apparently a diminutive of spill (n.).ETD spillikin (n.).2

    spillover (n.)

    "act of spilling over; amount that spills over," 1930, from the verbal phrase (by 1680s); see spill (v.) + over (adv.). Figurative use by 1940. By 1953 as an adjective.ETD spillover (n.).2

    spillway (n.)

    "passage for surplus water from a dam," 1850, American English, from spill + way (n.).ETD spillway (n.).2

    spilth (n.)

    "that which is spilled or poured out lavishly," c. 1600, from spill (v.) + -th (2). Used, once, by Shakespeare.ETD spilth (n.).2

    spin (v.)

    Middle English spinnen, from Old English spinnan (transitive) "draw out and twist (raw fibers) into thread," strong verb (past tense spann, past participle spunnen), from Proto-Germanic *spenwan (source also of Old Norse and Old Frisian spinna, Danish spinde, Dutch spinnen, Old High German spinnan, German spinnen, Gothic spinnan), from a suffixed form of PIE root *(s)pen- "to draw, stretch, spin."ETD spin (v.).2

    The intransitive senses of "form threads from fibrous stuff; twist, writhe" developed in late Old English. Figurative use, "to fabricate or produce in a manner analogous in some way to spinning," is by 1550s (also compare yarn). Of spiders from late 14c. In reference to insects (silk worms) by 1510s.ETD spin (v.).3

    The transitive sense of "cause to turn rapidly" is from 1610s; the intransitive meaning "revolve, turn around rapidly" is recorded by 1660s. To spin out in a motor vehicle is by 1954. To spin one's wheels in the figurative sense of "do work but get no result for it" is by 1960. The meaning "play a phonograph record" is attested by 1936 (Variety).ETD spin (v.).4

    The meaning "attempt to influence reporters' minds after an event has taken place but before they have written about it" seems to have risen to popularity in the 1984 U.S. presidential campaign; as in spin doctor, which was prominent in newspaper accounts of the election from c. Oct. 23, 1984.ETD spin (v.).5

    In the Middle English phrase When adam delf & eue span (which concludes variously), "in the earliest times," span is the old past tense of spin (along with spanne, spane; spunne, sponne); the reference is to his digging and her spinning as characteristic occupations (compare distaff).ETD spin (v.).6

    spin (n.)

    1831, "a rapid revolving motion, act or spell of whirling round," from spin (v.). It was extended to continued rapid motion of any kind; the meaning "a fairly rapid ride" as a pastime or for exercise is by 1856 (with take (v.) by 1884). The sense of "a twisting delivery in throwing or striking a ball" is by 1851 in cricket. In physics, as a distinctive property of some elementary particles, is from 1926. The meaning "act of playing a phonograph record" is from 1977. The meaning "influence imparted by a media source" is from 1984 (compare bias (n.)).ETD spin (n.).2

    spinning (n.)

    late 13c., verbal noun from spin (v.). Spinning wheel attested from c. 1400. Spinning-jenny is from 1783 (see jenny); invented by James Hargreaves c. 1764-7, patented 1770.ETD spinning (n.).2

    spinach (n.)

    garden vegetable with thick, succulent leaves, late 14c., spinache, spinage, etc. (late 13c. as a surname), from Anglo-French spinache, Old French espinache (14c., Modern French épinard, from a form with a different suffix), from Old Provençal espinarc, which perhaps is via Catalan espinac, from Andalusian Arabic isbinakh, from Arabic isbanakh, from Persian aspanakh "spinach."ETD spinach (n.).2

    But OED is not convinced the Middle Eastern words are native, and based on the plethora of Romanic forms pronounces the Romanic words "of doubtful origin." Compare Medieval Latin spinagium. Old folk etymology connected the word with Latin spina (see spine), supposedly for the prickly fruit, or with Medieval Latin Hispanicum olus.ETD spinach (n.).3

    For pronunciation, see cabbage. In 1930s colloquial American English, it had a sense of "nonsense, rubbish," based on a famous New Yorker cartoon of Dec. 8, 1928. Related: Spinachy; spinaceous. Popeye, the spinach-eating superman, debuted in 1929.ETD spinach (n.).4

    spinal (adj.)

    "of or pertaining to the backbone," 1570s, from Late Latin spinalis "of or pertaining to a thorn or the spine," from Latin spina "backbone; thorn" (see spine). Spinal tap is recorded from 1960.ETD spinal (adj.).2

    spindle (n.)

    "small tapering bar hung from the end of the thread as it is drawn from the fiber on the distaff," early 13c., spindel, with unetymological -d-, from Old English spinel "small wooden bar used in hand-spinning," properly "an instrument for spinning," from stem of spinnan (see spin (v.)) + instrumental suffix -el (1) as in handle, treadle, thimble, etc.ETD spindle (n.).2

    It is cognate with Old Saxon spinnila, Old Frisian spindel, Old High German spinnila, German Spindel. The -d- perhaps is by influence of windel "wooden reel for winding yarn" (early 14c., itself perhaps from a derivative of Old Norse vindla "to wind up" or Middle Dutch windelen). But it also might be a euphonic insertion, as in kindred, tender, etc., for which process see D.ETD spindle (n.).3

    Transferred to the pin in spinning-wheels, then late 18c. to machine parts. It is attested from early 14c. as "axle of any revolving tool or instrument." As a quantity or measure of yarn ("amount collected on a spindle"), mid-15c. As a type of something slender, it is attested from 1570s, especially of legs. As with distaff, sometimes formerly used as a metonym for "the female sex," as in Old English spinelhealf "female line of descent," distinguished from sperehealf "male line of descent."ETD spindle (n.).4

    spindly (adj.)

    1650s, of plants, "slender and weak," from spindle + -y (2). Of other things, "disproportionately long and slender," 1827, colloquial. Spindling (adj.) is from 1750 of plants, 1858 of any other very slender thing. Related: Spindliness.ETD spindly (adj.).2

    spindrift (n.)

    "steady spray of salt water blown along the surf in heavy winds," c. 1600, according to OED a Scottish formation from verb spene, alteration of spoon "to sail before the wind" (1570s, a word of uncertain origin) + drift (n.). "Common in English writers from c 1880, probably at first under the influence of W[illiam] Black's novels" [OED], who did use it in 1878. Before that in mid-19c. it was most frequent in English as a name of sailing ships, yachts, and race-horses. It is popularly regarded as related to spin (v.) "go rapidly."ETD spindrift (n.).2

    spine (n.)

    c. 1400, "backbone, spinal column," from Old French espine "thorn, prickle; backbone, spine" (12c., Modern French épine), from Latin spina "backbone," originally "thorn, prickle" (figuratively, in plural, "difficulties, perplexities"), from PIE *spein-, for which de Vaan compares Latvian spina "rod," Russian spina "back, spine," Old High German spinela "hairpin," Middle High German spenel "needle," and perhaps Latin spica "ear of grain" (see spike (n.2)). The "thorn-like part" sense is attested in English from early 15c. The meaning "back of a book" is by 1920, in advertisements for book-cover protectors.ETD spine (n.).2

    spine-chiller (n.)

    "mystery film," 1940, from spine + agent noun from chill (v.). Spine-tingler in same sense is from 1942, both suggesting a pleasurably frightened condition. Compare blood-curdling.ETD spine-chiller (n.).2

    spineless (adj.)

    1827 of animals, "having no spinal column, invertebrate" (1805 of plants), from spine + -less. The meaning "lacking moral force, lacking moral vigor and courage" is from 1885; earlier the word meant "limp, languid, as if lacking strength of spine" (1860). Related: Spinelessly; spinelessness.ETD spineless (adj.).2

    spinet (n.)

    1660s, spinette, "small harpsichord," a common instrument in 18c., from French espinette (16c., Modern French épinette), from Italian spinetta, said by Scaliger to be a diminutive of spina "thorn, spine," from Latin spina "thorn" (see spine), so called because the strings were plucked with thorn-like quills [Barnhart, Century Dictionary]. The other theory (favored by Klein and assigned "greater probability" by OED) dates to early 17c. and claims the word is from the name of the Venetian inventor, Giovanni Spinetti (fl. c. 1503). As "small, upright piano" from 1936.ETD spinet (n.).2

    spiny (adj.)

    "having thorns or spines, thorny," 1580s, from spine + -y (2). Related: Spininess.ETD spiny (adj.).2

    spinnaker (n.)

    "large triangular sail," 1866, either a derivative of spin in the sense of "go rapidly" or based on a corrupt pronunciation of Sphinx, which was the name of the first yacht known to carry this type of racing sail.ETD spinnaker (n.).2

    spinney (n.)

    "copse, thicket," 1590s, from French espinoi "briar-patch, place full of thorns and brambles" (13c., Modern French épinaie), from espine or from Latin spinetum "thorn hedge, thicket," from spina "thorn" (see spine).ETD spinney (n.).2

    spinner (n.)

    c. 1300, "spider," agent noun from spin (v.). The meaning "person who spins textile thread" is from late 14c. (late 13c. as a surname), usually in reference to women. OED reports spinner for "spider" was frequent "c. 1530-1615; now dial. or rhet."ETD spinner (n.).2

    spinneret (n.)

    "silk-spinning organ of a silkworm or spider," coined 1826, diminutive of spinner with -et.ETD spinneret (n.).2

    spinoff (n.)

    also spin-off, 1951 of corporate entities; by 1961 of television shows; see spin (v.) + off. Two of the earliest shows so identified were Andy Griffith's and Joey Bishop's, both spun off from the Danny Thomas Show. As a figurative verbal phrase by 1957, "to throw off by centrifugal force;" intransitive use is by 1969. The verbal phrase with reference to television shows is by 1965 (implied in spun off). As an adjective, from 1966.ETD spinoff (n.).2

    spinster (n.)

    late 14c., spinnestre, "woman who spins, female spinner of thread," from spin (v.) + -stere, feminine suffix (see -ster). Unmarried women were expected to occupy themselves with spinning, hence in documents from 1600s to early 1900s the word came to be "the legal designation in England of all unmarried women from a viscount's daughter downward" [Century Dictionary], and by 1719 was being used generically for a woman still unmarried and beyond the usual age for it.ETD spinster (n.).2

    Strictly in reference to those who spin, spinster also was used of both sexes (compare webster, Baxter, brewster) and so a double-feminine form emerged, spinstress "a female spinner" (1640s), which by 1716 also was being used for "a maiden lady." Related: Spinsterhood; spinsterdom; spinstership. The 19c. slang shortening spin is attested from 1842.ETD spinster (n.).3

    spiracle (n.)

    "air hole, aperture or orifice for respiration," mid-15c., from Latin spiraculum "breathing hole," from spirare "to breathe" (see spirit (n.)). Earlier in Middle English it meant "breath; vitality" (late 14c.). Related: Spiracular.ETD spiracle (n.).2

    spiral (v.)

    1726, transitive, "make spiral, cause to move spirally" (implied in spiraled), from spiral (n.). The intransitive use is attested by 1834. Of an aircraft by 1916. The transferred and figurative sense is by 1922. Related: Spiraling.ETD spiral (v.).2

    spiral (n.)

    1650s, in geometry, "a plane curve running continuously round a fixed point with constantly increasing vector," from spiral (adj.). Applied to one with a third dimension, as of a screw thread, is by 1660s. The U.S. football pass sense is by 1896, so called for the rotation in motion. Figurative sense of "progressive movement in one direction" is by 1897. Of books, spiral-bound (adj.) "bound with a helical wire" is by 1937.ETD spiral (n.).2

    spiral (adj.)

    "winding around a fixed point or center, arranged like the thread of a screw," 1550s, from French spiral (16c.), from Medieval Latin spiralis "winding around a fixed center, coiling" (mid-13c.), from Latin spira "a coil, fold, twist, spiral," from Greek speira "a winding, a coil (of a snake, etc.), a twist, a wreath, any coiled or wound object (a belt, a rope)," from PIE *sperieh-, from a base *sper- "to turn, twist, wind," but Beekes seems doubtful. Related: Spirally. Spiral galaxy is attested by 1870; earlier it was a spiral nebula (1846) before their nature was grasped.ETD spiral (adj.).2

    spirant (n.)

    breathy consonant, one uttered with perceptible expulsion of breath, 1862 (apparently coined by William Dwight Whitney), from Latin spirantem (nominative spirans) "breathing," present participle of spirare "to breathe, blow" (see spirit (n.)). OED marks as obsolete spiration (1560s) "action of drawing the breath;" Middle English verb spire "to breathe" also is obsolete.ETD spirant (n.).2

    spire (v.)

    early 14c., spiren, "send up shoots, germinate, sprout," as grain or seed, from spire (n.). Of things, "extend to a height in the manner of a spire, rise aloft," 1590s. Related: Spired; spiring.ETD spire (v.).2

    spire (n.)

    Old English spir "a sprout or shoot of a plant, spike, blade, tapering stalk of grass," from Proto-Germanic *spiraz (source also of Old Norse spira "a stalk, slender tree," Dutch spier "shoot, blade of grass," Middle Low German spir "a small point or top," German Spier "needle, pointer"), from PIE *spei- "sharp point" (see spike (n.1)).ETD spire (n.).2

    The architectural meaning "tapering top of a tower or steeple" is recorded by 1590s; a similar sense attested in Middle Low German from late 14c. and also is found in Scandinavian cognates, but seems to be missing in Middle English. The adjective spiral is attested from 1560s as "rising like a spire," but was in use earlier, and longer, in specific senses in theology (1520s).ETD spire (n.).3

    Spirillum (n.)

    (plural spirilla), bacteria genus, 1875, Modern Latin (Ehrenberg), diminutive of Latin spira "a coil, fold, twist, spiral" (see spiral (adj.)). So called for their structure.ETD Spirillum (n.).2

    spirited (adj.)

    "lively, energetic, animated," of persons, 1590s, past-participle adjective from spirit (v.) in its older sense. Milton ("So talk'd the spirited sly snake") uses it to mean "possessed by a spirit." Related: Spiritedly; spiritedness.ETD spirited (adj.).2


    "having a spirit (of a specified type);" see spirit (n.), also compare spirited.ETD -spirited.2

    spirit (v.)

    1590s, "to make more active or energetic" (of blood, strong drink, etc.), from spirit (n.). By c. 1600 as "animate (a person), inspire with courage." The meaning "carry off or away secretly" (as though by supernatural agency) is by 1660s and was used especially in reference to kidnappings for the American colonies. To spirit up "raise the spirits of" is from 1712. Related: Spirited; spiriting.ETD spirit (v.).2

    spirit (n.)

    mid-13c., "life, the animating or vital principle in man and animals," from Anglo-French spirit, Old French espirit "spirit, soul" (12c., Modern French esprit) and directly from Latin spiritus "a breathing (of respiration, also of the wind), breath;" also "breath of a god," hence "inspiration; breath of life," hence life itself.ETD spirit (n.).2

    The Latin word also could mean "disposition, character; high spirit, vigor, courage; pride, arrogance." It is a derivative of spirare "to breathe," and formerly was said to be perhaps from a PIE *(s)peis- "to blow" (source also of Old Church Slavonic pisto "to play on the flute"). But de Vaan says the Latin verb is "Possibly an onomatopoeic formation imitating the sound of breathing. There are no direct cognates." Compare conspire, expire, inspire.ETD spirit (n.).3

    In English it is attested from late 14c. as "divine substance, divine mind, God;" also "Christ" or His divine nature; also "the Holy Ghost; divine power." Also by late 14c. as "the soul as the seat of morality in man," and "extension of divine power to man; inspiration, a charismatic state; charismatic power," especially in reference to prophecy.ETD spirit (n.).4

    The meaning "supernatural immaterial creature; angel, demon; an apparition, invisible corporeal being of an airy nature" is attested from mid-14c. The word is attested by late 14c. as "ghost, disembodied soul of a person" (compare ghost (n.)). Spirit-rapping, colloquial for spiritualism in the supernatural sense, is from 1852. Spirit-world "world of disembodied spirits" is by 1829.ETD spirit (n.).5

    It is attested from late 14c. as "essential nature, essential quality." The non-theological sense of "essential principle of something" (as in Spirit of St. Louis) is attested from 1680s and was common after 1800. The Spirit of '76 in reference to the qualities that sparked and sustained the American Revolution of 1776 is attested by 1797 in William Cobbett's "Porcupine's Gazette and Daily Advertiser."ETD spirit (n.).6

    It also is attested from mid-14c. in English as "character, disposition; way of thinking and feeling, state of mind; source of a human desire;" in Middle English freedom of spirit meant "freedom of choice." It is attested from 1580s in the metaphoric sense of "animation, vitality," and by c. 1600 as "frame of mind with which something is done," also "mettle, vigor of mind, courage."ETD spirit (n.).7

    From late 14c. in alchemy as "volatile substance; distillate" (and from c. 1500 as "substance capable of uniting the fixed and the volatile elements of the philosopher's stone"). Hence spirits "volatile substance;" the sense of which narrowed to "strong alcoholic liquor" by 1670s. This also is the sense in spirit level (1768), so called for the liquid in the clear tube.ETD spirit (n.).8

    According to Barnhart and OED, the earliest use of the word in English mainly is from passages in the Vulgate, where the Latin word translates Greek pneuma and Hebrew ruah. A distinction between soul and spirit (as "seat of emotions") became current in Christian terminology (such as Greek psykhē and pneuma, Latin anima and spiritus) but "is without significance for earlier periods" [Buck]. Latin spiritus, usually in classical Latin "breath," replaced animus in the sense "spirit" in the imperial period and appears in Christian writings as the usual equivalent of Greek pneuma.ETD spirit (n.).9

    spiritless (adj.)

    1560s, "dead, not breathing," from spirit (n.) + -less. The sense of "dejected, devoid of cheerful spirits" is from 1590s. The meaning "without vigor or customary energy" is from 1650s. Related: Spiritlessly. Spiritful (1540s) seems to be obsolete.ETD spiritless (adj.).2

    spiritual (adj.)

    c. 1300, "of or concerning the spirit, immaterial" (especially in religious aspects), also "of or concerning the church," from Old French spirituel, esperituel (12c.) or directly from a Medieval Latin ecclesiastical use of Latin spiritualis "pertaining to spirit; of or pertaining to breath, breathing, wind, or air," from spiritus "of breathing; of the spirit" (see spirit (n.)).ETD spiritual (adj.).2

    The sense of "originating with God" is from late 14c. Related: Spiritually. An Old English word for "spiritual" was godcundlic. Spirital "pertaining to the spiritual realm" (from Latin spiritalis) also was in use from late 14c. to about 1700. Spirituose, a coinage of the 17c., was rare and now is obsolete.ETD spiritual (adj.).3

    spirituality (n.)

    late 14c., spiritualite, "immateriality" (of angels), also "the clergy," also "ecclesiastical property; things pertaining to the Church," from Anglo-French spiritualite, Old French espiritualite, and directly from Late Latin spiritualitatem (nominative spiritualitas), from Latin spiritualis (see spiritual (adj.)).ETD spirituality (n.).2

    The meaning "quality of being spiritual, spiritual tendency" is from c. 1500; the seldom-used sense of "fact or condition of being a spirit" is from 1680s.ETD spirituality (n.).3

    Also in early use was spiritualty (late 14c.). English is blessed with multiple variants of many words but has made scant use of most. For every pair historic/historical; realty/reality, or luxuriant/luxurious there is a spiritualty/spirituality or a specialty/speciality, with distinct forms suitable to senses requiring differentiation. But with hundreds of years gone by there is little progress in sorting them.ETD spirituality (n.).4

    spiritualism (n.)

    1796, "advocacy of a spiritual view, doctrine of the existence of spirit as distinct from matter or as the only reality" (opposed to materialism), from spiritual (adj.) + -ism. The table-rapping sense, "belief that spirits of the dead can communicate with the living via a medium" is from 1853 (compare spiritualist).ETD spiritualism (n.).2

    spiritualize (v.)

    "make spiritual or more spiritual," 1630s, from spiritual (adj.) + -ize, or from French spiritualiser. Related: Spiritualize; spiritualizing. Spiritualization is from late 14c. as "realm or jurisdiction of the Church."ETD spiritualize (v.).2

    spiritual (n.)

    "African-American religious song," 1866, from spiritual (adj.). Earlier "a spiritual thing" (1660s); "a spiritual person" (1530s); "a cleric" (mid-15c.).ETD spiritual (n.).2

    spirituous (adj.)

    1590s, "spirited, animated, lively" (senses now rare or obsolete), from Latin spiritus (see spirit (n.)) + -ous, or else from French spiritueux (16c.), from Vulgar Latin *spirituosus, from Latin spiritus. Also formerly "spiritual" (1630s), also obsolete, and in 17c. often "of the nature of spirit."ETD spirituous (adj.).2

    The meaning "containing much alcohol" is attested from 1680s. Related: Spiritously; spiritousness; spirituosity, which is attested from 1660s as "spiritual character or quality."ETD spirituous (adj.).3

    spiritualist (n.)

    1852, "one who believes in the ability of the living to communicate with the dead via a medium," from spiritual + -ist (also see spirit (n.)). Earlier (1640s) "one with regard for spiritual things;" also "one who accepts philosophical materialism" (1796). Related Spiritualistic.ETD spiritualist (n.).2

    A less refined word for a spiritualist or medium was spookist (1890).ETD spiritualist (n.).3

    spiritual-minded (adj.)

    1526 (Tyndale), from spiritual (adj.) + -minded. Related: Spiritual-mindedness.ETD spiritual-minded (adj.).2

    spiritualty (n.)

    c. 1400, spiritualte, "spirituality, quality of being spiritual" (senses now obsolete); also "the whole clergy of a national church, an ecclesiastical body," from Old French espiritualte, espirituaute, variants of spiritualite, from Late Latin spiritualitatem (see spirituality).ETD spiritualty (n.).2


    word-forming element used in the sciences from late 19c. to mean "twisted, spiraled, whorled," from combining form of Latin spira "a coil, twist," from Greek speira "a winding, a coil" (see spiral (adj.)).ETD spiro-.2

    spirochete (n.)

    also spirochaete, 1877, from Modern Latin Spirochæta, the genus name, from spiro- Modern Latin combining form of Greek speira "a coil" (see spiral (adj.)) + Latinized form of Greek khaitē "hair, a bristle" (see chaeto-). So called for its shape.ETD spirochete (n.).2

    Spirogyra (n.)

    genus of common freshwater algae, 1875, from Modern Latin (1833), from Latinized form of Greek speira "a winding, a coil" (see spiral (adj.)) + gyros "a circle, ring" (see gyre (n.)).ETD Spirogyra (n.).2

    spirometer (n.)

    "contrivance for measuring human lung capacity," 1846, formed irregularly from Latin spirare "to breathe" (see spirit (n.)) + -meter. Related: Spirometric; spirometry.ETD spirometer (n.).2

    spissitude (n.)

    "density, thickness, compactness," mid-15c., from Latin spissitudo "thickness, density," from spissus "thick, dense, compact, close" (source of Italian spesso, Spanish espeso, Old French espes, French épais). For cognates, de Vaan compares Greek spidios "extensive, wide," spidnon "thick, coagulated." Related: Spissated.ETD spissitude (n.).2

    spit (n.2)

    [sharp-pointed rod or bar for roasting meat], late Old English spitu "a spit" in cooking, from Proto-Germanic *spituz, (source also of Middle Dutch and Dutch spit, Swedish spett (which perhaps is from Low German), Old High German spiz, German Spieß "roasting spit," German spitz "pointed" (from PIE *spei- "sharp point;" see spike (n.1)).ETD spit (n.2).2

    This is also the word meaning "sandy point or long, narrow shoal running from a shore into a sea" (1670s). Old French espois, Spanish espeto "spit," Italian spiedo, spiede "a spear" are Germanic loan-words.ETD spit (n.2).3

    spit (n.1)

    [saliva], early 14c., "fluid secreted by the glands of the mouth," from spit (v.1). By 1650s as "an act of spitting."ETD spit (n.1).2

    The meaning "the very likeness, exact image" in modern use is attested from 1805 (compare spitting image, under the verb); compare French craché in same sense. Spit-curl, "lock of hair curled and lying flat on the temple" (1831), was originally colloquial or vulgar. The military phrase spit and polish indicating precise correctness (often derogatory) is recorded by 1895.ETD spit (n.1).3

    spit (v.2)

    [put on a spit, thrust with a spit] c. 1200, spiten, from late Old English sputtian "to spit" (for cooking), from spit (n.2). The meaning "pierce with a weapon, transfix, impale" is from early 15c. Related: Spitted; spitting. Nares' Glossary has spit-frog "a small sword."ETD spit (v.2).2

    spit (v.1)

    [expectorate] Old English spittan (Anglian), spætan (West Saxon), "expel (saliva) from the mouth," transitive and intransitive, past tense *spytte, from Proto-Germanic *spitjan, from PIE *sp(y)eu- (of imitative origin; see spew (v.)).ETD spit (v.1).2

    Not the usual Old English word; spætlan (see spittle) and spiwan are more common; all are considered to be from the same root. To spit (especially at someone) as a gesture of contempt is in Old English. Related: Spat; spitting. Also compare spitting image.ETD spit (v.1).3


    district east of London, famed by early 19c. for the refugee Huguenot weavers who took up residence there; named for St. Mary Spital, from spital, a Middle English shortened form of hospital (q.v.) attested by late 12c. in names, sometimes also spittle, hence spittle-man "one who lives in a hospital;" spytel-house "hospital building."ETD Spitalfields.2

    spitball (n.)

    also spit-ball, 1846 in the schoolboy sense of "bit of paper chewed and rounded as a missile;" 1904 in the baseball sense, in reference to a ball moistened on one side to curve, from spit (n.1) + ball (n.1).ETD spitball (n.).2

    spiteful (adj.)

    early 15c., "impious; shameful, contemptible," mid-15c., "expressive of disdain," from spite (n.) in its various senses + -ful. The main modern sense of "having a malevolent and grudging disposition" is from late 15c. Earlier in Middle English was now-obsolete spitous "contemptuous, disdainful, malicious" (early 14c.) from despitous. Related: Spitefully; spitefulness.ETD spiteful (adj.).2

    spite (v.)

    c. 1400, spiten, "despise, dislike, regard with ill will," from spite (n.) or a shortening of despite. Compare Middle Dutch spiten, Dutch spijten. The meaning "treat maliciously" is from 1590s (as in cut off (one's) nose to spite (one's) face); earlier "fill with vexation, offend" (1560s). Related: Spited; spiting.ETD spite (v.).2

    spite (n.)

    c. 1300, "feeling or attitude of contempt, insolent disdain;" also "a humiliation, act of insult or ridicule; a shortened form of despit "malice" (see despite (n.)). Corresponding to Middle Dutch spijt, Middle Low German spyt, Middle Swedish spit. In 17c. commonly spelled spight.ETD spite (n.).2

    The phrase in spite of is recorded from c. 1400, "in defiance or contempt of," hence "notwithstanding." Spite-fence "barrier erected to cause annoyance" is from 1889. Puttenham (1589) has spite-wed for Greek agamos.ETD spite (n.).3

    spitfire (n.)

    1610s, "a cannon;" see spit (v.) + fire (n.); spit-fire is attested from c. 1600 as an adjective, "that spits fire," also figurative. The noun meaning "irascible, passionate person" is attested from 1670s. It replaced earlier shitfire (a similar formation to Florentine cacafuoco). Also compare spit-poison "venomous person" (1716).ETD spitfire (n.).2

    spitting image (n.)

    "exact likeness," by 1880, probably based on earlier phrases such as spit and image (1847). Uncertainty of the early forms (also spitten image, 1875; spit en image 1880, etc.) suggests it is from spit (n.1) in the "exact likeness" sense (attested by 1805) + image (n.) but conformed to present-participle forms.ETD spitting image (n.).2

    That use of spit (n.) seems to be based on a once-common expression, to say one was as like another as if he had been spit out of his mouth, which is attested from at least 1580s in English, perhaps from a similar expression in French.ETD spitting image (n.).3

    spittle (n.)

    "saliva, spit, mucous substance secreted by the saliva glands," late 15c., probably an alteration (by influence of spit (n.1)) of Middle English spetel, spotel, from Old English spætl, spatl, from Proto-Germanic *spait- (source also of Old English spætan "to spit"), from PIE root *sp(y)eu- "to spew, spit" (see spew (v.)). Middle English also had a verb spitelen "spit something out, expectorate."ETD spittle (n.).2

    spittoon (n.)

    also spitoon, "vessel for receiving what is spit from the mouth," 1811, American English, from spit (n.1) + -oon. A rare instance of a word formed in English using this suffix (octoroon is another). Replaced earlier spitting box (1680s).ETD spittoon (n.).2

    Spitz (n.)

    breed of small Pomeranian dog, by 1845, from German Spitz, short for Spitzhund, from spitz "pointed" (see spit (n.2)). So called from the tapering shape of its muzzle. Spitz-dog is attested by 1842; Spitz as the name of a dog in English is by 1830.ETD Spitz (n.).2

    spiv (n.)

    "petty crook who will turn his hand to anything so long as it does not involve honest work," 1934, British slang, probably dating back to late 19c. and connected with spiff (see spiffy) in one of its various senses. Being a flashy dresser was a spiv characteristic.ETD spiv (n.).2

    splay (v.)

    early 14c., "unfold, unfurl" (a sense now obsolete); c. 1400, "spread out," a shortened form of desplayen (see display (v.)).ETD splay (v.).2

    The meaning "spread out awkwardly" is attested by 1848; the past-participle adjective splayed is attested from 1540s as "expanded, spread out." Splay-foot in reference to broad, out-turned feet is from 1540s. Splay as a noun in architecture is attested from c. 1500.ETD splay (v.).3

    splanchnic (adj.)

    1690s, "situated in or pertaining to the viscera," from medical Latin splanchnicus, from Greek splankhna (singular splankhnon) "innards, entrails" (see splanchno-) + -ic. Related: Splanchnoid, 1833 in botany, in reference to a moss genus.ETD splanchnic (adj.).2


    before vowels splanchn-, word-forming element used in anatomy from mid-19c. and meaning "viscera," from Greek splankhnon, usually in plural, splankhna, "the innards, entrails" (including the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys); related to splēn (see spleen). Based on old anatomy, the Greek word also was used metaphorically for "heart, mental state; compassion, commiseration, charity."ETD splanchno-.2

    splash (v.)

    1715 (intransitive), "dabble about in water or some other liquid;" 1722 (transitive), "spatter," probably an alteration of plash with an intensive s-. Related: Splashed; splashing. Splash-board, to protect the occupants of a vehicle from splashing of the horse's feet, is attested from 1826 (compare dashboard). Splash-down (n.) in the "landing of a spacecraft in the ocean" sense is attested from 1961.ETD splash (v.).2

    splash (n.)

    1736, "an amount of water or liquid thrown upon anything," from splash (v.). The meaning "striking or ostentatious display" is attested by 1804; of color or light, "large irregular patch," by 1832. The modern colloquial use in reference to newspaper headlines or other mass media is by 1922. The sense of "small quantity of soda water, etc., added to a drink" is from 1922.ETD splash (n.).2

    splashy (adj.)

    1727, "full of puddles, full of dirty water," from splash (n.) + -y (2). The meaning "sensational" is attested by 1836; that of "falling in splashes" is by 1856. Related: Splashily; splashiness.ETD splashy (adj.).2

    splat (v.)

    "to land with a smacking sound," 1897, imitative of the sound. Related: Splatted; splatting. As a noun from 1958. Middle English splatten meant "to splay, extend, spread out; split a fish" (for cooking) and might be related to split.ETD splat (v.).2

    splatter (v.)

    "splash, scatter about; make a noise as of splashing water," 1784 (but earlier in splatterdash (1772), variant of spatterdash); perhaps suggested by spatter and splash. The earlier splatter-faced "having a broad, flat face" (1707) probably is a perversion of platter-faced.ETD splatter (v.).2

    spleen (n.)

    c. 1300, splen, "non-glandular organ of the abdomen of a human or animal," also as the seat of melancholy, from Old French esplen, from Latin splen, from Greek splēn "the milt, spleen," from PIE *spelghn- "spleen, milt" (source also of Sanskrit plihan-, Avestan sperezan, Armenian p'aicaln, Latin lien, Old Church Slavonic slezena, Czech slezna, Lithuanian blužnis, Old Prussian blusne, Old Irish selg "spleen"). But the exact reconstruction is unclear.ETD spleen (n.).2

    The organ was regarded in old medicine as the seat of morose feelings and bad temper. Hence figurative sense of "violent ill-temper" (1580s, implied in spleenful); and thence Chapman's spleenless "mild, gentle; free from anger, ill-humor, malice, or spite" (1610s, in the literal sense from late 14c.), for which compare Greek eusplanchnos "having healthy intestines," also "compassionate."ETD spleen (n.).3

    A burst of adjectival forms in late 16c.-early 17c. for the figurative meaning yielded spleenative (1592), spleenatic (1621), spleenish (1610s), spleenful (1588), spleeny (1604), and later Keats uses spleenical.ETD spleen (n.).4

    splendid (adj.)

    1620s, "marked by grandeur," probably a shortening of earlier splendidious "wonderful magnificent" (early 15c.), from Latin splendidus "bright, shining, glittering; sumptuous, gorgeous, grand; illustrious, distinguished, noble; showy, fine, specious," from splendere "be bright, shine, gleam, glisten."ETD splendid (adj.).2

    This is reconstructed to be from PIE *splnd- "to be manifest" (source also of Lithuanian splendžiu "I shine," Middle Irish lainn "bright").ETD splendid (adj.).3

    An earlier form was splendent, splendaunt (late 15c., from Latin splendentem, past participle of splendere). Splendid is attested from 1640s as "brilliant, dazzling;" also from 1640s as "conspicuous, illustrious; very fine, excellent." Ironic use (as in splendid isolation, 1843) is attested from 17c. Jonson uses the expanded forms splendidous, splendidious.ETD splendid (adj.).4

    splendidly (adv.)

    "in a splendid manner, brilliantly, excellently," 1650s, from splendid + -ly (2).ETD splendidly (adv.).2

    splendiferous (adj.)

    "brilliant, gorgeous," etymologically "splendor-bearing," considered a playful elaboration since its re-birth in 1843, but in 15c. it was good English, from Medieval Latin splendorifer, from splendor (see splendor) + ferre "to bear, carry," from PIE root *bher- (1) "to carry," also "to bear children."ETD splendiferous (adj.).2

    Compare 15c. splendidious, also splendacious "very splendid" (1838). Bartlett (1859) offers this, allegedly from "An itinerant gospeller ... holding forth to a Kentuckian audience on the kingdom of heaven":ETD splendiferous (adj.).3

    splendor (n.)

    early 15c., splendoure, "radiance, great brilliance; source of magnificence or excellence," from Old French splendor, splendour (12c.), Anglo-French esplendour, and directly from Latin splendor "brilliance, brightness," from splendere "be bright, shine" (see splendid). By 1610s as "great show of riches and elegance." Alternative splendency (1590s) is obsolete.ETD splendor (n.).2

    splendorous (adj.)

    "bright, dazzling, having splendor," 1590s, from splendor + -ous. Related: Splendorously; splendorousness.ETD splendorous (adj.).2

    splendour (n.)

    chiefly British English spelling of splendor; for ending see -or. Related: Splendourous; splendourously.ETD splendour (n.).2

    splenetic (adj.)

    1540s, "of or pertaining to the spleen," from Late Latin spleneticus, from splen (see spleen). The meaning "affected with spleen, ill-humored, peevish" is by 1540s.ETD splenetic (adj.).2

    Related: Splenetical; splenetically. Alternative splenic (1610s) is from French splénique (16c.) or Latin splenicus. Splenical (1590s) is marked obsolete in OED. Related: Splenically.ETD splenetic (adj.).3

    splenitis (n.)

    "inflammation of the spleen," 1753; see spleen + -itis. Related: Splenitic.ETD splenitis (n.).2


    before vowels splen-, word-forming element used in pathology and anatomy from 1790s and meaning "spleen, spleen and," from Greek splēn (see spleen).ETD spleno-.2

    splenomegaly (n.)

    "enlargement of the spleen," by 1890, from spleno- + Greek megas "great" (fem. megale; see mickle).ETD splenomegaly (n.).2

    splice (n.)

    1620s, "the joining together of two ropes by interweaving the untwisted strands of each," first attested in the writing of Capt. John Smith, from splice (v.). The motion picture film sense is from 1923. In old colloquial use, "marriage union, wedding" (1830).ETD splice (n.).2

    splice (v.)

    1520s, "unite or join together (two ropes) by interweaving the strands of their ends," originally a sailors' word, from Middle Dutch splissen "to splice" (Dutch splitsen), from Proto-Germanic *spli- (from PIE root *(s)plei- "to split, splice;" see flint). The Dutch word was borrowed in French as épisser.ETD splice (v.).2

    Of things other than rope from 1620s. Used of motion picture film from 1912; of DNA from 1975. Related: Spliced; splicing; splicer.ETD splice (v.).3

    spliff (n.)

    conical cannabis cigarette, 1936, a West Indian word, of unknown origin.ETD spliff (n.).2

    spline (n.)

    long, thin piece of wood or metal, 1756, from East Anglian dialect but of uncertain origin. Perhaps from older Danish splind or North Frisian splinj. Especially one fitted into a groove in the shaft and the hub of a wheel to keep them revolving together (1864).ETD spline (n.).2

    splint (n.)

    c. 1300, splente, "overlapping plate or strip in armor" (made of metal splints), probably from Middle Low German splinte, splente "thin piece of iron" or cognate Middle Dutch splinte "splint," probably literally "thin piece cut off," and perhaps from a Germanic offshoot of PIE *(s)plei- "to split, splice" (see flint). Cognate with Danish splint "splinter," Swedish splint "wooden peg, wedge."ETD splint (n.).2

    The meaning "slender, flexible slip of wood" adapted to any particular use is recorded from early 14c.; the specific surgical sense, to hold a fractured or dislocated bone in place, is attested from c. 1400. Also as a verb in Middle English, splenten (c. 1400), "fit (a broken limb) with a splint."ETD splint (n.).3

    splinter (v.)

    1580s, transitive, "split (something) into long, thin pieces," from splinter (n.). The figurative sense is attested from c. 1600. Intransitive use is by 1620s. Middle English had splinder (v.) "to shatter" (of a spear, etc.), mid-15c. Related: Splintered; splintering.ETD splinter (v.).2

    splinter (n.)

    early 14c., "sliver of wood, sharp-edged fragment of something split or shivered longways," from Middle Dutch splinter, splenter "a splinter," related to splinte (see splint). The adjective (in splinter party, etc.) is attested by 1935, from the noun.ETD splinter (n.).2

    split (adj.)

    "divided, separated, that has undergone splitting," 1640s, past-participle adjective from split (v.). Split decision is from 1946 of court rulings, 1951 in boxing. The hourly worker's split shift is attested from 1904. Split personality is attested by 1899.ETD split (adj.).2

    split (v.)

    1580s, transitive and intransitive, "cleave or rend lengthwise, divide longitudinally," not found in Middle English, probably from a Low German source such as Middle Dutch splitten, from Proto-Germanic *spleitanan (source also of Danish and Frisian splitte, Old Frisian splita, German spleißen "to split"), according to Pokorny from PIE *(s)plei- "to split, splice" (see flint), but Boutkan finds the proposed cognates beyond Celtic and Slavic "problematic" and gives the West Germanic group "No certain PIE etymology."ETD split (v.).2

    The sense of "divide into parts" is by 1706. The U.S. slang meaning "leave, depart" is recorded by 1954. Of couples, "to separate, to divorce," from 1942. To split the difference "halve an amount in dispute between two parties" is suggested from 1715; to split (one's) ticket in the U.S. political sense of "vote for candidates from opposing parties in an election with more than one contest" is attested from 1842. To split hairs "make too-nice distinctions" is from 1670s (split a hair; the figurative image itself is implied in Shakespeare). To split the atom is from 1909.ETD split (v.).3

    split (n.)

    1590s, "narrow cleft, crack, fissure," from split (v.). The meaning "piece of wood formed by splitting" is from 1610s. The meaning "an act of separation, a division," as of a faction or congregation, is attested by 1729.ETD split (n.).2

    As the name of the acrobatic feat of going down on the ground with each leg extended laterally, by 1857 (in a grown man's recollection of London street acrobats in his childhood days). The meaning "a drink composed of two liquors" is attested from 1882; that of "sweet dish of sliced fruit with ice cream" is attested from 1905 in American English (banana split). The slang meaning "share of the take" is from 1889. The meaning "a draw in a double-header" is from 1920.ETD split (n.).3

    splitting (adj.)

    1590s, "causing to split," present-participle adjective from split (v.). In reference to a headache, etc., "very severe," by 1828. Splitting image "exact likeness" is by 1896, apparently a variant of spitting image.ETD splitting (adj.).2

    split-level (adj.)

    1951 as a type of building plan, from split (adj.) + level (n.). As a noun from 1954, short for split-level house, etc.ETD split-level (adj.).2

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