It’s interesting how the meaning of words changes over time, but even more so that we don’t often think about the words we use, and where they come from. A remarkably good (or bad) example of this is the word “lousy.”
The dictionary definition, or at least the first one, is “remarkably bad,” “poor quality,” “dirty,” and “mean.” We say things like, “His writing is lousy,” or “She’s a lousy photographer.”
Now, consider the second definition: “Infested with lice.” So why don’t we say “licey?” One louse is rarely encountered or talked about, and yet, over a thousand years ago, the adjective was derived from a singular noun.
The original meaning of something very dirty and infested with lice has changed to the fairly tame put down “lousy” is today. I doubt most people even think of lice when they hear or use it. I only noticed the connection when I was rereading the Little House on the Prairie books, and somebody uses it, along with “lazy,” to describe a teacher. Something in my brain clicked. Lousy. Louse. Lice. Makes perfect sense.
To conclude this post, I’d like to share two poems by Robert Burns:
To a Louse
To a Mouse
. While I certainly do not approve of his saying that the louse should leave the lady alone and go bother some poor people (what a lousy thing to say!), I do enjoy Burns’s language and poetic style. I also admire how he shows compassion for the mouse whose home he’s destroyed.