18 words that used to mean something completely different 115



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The English language is one confusing dialect – one word can have many different meanings and then there’s regional sayings and colloquialisms too. But there are quite a few words that have evolved with time, that used to mean something completely different years ago.

Here’s 18 of the best:



Meaning now: bad, unpleasant
Used to mean: full of awe, i.e. the awful majesty of God


Meaning now: destroyed, completely ruined
Used to mean: kill one tenth i.e. that war decimated Germany


Meaning now: fake, not authentic, false
Used to mean: artful and skilfully constructed


Meaning now: person who belittles or upsets a person
Used to mean: a good fellow or a darling


Meaning now: to understand after much thought
Used to mean: encircle with one’s arms


Meaning now: a hint
Used to mean: a ball of yarn


Meaning now: doing something bad or mischievous
Used to mean: having naught/nothing


Meaning now: outstandingly bad
Used to mean: remarkably good


Meaning now: flippant
Used to mean: well-manner


Meaning now: pleasant, good, lovely
Used to mean: silly, foolish, simple


Meaning now: single man or lowest level of university degree
Used to mean: young knight


Meaning now: playing with emotions in a cheeky way
Used to mean: flicking something away


Meaning now: bowel movement
Used to mean: to purify something


Meaning now: accompanying person in vehicle
Used to mean: someone travelling by foot


Meaning now: large breasted woman
Used to mean: meek, obedient


Meaning now: unmarried woman
Used to mean: a lady who spun wool or cotton


Meaning now: intricate sci-fi web; movie series
Used to mean: womb


Meaning now: dumb, silly
Used to mean: amazed or surprised


Which of these surprised you most? What’s another word that meant something different when you were younger vs now? Tell us below.

Starts at 60 Writers

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  1. Spinster???? I thought that was an unmarried woman……

    4 REPLY
    • Spinster was an unmarried woman, the term derived from the fact that she, with no husband to support her, had to spin (fabric/yarn) to earn a living. So I remember being taught sometime in my school days, back in the Jurassic era.

      1 REPLY
      • I was taught that a spinster was just as it says, a woman who earned her living spinning thread. They were usually single, (married women didn’t usually work for a living), and so, gradually it came to mean ‘unmarried woman’ and not ‘one who spins threads’ at all.

  2. Don’t know where you got the present day definition of spinster. I’ve never heard of it being used as a “promiscuous woman,” merely as a single woman who is a bit long in the tooth; past marrying age sort of thing. All the dictionaries I have looked in also have this definition.

    1 REPLY
  3. Spinster ? promiscuous woman ?????? Since when ?

    1. indulging in casual and indiscriminate sexual relationships
    2. consisting of a number of dissimilar parts or elements mingled in a confused or indiscriminate manner
    3. indiscriminate in selection
    A spinster is an unmarried woman who is past the usual age for marrying and is considered unlikely to marry.

  4. How about GAY??? It has certainly taken on a whole different meaning these days.

    5 REPLY
    • That’s the one I was going to say! I’m reading a book at the moment written in 1954 and there are several references to the characters being “gay”. (Meaning happy and bright of course).

    • …or the book “Our Hearts were Young and Gay”, which we read at school in the early 1960’s; I’m sure with the current usage of the word “gay” it would not have been on the reading list of a catholic girls school hehe 🙂

    • My maiden name was Gordon….and in Scotland there is a dance called”The Gay Gordons”….!

  5. What about the word gay..use to mean brightly coloured or happy

    5 REPLY
  6. Cool used to mean not hot — now means great person. Sick (sic) meant unwell now means great,clever. Tag–meant label—-now means vandals painting or scratching a car.

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