David Bowie db.list at PMPKN.NET
Thu Jun 1 11:13:19 UTC 2006

This is, admittedly, a "homework" sort of question, but the U of Central
Florida refuses to subscribe to the OED Online (they say it's too
expensive, which i interpret as meaning "costs too much to waste on the
English Department at what is still at core a tech school"), and i
figure there's people on this list who would know the answer--and
besides, there's a dinner riding on what the correct answer is.

There are two competing definitions for the adjective "modest". In my
observation, the primary meaning is something like "non-ostentatious",
sometimes "small" in relation to things like salaries. However, among
certain groups (conservative evangelical Xians come to mind), the word's
primary meaning seems to be related to clothing, and to mean something
like "covering particular bits of skin".

Similarly, "modesty" seems to have a primary meaning generally of "an
unwillingness to trumpet one's own accomplishments or abilities", but
among the same certain groups the primary meaning seems to be "the
(acceptance of the need to be?) covering up of particular bits of skin".
(Note: I am aware of the archaic noun "modesty/modesty-piece", which
presumably links to the evangelical definition. However, that's a
concrete noun--i'm interested in the abstract noun.)

So, two questions:

(1) Am i right in my intuition that the senses i give as the primary
ones are, in fact, the primary definitions generally, aside from a few

(2) When did each of these sets of definitions (what i give as the
general and "evangelical" definitions) appear? I presume that the
timeframes may well have been different for the adjectives and nouns.

And thanks in advance, for putting yourselves out for me on this.

David Bowie                               
     Jeanne's Two Laws of Chocolate: If there is no chocolate in the
     house, there is too little; some must be purchased. If there is
     chocolate in the house, there is too much; it must be consumed.

The American Dialect Society -

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