October 22, 2014

Case File #014.10.22: DIABOLICAL

Though there is nothing evil about the word itself, the adjective diabolical is of the devil. Etymologically speaking, that is. The word's ultimate ancestor is the Koine Greek (aka New Testament Greek) noun diabolos, which means “accuser” or “slanderer” but is often translated as “devil” or “Satan.” Eventually, the Greek became the basis for the Late Latin diabolus, meaning “devil” or “Satan,” and from this came the Late Latin adjective diabolicus, meaning “devilish” or “from the devil.” (The form of the Latin adjective was probably influenced by the Greek diabolikos, which also meant “devilish” and was, of course, derived from the aforementioned Greek word that translates as “devil.”) The Late Latin passed into Old French as diabolique, and around 1399, English borrowed the Old French but Anglicized it first to deabolik and a little later to diabolic. The contemporary diabolical finally appeared around 1500, but that didn't mean the end of diabolic. Indeed, most modern English dictionaries declare both forms to be perfectly legit—though nowadays you may find that just a single entry, often with diabolical as the head word, covers them both—and if that isn't a bit of lexicographical devilishness, nothing is.

©2014 Michael R. Gates

No comments:

Post a Comment