My latest literary discovery is For Who the Bell Tolls, “the essential and entertaining guide to grammar” by David Marsh. “Entertaining? Yeah, right!” I hear you cry. But actually it does manage to be both informative and witty and I thoroughly recommend it.
I’ve always felt that the modern attitude towards spelling mistakes or the misuse of words (eg literally) of: “Everybody gets it wrong so wrong is the new right” is weak and cowardly. But there’s no doubt that some word meanings can and do shift subtly over time. The first time I was made aware of and became interested in that sort of thing was when one of our English teachers at school (Stanley Middleton, who just happened to be a Booker Prize winner) telling us that the word laugh originally had a bit of spite to it. It was used in a rather sneering or accusing sense, and the “gh” ending was actually pronounced in a harsh, guttural way for emphasis.
David Marsh says that the word sad is related to ones like sated and satisfied and referred to when you were full from eating. He says it then came to mean solid “so a reliable person could be called sad; in time, solid, heavy and dull came to mean sad in one of our modern uses.”