Special Report

36 Old Words We Use Today But With New Meanings

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Demoralize meant to corrupt the morals of in the 18th century, but it took on the meaning we are familiar with today — undermine the morale of — in the 19th century.

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A dot was once a dowry from which only the interest or annual income was available to the husband. Now you rarely even hear about dowries, much less dots with that meaning. A dot today means a small round mark, and up-to-date usages such as dot matrix printing.

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This is one of the oldest words on our list. In the 1300s, a dudde was a cloak made of coarse cloth and came to be used to describe shabby clothing in general. Eventually, duds came to refer to any kind of clothes.

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A freak was once a whim. It may have derived from the Middle English word freking, which meant capricious conduct. Now it means an unexpected event or a person who does not fit in with the mainstream, and it has been used as slang for a hippie or drug addict. Frank Zappa’s debut album was “Freak Out!” and he became associated with the “freak scene.”

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A host was once an army, and in the Bible it is used in this sense. This word, which derives from the Latin word hostis by way of Middle English, now simply means a great number. When used in the sense of receiving guests or entertaining, it has different roots — from the Latin hospit, which is also the origin of hospitality.