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If horrible and horrific both mean bad, then why does terrible mean… - Speak Friend and Enter
Grammar and Lord of the Rings
suffocated
suffocated
If horrible and horrific both mean bad, then why does terrible mean bad and terrific mean good?
2 pity screws or Do me
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therhyn From: therhyn Date: July 19th, 2001 02:25 pm (UTC) (Link)

Well, there is a logical reason...

Terrific does also mean 'terrifying' in archaic usage, so it means 'bad' too, but about the main question...

'Terrific' originally meant 'causing fear', and also came to describe 'intense' or 'incredibly great' things. ('Great', by the way, comes from the same root as the german 'Gross', meaning very large.) So, people start describing really large things, or really intense things as 'terrific', meaning 'frightening'. I'm sure you hear of a lot of 'terrifying' rides at amusement parks, or some car was traveling at a 'terrific' speed (though that's a rather old sounding phrase). So, since people like going fast, like being high up, like being _a bit scared_ just for fun, the word also came to mean great (in its excitemnt, etc.) Great being used there both in the 'immense' and 'good' meanings.

So, we are left with 'terrific' tales of swashbuckling and sorcery. Or a 'terrific' game of rugby.

Unfortunately the older meaning becomes totally diluted when we talk about 'a terrific talk we had with Sue the other day'. Although that might give a more active and energetic feeling than just an 'important' talk or a 'good' talk.

Now, taking that back to the idea of 'horrific'. People simply never used 'horrific' in describing things that were, say, intimdating or simply appeared frightening. That word became synonymous with _very_ bad things, contrasting how 'terrific' became synonymous with things that weren't too bad at all, perhaps just _exciting_.

Sorry, you'll learn to not ask offhanded linguistic questions when Therhyn is around. It's a bit of an obsession of mine.

Anyone want to hear what the roots of hither, thither and whither are? ;)
suffocated From: suffocated Date: July 20th, 2001 09:16 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Well, there is a logical reason...

bwahahaha, which is sadder, the fact that you wrote all that out or the fact that I actually read it straight through? Linguistics is cool! You'll have to do better than that to bore me, sir.
2 pity screws or Do me