24 Words That Used to Mean Something Negative

Hulton Archives/Getty Images
Hulton Archives/Getty Images

Sometimes words move up in the world. Their meanings change with time, becoming more positive—a process linguists call amelioration. Here are some ameliorated words that were a pinch more negative back in the day.

1. Amaze: Make crazy; confuse with terror (1200s; 1770s)

2. Amuse: Cheat, delude, or deceive (1400s)

3. Awesome: Terrifying (1670s)

4. Boy: A servant, knave, or commoner (1250s)

5. Brave: Uncivilized or savage; showy (1400s)

6. Careful: Mournful, woeful; full of anxiousness (1100s)

7. Comical: Epileptic (~1100s)

8. Cool: Calmly Audacious (1825)

9. Courage: Temper (1300s)

10. Croon: To groan or lament (1400s)

11. Dizzy: Stupid (~1100s)

12. Eager: Fierce or angry; sour, harsh, or bitter (1200s)

13. Fond: Foolish, silly (1350s)

14. Fun: Cheat, trick, or hoax (1680s)

15. Glorious: Boastful (1400s)

16. Knight: A male servant; boy (~1000s)

17. Meticulous: Fearful, timid, and full of dread (1530s)

18. Mischievous: Disastrous (1300s)

19. Nice: Stupid or ignorant; careless or clumsy (1200s)

20. Pragmatic: Meddlesome; tastelessly busy (1600s)

21. Pretty: Deceitful, tricky, or sly (~1200s)

22. Sophisticated: Unnatural; contaminated (1600s)

23. Sustainable: Bearable (1610s)

24. Ravishing: Extremely hungry (1350s)

See Also...

11 Words That Don't Mean What They Sound Like
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38 Wonderful Foreign Words With No English Equivalent
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50 Collective Nouns to Bolster Your Vocabulary

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BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images
BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images

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Why Are Common Graves Called Potter’s Fields?

Graves in potter's fields are sometimes marked with blank headstones or crosses.
Graves in potter's fields are sometimes marked with blank headstones or crosses.
vyasphoto/iStock via Getty Images

For centuries, regions around the world have maintained common graves called potter’s fields, where they bury unidentified victims and impoverished citizens who couldn’t afford their own cemetery plots. The term potter’s field has been around for just as long.

The earliest known reference to a potter’s field is from the Gospel of Matthew, which historians believe was written sometime during the 1st century. In it, a remorseful Judas gives the 30 silver coins he was paid for betraying Jesus back to the high priests, who use it to purchase a “potter’s field” where they can bury foreigners. It’s been speculated that the priests chose land from a potter either because it had already been stripped of clay and couldn’t be used for farming, or because its existing holes and ditches made it a particularly good place for graves. But Matthew doesn’t go into detail, and as the Grammarphobia Blog points out, there’s no evidence to prove that the original potter’s field was ever actually used for its clay resources—it could’ve just been a parcel of land owned by a potter.

Whatever the case, the term eventually caught on as English-language versions of the Bible made their way across the globe. In 1382, John Wycliffe translated it from Latin to Middle English, using the phrase “a feeld of a potter,” and William Tyndale’s 1526 Greek-to-English translation of the passage featured “a potters felde,” which was altered slightly to “potters field” in King James’s 1611 edition.

Around the same time, a new definition of potter was gaining popularity that had nothing to do with pottery—in the 16th century, people began using the word as a synonym for tramp or vagrant. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it was first written in a 1525 Robin Hood tale, and William Wordsworth mentioned it in his 1798 poem “The Female Vagrant.” It’s likely that this sense of the word helped reinforce the idea that a potter’s field was intended for the graves of the unknown.

It’s also definitely not the only phrase we’ve borrowed from the Bible. From at your wit’s end to a fly in the ointment, here are 18 everyday expressions with holy origins.

[h/t Grammarphobia Blog]