June 24, 2013

Case File #013.06.24: ENTHRALL

The Old English noun thrael essentially meant “servant,” but when it passed into Middle English during the twelfth century, the spelling changed to thrall and the meaning changed to something more akin to “serf” or “slave.” Thus, when the verb enthrall was formed in the early fifteenth century, it meant “to make into a thrall” or “to enslave.” Sometime during the late sixteenth century, however, English speakers began to use enthrall in the more figurative sense of “to fascinate or spellbind,” and it wasn't long before this became the word's primary meaning. In fact, the connotation of literal slavery is now considered archaic or at best passé, and it generally shows up only when enthrall is used in period pieces or poetry.

©2013 Michael R. Gates

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