October 27, 2015

Case File #015.10.27: HORRIBLE

The earliest ancestor of the English adjective horrible is the Latin verb horrere, which meant “to bristle with fear or dread.” From the verb came the Latin adjective horribilis, meaning “awful, terrible, or monstrous,” and this eventually passed into Old French as horrible. Around the dawn of the fourteenth century, the Old French passed into the English lexicon, and though English speakers sometimes spelled it orrible or orible, the word today retains the French's original form as well as its essential sense of “extremely unpleasant, dreadful, or shocking.” By the way, the Latin horrere spawned not only horrible but also three other similar English words: the noun horror, which came into use around 1325 and generally means “an intense, painful feeling of fear or dread” and “an intense dislike or abhorrence”; the adjective horrid, which first appeared circa 1590 and initially meant “bristling” but is now used to mean “offensive or repulsive” or “inspiring shock, disgust, or loathing”; and horrendous, which entered the English lexicon around 1660 and means “extremely terrifying, hideous, or dreadful.”

©2015 Michael R. Gates

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