Those of you who have ever been the victim of bullying probably wouldn't describe the bully in question as 'a fine young chap'. It seems that the meaning of the word bully has changed a lot since its Germanic origins. Tim Bowen has really done his homework with this Word of the week. Bully for him!
Bullies can be found in numerous situations where people interact. The intimidation of weaker or younger people is not confined exclusively to childhood and adolescence, e.g. school bully, class bully, playground bully, but may also occur in the adult world, e.g. office bully, workplace bully. In step with the modern age, bullying has moved beyond the playground and the workplace. People are often the victims of bullying via email or via their mobile phones, so the term cyber-bullying has now entered the language, an activity carried out, naturally enough, by cyber-bullies.
It is widely accepted that bullying in all its forms is a bad thing but, interestingly, the word bully itself is believed to have its origins in an old Germanic word meaning ‘lover’, and in 16th century England bully was another word for sweetheart. The word gradually acquired the meaning of ‘a fine chap’ and then ‘a noisy, rough fellow’ before arriving at its present-day meaning. An unrelated use of the word bully can be found in the ironic response bully for you (meaning 'good '), as in ‘I’ve finished all my homework’. ‘Well, bully for you’.
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