June 4, 2014

Case File #014.06.04: DIARY

Etymologically speaking, diary simply means “a daily record.” The noun descended from the Latin diarium, which in the classical era meant “a daily allowance of food or pay” but in medieval times was used to mean “an enumeration or catalog of daily affairs.” Thus, when diary first entered the English lexicon circa 1580, it meant “a record of daily transactions or events.” It was in 1606 that the noun took on the additional and now primary sense of “a book in which one records, often on a daily basis, personal experiences and observations,” the credit going to English playwright Ben Jonson—a contemporary of Shakespeare and, at least in regard to comedy, one of the Bard's few substantial rivals—for having coined this usage in his comedy Volpone. A little later, diary also came to be used as an adjective meaning “daily,” but this sense died out around 1800 or so, leaving only the noun senses to survive into the twenty-first century.

©2014 Michael R. Gates

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