Words-worth: Deal

Deals are all the rage, whether it's private-equity funds swallowing City institutions or game-show contestants having their emotions manipulated by Noel Edmonds in the incomprehensible Deal or No Deal.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

In its origins, the word is about sharing: the same Teutonic root gave us 'dole'. In English, the noun goes back to the ninth century, when a dael was a portion or a part. The verb 'to deal', just as ancient, originally meant to divide up; in card games, it was first used in the 16th century. But it's an ambiguous verb. You can 'deal a blow' to someone, and 'dealing with' someone can mean anything from a nice chat to a murder. A deal is a business transaction, though the term, first noted in Canada in the 1830s, was often regarded as slang. In 19th-century US usage a 'deal' was something shady or underhand; a 'raw deal' was a swindle. 'Big deal' is a versatile expression, thanks to the Americans, who started using it ironically in the 1950s. Hence, £6.3bn to buy EMI: big deal. Noel Edmonds is back: big deal.

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