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June 13, 2019

How the Meaning of the Word ‘Silly’ Changed from ‘Happy’ to ‘Foolish’

How the Meaning of the Word ‘Silly’ Changed from ‘Happy’ to ‘Foolish’
The changes in the English language are by no means restricted to vocabulary additions. Changes also occur once the words are part of the English language. Sometimes the changes involve meaning. A classic historical example of meaning change relates to the word SILLY.

Now it means ‘foolishlacking sense or judgement’, but this meaning only evolved gradually. The word ‘silly’ is derived from Old English ‘gesaelig’, meaning ‘happy’. This became first ‘seely’ in Middle English and then ‘silly’. As the form of the word changed, so did its meaning.  It went from meaning ‘happy’ to meaning ‘blessed or pious’.


The change in the meaning of silly continued. From ‘pious’ the meaning became ‘innocent’ then ‘harmless’ and then ‘to be pitied’. This became ‘feeble’ and then ‘feeble in the mind’.

From this, it was an easy step to the modern meaning of the word. This is, of course, an example of a change that is both extreme and historical.

©Joseph Baidoo
Joseph Baidoo is a Ghanaian and is popularly known on social media as Misty Joe.

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