world (n.) Look up world at
Old English woruld, worold "human existence, the affairs of life," also "a long period of time," also "the human race, mankind, humanity," a word peculiar to Germanic languages (cognates: Old Saxon werold, Old Frisian warld, Dutch wereld, Old Norse verold, Old High German weralt, German Welt), with a literal sense of "age of man," from Proto-Germanic *wer "man" (Old English wer, still in werewolf; see virile) + *ald "age" (from PIE root *al- (2) "to grow, nourish").

Originally "life on earth, this world (as opposed to the afterlife)," sense extended to "the known world," then to "the physical world in the broadest sense, the universe" (c. 1200). In Old English gospels, the commonest word for "the physical world," was Middangeard (Old Norse Midgard), literally "the middle enclosure" (see yard (n.1)), which is rooted in Germanic cosmology. Greek kosmos in its ecclesiastical sense of "world of people" sometimes was rendered in Gothic as manaseþs, literally "seed of man." The usual Old Norse word was heimr, literally "abode" (see home). Words for "world" in some other Indo-European languages derive from the root for "bottom, foundation" (such as Irish domun, Old Church Slavonic duno, related to English deep); the Lithuanian word is pasaulis, from pa- "under" + saule "sun."

Original sense in world without end, translating Latin saecula saeculorum, and in worldly. Latin saeculum can mean both "age" and "world," as can Greek aion. Meaning "a great quantity or number" is from 1580s. Out of this world "surpassing, marvelous" is from 1928; earlier it meant "dead." World Cup is by 1951; U.S. baseball World Series is by 1893 (originally often World's Series). World power in the geopolitical sense first recorded 1900. World-class is attested from 1950, originally of Olympic athletes.
World Bank (n.) Look up World Bank at
1930, originally of the Bank for International Settlements, set up in Basel by the League of Nations. The modern World Bank was created in 1944.
world war (n.) Look up world war at
attested by 1898 as a speculation.
If through fear of entangling alliances the United States should return the Philippines to Spain, Mr. Page asserted that the predatory nations would swoop down upon them and a world war would result. ["New York Times," Dec. 16, 1898]
Applied to the first one almost as soon as it began in 1914 ("England has Thrown Lot with France in World War" -- headline, "Pittsburgh Press," Aug. 2, 1914). World War I coined 1939, replacing Great War as the most common name for it; First World War, World War II, and Second World War all also are from 1939. Old English had woruldgewinn, woruldgefeoht, both of which might be translated "world war," but with "world" in the sense of "earthly, secular."
World-Wide Web (n.) Look up World-Wide Web at
also World Wide Web, 1990. See worldwide + web (n.).
worldly (adj.) Look up worldly at
Old English woruldlic "earthly, secular," from the roots of world and like (adj.). A common Germanic compound (Old Frisian wraldlik, Old Saxon weroldlik, Middle Dutch wereldlik, German weltlich, Old Norse veraldligr). Worldly-wise is recorded from c. 1400.
worldview (n.) Look up worldview at
also world-view, 1858, from world + view (n.); translating German weltanschauung.
worldwide (adj.) Look up worldwide at
also world-wide, 1630s, from world + wide.
worm (v.) Look up worm at
"to move like a worm," c. 1600, from worm (n.). In figurative senses attested from 1620s, suggesting patient, sinuous progress. Meaning "to free from worms" is from 1620s. Related: Wormed; worming.
worm (n.) Look up worm at
Old English wurm, variant of wyrm "serpent, snake, dragon, reptile," also in later Old English "earthworm," from Proto-Germanic *wurmiz (source also of Old Saxon, Old High German, German wurm, Old Frisian and Dutch worm, Old Norse ormr, Gothic waurms "serpent, worm"), from PIE *wrmi- "worm" (source also of Greek rhomos, Latin vermis "worm," Old Russian vermie "insects," Lithuanian varmas "insect, gnat"), from PIE *wrmi- "worm," from root *wer- (2) "to turn, bend."

The ancient category of these was much more extensive than the modern, scientific, one and included serpents, scorpions, maggots, and the supposed causes of certain diseases. For substitution of -o- for -u-, see come. As an insult meaning "abject, miserable person" it dates from Old English. Worms "any disease arising from the presence of parasitic worms" is from late Old English. Can of worms figurative for "difficult problem" is from 1951, from the literal can of worms a fisherman might bring with him, on the image of something all tangled up.
wormhole (n.) Look up wormhole at
also worm-hole, 1590s, "hole made by a burrowing insect" (in fruit, timber, etc.), from worm (n.) + hole (n.). Astrophysics sense is attested from 1957.
wormwood (n.) Look up wormwood at
c. 1400, folk etymology of Old English wermod "wormwood, absinthe," related to vermouth, but the ultimate etymology is unknown. Compare Old Saxon wermoda, Dutch wermoet, Old High German werimuota, German Wermut. Weekley suggests wer "man" + mod "courage," from its early use as an aphrodisiac. Figurative use, however, is usually in reference to its proverbial bitter aftertaste. Perhaps because of the folk etymology, it formerly was used to protect clothes and bedding from moths and fleas. "A medecyne for an hawke that hath mites. Take the Iuce of wormewode and put it ther thay be and thei shall dye." ["Book of St. Albans," 1486]
worn (adj.) Look up worn at
c. 1500, from adjectival use of past participle of wear (v.); from Old English geworen. Worn-out "exhausted by wear, made ineffective by overuse" is attested from 1610s in reference to things, c. 1700 in reference to persons.
worrisome (adj.) Look up worrisome at
"causing worry or annoyance," 1828, from worry + -some (1). Related: Worrisomely.
worry (n.) Look up worry at
"anxiety arising from cares and troubles," 1804, from worry (v.).
worry (v.) Look up worry at
Old English wyrgan "to strangle," from Proto-Germanic *wurgjan (source also of Middle Dutch worghen, Dutch worgen, Old High German wurgen, German würgen "to strangle," Old Norse virgill "rope"), from *wergh-, from PIE root *wer- (2) "to turn, bend." Related: Worried; worrier; worrying.

The oldest sense was obsolete in English after c. 1600; meaning "annoy, bother, vex," first recorded 1670s, developed from that of "harass by rough or severe treatment" (1550s), as of dogs or wolves attacking sheep. Meaning "to cause mental distress or trouble" is attested from 1822; intransitive sense of "to feel anxiety or mental trouble" is first recorded 1860.
worry wart (n.) Look up worry wart at
1956, from comic strip "Out Our Way" by U.S. cartoonist J.R. Williams (1888-1957). According to those familiar with the strip, Worry Wart was the name of a character who caused others to worry, which is the inverse of the current colloquial meaning.
worse (adj.) Look up worse at
Old English wiersa, wyrsa "worse," from Proto-Germanic *wers-izon- (source also of Old Saxon wirs, Old Norse verri, Swedish värre, Old Frisian wirra, Old High German wirsiro, Gothic wairsiza "worse"), comparative of PIE *wers- (1) "to confuse, mix up" (source also of Old High German werra "strife," Old Saxon werran "to entangle, compound;" see war (n.)). Used as a comparative of bad, evil, ill or as the opposite of better. The adverb is Old English wyrs; the noun is Old English wyrsa. Phrase for better or for worse is attested from late 14c. (for bet, for wers); to change for the worse is recorded from c. 1400.
worsen (v.) Look up worsen at
mid-13c., wersnen "to make worse," also "to grow worse," from worse (adj.) + -en (1). The reflexive sense of "to get worse, become worse off" was elevated into literary use c. 1800-30, where formerly worse (v.) had served. Related: Worsened; worsening.
worser (adj.) Look up worser at
double comparative; see worse + -er (2). Attested from late 15c. and common 16c.-17c. Noun worsers "(one's) inferiors" is from 1580s.
worship (n.) Look up worship at
Old English worðscip, wurðscip (Anglian), weorðscipe (West Saxon) "condition of being worthy, dignity, glory, distinction, honor, renown," from weorð "worthy" (see worth) + -scipe (see -ship). Sense of "reverence paid to a supernatural or divine being" is first recorded c. 1300. The original sense is preserved in the title worshipful "honorable" (c. 1300).
worship (v.) Look up worship at
c. 1200, from worship (n.). Related: Worshipped; worshipping.
worshipper (n.) Look up worshipper at
late 14c., agent noun from worship (v.).
worst (adj.) Look up worst at
Old English wyrresta, from Proto-Germanic *wers-ista- (source also of Old Saxon wirsista, Old Norse verstr, Old Frisian wersta, Old High German wirsisto), superlative of PIE *wers- (1) "to confuse, mix up" (see war (n.)). Phrase in the worst way (1839) is from American English sense of "most severely." The adverb is Old English wyrst; the noun, "that which is most evil or bad," is from late 14c.
worst (v.) Look up worst at
"damage, inflict loss upon," c. 1600, from worst (adj.). Meaning "defeat in argument" is from 1650s. Related: Worsted; worsting.
worsted (n.) Look up worsted at
woolen fabric made from twisted yarn, late 13c., from Worstead (Old English Wurðestede), town in Norfolk where the cloth originally was made.
wort (n.) Look up wort at
"a plant," Old English wyrt "root, herb, vegetable, plant, spice," from Proto-Germanic *wurtiz (source also of Old Saxon wurt, Old Norse, Danish urt, Old High German wurz "plant, herb," German Wurz, Gothic waurts, Old Norse rot "root"), from PIE root *wrad- "branch, root." St. John's wort attested from 15c.
worth (n.) Look up worth at
Old English weorþ "value, price, price paid; worth, worthiness, merit; equivalent value amount, monetary value," from worth (adj.). From c. 1200 as "excellence, nobility."
worth (adj.) Look up worth at
Old English weorþ "significant, valuable, of value; valued, appreciated, highly thought-of, deserving, meriting; honorable, noble, of high rank; suitable for, proper, fit, capable," from Proto-Germanic *werthaz "toward, opposite," hence "equivalent, worth" (source also of Old Frisian werth, Old Norse verðr, Dutch waard, Old High German werd, German wert, Gothic wairþs "worth, worthy"), perhaps a derivative of PIE *wert- "to turn, wind," from root *wer- (2) "to turn, bend." Old Church Slavonic vredu, Lithuanian vertas "worth" are Germanic loan-words. From c. 1200 as "equivalent to, of the value of, valued at; having importance equal to; equal in power to."
worth (v.) Look up worth at
"to come to be," now chiefly, if not solely, in the archaic expression woe worth the day, present subjunctive of Old English weorðan "to become, be, to befall," from Proto-Germanic *werthan "to become" (source also of Old Saxon, Old Dutch werthan, Old Norse verða, Old Frisian wertha, Old High German werdan, German werden, Gothic wairþan "to become"), literally "to turn into," from PIE root *wer- (2) "to turn, bend."
worthless (adj.) Look up worthless at
1580s, from worth (n.) + -less. Related: Worthlessly; worthlessness.
worthwhile (adj.) Look up worthwhile at
by 1660s, worth while (one-word form from late 19c.), from worth (adj.) + while (n.). Phrase worth the while is attested from late 14c.
worthy (adj.) Look up worthy at
mid-13c., "having merit," from worth (n.) + -y (2). Old English had weorþful in this sense. Attested from late 14c. as a noun meaning "person of merit" (especially in Nine Worthies, famous men of history and legend: Joshua, David, Judas Maccabæus, Hector, Alexander, Julius Cæsar, Arthur, Charlemagne, Godfrey of Bouillon -- three Jews, three gentiles, three Christians). Related: Worthily; worthiness.
wot (v.) Look up wot at
"to know" (archaic), from Old English wat, first and third person singular present indicative of witan "to know" (see wit (v.)).
would Look up would at
Old English wolde, past tense and past subjunctive of willan "to will" (see will (v.)). Would-be (adj.) "wishing to be, vainly pretending" is first recorded c. 1300.
wound (n.) Look up wound at
Old English wund "hurt, injury, ulcer," from Proto-Germanic *wundaz (source also of Old Saxon wunda, Old Norse und, Old Frisian wunde, Old High German wunta, German wunde "wound"), perhaps from PIE root *wen- (2) "to beat, wound."
wound (v.) Look up wound at
Old English wundian "to wound," from the source of wound (n.). Cognate with Old Frisian wundia, Middle Dutch and Dutch wonden, Old High German wunton, German verwunden, Gothic gawundon. Figurative use, of feelings, etc., from c. 1200. Related: Wounded; wounding.
wounder (n.) Look up wounder at
late 15c., agent noun from wound (v.).
woven (adj.) Look up woven at
late 15c., past participle adjective from weave (v.) on analogy of stolen.
wow (interj.) Look up wow at
1510s, Scottish, a natural expression of amazement. "This old interjection had a new popularity in the early 1900s and again during the 1960s and later" [DAS].
wow (v.) Look up wow at
"overwhelm with delight or amazement," 1924, American English slang, from wow (interj.). Related: Wowed; wowing. Used as a noun meaning "unqualified success" since 1920.
WPA Look up WPA at
1936, initialism (acronym) from Works Progress Administration, U.S. agency established 1935.
wr- Look up wr- at
common Germanic consonantal combination, especially to start words implying twisting or distortion. Retained in Dutch and Flemish; reduced to -r- in Old High German and Old Norse; represented by vr- in Danish and Swedish; still spelled -wr- in English, but the -w- ceased to be pronounced c. 1450-1700 except in dialects.
wrack (n.) Look up wrack at
late 14c., "wrecked ship, shipwreck," probably from Middle Dutch wrak "wreck," from Proto-Germanic *wrakaz-, from root *wreg- "to push, shove, drive" (see wreak). The root sense perhaps is "that which is cast ashore." Sense perhaps influenced by Old English wræc "misery, punishment," and wrecan "to punish, drive out" (source of modern wreak). The meaning "damage, disaster, destruction" (in wrack and ruin) is from c. 1400, from the Old English word, but conformed in spelling to this one. Sense of "seaweed, etc., cast up on shore" is recorded from 1510s, probably an alteration of wreck (n.) in this sense (mid-15c.). Wrack, wreck, rack and wretch were utterly tangled in spelling and somewhat in sense in Middle and early modern English.
wrack (v.) Look up wrack at
"to ruin or wreck" (originally of ships), 1560s, from earlier intransitive sense "to be shipwrecked" (late 15c.), from wrack (n.). Often confused in this sense since 16c. with rack (v.) in the sense of "torture on the rack;" to wrack one's brains is thus erroneous. Related: Wracked; wracking.
wraith (n.) Look up wraith at
1510s, "ghost," Scottish, of uncertain origin. Weekley and Century Dictionary suggest Old Norse vorðr "guardian" in the sense of "guardian angel." Klein points to Gaelic and Irish arrach "specter, apparition."
wrangle (v.) Look up wrangle at
late 14c., from Low German wrangeln "to dispute, to wrestle," related to Middle Low German wringen, from Proto-Germanic *wrang-, from *wrengh-, nasalized variant of *wergh- "to turn," from PIE root *wer- (2) "to turn, bend." Meaning "take charge of horses" is by 1897, American English. Related: Wrangled; wrangling. The noun is recorded from 1540s.
wrangler (n.) Look up wrangler at
1510s, "one who takes part in quarrels," agent noun from wrangle (v.). Meaning "person in charge of horses or cattle, herder" is from 1888; as a proprietary name for a brand of jeans, trademarked 1947, claiming use from 1929.
wrap (n.) Look up wrap at
late 15c., "fine cloth used as a cover or wrapping for bread," from wrap (v.). As a type of women's garment, recorded from 1827. Meaning "plastic film or cellophane used as a wrap" is from 1930. Meaning "end of a filming session" is attested from 1970. Meaning "sandwich material folded up in flour tortilla" is by 1998. Figurative phrase under wraps "in concealment" is recorded from 1939.
wrap (v.) Look up wrap at
early 14c., wrappen, "to wind (something around something else), cover (something), conceal; bind up, swaddle; fold (something) up or back on itself," of uncertain origin, perhaps via Scandinavian (compare Danish dialectal vravle "to wind"), from PIE *werp- "to turn, wind," from root *wer- (2) "to turn, bend." Or perhaps a variant of lap (v.2). To wrap up "put an end to" is from 1926. Related: Wrapped; wrapping. Wrapping paper is from 1715.
wrap-up (n.) Look up wrap-up at
"summary," 1947, from the verbal phrase (see wrap (v.)).