Studies in Honour of Piotr Ruszkiewicz
On the Origin of Evil and Its Competition with Bad in Middle English: Jerzy Wełna
On the Origin of Evil and Its Competition with Bad in Middle English
University of Warsaw
0. Aims and scope
The development of pairs of words with opposite meaning is characteristic of all Indo-European languages. English possesses graded antonyms referring, for instance, to length (short vs. long), size (small vs. big), weight (light vs. heavy), depth (shallow vs. deep), or width (thin vs. thick or narrow vs. wide), etc. To such primary opposites belong the pair good vs. bad, which expresses perhaps the most basic difference of quality. With regard to historical lexis and semantics, the second item of this pair deserves a closer examination, as its emergence in the late-thirteenth to early-fourteenth centuries contributed to the elimination of the earlier contrast, OE gōd ‘good’ vs. yfel ‘bad, evil’. An analogous rearrangement within pairs of words affected, for instance, the verb go (OE gān) which took the new preterite wente ‘went’, the only difference being that evil survived its separation from good, undergoing the process of further semantic deterioration, while the earlier preterite ēode disappeared from the language (cf. Wełna 2001).