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State of the art

Q From Debbi Galloway: What is the origin of state of the art?

A The suggestion in the Oxford English Dictionary is that the phrase started out in the late nineteenth century as status of the art, in other words, the current condition or level which some technical art had reached. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the phrase had changed to its modern form with the same meaning of “the current stage of development of a practical or technological subject”. It may have changed its form by a simple mistake, or by the process that grammarians call folk etymology or popular etymology, by which words change to fit speaker’s misconceptions of their real meanings. By the 1960s the word had shifted sense slightly to the way we use it now, which implies the newest or best techniques in some product or activity.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 13 Feb. 1999

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-sta2.htm
Last modified: 13 February 1999.