It may be one of the most used (and overused) words in the English language. It’s so common a word that I’ve had teachers and editors mark it as something to be avoided. These days, and since the 1600s actually, it’s a word used to mean “things the speaker can’t name at the moment.” (Rather hilarious that the very definition has to use the word!) Random objects…unnamable items…vague ideas. It’s even been used pityingly or dismissively of people from the late 1200s!

But did you know that the word began with a very particular meaning? Thing dates back to Old English and was used to mean “meeting, assembly, council, discussion.”


Yep. We can still this meaning preserved in the Icelandic Althing, their general assembly, though the meaning vanished in English when Old English gave way to Middle. In our tongue, it went from meaning that assembly to the “entity, being, or matter” discussed by the assembly, and from there it was simply applying to, well, anything.

By the 1300s, it was used to indicate personal possessions. In the 1740s, people called something “the thing” to indicate it was stylish and in mode. A rather funny one is the phrase “do your thing.” We think of that as incredibly modern, but in fact there are written records of it being used as early as 1841!

Word Nerds Unite!

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