ON THE MEANINGS OF “PLACE” (from the OED)

1. The word “place” originally derived from several words in the Romance languages meaning “broad way” or “open space,” as indicated by various related words in modern English, such as plaza (Spanish). The first definition in the OED is thus “an open space in a city; a square, a market-place,” or what the Italians call the “piazza” (another of the original words for “place”). This meaning of the word goes back to the Latin and medieval worlds.

2. During the sixteenth century, another but closely related meaning develops, one that manifests itself in modern English when we name a group of houses or a small street “Something Place,” as in Washington Place, because the area possesses or possessed some of the characteristics of a town square rather than a conventional street. Or, as the OED puts it, “Often used in the name of a small area more or less built around, and lying aside from a street or thoroughfare, or of a short cul-de-sac or byway turning out of a main thoroughfare; also, more vaguely given to a short row or `terrace’ of houses, which originally stood by themselves on a suburban road; being in fact a ready denomination for any aggregation of houses which cannot be more particularly classed. Employed in 16th c. to render F. place and its Italian, Spanish, and German cognates, in reference to foreign towns, whence introduced in English towns. (But in some cases the name `Place’ has arisen out of another meaning, i.e., the site being that of a nobleman’s or bishop’s town-residence, which bore the name, e.g. Ely Place in London.) (Hence, Washington Place would just as likely refer to Washington Square, since “place” first means that the Europeans called squares.

3. Another meaning, which is also very old, going back to the thirteenth-century, is “material space.” And the words are often used interchangeably: a space/place between this and that; to give someone a place/space; etc. And sometimes it’s used instead of space in references to “time and space/place.”

4. The word has long been used (again, back to the thirteenth century, to refer to “a particular part of space, of defined or undefined extent, but of definite situation, sometimes applied to a region or part of the earth’s surface.” This meaning of the word is roughly that of the Latin word, locus, from which we get words like “location,” “local,” and “locality.” A related meaning is thus “the portion of space actually occupied by a person or thing; the position of a body in space, or with reference to other bodies; locality; situation.”

5. Along these lines it’s noteworthy that “place” might also be short for `place of battle’, `field’, which perhaps explain another meaning of the word, “to leave or win place: to lose or gain ground, to retreat or advance,” which has given rise to the colloquial phrase (going back to the 1920s), “all over the place: disordered, irregular, muddled.”

6. The word has long meant simply “a piece or plot of land” or “a portion of space in which people dwell together; a general designation for a city, town, village, hamlet, etc.; a residence, dwelling, house; a seat, mansion, palace; formerly sometimes, a religious house, a convent; also spec. the chief residence on an estate; a manor-house; a country-house with its surroundings.”

7. A fortress, citadel, `strong place’; a fortified city.

8. A building, apartment, or spot devoted to a specified purpose. (Usually with specification, as place of amusement, of resort, bathing-place. etc.)

9. A particular part or spot in a body or surface.

10. In chess, a square on the board.

11. A particular part, page, or other point in a book or writing.

12. A subject, a topic: esp. in Logic and Rhet.: = locus; the commonplaces of rhetoric

13. In falconry, the point or pitch attained by a falcon or similar bird of prey before swooping down on its quarry (obs., or arch., after Shaks.) Also (chiefly transf.) in phr. pride of place: a pre-eminent position.

14. Position in some scale, order, or series: Position or standing in the social scale, or in any order of estimation or merit; rank, station, whether high or low.

15. IN racing, a position among the placed competitors: In U.S. applied spec. to second place.

16. Phrases: to know one’s place: to know how to behave in a manner befitting one’s rank, situation, etc.; it is not my place: outside my duties or customary rights; to put (someone) in his, her etc., place: to remind someone of his or her rank or situation; to rebuff or rebuke. Shakes. Twel. N. ii. v. 59, I knowe my place, as I would they should doe theirs. 1739-40 Richardson Pamela (1740) I. xi. 18 It does not become your poor Servant..and I hope I shall always know my Place. 1898 G. B. Shaw Candida ii. 113 Mr Morchbanks is a gentleman, and knows his place, which is more than some people do. 1930 W. Faulkner As I lay Dying (1935) 5 It is not my place to question His decree.

17. A step or point in the order of progression. Mostly with ordinal numeral or its equivalent (first, next, last, etc.) preceded by in: in the first place = firstly, first in order; etc.

18. A fitting time, point in the order of events; occasion, opportunity; fig. `Room’; reasonable occasion or ground; Phr. a place for everything and everything in its place. 1842 F. Marryat Masterman Ready II. i. 9 In a well-conducted man-of-war..every thing is in its place, and there is a place for every thing. 1857 Emerson Jrnl. 2 Aug. (1914) IX. 110 A place for everything, and everything in place.

19. The space which one person occupies by usage, allotment, or right; a seat or accommodation engaged in a public building, conveyance, or the like, a space at table; seat, station, quarters.

20. With possessive or of: The space previously or customarily occupied by some other person or thing; room, stead, lieu; often in phrases in (the) place of, instead of, in the room or lieu of, in exchange or substitution for; to take the place of, to be substituted for, to stand instead of.

21. Phr. a place in the sun: see sun sb.1 4 b (d).

22. An office, employment, situation; sometimes spec. a government appointment, an office in the service of the crown or state.

23. A place of worship

24. one’s heart (lies) in the right place

25. fig. In his or its proper or fitting position; in one’s element, at home; in harmony, timely. (The opposite of out of place, 20.)

26. in (some one’s) place: in (his) position, situation, or circumstances; situated as (he) is: Put Yourself in his Place.

27. in (the) place of, instead of: see 13 b. in the first, second, next, etc. place: see 11.

28. out of place. Out of, or not situated in the natural or appropriate position; misplaced; fig. unsuitable, unseasonable.

29. To occur, take place. Obs.

30. give place. To make room, make a way, get out of the way; to yield to, give way to; to be succeeded by

31. make place: to make room or space for; to give a position, station, or office to.

32. To come into existence, come to pass, happen; to occur (in place or time (The police were informed of what had taken place.)

33. To put or set in a particular place, position, or situation; to station; to posit; fig. to set in some condition, or relation to other things. Often a mere synonym of put, set.

34. To find a place or situation for; to arrange for the employment, living, or marriage of; to settle.

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