Etymology And Analysis Of The Word Burn

1550 words - 6 pages

Words have so many different meanings. Just pick up a dictionary to discover the many different meanings of the same word. Have you ever wondered where the meaning of the word originated? Maybe you have asked what a word means when another has used it out of context. How did one word come to mean so many different things? This paper will allow me to explore the definition of burn and where it originated. I will also discover how it has changed over the years and what the definition is today.
Slang is the key reason words take on new meaning. A teenage girl may say a guy is hot! This does not mean he is sweating, it means he is good looking. This is an example of slang. People familiar with slang will understand this meaning, while those unfamiliar will not. As our culture changes so does our slang and words take on new meanings. Let’s take a closer look at the word burn. Some of the definitions may surprise you.
In nineteen eighty-five the word burn took on a new meaning. According to Charles R. Grosvenor Jr:
Burn is synonymous with “face”. “Burn” was used to apply dramatic emphasis to the fact someone was proven wrong on an issue that had been hotly debated and contested. It was also used for annoying and harassing effects over trivial matters of the day to the point where it lost all meaning. Usually preceded by “you got” as in you got burned or by “ooooooh” as in ooooooh, burrrrrrn!
Many people used burn at this time as a slam. It was the way of telling someone they were wrong, or when in an argument, someone else had a good response to overrule the other. This would cause the bystander to say burn. People would also say burn if they were playing baseball and the outfielder could not catch the fly ball, because it went over their head. The players would have said you got burnt. As one can see this is not the normal meaning when we think of the word burn. But how did this meaning come about? To find out the answer we must first look at the original meaning of burn.
The original definition of burn came from the year eight hundred. It is a noun and from Old English. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the meaning of burn was “a spring, fountain; a stream or river.” Later the meaning became “a small stream or brook.” This meaning was even used in eighteen hundred seventy-eight by William Black, “Munching the young grass, and drinking out of the burn” (qtd. in Oxford English Dictionary).
The verb form of burn originated in the year eight hundred twenty-five, also found in the OED. The verb form means “of fire, a furnace, or conflagration: To be in the state of activity characteristic of fire; to be in the state of combustion. Sometimes the prominent notion is that of intense heat.” This meaning is a common understanding of the word burn even today. In thirteen hundred twenty-five burn developed a new meaning, from Old French to make bright and glossy, or to polish and shine. This is an...

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