Special Report

36 Old Words We Use Today But With New Meanings

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Abroad once meant out of doors. Now it’s used as an adverb meaning beyond the boundaries of one’s country, or as a noun meaning foreign territory generally.

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Audition meant the power or sense of hearing in the 16th and 17th centuries. The first recorded use of audition as a noun meaning a trial for a performer was in 1881. It began to be used as a verb in the first half of the 20th century.

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Bane was once a synonym for poison — and it has retained that meaning in connection with poisonous plants such as wolfsbane. However, its primary meaning now is a person or thing that ruins or spoils, as in “the bane of my existence.”

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Asylums were known as bedlams from the 16th century. The word derives from Bethlehem, after which a hospital in London was named. Now it means uproar or confusion.

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Blow once meant to produce flowers or to be in flower — Shakespere wrote, “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows.” The word had roots in Middle and Old English and was akin to bloom. Now it has many other meanings, including a sudden strike or shock, and to send forth a current of air. It’s also slang for cocaine.

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