When Blockbuster Meant Bomb: 5 Words That Do Not Mean What They Used To

The English language is a fascinating language and its rules have continued to evolve over time. Oxford dictionaries recently introduced over a hundred new words and got us thinking about the other end of the spectrum; old words.

Some words have been around for so long that their meanings have actually changed from when they actually came on the scene. It is not an unusual thing to have the meaning of a word change over time but these old words in question have come a long way from where they initially started.

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Here are Five Old Words that do not Mean what they Used to;

When girl meant a girl or a boy

Old Words

When the word ‘girl’ first appeared in the language, in the Middle English period, it was used to mean ‘child’. It did not take any note of gender until the early 15th century when the word ‘boy’, which also falls squarely into the old words with changed meanings category, began to be used to refer to a young man. A ‘boy’ initially referred to a slave or a man of lowly birth.

When a cupboard meant a table

In a very literal definition, a cupboard initially referred to a board where cups were placed; basically, a table. In the early 16th century for no apparent reason, that meaning began to disappear from the language. Soon enough, a cupboard took its very literal meaning but instead evolved to mean a covered recess in which cups were stored. The meaning would come to encapsulate all the many things that were stored in a cupboard until only the fact that it is “a recess with a door and usually shelves, used for storage” really mattered.

When a moment was exactly 90 seconds

Chances are that when you tell someone that you will be with them in a moment, you are not referring to an exact amount of time. Back in the medieval period, the 24 hours of the day were each divided into four 15-minute segments known as points, each of which in turn was divided into 10 shorter segments known as moments. By that rather exact calculation, a moment meant one fortieth of an hour or exactly 90 seconds. Right now it just means a short period of time.

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When a blockbuster was a bomb

Old Words

Another case of moving from a very literal meaning to one that is not so much. A blockbuster originally meant a bomb that was large enough to destroy (bust) an entire block of buildings. Of course, that is a very devastating, some may say impressive, effect on the block in question and this formed the foundation for the figurative usage of blockbuster that has left us with the meaning we are accustomed to today; “a thing of great power, most especially, a film, book, or other product that is a great commercial success.”

When a treadmill was prison punishment

Some people will still argue that working to burn calories on a treadmill is a kind of punishment but the original treadmill was, actually, an enormous man-powered mill used for tasks such as crushing rocks and grinding grain. The term was resurrected and repurposed in the 50s after a post-war trend of health and fitness. It was applied to a gym equipment comprised of a (seemingly endless) foot-powered belt like the original treadmill.