Employing some of these words (with their original meaning) in a conversation today could prove to be one of the funniest conversation you have ever had. I think I might try it, (and will definitely film the other person’s reaction).
Used to mean: To utter suddenly and passionately, to exclaim
The unintended double entendres in this sentence of Jane Eyre could make anyone snicker: “The sleepers were all aroused: ejaculations, terrified murmurs sounded in every room; door after door unclosed; one looked out and another looked out; the gallery filled.” Still, the old-school and modern definitions are pretty synonymous.
Used to mean: 10,000
Before people were debating whether “myriad” is a noun or adjective (it’s both), Greek mathematicians gave it the numeral M and were extremely specific about what it meant. Think a myriad is a lot to count? Try the myriad myriad (MM) or 100 million, the largest number in ancient Greece.
Used to mean: Meek, obedient
Hmmm… Not how we’d describe Beyoncé.
Used to mean: Heavy-set
Not how we’d describe George Clooney, either.
Used to mean: Jealousy or hatred
“Heartburn” hasn’t ever actually involved the heart. It once referred to feelings that come from the mind. Now it describes an issue with your stomach or esophagus.
Used to mean: A low-life
In Middle English, “brothel” described the kind of person who’d cheat, steal, and … possibly frequent a bordello.
Used to mean: A tenant or housemate
Try posting an “Inmate Wanted” ad on Craigslist today and see what happens.
Used to mean: A frothy liquid
We swear this isn’t a board game bluff.
Used to mean: A divinely conferred gift or power
In the past, people with charisma could really work a room, restoring sight to the blind and other such miracles. Today, believers in Charismatic Christianity still believe in signs, prophecy, and divine healing. The root of it all: the Greek word kharis, for “god-given favor.”
Used to mean: Superb, wonderful
When Theodore Roosevelt referred to the presidency as a bully pulpit, he wasn’t talking about name-calling, harassment, or beating anyone with a big stick. He was praising the social change he might shape in office. Bully for him!
Used to mean: The womb
Morpheus was right. We’ve all lived in the Matrix.
Used to mean: To purify something
From the Latin defæcatus, which translates to “cleanse from dregs,” this definition still makes sense. Still, you’d probably decline if someone offered you a glass of defecated water.
Used to mean: A white fabric with small diamond-shaped figures
There was nothing embarrassing about adult diapers back in the day. The Greek root diaspros meant “pure white.”
Used to mean: Full of artistic and technical skill
Think about it: It takes a lot of skill to reproduce a flower in silk or realistic-feeling latex.
Used to mean: Commanding awe
Here’s an awfully good example from Moby Dick: “There is, one knows not what sweet mystery about this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seems to speak of some hidden soul beneath…”