spoiled to describe people?

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sat Apr 3 21:58:54 UTC 2004

>Does anyone know how the word spoiled came to be used to describe
>people?  Both in the sense of spoiling a child, as well as more
>recently to treat oneself (as in "spoil yourself once in a while")?

Well, the OED gives cites going back to 1648:

  4. Of persons, esp. children: Injured in character by excessive
indulgence, lenience, or deference.

1648 HEXHAM II. s.v. Bedorven, A spoiled child, by giving it his will
too much, or by cockering him.
c1779 Whitefoord Papers (1898) 166 He was..a kind of spoil'd child
whom you must humour in all his ways.
1825 SCOTT Betrothed iii, Some of the petty resentment of a spoiled domestic.
1849 MACAULAY Hist. Eng. v. I. 619 The spoiled darling of the court
and of the populace.
1884 St. James's Gaz. 9 July 6/2 Prince Victor Napoleon is, in almost
every sense of the term, a spoiled child.

[wonder how many senses of the term there are/were?]

I would have assumed the meaning of the past participle is a
specialization of that of the verb, but the relevant verb meanings
appear a bit later:

13. a. To injure in respect of character, esp. by over-indulgence or
undue lenience. Also, in weakened sense, to treat with excessive
consideration or kindness.

1694 CONGREVE Double-Dealer III. iii, I swear, my dear, you'll spoil
that child.
1749 FIELDING Tom Jones XIV. viii, One daughter, whom in vulgar
language, he and his wife had spoiled; that is, had educated with the
utmost tenderness and fondness.

Still, isn't "Spare the rod and spoil the child" a bit older?  Or is
this a later (post-Hexham, post-Congreve) version of the proverb?  I
thought it was King Jamesian, but maybe not.  Notice that as late as
Fielding, "spoil a child" is reckoned as "vulgar language"--or is the
point that this is vulgar because the couple in this case didn't
really injure their daughter's character thereby?


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