While managing a client’s Pinterest account, I came across a meme that claimed nice used to mean something entirely different from what it does now. I looked it up and it was true.

I decided to look up a few more. Here is what I came up with:

1. Nice

When nice entered Middle English from French in the 14th century, it meant simple, foolish, or ignorant. That definition stuck for about 300 years. During that last 100 years or so, it started to take on a couple of other definitions: strict; risky; showing sensitive discernment. The first two have since become obsolete, but the third is still in use today. About 300 years ago, the modern definition — pleasant and friendly — emerged, and it has persisted today.

2. Bad

The word bad appeared in Middle English, and its meaning of wicked, evil, or depraved is still a definition of the word we used today. What’s interesting is where the word originated. Some etymologists claim that it was a shortened form of the Old English word bbædde, which meant someone who was intersexed or a man who was effeminate.

3. Awful

This one should be self-explanatory. What once meant full of awe (Get it? Awe full?) now means very unpleasant.

4. Brave

Brave appeared on the scene toward the end of the 15th century, imported from a French word that was also spelled the same but meant something more along the line of splendid, showy, or gaudy.

5. Bully

This word today describes someone who picks on other people (or the act of picking on others). When it showed up in the 1530s, however, from the Dutch boel, it was used as a term of endearment, something similar to today’s sweetheart. Within 100 years or so, the definition changed to fine fellowblusterer, and finally harasser of the weak. One definition of bully by the early 18th century was protector of prostitute, which seemed to be the greatest connected between the original and current meanings.

About Kim Siever

I am a copywriter and copyeditor. I blog on writing tips mostly, but I sometimes throw in my thoughts about running a small business. Follow me on Twitter at @hotpepper.

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