My colleague and I were talking smack the other day, as we are wont to do. He is an educated man, deals with words and the storage of them. I, on the other hand, am a blue collar schlub. No degree, credentials or any other trappings of refinement. As such, my colleague and I often match our wits against each other. And, invariably, we end up laughing and telling stories, and the impromptu contest ends up as a draw.
The other day, my colleague, whom I’ll call Elroy, was telling some story about some debate coach he had in college, which caused me to think about words. Specifically the word delete. When he took a breath, I jumped in and said “Delete.” Elroy looked at me strangely. I continued “You’re a wordy guy, tell me, when did the word delete arise?” He paused, and I knew I had successfully derailed him from his latest story. Score: Schlub 1, College Boy Zip. And then we dug into the whole idea. My position was, the word maybe had been around for awhile, but what use would it have been until word processing came on to the scene? He was still struggling to collect his thoughts, so he sort of agreed with me. My morning was going well, so far.
We tossed a few ideas around and he wandered away. Then I got interested in pursuing this, and turned to the internet to get the low down.
First stop was googling the word “delete”
From that I picked up: English Stackexchange. These guys get serious about words and one of the posters stated that it started in the 1500’s with this:
Etymology online offers the following:
late 15c., “destroy, eradicate,” from L. deletus, pp. of delere “destroy, blot out, efface,” from delevi, originally perf. tense of delinere “to daub, erase by smudging” (as of the wax on a writing table), from de- “from, away” (see de-) + linere “to smear, wipe” (see lime (1)). In English, specifically of written matter, from c.1600. Related: Deleted; deleting.
typographer’s direction to blot out a letter, from L. dele, imperative singular of delere (see delete).
Another poster added:
It seems to me that the ultimate origin of the word goes back to the Greek word “deleterion” (see current English word “deleterious” the meaning of which is disastrous, poisonous, eradicating).
This sounds like it could make sense. And then somebody points out that Google has a thing call ngram. So I gave it a try and got this: Google Ngram viewer
Which was kinda neat. Now, just cause Google said it, don’t make it necessarily so, but for now, this was good enough to derail Elroy and put me some knowledge. And that’s pretty much what life’s about, eh?