Sunday, 17 November 2013

Bully - An Etymological Evolution from Lover to Friend to Abuser

The indigo awareness ribbon


Noun. Mid-16th century.
[Probably from Middle Dutch boele lover (Middle High German buole, German Buhle: compare with BULCHIN & BULKIN.]

1 Originally a sweetheart, darling.
Later only of a man: good friend, mate. (Usually as a term of endearment or familiarity.) Now archaic & dialectical. M16

2(a) A person who uses strength or power to coerce or intimidate weaker persons. L17

2(b) A hired ruffian. Now usually more fully bully-boy. M18

3 A pimp. archaic. E18

In combination:
bully-boy (a) a young bully, specifically a hired ruffian; (b) archaic. A fine fellow, a gallant.
bully pulpit US colloquial. a prominent position in public life allowing the prmulgation of personal (especially moralistic) views.
bully-rock, bully-rook [origin unknown] archaic. = senses 1,2 above.

There's a sadness in the etymological evolution of bully, transforming over time from lover to sweetheart, then from good friend to mate, and now to the ugly, shameful and all-too-familiar definition of a person that uses strength or power to intimidate and coerce. As if being bullied by anyone isn't bad enough, to be bullied by someone that you formerly loved, that professed to love you, or someone that you still love, must be among the cruelest and most damaging of all abuses.

Please free to comment below.


  1. I'm not messing around in this comment.

    If you just read today's post and deep down you realize it applies to you, know that you are not just destroying one person's life, you are destroying yours too.

    If you have children you ARE destroying their lives, possibly the lives of their future families. When you grow old, they will want you but not be able to go near you.

    So whatever is causing you to do what you do, pride, selfishness, drink, your own pain, your own childhood, don't let it rob you and your family of a much happier future. You can fix this.

    Please just be brave and get some help.


  2. Wow okay, I'm perfectionist but someone who forces their loved ones to do things or controls their every move definitely has a loose screw, or two. Maybe three. That poor woman. Worst of all is how these things don't usually happen overnight, these people are manipulators pur sang. It takes a lot of guts to stand up to them. This lady deserves someone who will make her forget all about this horrible experience... and maybe also a box of chocolates. Chocolates are the bomb.

    1. It was nuts, wasn't it? Truly a 'Sleeping With the Enemy'-type scenario.

  3. Our school was quite unique when it came to bullying, especially among the male half. If a big ugly brute started picking on a small obviously weaker kid, it got around the school quite quickly and it was only a matter of time until that same brute came round a corner after school and got a hiding off most of the lads in the year. It happened year after year. I think it must be in the county Mayo psyche to stand up for the oppressed, more than likely going back to when those damned English came over and pushed us around for 800 years!!

    1. In fairness, those 800 years were a hobby that got out of hand.

    2. Don't give me a reason.

    3. No oppression of anyone on Lexicolatry, please.

      Now I never expected to have to write that ...

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