Abroad

-Going anywhere nice this year? Going abroad?

I haven’t had a haircut in a while, so I haven’t had the pleasure of such charming conversation recently. But I recently thought about the word abroad while reading. You see, it was being in the more old-fashioned way, as in:

He went abroad in the early evening, and didn’t return until late at night.

So not travelling to another country, but simply leaving the house. We don’t really use it in that way anymore, but how did it come to have two different meanings in the first place?

The first thing that might stand out as being relevant is that the word abroad contains within it the word broad. As in width. And that’s certainly quite relevant indeed.

Abroad is derived from the Old English on brede, literally at wide. The a- prefix here is the same as in asleep, afoot and abed. The word simply meant far away at first, then gradually came to mean away from home, and in another country by the 15th century.

It makes sense then that it can have two meanings, considering it came from a general meaning which could easily be made more specific.

Nothing amazing there really, but it did make me wonder about the use of broad as an American-English slang term for woman. It dates back to at least 1911, and might either refer to broad hips, or be derived from the term broadwife. This word referred to a female slave whose husband belonged to another slaveowner, and who she was therefore far away from.

The slang term was so pervasive that the previously-named broad jump was renamed the long jump in 1967!

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