E. W. Bullinger was a biblical scholar and fluent in Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, and other languages. His study of language led him to this interesting conclusion: “It is a strange commentary on fallen human nature to see words thus changing their usage; for this change is uniformly in one direction; it is always a change for the worse. We never find a word acquiring a higher meaning! It is always down, down, down, like fallen and falling man himself, who thus drags down with him the meanings of the words he uses.
How, for example, did the change in the usage of this word “prevent” come about? [Bullinger had been writing of the word “prevent” and how in earlier English usage it used to mean “precede, go in front of, go before”]. It was because whenever one man got before another, it was generally for his own advantage, and to the hindrance, hurt, and loss of the other; hence the word came to have this new and lower meaning.
The same may be seen in apology, which was used of a defense, as in Jewel’s Apology (i.e., Defense) of theReformation. But, because man’s defenses of himself are usually so poor, the word has come to mean a mere excuse. Our word censure was used simply of judgment, which might be favorable or otherwise; but, inasmuch as such judgments have generally proved to be unfavorable, the word is used today only of blame. Our word story was originally short for history, but because so many histories and stories are what they are [i.e., made up or embellished], the word has come to mean that which is not true. Cunning meant merely knowing; but because knowing people generally know too much, or use their knowledge to a bad purpose, it has come to have its present usage. Villain meant a servant of a villa, or of a country or farm-house. The house has kept its good meaning, but the man has lost it.” E. W. Bullinger, How to Enjoy the Bible (Samuel Bagster and Sons, Ltd., London, reprinted 1970), p. 230.
The meaning of hope has degenerated also. From meaning something that was likely to occur, the modern English usage of “hope” actually implies that what is hoped for is very likely not to occur. For instance, one might say “I hope to go to the store today” when there is doubt that he actually may do so.