- listen (v.)
- Old English hlysnan "to listen," from Proto-Germanic *khlusinon (source also of Dutch luisteren, Old High German hlosen "to listen," German lauschen "to listen"), from PIE root *kleu- "hearing, to hear" (source also of Sanskrit srnoti "hears," srosati "hears, obeys;" Avestan sraothra "ear;" Middle Persian srod "hearing, sound;" Lithuanian klausau "to hear," slove "splendor, honor;" Old Church Slavonic slusati "to hear," slava "fame, glory," slovo "word;" Greek klyo "hear, be called," kleos "report, rumor, fame glory," kleio "make famous;" Latin cluere "to hear oneself called, be spoken of;" Old Irish ro-clui-nethar "hears," clunim "I hear," clu "fame, glory," cluada "ears;" Welsh clywaf "I hear;" Old English hlud "loud," hleoðor "tone, tune;" Old High German hlut "sound;" Gothic hiluþ "listening, attention"). The -t- probably is by influence of Old English hlystan (see list (v.2)). For vowel evolution, see bury. As a noun from 1788 (on the listen "alert").
- listenable (adj.)
- 1834, from listen + -able. Related: Listenability.
- listener (n.)
- 1610s, "one who listens;" agent noun from listen. Meaning "one who hears a radio broadcast" is from 1912; hence listenership (1938).
- Listerine (n.)
- 1879, American English, formulated by Dr. Joseph Lawrence and Jordan Wheat Lambert as a multi-purpose disinfectant and anti-septic for surgery. In 1895, after it was discovered to kill germs commonly found in the mouth, the Lambert Company started marketing it as an oral antiseptic. Named for Joseph Lord Lister (1827-1912), F.R.S., O.M., English surgeon, who revolutionized modern surgery by applying Pasteur's discoveries and performing the first ever antiseptic surgery in 1865. Lister objected in vain to the use of his name on the product. Lister (attested from 1286, an Anglian surname) is from Middle English lit(t)e "to dye" (see litmus) + fem. suffix -ster, hence, "a dyer."
- listing (n.)
- "the placing of property with an agent to be catalogued for sale," 1906, from present participle of list (v.3); meaning "an entry in a catalogue" is from 1962.
- listless (adj.)
- mid-15c., from Middle English liste "pleasure, joy, delight" (see list (v.4)) + -less. Related: Listlessly; listlessness.
- lit (adj.)
- past participle adjective from light (v.2). Slang meaning "drunk" is recorded from 1914.
- lit (n.2)
- colloquial shortening of literature, attested by 1850.
- lit (n.1)
- "color, hue, dye," early 12c., from Old Norse litr "color," from Proto-Germanic *wlitiz (source also of Old English wlite "brightness, beauty," Old Frisian wlite "exterior, form," Gothic *wlits "face, form").
- litany (n.)
- c. 1200, from Old French letanie and directly from Medieval Latin letania, Late Latin litania (source also of Spanish letania, Italian litania), from Greek litaneia "litany, an entreating," from lite "prayer, supplication, entreaty," of unknown origin. From notion of monotonous enumeration of petitions in Christian prayer services came generalized sense of "repeated series," early 19c., borrowed from French.
For those who know the Greek words, a litany is a series of prayers, a liturgy is a canon of public service; the latter in practice includes prayer, but does not say so. [Fowler]
- lite (adj.)
- alternative spelling of light (adj.1), by 1962. Used from at least 1917 in product names, often as a variation of light (n.).
The word Adjusto-Lite for portable electric lamps was opposed by the user of a trade mark Auto-lite registered before the date of use claimed by the applicant. ["The Trade-Mark Reporter," 1922]
- liter (n.)
- 1797, from French litre (1793), from litron, obsolete French measure of capacity for grain, from Medieval Latin litra, from Greek litra "pound (unit of weight)," which is apparently from the same Sicilian Italic source as Latin libra (see Libra).
- literacy (n.)
- 1883, formed in English from literate + -cy. Illiteracy, however, dates back to 17c.
- literal (adj.)
- late 14c., "taking words in their natural meaning" (originally in reference to Scripture and opposed to mystical or allegorical), from Old French literal and directly from Late Latin literalis/litteralis "of or belonging to letters or writing," from Latin litera/littera "letter, alphabetic sign; literature, books" (see letter (n.1)). Meaning "of or pertaining to alphabetic letters" is from late 15c. Sense of "verbally exact" is attested from 1590s, as is application to the primary sense of a word or passage. Literal-minded is attested from 1791.
- literalist (n.)
- 1640s, from literal + -ist. Related: Literalistic.
- literally (adv.)
- 1530s, "in a literal sense," from literal + -ly (2). Erroneously used in reference to metaphors, hyperbole, etc., even by writers like Dryden and Pope, to indicate "what follows must be taken in the strongest admissible sense" (1680s), which is opposite to the word's real meaning and a long step down the path to the modern misuse of it.
We have come to such a pass with this emphasizer that where the truth would require us to insert with a strong expression 'not literally, of course, but in a manner of speaking', we do not hesitate to insert the very word we ought to be at pains to repudiate; ... such false coin makes honest traffic in words impossible. [Fowler, 1924]
- literary (adj.)
- 1640s, "pertaining to alphabet letters," from French littéraire, from Latin literarius/litterarius "belonging to letters or learning," from littera/litera "letter" (see letter (n.1)). Meaning "pertaining to literature" is attested from 1737.
- literate (adj.)
- "educated, instructed," early 15c., from Latin literatus/litteratus "educated, learned," literally "one who knows the letters," formed in imitation of Greek grammatikos from Latin littera/litera "letter" (see letter (n.1)).
- literati (n.)
- "men and women of letters; the learned class as a whole," 1620s, from Latin literati/litterati, plural of literatus/litteratus "lettered" (see literate). The proper singular would be literatus, though Italian literato (1704) sometimes is used.
- literation (n.)
- "representation of sounds by alphabetic letters," 1843, from Latin litera (see letter (n.1)) + -ation.
- literature (n.)
- late 14c., from Latin literatura/litteratura "learning, a writing, grammar," originally "writing formed with letters," from litera/littera "letter" (see letter (n.1)). Originally "book learning" (it replaced Old English boccræft), the meaning "literary production or work" is first attested 1779 in Johnson's "Lives of the English Poets" (he didn't include this definition in his dictionary, however); that of "body of writings from a period or people" is first recorded 1812.
Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree. [Ezra Pound, "ABC of Reading"]
Meaning "the whole of the writing on a particular subject" is from 1860; sense of "printed matter generally" is from 1895. The Latin word also is the source of Spanish literatura, Italian letteratura, German Literatur.
- lith (n.)
- "joint, limb," Old English liþ "limb, member, joint," cognate with Old Frisian lith, Dutch lid, Old High German lid, Old Norse liðr, Gothic liþus, German glied "limb, member."
- lithe (adj.)
- Old English liðe "soft, mild, gentle, meek," from Proto-Germanic *linthja- (source also of Old Saxon lithi "soft, mild, gentle," Old High German lindi, German lind, Old Norse linr, with characteristic loss of "n" before "th" in English), from PIE root *lent- "flexible" (source also of Latin lentus "flexible, pliant, slow," Sanskrit lithi).
In Middle English, used of the weather. Current sense of "easily flexible" is from c. 1300. Related: Litheness. Old and Middle English had the related verb lin "to cease doing (something)," also used of the wind dying down.
- lithesome (adj.)
- 1768, from lithe + -some (1). Related: Lithesomely; lithesomeness.
- lithic (adj.)
- 1797, from Greek lithikos "of or pertaining to stone," from lithos "stone" (see litho-).
- lithium (n.)
- silver-white metallic element, 1818, with element ending -ium + lithia, Modern Latin name given by Swedish chemist Jöns Jacob Berzelius (1779-1848) to the earth from which it was extracted, from Greek lithos "stone" (see litho-). So called from its mineral origin and to distinguish it from two previously known alkalis of vegetable origin.
- before vowels, lith-, word-forming element meaning "stone, rock;" from comb. form of Greek lithos "stone, a precious stone, marble; a piece on a game board," of unknown origin.
- lithograph (n.)
- 1828, back-formation from lithography. As a verb, from 1825. Related: Lithographed; lithographer; lithographic.
- lithography (n.)
- 1813, from German Lithographie (c. 1804), coined from Greek lithos "stone" (see litho-) + graphein "to write" (see -graphy). The original printing surfaces were of stone. Process invented 1796 by Alois Senefelder (1771-1833) of Munich. Hence, lithograph "a lithographic print," a back-formation first attested 1828. Earlier senses, now obsolete, were "description of stones or rocks" (1708) and "art of engraving on precious stones" (1730).
- lithology (n.)
- study of rock-formation, 1716, from Modern Latin lithologia, from litho- + -logia (see -logy).
- lithosphere (n.)
- "solid part of the earth's surface," 1881; see litho- "stone" + sphere.
- lithotomy (n.)
- 1721, from Late Latin lithotomia, from Greek lithotomia, from lithos "stone" (see litho-) + -tomia "cutting" (see -tomy).
- lithotripsy (n.)
- 1834, from litho- + -tripsy, from Greek tripsis "rubbing," from tribein "to rub, thresh, pound, wear out," from PIE root *tere- (1) "to rub, turn, twist" (see throw (v.)). Klein says the intended Greek word is thryptein "to crush" and there has been "confusion" with tribein.
- Baltic nation, from Lithuanian Lietuva, of unknown origin, perhaps from a PIE source related to Latin litus "shore" (see littoral) and thus meaning "shoreland." Related: Lithuanian.
- 1630s (adj.); 1650s (n.), from French litigant, from Latin litigantem (nominative litigans), present participle of litigare (see litigation).
- litigate (v.)
- 1610s, from Middle French litigier and directly from Latin litigatus, past participle of litigare "to dispute, carry on a suit" (see litigation). Related: Litigated; litigating.
- litigation (n.)
- 1560s, "disputation," from Late Latin litigationem (nominative litigatio), noun of action from past participle stem of Latin litigare "to dispute, quarrel, strive," from phrase litem agere, from litem (nominative lis) "lawsuit, dispute, quarrel, strife" + agere "to drive, conduct" (see act (n.)). Meaning "act of carrying on a lawsuit" is from 1640s.
- litigator (n.)
- agent noun from Latin litigare (see litigation). Latin litigator meant "a party to a lawsuit; litigant."
- litigious (adj.)
- late 14c., "fond of disputes," from Middle French litigieux and directly from Latin litigiosus "contentious, quarrelsome," from litigium "dispute, strife," related to litigare (see litigation). Meaning "fond of engaging in lawsuits" is from 1620s. Earlier in English than litigate or litigation. Related: Litigiousness.
- litmus (n.)
- "blue dye-stuff obtained from certain lichens," early 14c., from Middle Dutch lijkmoes (Dutch lakmoes), from lac (see lac) + moes "pulp." Another theory is that it represents Old Norse litmose, literally "lichen for dying," from Old Norse lita "to dye, to stain," from litr "color, dye" (see lit (n.1)) + mos "moss." Yet another idea connects the first element to Middle Dutch leken "to drip, leak" (see leak (v.)).
Whichever was the original word, it probably was influenced by the others. The dye is obtained from certain lichens. It is naturally blue but turns red in acid and is restored to blue by alkalis. Figurative use of litmus test is first attested 1957, from scientific use of litmus-treated paper as a chemical indicator. Litmus paper with this meaning is from 1803.
- litotes (n.)
- rhetorical figure in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of its opposite, from Greek litotes, literally "plainness, simplicity," from litos "smooth, plain, small, meager," from PIE root *(s)lei- "slimy, sticky, slippery" (hence "smooth"); see slime (n.).
- litter (n.)
- c. 1300, "a bed," also "bed-like vehicle carried on men's shoulders" (early 14c.), from Anglo-French litere "portable bed," Old French litiere "litter, stretcher, bier; straw, bedding," from Medieval Latin lectaria "litter" (altered in French by influence of lit "bed"), from Latin lectus "bed, couch," from PIE *legh-to-, from root *legh- "to lie" (see lie (v.2)).
Meaning extended early 15c. to "straw used for bedding" (early 14c. in Anglo-French) and late 15c. to "offspring of an animal at one birth" (in one bed); sense of "scattered oddments, disorderly debris" is first attested 1730, probably from Middle English verb literen "provide with bedding" (late 14c.), with notion of strewing straw. Litter by 19c. had come to mean both the straw bedding and the animal waste in it after use.
- litter (v.)
- late 14c., "provide with bedding," from litter (n.). Meaning "to strew with objects" is from 1713. Transitive sense of "to scatter in a disorderly way" is from 1731. Related: Littered; littering.
- litterateur (n.)
- "a literary man," 1806, from French littérateur, from Latin litterator "a grammarian, philologist," from littera "letter" (see letter (n.1)). Sometimes Englished as literator (1630s, often with a deprecatory sense). Fem. form is littératrice.
- litterbug (n.)
- 1947, from litter + bug (n.). According to Mario Pei ("The Story of Language," Lippincott, 1949) "coined by the New York subways on the analogy of 'jitterbug' ...."
- littering (n.)
- 1540s, of animals, "process of bringing forth young in a single birth," verbal noun from present participle of litter (v.). Meaning "act of furnishing with bedding" is from c. 1600. That of "act of dropping litter" is from 1900.
- little (adj.)
- Old English lytel "not large, not much; short in distance or time; unimportant," also used in late Old English as a noun, "small piece; a short time," from Proto-Germanic *lutilla- (source also of Old Saxon luttil, Dutch luttel, Old High German luzzil, German lützel, Gothic leitils "little"), perhaps originally a diminutive of the root of Old English lyt "little, few," from PIE *leud- "small." "Often synonymous with small, but capable of emotional implications which small is not" [OED].
Phrase the little woman "wife" attested from 1795. Little people "the faeries" is from 1726; as "children," it is attested from 1752; as "ordinary people" (opposed to the great), it is attested from 1827. Little Neck clams (1884) are so called for Little Neck, Long Island, a "neck" of land on the island's North Shore. Little by little is from late 15c. (litylle be litille). Little green men "space aliens" is from 1950. Little black dress is from 1939.
At the beginning of summer, smart women who stay in town like to wear sheer "little black dresses." Because most "little black dresses" look alike, retailers struggle each year to find something which will make them seem new. ["Life," June 13, 1939]
Little Orphan Annie originally was (as Little Orphant Annie) the character in James Whitcomb Riley's 1885 poem, originally titled "Elf Child." The U.S. newspaper comic strip created by Harold Gray (1894-1968) debuted in 1924 in the New York "Daily News."
LITTLE Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away,
An' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep,
An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an'-keep;
An' all us other childern, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun
A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,
An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you
[Riley, "Elf Child"]
- little (v.)
- OE lytlian, from root of little (adj.).
- littleness (n.)
- Old English lytelnes; see little + -ness.
- littoral (adj.)
- "pertaining to the seashore," 1650s, from Latin littoralis "of or belonging to the seashore," from litus (genitive litoris) "seashore, coast" (compare Lido), from Proto-Italic *leitos, of unknown origin, possibly from PIE root *lei- "to flow," but de Vaan finds a better candidate in the PIE root *leit- (2) "to go forth" (see lead (v.1)), with sense evolution "the going away," hence "the edge."
The noun is first recorded 1828, from Italian littorale, originally an adjective, from Latin littoralis.