spoiled to describe people?

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sat Apr 3 22:06:55 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")?

I believe that "spoil" = "overindulge" is a weakened generalized form of
earlier "spoil" = "injure [a child] through overindulgence".

In my ignorance, I conjecture that this use of "spoil" since ca. 1700 has
been favored by the aphorism "spare the rod and spoil the child" which
dates verbatim from the 17th century, "spoil" here meaning "injure".
Earlier forms use obsolete "spill" = "injure" as early as 1377 (in my OED
under "spill" [vb.] I.3.c: "Who-so spareth the sprynge, spilleth his
children"), and the general idea appears in the Bible (in Proverbs).

Probably "spill"/"spoil" was originally chosen for alliteration with "spare"?

This is just my naive notion.

-- Doug Wilson

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