Thursday, October 25, 2018

Language of Confusion: Evil

How about we etymologize some evil things, because why not?

Evil itself showed up in Old English as yfel, which was actually pronounced pretty much like evil and was also spelled evel in the Kentish dialect of Old English. It comes from the Proto Germanic ubilaz and Proto Indo European upelo-, which is from the root wap-, bad or evil.

If you want another example of that f-v thing, then you can also look at devil, which was deofol/deoful in Old English. Except that word came to English via a completely different route. It was diabolus in Late Latin and diabolos in Greek, from the word diaballein, which actually meant to slander, attack, or throw across. Seriously, the ballein meant to throw and dia means across. Wow, some words sure do change.

Malevolent showed up in the sixteenth century from the Middle French malivolent and classical Latin malevolentem, which, yeah, is just malevolent. The male part means ill, poorly, or badly (no comment) and the volentem comes from velle, to wish or want. To wish or want bad stuff is pretty malevolent. Similarly, malice showed up in the fourteenth century from the Old French malice. In Latin, it’s malitia, malice, from malus, bad. It just lacks the wishing part.

Wicked showed up in the thirteenth century, although in the twelfth century they had wick, which meant the same thing. It’s thought to be from the Old English wicca, witch, and interestingly enough was a past participle without a verb (that means that wick was also always past tense, too).

You can be wicked but you can’t wick!

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


  1. I don't want to wick anyway.
    What about wickets?

  2. You'd think that evil and lawyer would have the same root.

  3. And, of course, the other synonyms:
    Nazi, GOP, etc...

  4. I guess wicked is always in retrospect?


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